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Epson Tour pro needed this incredible finish to grab last of 10 LPGA Tour cards … and delivers

October 08, 2023
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Kristen Gillman will return to the LPGA in 2024 after making birdie, eagle on the last two holes Sunday at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.

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Kristen Gillman's redemptive season on the Epson Tour came down to the final two holes of the Tour Championship. Starting the week in 13th place on the tour’s Race for the Card standings, three spots away from earning an LPGA card for 2024, the 26-year-old peered over at the leaderboard while walking off the 16th green at 16 under par. Quickly, the two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion deduced that her then five-under day was not enough. Gillman believed she had to go birdie-eagle to move into 10th place on the money list.

Gillman executed, birdieing the par-3 17th at the Jones Course at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., then hitting her second on the par-5 18th to five feet. Gillman's eagle polished off a closing eight-under 64, with the late charge moving her from T-18 to start Sunday into a T-4 finish, earning a check of $12,177 that cleared her for the final card. Gillman, the LPGA's 2019 Rookie of the Year runner-up, returns to the tour after finishing 63rd on the Epson Tour money list in 2022.

"Excited to get back out there," Gillman said. "I feel like my game has improved a lot and I've learned a lot as a player, so I'm excited to go out there and kind of put into play what I learned and see how it compares against them again."

Gillman was one of two players outside the top 10 to begin the week to earn their cards. Tour Championship winner Auston Kim, 23, started in 15th place, and following a first-round one-under 71, her chances of turning the week around seemed unlikely. Instead, the second-year professional out of Vanderbilt closed with 64-65-65, including a 29 on the front nine Sunday, to earn a trio of firsts—her first professional victory, first winner's paycheck and first LPGA card.

"To be able to break through that wall and know that I was knocking the entire time and just believing in myself 100 percent—oh, my God, I can't even describe the feeling," Kim said. "All those hours I stayed working hard with my parents and with my mom on the bag all year, I'm really glad it came to fruition."

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Gabi Ruffels, Natasha Andrea Oon, Auston Kim, Jiwon Jeon, Minji Kang, Agathe Laisne, Jenny Coleman, Roberta Liti, Isabella Fierro and Kristen Gillman pose with their LPGA cards during a ceremoney friday after the final round of the Epson Tour Championship in Florida.

Isaiah Vazquez

There were a number of other interesting stories from the top 10 as well. Money list winner Gabi Ruffels, 23, who played on the Epson Tour this season after her team forgot to file the paperwork for her to compete at last year's Q-Series, won $159,926 with three victories and six top 10s in only 13 events, securing her LPGA card back in August. The former standout amateur tennis player, whose brother is also an aspiring tour pro, moved from 15th on the Epson Tour's money list last year to the top in 2023.

"It's a dream come true," Ruffels said. "It was kind of surreal being at that card ceremony after last year and what happened with Q-School registration and everything."

Jenny Coleman, 31, who finished in seventh with $106,137, is the only one to earn her LPGA card for the second time through the Epson Tour top 10. In 2019, Coleman finished third on the tour’s money list with $104,840.

The most disappointed may be Becca Huffer, who began the week in ninth on the money list and ended her 10th season on Epson Tour as the first one without a card ($94,001). It wasn't for lack of Sunday heroics, as the 33-year-old fired a 65, Huffer's best round of the week, to finish T-12 and earn $4,611. Instead, she ended up $1,700 short of the 10th position. In an odd quirk, it's the second consecutive year that Huffer finished directly behind Gillman on the money list, as the two ended in 63rd and 64th in 2022.

Despite the painful finish, Huffer does not leave the season empty-handed. She and everyone in the top 35 on the money list receive another opportunity to earn their LPGA card with direct entry into Q-Series, the final stage of LPGA's qualifying, starting on Nov. 30.