At the final stage of LPGA Qualifying School at LPGA International, UCLA senior Stephanie Kono closed out an impressive five days with a final-round 75 Sunday to finish T-9 and earn full status on the LPGA Tour for 2012. She then called Forsyth to tell her that she was going to accept the card (which the LPGA does not allow golfers to defer), turn professional and bypass the remaining five months of her All-American college career.
Forsyth knew this was coming after Kono opened with a 67 Wednesday to jump to the top of the leader board.
She also knew that this was not Kono's initial intention when she flew to Daytona Beach earlier in the week.
All Kono wanted when she began the Q school process earlier this fall was to earn a Futures Tour card so she could play there after finishing college this spring (you can defer a Futures Tour card, and even play the tour as an amateur). Hoping she might have accomplished this already simply by advancing into the final stage of Q school two months ago, Kono called the LPGA to find out. However, officials told her that there was still work to do and she had to play in the five-day finale.
That didn't seem right to Forsyth, so who called the LPGA not once but twice herself to double check. Each time she too was told that Kono (as well as fellow Bruin Brianna Do who also advanced to the final stage) needed to play in Florida to secure her Futures Tour status.
Only after the final stage of Q school began last week, however, did LPGA officials realize they had incorrectly communicated the logistics of who earns what kind of status when. (This is the first year that both LPGA and Futures Tour playing privileges were being handed out in one tournament, rightfully streamlining the process to keep golfers from having to go through the hassle of two Q schools.)
By the time Kono learned she had gotten bad info, she was already in the thick of it at LPGA International and in great position to earn an LPGA Tour card. Given the opportunity, Kono stayed focused and play solidly even though she knew that success this weekend would drastically alter her future—and not necessarily in a way she had hoped for.
Forsyth graciously (and genuinely) expressed her happiness for Kono publicly via Twitter, despite the ramifications it has for the Bruins' program. Ranked No. 1 in the Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll all fall, the Bruins' looked to be heavy favorites to repeat as NCAA champions this spring.
Even without Kono, UCLA still has the deepest lineup in women's college golf. But Kono's experience and maturity were qualities that would have served Forsyth and UCLA well when their pursuit of a second-straight national title takes full form.
Additionally, Kono's presence would have been a comfort for U.S. Curtis Cup captain Patricia Cornett, with most people expecting Kono to be among the eight women picked for the 2012 team when the selections are made early next year. (Kono played on the victorious 2010 U.S. squad.)
I give a lot of credit to Forsyth and the rest of the Bruins' family for being so supportive to Kono. Of course, they should be. This is an amazing accomplishment for the 22-year-old from Honolulu, something she hopefully will celebrate grandly down the road. Yet at the same time, it has huge ramifications for UCLA, ones that aren't necessarily in the program's best interest. With that comes the potential to be upset by the situation. UCLA is taking the high road, and should be proud of that.
Conversely, the LPGA had that chance to take the high road as well by making a one-time exception and letting Kono defer her LPGA Tour card until the end of her senior year, a idea voices earlier this week by Beth Ann Baldry. Instead, tour officials are letting the fear that such a decision might have unintended consequences keep them from applying better judgment. Too afraid of doing the "wrong" thing by admitting culpability and saying, 'We're sorry and here's how we're going to make up for it" the LPGA failed to do the right thing, by making Kono turn pro early.