Sarah Schober (AUT), Jenny Haglund (SWE), Michele Thomson (SCO) and sanna Nuutinen (FIN)
The final event of the 2016 LET Access Series season, the Santander Golf Tour LETAS La Peñaza, produced the 11th first time winner of the 15 event schedule and also decided the top five players, who will progress directly to the Ladies European Tour for the 2017 season.
The LET Access Series graduates are, in qualifying order: Sarah Schober from Austria (1), Jenny Haglund of Sweden (2), Maria Parra from Spain (3), Michele Thomson of Scotland (4) and Sanna Nuutinen from Finland (5).
Schober finished second in the final event to claim the order of merit title. Although winless this year, the 24 year-old has enjoyed a very solid season with a five runner-up finishes and a further four top 10 placings.
“I really enjoyed the whole season and thank you to the LET Access we could play at amazing venues this year. I liked our tournaments in Scandinavia the most, especially Sweden. I was very lucky that either one of my parents travelled with me. I wanted to make my first year on the LET Access feel as "home" as possible. That was the reason why I was always staying in an apartment during the tournaments and most of the time we were cooking Austrian food as well,” Schober commented.
“Also my parents were always on my bag at every tournament, which also helped me a lot.”
“The LET Access Series is such a great tour to get used to the tour life and it prepares you well for the next level. I have gained the most about how to travel, also to get organised on and off the golf course and how to schedule my recovery. This year I have always been 3-4 days at the tournament venue before the event started. That helped me a lot to acclimatise myself and to have a stress-free preparation towards the tournament.”
“My highlight of this year is with no doubt winning the Order of Merit, because this was what I have expected the least. But my five runner-up finishes and my career lowest round of a bogey free 65 (-7) at my last LET Access Series event in Spain are on my highlight list of this season as well.”
Sweden’s Jenny Haglund finished second on the LETAS ranking with two wins, the Norrporten Ladies Open, in her home country and the Azores Ladies Open. With a further four top ten finishes, including a second at the Norwegian Ladies Open, Haglund remained ahead of Maria Parra from Spain, who finished 3rd on the order of merit.
“This whole year has been amazing, I didn’t really have any expectations since it was my first year or half year as a pro, I just wanted to get out there and see what I could do, it’s just been awesome. I didn’t expect to get my card so early, I hoped to get into the top 20 and get into Tour School but I ended up doing even better.”
“I really think it’s all the things around with travelling and getting ready for the tournament like how to practise. It’s a lot different from college where you had a coach and they did everything for you in terms of travel arrangements. I’ve had to do it all myself this year, which has been a great learning experience.”
"Just to try out the whole pro thing, it’s travelling and playing a lot weeks in a row. It’s just been a great experience and I think I will have learnt a lot to take onto next year. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learnt a lot. LETAS has really given me a great start to my career, I think it’s been awesome,” said the 23-year-old Haglund.
Parra, at just 18-years-old, is the youngest of the five players to earn their cards. The Spaniard who missed the final event to take part in the second stage of the LPGA Qualifying School in Florida, won the PGA Halmstad Ladies Open at Haverdal and the Drobak Ladies Open, to be one of only two multiple winners this season.
Parra said: “This year was one of my best golfing years, it was a great opportunity to play the LETAS for me because I took a lot of experience to play the LET next year.”
“All championships have been very good, I missed some because I had to play amateur tournaments but I'm very happy because all I've played, I've made the cut. The two tournaments that I won have helped me a lot and so I took many points. It has been an unforgettable experience.”
Scotland’s Michele Thomson enjoyed a solid season and a crucial tied fourth place at the final event in Spain, to move up from sixth place and secure her place in fourth on the order of merit.
She said: “In 2015, I started great with a win in Spain but then for some reason my form dipped and towards the end I did not play well and finished 7th on the Order of Merit, so this year we analysed why this was and made some changes, which prolonged my season and allowed me to finish much stronger with a 3rd place at Stoke by Nayland and 4th in Zaragoza. Ultimately, that enabled me to finish 4th on the Order of Merit.”
“What also helped was having Dad on the bag in the last two events. He knows my strengths and weaknesses and although I probably don't give him the credit he deserves, he certainly helps me by reminding me now and again what I should be concentrating on and when. Family members on the bag are not always a good combination but it works for us most of the time and it’s nice to chill out with him in the evenings and have a laugh.”
“This year on LETAS has passed so quickly, travelling all over Europe with my best friend Kiran Matharu has been fun. I missed her mid-season when she took some time off and I hoping she does well at Tour School so we can share next year on tour. She is currently playing really well again and I know she is more than good enough to make the grade, I will be supporting her from my armchair with my feet up.”
“Visiting the many places around Europe was great, catching up with friends from last year in the pro-ams was also great fun but most of all I enjoyed meeting all the other competitors at each event. We are all very close and the messages of support I have had from them all has been amazing. I have shared laughter and tears with many of them this last year. I will hopefully manage to come back and play in a few LETAS events next year when the schedules are announced.”
“I have long believed that my best opportunity for a full card was through LETAS, as my form tends to be consistent through the season rather than having top form at Tour School. One of the courses at Tour School does not quite suit my game and I always seem to find it a bit of a struggle. I feel for all the girls heading back there this year, it’s not a nice experience unless you finish in the top 30 that is.”
“I am taking this week off and then between now and January I will be spending in the gym and on the range with my coach Neil Marr at Meldrum House. The clubs are due for a change so refitting is just around the corner but really it will be fine tuning everything so I am ready to go come the start of the season.”
“Depending on the schedule I might consider Australia in January. I really enjoyed my time there a couple of years back and it would be nice to catch up with the girls on the ALPG tour again. I have family in Sydney so it’s not a bad base to have during the winter. I also need to find some sponsorship to allow me to play a full season on tour, so the begging bowl is already out. There are so many people and businesses that we need to thank for their support as without them many would not be able to do what I consider the best job in the world.”
Fifth place was occupied by Finland’s Sanna Nuutinen. The 25-year-old from Helsinki secured her place with a win at the NordicTrack Open de Strasbourg and a further two top three finishes at the Ribeira Sacra Patrimonio de la Humanidad International Ladies Open and the EVLI Ladies Finnish Open.
Nuutinen was conscious that she would need a strong finish at the final event to stay ahead of Thomson and England’s Charlotte Thompson, to guarantee her place in the all-important top five positions on the order of merit. Her tied 31st place was good enough to secure the fifth and final qualifying spot.
Nuutinen commented, “Well I have enjoyed the season, it’s been really easy for me this year at tournaments because I know people there and I’ve made good friends and been playing more or less in my comfort zone.”
“The experience in Strasbourg where I won, which was my first victory, this gave me a lot of confidence. I think the most valuable thing this year that I got to play in the final groups a couple of times and I actually got to play for a victory, so to be putting myself in that situation will help me in the future playing in events on the LET so I have been there before. The tour has given me the experience to play on a higher tour.”
“I’m really happy there is a feeder tour like LETAS and also the level of the tour. The players on the tour are shooting lower scores now too as there are better players, which helps me. When the competition is tougher it makes me have to do well.”
"My highlight was my victory in Strasbourg and probably the final day when my dad was caddying for me and my mum was walking and watching. This was probably my most memorable moment.”
In addition to the top five players on the LET Access Series Order of Merit earning their Ladies European Tour cards, a further fifteen LETAS players also progressed to the final stage of Lalla Aicha Tour School, which takes place over the Samanah and Amelkis Golf Courses in Marrakech, Morocco from the 17 – 21 December.