May 26, 2008

Long Wait For Victory Finally Ends

Capturing the Corning Classic means a long wait is over for Leta Lindley

Lindley prevailed in a playoff to win her first title in 295 LPGA starts as a pro.

Lindley prevailed in a playoff to win her first title in 295 LPGA starts as a pro.

Sixteen years ago Leta Lindley was playing on the University of Arizona golf team with Annika Sorenstam. They joined the LPGA a year apart—Sorenstam got there first in 1994—and now, with her victory Sunday in the Corning Classic, Lindley is only 71 victories behind her former teammate after capturing her first tour win in 295 starts as a professional.

And it did not come easily. Lindley closed with a 67 at Corning CC to catch third round co-leader Jeong Jang at 11-under-par 277 and force a playoff Lindley won with a birdie on the first extra hole. Playing one group in front of Jang, Lindley rallied with birdies on the first three holes of the back nine and No. 17, then knocked in a six-footer for a fifth birdie in 10 holes to win the playoff over the 2005 Weetabix Women's British Open champion.

"I am just so overwhelmed I can't believe it," said Lindley, who turns 36 June 1 and tied Missy McGeorge for the third-longest stretch before her first LPGA victory. "I have been dreaming about this day forever. I can't believe I'm living this experience."

One of the reasons Sorenstam is retiring from competition at the end of this year is to start a family. The fact Lindley didn't wait could well be why she didn't get her first victory until now.

As a rookie in 1995, Lindley tied for fifth in the U.S. Women's Open—a tournament Sorenstam won for her first LPGA victory. But while always easily keeping her card every year, Lindley never won. In 2004 she played only nine times as she gave birth to her son, Cole, and in 2006 she was in only three LPGA events when her daughter, Reese, was born. The wait paid off Sunday.

Jang and Erica Blasberg started the final round tied for the lead with Lindley and Katherine Hull one stroke back. Jang closed with a 68, but Hull faded to 73 and Blasberg tumbled to 79. Mi Hyun Kim and Sun Young Yoo tied for third at 278, one stroke back, both closing with a 66.

Jang forced the playoff after driving into the right rough on No. 18, punching out to the greenside bunker and then saving par from six feet. On the playoff hole, after Jang hit her approach once again into the bunker, Lindley knocked her 7-iron to six feet and, after Jang blasted to tap-in range, rolled in the putt for a victory well worth the wait.