First off, that's not a typo: Q-Series is the new version of the final stage of LPGA Q-School. Held for the first time in 2018, Q-Series is eight rounds of competition, played in two 72-hole stretches with a three-day break between. There are 108 players in the field, and there is no cut. The top 45 players and ties at the end of Q-Series will get LPGA Tour cards, with the remaining players earning status on the Symetra Tour. The goal of the new format is to simulate what it'd be like to play on the LPGA Tour.
Through the opening 72 holes, held last week at Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 6, there is an unexpected player at the top: Klara Spilkova, who will have a four-stroke lead at 13 under par when play resumes on Wednesday at Pinehurst No. 7. The final round is set for Saturday, Nov. 3.
Spilkova, 23, might be unfamiliar to many, but she has a respectable record. In 2011, the native of the Czech Republic qualified for the Ladies European Tour, becoming at 16 the youngest member in tour history. She then became the first Czech golfer to win on tour when she claimed the title at the 2017 Lalla Meryem Cup, beating two-time major winner Suzann Pettersen among others. Spilkova represented her country in the 2016 Rio Olympics (finishing T-48), and ranks seventh on the LET Order of Merit this season.
Despite all this, Spilkova's not the player most figured would be leading Q-Series. It's not a knock on her, but a comment on the resumes of her competition.
That's part of the benefit of Q-Series—the lens is widened to give a view of players from across the globe, a reminder that there are tours beyond the LPGA and Symetra, and that they're producing players of merit, too. With Spilkova appearing to be the standout from the LET thus far, Jeonguen Lee6 is the player with the most clout from the Korean LPGA (KLPGA) in contention. You may remember her as a Friday co-leader of the 2017 U.S. Women's Open. She's continued to play in LPGA events via exemptions, and is currently No. 19 on the Rolex Women's World Rankings. She is tied for seventh heading into the final four rounds of Q-Series, seven strokes off the lead.
Another storyline that's playing out is the success of top collegians competing as amateurs in Q-Series. Immediately behind Spilkova on the leader board are Ohio State's Jaclyn Lee at nine under, and Wake Forest's Jennifer Kupcho and Alabama's Lauren Stephenson at eight under par. Lee advanced to the finals of Q-Series through second-stage qualifying. Kupcho and Stephenson, both members of the U.S. Curtis Cup team in 2018, were exempt into Q-Series thanks to their top college status (the top five players in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings received spots in the finals).
Also in the mix are collegians Maria Fassi of Arkansas (T-7) and Kristen Gillman, the reigning U.S. Women's Amateur champion from Alabama (11th place).
Should any of the college players earn LPGA cards, they can return to school and defer their membership through the spring semester, a new feature of Q-Series. However, the lure of turning pro and playing right away in 2019 is such that the players are still uncertain what they will decide.
Among current LPGA members playing Q-Series to keep their cards, Cheyenne Woods and Alison Lee sit in 18th and 21st place, respectively, both inside the top 45 threshold to earn tour cards for 2019. Lee was on the U.S. Solheim Cup team in 2015.
Heading into the final four rounds, that's all that really matters: Staying inside 45th place. It's nice to be in contention but winning isn't necessarily the goal. Getting your tour card is.
“I’m not really pushing at all. I just want to get my [LPGA] card, that’s it really," Spilkova said. "I’m just going to enjoy myself on the golf course, and we will see—you never know.”