22 August, 2017: The Indian flag will flutter with pride at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. As aspiring women of all shades step up to the first tee in the first stage of qualifying for LPGA will feature seven Indian golfers. Veteran Simi Mehra will lead a contingent of mostly amateur golfers. Sharmila Nicollet, busy shaping up with a vigorous routine of fitness and form will also be in action.
A lot of this exuberance can be credited to the recent success of Aditi Ashok, who has emboldened fellow golfers into aspiring for greater heights. After Aditi ended 2016 as the rookie of the season and second on the order of merit, four Indian women gained varying degrees of access to the Ladies European Tour for 2017.
A similar quest is now taking shape for Indian golfers seeking a ticket to the LPGA circuit.
Ashok went through Qualifying School last year and advanced all the way to Final Stage where she finished T24 to earn partial LPGA status. She has made 14 starts on the LPGA Tour this year and ranks 74th on the money list.
For perspective, there were zero players from India signed up for LPGA Qualifying School Stage I in 2013. As recently as 2015, there was just one player from India (Simi Mehra).
Mehra has three career wins on the Symetra Tour and 13 total top 10 finsihes and then played on the LPGA in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Mehra is in Stage I this week looking for a return to the LPGA at the age of 45.
The Thiagaraj sisters – Kharisma and Khushboo – are part of the nine from India. They both played college golf in the U.S. Kharisma played at James Madison while Khushboo is a senior at Radford.
Sharmilla Nicollet, who played in the ShopRite LPGA Classic on an exemption through a Twitter vote, is also in the field. She has nearly 400,000 followers on Twitter.
The record field size of 362 players will compete to try and advance to LPGA Qualifying School Stage II, which will take place at Plantation Golf & Country Club in Venice, Florida the week of October 16-22. There will be a cut made after 54-holes to the top 125 players and ties. The final-round will take place on the Dinah Shore Course, which is home to the ANA Inspiration on the LPGA Tour, and the top 90 and ties after 72 holes will advance.
The Final Stage of LPGA Qualifying School is November 27-December 3 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Florida. The top 20 finishers at Final Stage of LPGA Qualifying School earn LPGA Tour membership.
Symetra Tour membership is also at stake for those that are unable to advance to Final Stage and finish inside the top 20. Players that finish 54 holes this week in Rancho Mirage will earn Symetra Tour membership.
The players will rotate through the three courses (Dinah Shore, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player) over the first three rounds and the final-round will be contested on the Dinah Shore Course.
The Dinah Shore course is a par-72 and will play 6,610 yards, the Arnold Palmer Course is a par-72 and will play 6,520 yards while the Gary Player Course is a par-72 and will play 6,510 yards.