Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn secured her Ladies European Tour card in impressive style by winning the Lalla Aicha Tour School Final Stage by five shots from England’s Emily Taylor and Australian Nikki Campbell.
The 17-year-old amateur shot a three under par 69 in the fifth and final round on the Al Maaden golf course in Marrakech, Morocco, to end on a total of 336, 24 under par.
The world No.2 amateur began the day three shots clear of the field and her lead was never threatened on a day when exactly 30 players earned their full playing rights for The 2013 Ladies European Tour.
The final day was full of drama with emotions running high at both ends of the leader board. There were scenes of jubilation early on as Maha Haddioui secured her tour card with a final round 67, becoming the first Moroccan golfer to qualify to play on the Ladies European Tour full time.
Young Mexican Margarita Ramos saved the best until last with a five under par 67 to make the top 30 on the number at seven under par. There was strong representation from South America as Paula Hurtado of Colombia and Maria Salinas of Peru also secured their full cards.
India’s Sharmila Nicollet was ecstatic to be back on the Ladies European Tour and determined to make amends for her rookie season.
However, several players were disappointed to have missed out on the top 30 including England’s Charley Hull, who shot a final round 76 to end in a share of 36th on four under alongside Cheyenne Woods of the United States who had a final round 70.
At the top of the leader board though, Jutanugarn completed a convincing win posting six birdies, one bogey and a double in her final round, with which she was not entirely satisfied.
“Today I didn’t play very good and I missed some putts. My irons were not very good today, but I’m still happy because the two weeks were very good,” said Jutanugarn, whose older sister Moriya was a co-medalist at the LPGA’s Final Qualifying School two weeks earlier.
“I’m going to miss her a lot because we have to separate. I have to go with my dad and Moriya will go with my mom,” she said, adding: “I am going to turn pro and I’m really happy I won because it will make me feel confident for my professional career.”
Jutanugarn ended her junior career this season by winning her second consecutive AJGA Rolex Junior player of the Year. Having turned 17 in late November, she will be amongst the youngest players on the LET, but not the youngest. Hull, 16, plans to turn professional, while China’s Xi Yu Lin, who is also 16, qualified in fifth position having turned professional a year ago at the age of 15.
Taylor, 18, is another player tipped for stardom and she was thrilled to earn her full tour card. “I didn’t expect it to be honest. I did play well in the Pre Qualifying but it’s just fantastic to finish tied second, I’m really happy. I was good with my irons this week, the putting wasn’t great but tee to green I hit a lot of greens and a lot of fairways so I gave myself a lot of chances. I can’t wait for my rookie year on tour and I’m going to turn pro as soon as possible,” she said.
At 32, Campbell is a veteran with 10 years on the LPGA of Japan, but she will be a rookie on the Ladies European Tour in 2013.
“I’ve always wanted to come and play here. I’ve been playing in Japan the last ten years and things were getting the same old,” she said. “Something new is pretty exciting. I played really well, hit a few good iron shots and sunk a few putts, so I’ve been playing pretty well the last two weeks but the putts went in today.”
Haddioui was one of the more emotional players and her performance meant a great deal to the partisan gallery cheering from outside the ropes.
She played the back nine in one under par on the last day before picking up four birdies in a row from the first hole and coming in with 32 on the front nine.
Haddioui said: “I was so stressed going into the final round and I started with a bogey and it was really tough. I had a series of really good holes so I’m really happy. I’ve put in a lot of work and finally it’s paying off.”
She explained how her mentality changed as she made the turn: “I knew it was the last nine holes so I was like, ‘this is now or never, or next year, basically!’ That gave me a little boost.
“It means a lot to me personally because this is what I’ve wanted for two years now since I turned pro. It means so much to be the first Moroccan golfer to be on the European Tour full time. It’s super exciting and I hope it will make more people want to play golf, especially young girls. If I did it, anyone can do it, so I’m really happy about that.”