Lee Shoots 63, Takes Lead in LPGA Q-Series; Smith Is on the Bubble

December 6, 2023 | 9 min.
By Michael R Fermoyle

MOBILE, Ala. -- Robyn Choi took the lead in the LPGA Tour Q-Series by going 57 holes without a bogey at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove, on the Crossings (par 72) and Falls (par 71) courses. Her streak was snapped on the first hole Tuesday in the fifth round. Actually, she didn't make a bogey. Instead, she made a double bogey on No. 1 at Crossiings. The 25-year-old former University of Colorado All-American rebounded from that with a birdie on the par-3 second hole and she went on to shoot a 4-under-par 68, which put her at 333, or 25 under for the 90 holes that have been played so far.

But that wasn't good enough to keep the lead. So Mi Lee, 24, a five-time winner on the LPGA Tour of Korea, extended her bogey-free run to 36 holes while shooting a 63. (All 70 players who are still in the tournament, after a 72-hole cut, are playing their last two rounds at Crossings.) And as a result, Lee is at 331 (27 under) and will take a two-stroke into sixth and fiinal round.

The Q-Series used to be a 144-hole psychological torture chamber played over two weeks. It's still a pressure cooker. The women in this tournament are playing for a year of their lives, basically. Their goal is to play on the LPGA Tour next year, and to get there they have to make the top 45 plus ties in the Q-Series. Those who don't make it will have a place to play in 2024, however, because they will have status on the top minor league in women's golf, the Epson Tour. 

There are five par 4s on the front nine at Crossings, and Lee didn't make a birdie on any of them until the ninth hole Tuesday. But she was 4 under on the par 3s and 5s, with a birdie on the par-3 second, an eagle on the par-5 fourth and another par-5 birdie at the sixth. Her birdie at the ninth gave her an outward 31, and after she parred the first three holes on the back nine, she birdied four of the last six holes on the way to her 63. 

That followed her second 65 of the tournament, Monday at Crossings. 

Choi, meanwhile, birdied seven of the 16 holes that she played Tuesday after making the double at No. 1, but she concluded her round with a bogey, her first actual bogey since the one she made on the 15th hole at Falls in Round No. 1.

Right behind Choi, at 334, is Mao Saigo, a 22-year-old who has won six tiimes on the LPGA of Japan Tour. It turns out that she, and not Choi, has put together the longest bogey-free streak of the Q-Series. She bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes at Crossings in Round 1, and bogeyed Nos. 1 and 4 at Falls in Round 2. Since then, however, she has gone 68 holes without a bogey -- or double -- and she posted her second straight 66 on Tuesday.

So she's in third place, three clear of Yuri Yoshida, who shot 69 on her way to 337, and she, in turn, is four clear of the three players who are tied for fifth at 341 -- Polly Mack (65), Hyo Joon Jang (68) and Yu Jin Sung (69). 

Of course, the real drama is about 40 places lower in the standings, and that's where Kate Smith finds herself. Smith, 24, won virtually everything there is for an amateur to win in Minnesota, starting with five consecutive state high school championships (2012, '13, '14, '15 and '16) while she was playing for Detroit Lakes, and including a State Women's Am and a State Women's Open title, not to mention the Big Ten individual championship that she won as a senior at Nebraska in 2021. 

Smith spent most of 2023 on the Epson Tour, where she won $66,457 in 21 events and ended up in the No. 19 slot on the money list. That didn't earn her a promotion to the LPGA Tour (the top 10 on the season-ending money list graduate to the LPGA), but it made her exempt from haviing to play in Stage I or Stage II of the LPGA Q-School series.

In the Q-Series, Smith was outside of the top 45 after rounds of 72 at Falls and 70 at Crossings, but she moved up into a tie for 22nd with a bogey-free 66 at Crossings in the third round. She had three birdies and three bogeys at Falls in a fourth-round 71, which left her in a tie for 33rd. On Tuesday, she started on the 10th hole and made two birdies and two bogeys on the back nine. She got to 3 under for the round with birdies at the par-4 third and both of the front-nine par 5s -- No. 4 and No. 6. But she gave two strokes back with bogeys at the seventh and ninth holes. That gave her a 1-under 71 -- and leaves her with no margin for error.

Going into Wednesday's final round, she's 8 under for the tournament and sitting on the Magic Number -- 350 -- in a 6-way tie for 43rd place. 

