The “Road to the LPGA,” the motto embraced by the Symetra Tour women’s professional golf organization, can be a long and winding one, marked by wrong turns, u-turns, detours.
It’s not easy to finish in the top 10 of the Symetra Tour’s money list after 24 yearly events in an effort to secure those playing privileges at the big dance of the LPGA.
Nobody appreciates the journey more than Canadian Anne-Catherine Tanguay, who for nearly two full seasons and one year in which she played an abbreviated LPGA Tour schedule without a win, finally broke through the glass ceiling with a brilliant closing 1-under-par 71 Sunday at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course to claim the $22,500 winner’s check at the Garden City Charity Classic.
Tanguay, who shared the first round lead after a 5-under-par 67 in more benign conditions, finished the tournament at 5-under 211 on rounds of 67-73-71. She did so by making birdies at the 14th, 16th and 17th holes, en route to a final nine of 3-under-par 33, easily the best round of the day.
“It’s an incredible feeling, honestly,” said the Quebec native who played her collegiate golf just a few hundred miles from Garden City at the University of Oklahoma. “I thought at times I was gonna break down in tears, but I haven’t yet. It’s just not sinking in, yet, but I’m incredibly happy.”
She finished three shots clear of rookie Katelyn Dambaugh of North Charleston, S.C., who like most of the rest of the field, came up on the short end of the battle with the wind. Dambaugh had led Tanguay by one shot heading into the final round. Third-place went to Emma Talley of Princeton, Ky., who closed with a 74 to finish at even-par 216. They were the only three to finish at par or better for the 54-hole event.
Tanguay, along with the rest of the field who made the cut after Saturday’s second round, had to once again battle the blustery wind conditions of western Kansas. And for nearly the entire field, the wind was the big winner on Sunday.
Even the early starters at 8 a.m. had to battle both wind (14-18mph/59 degrees) and chilly temperatures. And while the temperature did warm as the morning turned into afternoon (86 degrees at the end of the final hole), the wind never abated, going as high as a steady 25-30 mph with gusts ranging in the 33-37 mph range.
Tanguay’s score might be reflective of some of the blistering rounds of Friday when 31 players broke par, but to put it into perspective, she was the only player to shoot par or better in the final round, and the next best score was a 1-over-par 73.
“It’s so good to get some validation,” she said of her nearly three years of playing professionally. “Honestly, I just really did my thing this week. I just kept it in the present. With these conditions, it was just so hard. I think it was really, really key to pick a target and make a fearless swing.”
Tanguay, whose season got off to a blazing start with five top 10s in the opening six weeks, had struggled over the past four months, never placing higher than 19th — until Sunday.
But her return to western Kansas and Buffalo Dunes following a tie for fourth at the 2015 event, must have injected a big amount of confidence as she was either in the lead or near the top throughout the three days.
And while the windy conditions proved formidable, she was able to overcome that challenge and conquer the Dunes for her first victory.
“I think I was in my element,” Tanguay said. “I played college golf at Oklahoma, and my coach (Veronique Drouin-Luttrell) would take us out all the time on the golf course in these conditions. Some people think it’s crazy to go out, but we have to play in these conditions. Luckily, Buffalo Dunes did such a great job of keeping the course playable, because it was a hard task.”
The difficult conditions from start to finish were never more apparent than on the outgoing front nine, where she, Dambaugh and fellow-competitor August Kim, who had come into the final round two behind Dambaugh, could do no better than shoot identical 2-over-par 38s, and bringing some of the rest of the field back into the mix.
And it still seemed that way through the 13th hole, which proved to be the start of the pivotal stretch for Tanguay.
A bogey by Dambaugh at the 10th left the two tied and up by one over Kim.
Tanguay overcame an errant pitch shot from the left rough of the short, par-5 downwind hole. Nearly dunking it into the bunker, she found a way to pitch to about five feet and make the putt to save par. Dambaugh, meanwhile, had driven the ball into the deep native grass, tried to excavate it out only to hit it across the fairway behind a tree. She was forced to hit a low punch shot which came up well short of the green. A 30-yard pitch went over the green, and she managed to get the ball up and down for a bogey-6. Kim, meanwhile, had nailed a wood from 225-yards to 40-feet for eagle, but a costly three-putt prevented her from taking the lead.
Then, it was Tanguay’s turn to play the best golf of the day. There was not a single shot or putt that was not as planned.
On the key 14th, drive in the fairway, leaving her 98 yards to the flag, where she stiffed a lob wedge to six feet and made it. The others made par, with Kim leaving a 20-foot putt from the fringe right in the throat of the hole, just inches short. That put Tanguay ahead for the first time all day.
“I definitely had my emotions blowing after 14 when I made that birdie,” Tanguay said. “That was big, and I had to make a stop and pull myself together. It was the home stretch and I did good.”
It was another straight as an arrow drive, short iron to 20 feet and two-putt par on the 15th. Dambaugh and Kim matched that effort with pars.
At the 16th, a 431-yard par-5 into the teeth of the wind, Tanguay had 194 yards remaining for her second shot. After Dambaugh had rifled a 3-wood (215 yards) just over the flagstick into the back second cut of grass, Tanguay had a choice — lay up or go for the green.
“It was one of my goals this week — I wanted to play my game, and how I play in practice rounds, I wanted to do that in the tournament,” she said. “Without a doubt, I would have gone for it. It crossed my mind briefly to layup, but I think I would have regretted it.”
Her hybrid-2 lofted high and straight finished on the front right of the green, some 40-feet away from the flag. Dambaugh then nearly holed her flop-shot for eagle, and did make birdie, but Tanguay’s lag putt finished just inches away, and she tapped in for a matching birdie. Kim three-putted for bogey, virtually ending her chances.
The final seal of the deal came at the 141-yard — uphill, into-the-wind — par-3 17th. Tanguay drilled a 7-iron to 13-feet, just to the right and past the hole. Dambaugh again was long in the back fringe. Her birdie try just slid by the left edge of the cup, and then it was Tanguay’s turn again, this time knocking in another birdie for an insurmountable three-stroke lead.
The 18th was simply icing on the cake, when she nailed a 5-iron into the middle of the fairway, hit a gap wedge to 16 feet from 141 yards out, and had an easy two-putt, and the victory was claimed.
Tanguay said her experience of two years ago, albeit when she was a rookie, did provide some extra confidence as this week began.
“I was able to pick some really good lines, and stuck to my game plan,” she said. “I really like my game plan on this course, and we just kept it flexible is all.”
With the roller-coaster season seemingly like two seasons in one, the victory lifts the confidence of a player who has been close, but not been able to shut the door on the field.
“I needed validation and to see the results,” she said. “My confidence was hurting these past months. The harder you try, the harder it gets. I was waiting for my moment. I was waiting for my conditions. Being windy was great for me. I pulled off all the shots I needed to.”
With the winning check, Tanguay moves from No. 8 to No. 5 ($70,995) and is now more than $9,000 ahead of No. 6 Hannah Green ($61,290). Dambaugh, meanwhile, closed the gap from No. 16 and is now at No. 11 ($47,493), only $64 from No. 10 Daniela Darquea, who missed the cut.