When she told the world she was leaving North Carolina State University mid-senior year to pursue life as a golf professional some wondered if Augusta James was making a good decision.
Yes, she had a wonderful track record as a member of Team Canada, a solid NCAA player, and a winner of the 2014 Canadian Women’s Amateur. And yes, she was planning to still complete her schooling at some point, but was she ready for the life of a golf professional?
That answer was partially answered at the final stage of the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament last December. The Bath, Ontario (Loyalist CC) golfer did not secure a spot in the big tour but she did the next best thing, earning full status for the developmental Symetra Tour for 2015. For there she knew she could at least fight for a spot on the LPGA TOUR, a goal she has carried, and worked toward, for much of her life.
Soon after, when she announced that she indeed would make use of that status, her words revealed much thought on the matter. She noted that day,“This is my time to take advantage of the opportunity I created for myself through Q-School. And I really felt like this was the right path for me at the time. And I wanted to be sure I was making a decision I fully committed to. I didn’t want to waiver on either side or regret anything so I’m really happy I came to this conclusion with how I wanted my career to go.”
On Sunday the decision looked pretty sound as the 22 year-old won the Symetra Tour Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial, netting (USD) $22,500 in the process.
The rookie pro used a five under par 67, the best round of the day, to close the 72 hole event in style.
She began the final round in Fort Myers, Florida just one stroke off the lead but was on a positive track as the day got underway. “I stepped up on the first tee feeling good about the round so I had good momentum on the front but I was able to capitalize on the back.”
Indeed she did.
Making the turn into the final nine at -6 she reeled off five birdies in a six hole stretch to seize the lead. She would not relinquish it, ending play at -10 overall and prevailing by four strokes over Americans Laura Keuny and Brianna Do. Canadians Samantha Richdale and Maude-Aimee Leblanc were part of a four-way tie for fourth place.
James started her final burst with a 25-foot birdie on the 10th hole at Cypress Lake Country Club and followed with a near chip-in for eagle on the 11th. On the par 3, 13th hole, she dropped a bomb of 40+ feet with nearly three feet of break.
Momentum was on her side.
She followed that up with a couple of putts under eight feet for birdie on the 14th and 15th. The latter was the last of the 13 birdies she poured in for the week, countered by just three bogies.
Even having just made a run that most players would only dream off Augusta said she had to keep herself in check with just a few holes to go. She fought to keep her mind away from the thoughts of winning.
“You know, it kind of got to me a little bit around 16 and then I just completely blocked it out of my mind,” she related by phone. “I said ‘you know what you can’t focus on that, you’ve got to close.'”
Despite being only five events deep into her pro career (four on the Symetra Tour) Augusta said she had a lot to lean on as worked her way into contention, put on a birdie burst, and got herself into the clubhouse.
“I was able to draw from lots of experiences, you know different Team Canada experiences, different college experiences. I was able to take a little bit from each of those and the Canadian Am win last summer; I thought it was big as a springboard into Q-School but it was big today in just learning how to deal with those pressure situations. You just start making sure you’re just focussed over the ball and not having that win creep into your head and I was able to practice it that day (at the Canadian Amateur) so it really helped in in dealing with the pressures today.”
In the hours after the win, amidst the flurry of media and winner obligations, Augusta had yet to fully reflect on the enormity of the win when we spoke. She admitted that in a short call with her father something did come up – talk of the pro option that they wrestled with just a few months ago. “This really validates what our decision was earlier on this year and I’m happy about that because for me I knew it was the right decision. I’m committed to it but it’s always hard for people to be outside looking in, wondering if I made the right decision. I think this validates it.”
She continued, “I’ve only played five events as a professional, and people might think I shouldn’t say this but I’ve learned a ton from those five events. If I hadn’t turned pro in December I’d be pushing all this experience over to June (when she was scheduled to graduate and join the tour). So I’m happy that I’ve got it under my belt now so I can really take advantage of the full Symetra Tour season.”
The fine play by James did not come as a huge surprise, just last week she shot eight under for three rounds, picking up a solo fourth on the SunCoast Series. Her final round? Also a 67.
“You know I felt my game was really close the last three Symetra events. I just wasn’t capitalizing at some key moments. Things really came together at the SunCoast event. Then I got to watch The Masters, which I love doing, and I had my birthday, and I got to come out here to play on a really beautiful golf course. It’s really just been a great two weeks in general. You know that’s got a lot to do with it, when you’re comfortable and happy you’re going to play well.”
The latest pro event winner admits part of the comfort level on and off the course is due to a new addition, caddy Ryan Desveaux. The Napanee, Ontario native was on the bag for the first time this week. The young looper with PGA TOUR Canada and LPGA experience has been a good fit, according to his new boss. “You know, Ryan came highly recommended and I knew he was good but I did not know how good he was until the first round. He did a phenomenal job.”
Rounding out a close to perfect week for the former Ontario Junior Champion was the added presence of some home-country heroes. LPGA icons who were on hand in Florida to play concurrently in a Legends Tour event and fellow Canadians Dawn Coe-Jones, Lorie Kane, and Gail Graham were all there to congratulate Augusta on the win.
The younger pro got to know Gail Graham on a personal level for the first time eight years ago when one of her coaches, Kevin Dickey, invited the LPGA winner to do a clinic for his junior girls program and tournament.
“It was great to see her there,” said Augusta of the 2-time LPGA winner who she has stayed in touch with over the years. “A lot of things just added up and made this really special.”
The Next Step
Augusta now moves on to the 5th event of the year for the Symetra Tour, the Guardian Retirement Championship at Sara Bay. It will be played up I-75 in Sarasota.
As she looks ahead she conveys that Sunday’s win gives her the confidence that her game is in good shape. The thought eases her mind a bit but at the same time she’ll keep focussed and re-evaluate her goals for the season over the next couple of days. She achieved one in Ft. Myers so she’ll need to add to the list.
Now the leading money winner on the Symetra Tour, she’ll not be distracted by that fact. She knows it’s a long way from now and the end of the season when she will need to be in the top ten of the money list to earn coveted LPGA membership for 2016.
A place on the top tour in the world is the goal that is always left unsaid. It’s a given. Augusta James just figured that she needed to turn pro early if she was going to have the best chance to get there.
So far, especially this week, it’s looking like the right call.