Teen phenom Saki Baba is one step away from qualifying to play on the LPGA Tour following her 15th-place finish at the second stage of the qualifying tournaments in Venice, Florida, on Friday, October 20.
The 18-year-old from Tokyo, who is the second-ranked women's amateur player in the world, shot a final-round 71 to finish with a four-day total of 283 in the event that included some 188 players. Baba had four birdies to offset three bogeys, and eagled the 16th hole.
After carding 1-over par rounds of 73 on the first two days of the competition, Baba caught fire on Thursday, when she shot a 6-under par 66. Baba was the highest finisher among the eight Japanese entered in the tournament, and the only one to advance to the final test at the LPGA Q-Series in Mobile, Alabama, November 30-December 5 at the Magnolia Grove Golf Course. Players had to finish in the top 40 in the second stage to make it to the last hurdle.
The Q-Series is a rigorous competition that comprises six rounds to determine which players will earn the right to play on the LPGA Tour. Baba will have to finish in the top 20 in it to earn LPGA Tour status in Category 14 (which allows players to enter 60% of the LPGA Tour tournaments).
A Big Challenge for Saki Baba
Baba, who represented Japan in the Asian Games women's golf tournament (September 28-October 1) in Hangzhou, China, admitted that competing in such a big field in Florida was tough.
"It was very hard. I was wondering if I could play like a normal game," Baba was quoted as saying after her round on Friday on the Bobcat Course at the Plantation Golf & Country Club. "The number of entrants is very large, so the ranking goes down a lot with one bogey, and on the contrary, it goes up with a birdie. I felt that each shot was very heavy."
Baba, who burst onto the international scene in August 2022 with her stunning victory in the US Women's Amateur Championship at Chambers Bay outside Tacoma, Washington, noted that the Q-Series will present a real challenge for her.
"The days are a little more, so it may feel different from this time," Baba commented. "I want to be prepared for the final qualifying tournament."
Baba Also Aims to Earn JLPGA Tour Card
Baba will return to Japan and attempt to secure her JLPGA Tour card at the qualifying tournament in Okayama beginning on October 31 at the Seto Inland Sea Golf Club. If she earns cards on both tours, she will have a decision to make.
"It will be decided where to play next year," Baba remarked on Friday. "I want to sleep now and take a short break, and from the 31st I will face the final test of the Japan tour."
Author: Jack Gallagher
The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.