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Suffolk golfer earns shot at the big time with LPGA
Suffolk golfer earns shot at the big time with LPGA

Lauren Doughtie chased her destiny around golf courses for as long as she can remember.

Sunday, she caught it after five pressure-soaked days of Qualifying School in Daytona Beach, Fla., where she achieved full playing membership on the LPGA Tour.

What comes next, now that Doughtie is the first woman from South Hampton Roads to reach the women's tour? Well, find a caddy. Hire an agent. Sign up sponsors, too, because traveling the far-flung ladies circuit is one big, expensive bear.

Oh, and breathe. Can't forget that.

"I haven't had hardly any time to really digest what's gone on," Doughtie, 25, said Tuesday, back at her parents' house in Suffolk following a day of LPGA orientation sessions in Florida.

"I know I've got the opportunity to play. That's all I'm asking for right now."

A mini-tour pro since 2009, Doughtie earned her privileges the hard way. She shot 3-under par Sunday, making birdie on her 90th and last hole, to tie six others for four final qualifying spots.

A three-hole playoff ensued, and Doughtie birdied two of them to secure her golden spot in the top 20. Earning her card means Doughtie will be able to enter any full-field event on the 2013 LPGA schedule.

That slate has yet to be released, but Doughtie does know her first week of May is booked: She'll be in Williamsburg - playing for family and friends in the Kingsmill Championship for the first time.

Doughtie has played in two U.S. Opens, but twice failed to make the Kingsmill field out of the Monday qualifier.

"I missed by one shot this year, which was a little heartbreaking," Doughtie said. "But I guess it gave me the motivation to make sure I didn't have to qualify next year."

Motivation is something Doughtie, who attended Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, never lacked. She won state amateur titles, starred at North Carolina State and grinded along the minor-league circuit.

"Not only does Lauren have talent, but she's got passion for practicing and playing like nobody I've ever seen," said Doughtie's coach, T.J. Young, the pro at Suffolk's Cedar Point Country Club.

"Ever since she was a teenager, she'd just eat, sleep and drink it. She's just totally into it; it consumes her. She gave herself no other option. She was going to make it, and that was it."

Young and Doughtie believed she eventually would make it. Last June, she won her first event on the LPGA's junior circuit - the Symetra Tour in Iowa - in a sudden-death playoff.

But a late-season slump cost Doughtie a top-10 spot on the Symetra money list and the LPGA tour card that would have come with it. She placed high enough, however, that she was able to skip straight to the third and final stage of Q School.

Doughtie did not start well; she was 4-over par after two rounds on the pair of LPGA International layouts. But she played the last three rounds in 7-under.

Because she played in an early group Sunday, Doughtie had to wait two hours after making her tap-in birdie on the par-5 18th before learning she had work to do to secure the card.

An opening par settled her, and Doughtie sank 10-foot and 3-foot birdie putts to claim her brand new day.

"I thought it was crucial that she make it," said Young, relieved Doughtie avoided another year in the minors. "She would have made it in the future, probably, but I just think too many negative things can start creeping in your mind in golf. And then, who knows what?"

Doughtie knows this: She chased long and hard, and she deserves the adventure she now has in store.

"I can remember being very young in school and knowing this is what I wanted to do," Doughtie said. "Especially after I got into high school and really started working for it and wanting to play in college, it really sunk in that I wanted to put the work in. That I wanted to play as my career."

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