And then there were 23… That is, 23 resolute players who, after a gruelling two-week-long Qualifying School test at the La Manga golf and leisure resort in Murcia, secured their playing rights to compete on next year’s Ladies European Tour.
The star of the show on the final day was American Gabriella Then, who carded a superb six-under 67 to win the final qualifier by four shots. The 26-year-old had spent two weeks at La Manga Club getting to know the North and South Courses as she first had to compete in the pre-qualifying, successfully navigating that opening challenge by finishing joint 10th.
Remarkably, Then had stopped playing golf in August 2019 after failing to make it through the first stage of the US LPGA Tour Q-Series, but she decided to pick up a golf club at the start of 2021 and has now resurrected her professional career – in style.
At La Manga, in the five-round (90-hole) final qualifier (after four rounds of pre-qualifying), Then carded rounds of 70-73-68-71 to hold a share of third place heading into the final round on the South Course. Making a hot start, she reeled off three birdies in four holes on the front nine and three more birdies on the back nine to seal the victory.
“I was just taking it one shot at a time, so I had no idea where I stood, and I was very surprised,” said the 2011 PING Junior Solheim Cup winner.
“I had some really good moments on the front nine. I gave myself a lot of great birdie chances and was keeping it steady, and on the back nine, when the wind picked up, I kept playing my shots and giving myself chances. It feels amazing. I can’t believe that this is happening right now. This is my first time playing in Spain and playing in Europe, so I’m excited for next year.”
A total of 128 players from 30 countries competed in the final qualifier, played on both the North Course (designed by Robert Dean Putman in 1971) and South Course, which was also designed by Robert Dean Putman that same year and remodelled in 2005 by the legendary Arnold Palmer.
The top 20 plus ties (hence 23) earned their LET cards for 2022. Sweden’s Lisa Pettersson, also 26, finished in second place on eight-under-par, after having been the top player from the pre-qualifier. “I’m very happy and tired,” she said. “It’s been two very long weeks. I didn’t know what to expect coming in. I’ve never played on the LET so I didn’t know what the competition was going to be like.
“After last week I had some expectations for my game. I tried to go out and not look at the leaderboard and take one shot at a time and it worked. I came here with the goal of securing a card so I’m very happy with it. I’m super excited to be playing on the LET next year.”
Two-time LET Access Series winner Agathe Laisne was third on seven-under-par. Later, the Frenchwoman said, “I’m very happy, it feels like a Christmas gift. I’m very proud of myself as the good work with my team paid off, so I’ll definitely enjoy the holidays.”