Kim Kaufman, the former Texas Tech All-American from Clark, South Dakota, who was a regular on the LPGA Tour, beginning in 2014 -- and earned well over $1 million in less than four years before she came down with mononucleosis in 2017 and fell down a flight of stairs during that year's CME Tour Championship -- was also in the Q-Series. She, like Smith, as on the Epson Tour this year, but made only $22,213 in 19 events and was 67th on the money list. She opened with a 69 at Falls and was 4 under through 17 holes at Crossings in the second round, but doubled the 18th for a 70. In the third round, she went 5 over on the last 11 holes and shot 75. 

She was 3 over for her last five holes on the way to a 72 at Crossings in the fourth round -- and that cost her -- because she missed  the cut by three strokes with a 286.

It does seem strange that the field was cut to 65 and ties after the fourth round, considering that anyone in the top 80 or 90 was still realistically in contention to make the top 45. As an example of how much ground a player could make up with a good score, Mariajo Uribe went from a tie for 74th to a tie for 24th by shooting 64 in her third round. She slipped a bit with a 71 in Round 4, but was back in a tie for 24th after shooting 68 on Tuesday, and she appears to be on the verge of getting her LPGA Tour Card for 2024 on Wednesday. 

LPGA Q-School

Q-Series (the final stage -- 108 holes)

At Robert Trent Jones Trail at Magnolia Grove

Crossings Course (par 72) 

Falls Course (par 71)

Mobile, Ala. 

Fifth-round results (the top 45 finishers earn LPGA Tour Cards for 2024; all other finishers will have status on the Epson Tour)

1. So Mi Lee                       68-65-70-65-63--331 (-27)

2. Robyn Choi                     69-67-64-64-68--333

3. Mao Saigo                       69-68-65-66-66--334

4. Yuri Yoshida                     67-69-67-65-69--337

T5. Polly Mack                     71-68-69-68-65--341

T5. Hyo Joon Jang               69-66-67-71-68--341

T5. Yu Jin Sung                    68-68-69-67-69--341

T43. Kate Smith                  72-70-66-71-71--350

72-hole cut -- 283

Kim Kaufman                       69-70-75-72--286

Stage II

At Plantation Golf & Country Club

Bobcat Course (par 72)

Panther Course (par 72)

Venice, Fla.

Final results (top 40 finishers advance to Q-Series, 11/30-12/5 at Robert Jones Trail Magnolia Grove GC in Mobile, Ala.)

1. Ingrid Lindblad (a), Sweden             67-66-70-67--270 (will not advance, because she's retaining her amateur status)

2. Alexandra Forsterling, Germany.     69-73-63-69--274

3. Pinyada Kuvanun, Thailand            70-67-71-69--277

T4. Kaitlin Milligan, Norman, Okla.       68-73-72-65--278

T4. Yu Jin Sung, South Korea              69-70-70-69--278

T15. Kim Kaufman, Clark, S.D.          69-72-69-73--283

What it took -- 286 (12-way tie for 30th)

Stage I

Aug. 28-31

At Mission Hills -- Dinah Shore Course (par 72)

@ Arnold Palmer Course (par 72)

@ at Indian Wells -- Classic Course (par 72)

Final results (top 99 advance to Stage II, Oct. 17-20 at Plantation G&CC in Venice, Fla.)

T1. Suzuka Yamaguchi             68-69-66-70--273

T1. Savannah Grewal (a)          67-68-66-72--273

T3. Jensen Castle (a)                66-71-69-69--275
T3. Fiona Xu (a)                         69-68-68-70--275

5. Erica Shepherd                      69-69-70-68--276

What it took -- 289 (11-way tie for 89th)

54-hole cut -- 219

Betsy Kelly                               80-78-72--230



Michael R Fermoyle

Mike Fermoyle’s amateur golf career features state titles in five different decades, beginning with the State Public Links (1969), three State Amateurs (1970, 1973 and 1980), and four State Four-Ball championships (1972, 1985, 1993 and 2001). Fermoyle was medalist at the Pine to Palm in 1971, won the Resorters in 1972, made the cut at the State Amateur 18 consecutive years (1969 to 1986), the last being 2000, and amassed 13 top-ten finishes. Fermoyle also made it to the semi-final matches at the MGA’s annual match play championship, the Players’, in 1982 and 1987.

Fermoyle enjoyed a career as a sportswriter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch before retiring in 2006. Two years later he began a second career covering the golf beat exclusively for the MGA and its website, mngolf.org, where he ranks individual prep golfers and teams, provides coverage on local amateur and professional tournaments and keeps tabs on how Minnesotans are faring on the various professional tours.

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