By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
In a way, it was the same old Sammi Stevens who smoothly blitzed most of the field in Stage I of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament held in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Once again, she was the “Steady Stevens” who used her four seasons as a New Mexico Lobo to carve out a reputation as one of the more consistent Lobos ever.
Stevens threw out a dazzling card and four steady rounds to post a 70-70-69-73=282 which left her in third place and more importantly moving on to Stage II.
But there also was some new about the Stevens who became one of 102 golfers to move a step closer to that coveted LPGA card. She had some new clubs. She had a new swing.
“I got some new Taylor Made clubs and was able to spend some time with my swing coach in Florida,” said Stevens, who came to UNM from Hereford, Texas. “I wasn’t able to see him much when I was in school (at UNM) and he made a few simple changes that got my swing back on track.
“It was a lot of little stuff, but I’m opening the face (of the club) a little more and my swing is simpler but stronger. I was hitting it great and hardly got into any trouble.”
In some ways, there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure for Stevens on the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Actually, it was Stevens’ old stomping grounds.
As a Lobo senior, she played that course in helping New Mexico win the 2014 Mountain West Championship. She also only had to finish in the Top 100. The Stage I winner and No. 100 advance equally to Stage II set for the Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla.. That stage starts on Sept. 30.
“We played two rounds on the same course we played in the Mountain West Tournament,” said Stevens. “That definitely gave me an advantage. I didn’t shoot myself in the foot the first two days, so I knew I had a cushion and didn’t have to worry about the cut.
“But there were 285 players to start and they can all play. My mindset was to go out there like I was out to win the whole thing rather than just play to make the top 100.”
Steady Sammi opened the tournament with back to back 70s and then tagged on a 69 on the third round to really take the pressure off. She played conservatively on the fourth round, carded a solid 73, and moved on. Emily Tubert (Arkansas) was the tourney medalist at 276 – six shots ahead of Stevens.
The Rancho Mirage Qualifier is the first of the LPGA Tour’s three sectional qualifying events in 2014. The top 80 and ties from Stage II will advance into the Final Qualifying Tournament -- LPGA Q-School -- to be played Dec. 3-7 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Q-School will consist of 90 holes.
“Stage II will be tough,” said Stevens. “There are some Symetra Tour players who got to skip Stage I, so there will be some good players out there I haven’t seen. I’m going out to play the same way and think about winning it. I know I’m capable, but you still have to go do it.”
The top finishers in the final stage will earn 2015 LPGA membership and all golfers who make the cut will receive Symetra Tour status. The LPGA has not yet announced how many LPGA Tour Cards will be issued. Stevens said she expects around 20 will receive full exemption and another 20 will get partial exemption to play in certain tournaments.
“There are so many good players who didn’t make the cut (in Rancho Mirage),” said Stevens. “You still have to go out there and perform. If your game is a little off, you can miss the cut.”
Stevens’ goal is to earn her LPGA Card but she has been taking advantage of the Cactus Tour to groove her refined swing. Stevens posted her first Cactus Tour win in July in Shady Valley Texas with a two-shot win. She also took runner-up honors on Aug. 13 at the Ocotillo Golf Resort near Phoenix.
“It’s been a good summer,” said Stevens. “It’s different when you don’t have school and classes. You have to go out there and look at it as a job. You have to go to work. You have to be prepared.”