Rebecca Lee-Bentham aced her final exam at the LPGA Tour’s Q-school on Sunday. Her graduation present: another full-time season on the top women’s circuit in the world.
The 20-year-old from Toronto was the co-winner Sunday of the tour’s qualifying tournament, known as Q-school. She shot five-under-par 67 in the fifth and final round at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., to share medalist honours with former amateur phenom Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand.
As one of the top 20 finishers at Q-school, Lee-Bentham earned her 2013 LPGA Tour playing card.
“It’s a big relief, I'm very happy and blessed,” Lee-Bentham said Sunday evening by telephone from Daytona Beach. “I worked really hard on my game coming in, but you never know [what can happen at Q-school].”
Stephanie Sherlock of Barrie, Ont., also captured her card after finishing in 10th spot Sunday. Sue Kim of Langley, B.C., tied for 32nd place to earn partial status, a promotion after a couple of seasons on the lower-tier Symetra Tour.
Lee-Bentham and Sherlock, both former members of Canada’s national amateur team, were LPGA rookies this year but didn’t earn enough to retain their cards.
Lee-Bentham’s LPGA season ended in September after six consecutive missed cuts, but some vigorous practice sessions and a victory at a SunCoast Ladies Series mini-tour event in mid-November gave her a boost going to Q-school.
“I was playing well leading up to the event [Q-school],” Lee-Bentham said. “I had a lot of confidence and I knew as long as I just kept mentally strong I’d be okay. But it was tough. The field was really good and it’s easy to look around and get intimidated.”
It helped her mental state that the mini-tour victory Nov. 16 came on LPGA International’s Legends course, one of two layouts used at Q-school.
(Coincidentally, Sherlock also won a SunCoast event at LPGA International this month, on the second course, the Champions.)
Lee-Bentham, Sherlock and Kim will join Lorie Kane, Alena Sharp and Maude-Aimee LeBlanc in the LPGA’s Canadian contingent next year.
Bentham acknowledged her first LPGA season did not go according to plan “but the experience was something you cannot buy. I’ll be better prepared next year.”
She plans to stay in Daytona Beach, where she makes her home now, in the off-season to work on her game. She expects to make her 2013 debut at the Women’s Australian Open in early February.
But first, a celebration. She was headed out to dinner Sunday night with her father, who has caddied for her this season and was on the bag through Q-school, and mother.
Lee-Bentham’s final score of 13-under 347 tied her at the top with Jutanugarn, an 18-year-old who, along with her younger sister Ariya, has been ripping up amateur golf. The sisters were both in the top 10 of the world amateur rankings.
The Q-school field had plenty of other top-flight talent, too, including former U.S. college star Brooke Pancake and LPGA veteran and fan favourite Christina Kim.
Pancake tied for 11th place at Q-school to earn her card. Kim, a two-time LPGA winner, shared 39th place to salvage partial status for 2013.
Rising English star Melissa Reid and former major winner Birdie Kim of South Korea were among those who crashed out.
Seema Sadekar of Burlington, Ont., tied for 66th, not good enough to gain even partial status. Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C., Kirby Dreher of Fort St. John, B.C., Ashley Sholer of Hamilton and Isabelle Beisiegel of Saint-Hilaire, Que., missed the cut, which was made Saturday after the fourth round. Sadekar and other four can play on the Symetra Tour next year.