Anybody and everybody that has played golf, either recreationally but specifically competitively, especially at the highest level of the professional game, can attest the game can be fickle.
Just ask Dana Finkelstein.
Two years ago, Finkelstein rode a hot putter and pinpoint driving accuracy to capture her first professional tour victory — the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes. She did it with rounds of 65-71-70-71, 11-under-par, to win by four shots over Brittany Benvenuto.
That catapulted the diminutive Finkelstein, 5-foot-1-inches, to a season-ending No. 7 spot on the Symetra Tour’s money list that provided her an automatic ticket to the LPGA Tour for the 2017 season.
But making only seven cuts in 17 Tour events, Finkelstein could only muster earnings of a little more than $40,000, leaving her in the 136th ranking slot and outside the top 125 to keep her card for 2018.
“The LPGA is a pretty big jump, and it was just my second year as a pro,” said the former collegiate standout at University of Nevada-Las Vegas in a Thursday telephone interview. “At times, it was slightly overwhelming. The weeks go faster, you have Thursday starts (72 holes vs. 54 on the Symetra Tour for most events).”
When travel is completed from the previous week’s stop, Finkelstein said she usually arrived late Monday, played a practice round on Tuesday, and then had to practice mostly on Wednesday due to the tournament course being occupied by the weekly pro-am, usually reserved for veteran Tour players.
“It’s more difficult to learn the courses and then going overseas twice, there were just different transitions to make,” she said. “Out there, you can’t have a bad day or you’re going to be lapped. You have to be on your A game every round.”
And so while she would rather still be on the big stage of the LPGA, she’s okay at this point of her career to be back playing the Symetra Tour.
“I don’t mind being back out on the Symetra Tour,” Finkelstein said. “I’ve seen most of the courses so I’m pretty comfortable going to play them.”
Thus far, through 12 events, she has earned $29,928 before the weekend’s Sioux Falls (S.D.) GREATLIFE Challenge. That places her in the 18th position, but just a little more than $10,000 behind the current No. 10 spot held by Min Seo Kwak. She’s had four top 10 finishes in her return to the Symetra.
A first round 70 on Thursday afternoon was followed by a 3-under 67 Friday to put her in the top 10 heading into the 36-hole weekend finale.
“Being on the LPGA Tour for a year only makes me want to get back out there again,” Finkelstein said. “At the end of the year (2017) I was playing better so I know I can compete.”
One of the more compelling storylines for the 2018 Symetra Tour is that after 15 tournaments, there were 15 different winners with the top money earner at just under $70,000. A year ago, that position had already earned more than six figures.
“It’s kind of crazy this year with the way the winners have gone,” Finkelstein said. “Anyone can move up, so it totally opens it up for a lot of us. There’s definitely a lot of movement over the next six weeks. I don’t think there’s really a lock on the top 10 and that makes it exciting.”
Since her lone pro win two years ago, Finkelstein said she believes her game has just become more consistent in all phases — driving accuracy and distance, iron play, short game and putting.
“I’m longer off the tee, I’m stronger as I’ve worked out in the gym and I’m more steady,” she said.
Returning to Garden City and Buffalo Dunes for the upcoming Charity Golf Classic that begins Friday, Finkelstein said she was excited to come back to the scene of her most special memory as a pro.
“That first win is always special,” she said. “Garden City is a special place, and I’m excited to get back and see the course. It’s a compelling course to play as there are so many angles to play, crosswinds to contend with. You really have to plan your strategy as to how to play, and it can all change if the wind or weather changes.”