DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There’s no setting in golf as emotional as the final day of the final stage of Q-School.
There’s more joy in the player ranks than you’ll see in a major championship, because it is spread so much deeper in the field.
Maria Torres finished 20th Sunday at LPGA International and couldn’t have been more thrilled if she won the event.
“I am kind of in shock,” Torres said. “I feel like I am in a dream or something.”
Everyone among the top 20 at Sunday’s end walked away a winner, with each of them claiming full membership to play the LPGA next season.
Torres survived a three-way playoff to claim that last spot, but it is what she survived almost three months ago that made it so much more satisfying.
Torres huddled with her family in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in September as Hurricane Maria’s 155 mph winds thrashed their second-floor apartment. There was no running water for two days after, no air conditioning for a week.
A University of Florida graduate last spring, Torres shed her amateur status before Sunday’s playoff, turning pro so she could accept tour membership after signing her scorecard. She is the first player from Puerto Rico to earn an LPGA tour card.
Torres called home to Puerto Rico after defeating Daniela Darquea and Mind Muangkhumsakul in the playoff.
“I won the tournament, Mommy,” Torres said.
There was a pause, while Torres’ mother, Lisandra, relayed the news to Maria’s father, Jose.
“And then they were screaming,” Torres said.
With Puerto Rico on her mind, with a chance to make her commonwealth proud, Torres said the final round was especially challenging. She started the day tied for ninth and then five-putted the third hole, turning a birdie chance there into a triple bogey. She persevered, making birdies at three of the next five holes and shooting 74.
“You have all these emotions, and sometimes you don’t know how to control them, but, thankfully, it worked out,” Torres said.
For every player who claimed full or conditional LPGA status this week, there were almost three who didn’t.
That makes for more tears at the final stage of Q-School than any other tournament.
One player after another left the scoring tent late Sunday afternoon wiping their eyes.
Failure at the final stage of Q-School can feel like the weight of a lost year, because that’s how long it will likely take players to get another chance to make it to the LPGA.
There was extra weight to this year’s Q-School failure, because final stage is being overhauled. It will be so much more difficult for some of these players to work their way back to final stage next year.
This year, 82 players advanced to final stage from second stage. Next year, only 20 to 30 will advance, with a new Q-Series in effect as the final stage. Next year, players who finish 101st-150th on the LPGA money list, 11th-30th on the Symetra Tour money list and 1st-5th on the Golfweek Sagarin/college rankings will join as many as 10 players from the top 75 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings at second stage. They’ll play for 40 to 50 tour cards over eight rounds.
Count Nasa Hataoka, Georgia Hall and Rebecca Artis among the happiest here Sunday.
Hataoka won the Q-School finals, closing with a 71 on the Hills Course to finish at 12-under overall, one shot better than Hong Kong’s Tiffany Chan (71) and three better than South Africa’s Paula Reto (71).
Hall, 21, the Ladies European Tour Order of Merit leader this season, dug herself out of a big hole after opening the week with a 77. The Englishwoman rallied with rounds of 69-67-69-72 to tie for seventh.
“It was a horrendous start, but I’m very glad I came back,” Hall, 21, said. “It was definitely under pressure. I don’t want to do tour school again. Once is enough.”
Artis, 29, a two-time Ladies European Tour winner, reveled in making it through Q-School in her fifth attempt. She closed with a 71 to finish solo fourth.
“Q-School is always such a hard week,” Artis said. “Being here five times, of course it makes it much sweeter.”
Artis’ husband, Geoff, is also her caddie. He has been on her bag for seven of the last eight years.
“In the third or fourth year, we decided I would get another full-time caddie and he would get another full-time bag,” Artis said. “But I hated every bit of it.”
Artis’ father, Keith, made the trip from their home in Coonabarabran in Australia and walked with her this week. Her mother, Roslyn, followed online back home, where she kept the family bakery up and running.
Gavin Coles, a family friend and former PGA Tour pro who shares a teacher with Artis (Gary Edwin), helped her on the range all week.
“Gavin is Gary’s eyes when I’m over here,” Artis said.
Artis said all the hard work she and Geoff put into getting ready for the week would require a couple celebrations, one in Florida, and another when they return to Coonbarabran, where she also has four brothers waiting for her.
“We will all celebrate when we get home, don’t you worry about that,” Artis said.
Q-School can be the kind of long week that requires more than one celebration.