American Casey Danielson led the qualifiers for the Ladies European Tour’s 2018 season after a thrilling final day of golf at Lalla Aicha Tour School in Marrakech, Morocco.
As the sun set over the Atlas Mountains on the desert-style Palm Golf Ourika course, 25 women earned their full 2018 Tour cards and 35 more were eligible for partial status.
Danielson, who had led the field over the previous three rounds, began the day with a two-stroke lead and carded a fifth round of 70 to tie for first place on 14-under-par 346 and force a play-off against Carmen Alonso and Manon Mollé.
After the trio returned to the 18th hole, Alonso and Mollé both missed their birdie chances, allowing Danielson to two-putt from 80 feet for birdie to claim the victory.
“I can’t believe it. I am honoured and excited and just trying to process it,” said the 22-year-old Stanford graduate, from Wisconsin. “I woke up at 4.30am this morning because I couldn’t sleep. I was excited and nervous and ready to go. I tried to calm myself and have good visualisation.
“Luckily, we played in Pre-Qualifying at Palm Golf Ourika so I got to know the course really well and especially the 18th. I felt really comfortable with my second shot there and then I was able to make a solid putt in my round and then in the play-off I got on the green and my lag putt was pretty good. I felt comfortable on that hole because I had played it so much.
“This is the first tournament I’ve won in forever, so it feels good! It’s been great to experience Marrakech and to travel, especially with my mom, Liz. We’ve had a lot of fun today. I’m excited to travel more and to be able to see the world and get a great start to my career.
“It’s my first time in Morocco. The golf courses are beautiful with great views of the Atlas Mountains. Everybody has been so incredibly nice: the players, staff and the people of Marrakech. The players are always saying ‘nice round, how are you doing?’ and ‘do you want to go out to eat?’ That means a lot when you come from so far away.”
Just behind Danielson was French amateur Manon Mollé, from Brittany, who was extremely pleased with her final round of 69. Since the age of eight, when she first hit a golf ball, she had been dreaming of becoming a professional golfer and after practising for six to eight hours a day at Palm Golf Ourika since the summer, where her brother-in-law, Nicholas Claverie, is the Director of Golf, she could finally make her dreams become reality.
She said: “It feels great! For the last three months, I’ve been practising so much that I’m really, really happy about it. I knew it was the last time I would be playing in 2017 so I just enjoyed it and I’m so pleased with my score.”
Alonso, from Madrid, Spain, was five-under-par over her last five holes and shot 65 to retain her card. She said: “I’m happy about my round but I’m even happier for my Spanish colleagues who made the cut to gain their full cards because it’s great to have more Spanish players on the tour.
“I was nervous all day and I tried to focus on my routine and stay in the present, but when I arrived at the 14th hole and put my ball a metre from the hole, I said, ‘enough! Just play your best and try to make birdies.’ Then I went birdie, eagle, birdie and missed the birdie on 17 but I made birdie on 18.
“I love the game and I love the competition. I have four brothers and I’m the youngest and I’ve always competed with them. For me, it’s the best thing in the world so I’m happy to be out here, on the golf course.”
Further down the leader board on 10-under-par, Gabriella Cowley from London, England, ended in fourth spot. She said: “I’m so happy. I was four-over through 14 on the first day and my goal was to finish in the top five, so I’m delighted to get a good category for next year.”
In the play-off to determine the fifth place in Category 5b, Norwegian amateur Karoline Lund eagled the fifth hole to defeat compatriot Jeanette Marita Engzelius, Nina Pegova from Russia and Silvia Banon from Spain.
The other players who finished in 6th to 25th positions and earned Category 8a status were Julia Engström, Vikki Laing, Cajsa Persson, Laura Sedda, Elina Nummenpaa, Mireia Prat, Piti Martinez Bernal, Elia Folch, Cloe Frankish, Sanna Nuutinen, Lucrezia Colombotto Rosso, Sideri Vanova (below), Ainil Bakar, Katja Pogacar and Ariane Provot.
After six players played for the remaining two spots in Category 8a, Norwegians Céline Borge and Madelene Stavnar, who both play at Vestfold Golf Club, earned the 24th and 25th cards.
In total, 18 countries were represented at the Final Stage and 13 different nations comprised the top 25. Among those who qualified was Katja Pogacar (below), who will become the LET’s first representative from Slovenia in 2018.