Down the Fairway: Hage learning ropes as rookie pro

Nicole Hage would have played in more Futures tour stops if she had known that the top 10 finishers,

They say timing is everything.

Many players on the Duramed Futures Tour were thrilled with the recent news that the amount of LPGA Tour cards awarded to the top players on the money list following this weekend’s ILOVENY Championship at Capital Hills at Albany was expanded from five to 10.

But Nicole Hage was extremely upset, especially with the timing of the announcement earlier this week.

“I was very disappointed when I heard the news this week,” said the Auburn University graduate who is the daughter Joe Hage, a former Amsterdam High School football standout. “I probably would have put more time in on the Futures Tour if I knew that the top 10 players would get their LPGA cards. I had conditional status on the LPGA Tour this year, and that meant I couldn’t really focus on either tour. I ended up missing so many Futures Tour stops because of that.”

Hage played in five regular LPGA Tour events, plus the U.S. Women’s Open. In each event, she had to Monday qualify, which meant she had no time to enter a Futures Tour event that week if she failed to get a spot in an LPGA tournament.

“If they had announced there would be 10 spots earlier in the season, that would have changed my whole game plan. I would have focused more on the Futures Tour,” Hage said. “To make the announcement with just two or three weeks left didn’t help me at all. I guess if you are in the top 10 right now, you’re thrilled, but I know a lot of other players in my position who are disappointed. I guarantee you a lot of people’s game plans would have changed if they knew about this from the beginning of the season.”

Hage said the move is good for the game and for the Futures Tour but not necessarily for her at this time in her career.

“For me, it didn’t work out. That’s OK. This is my first year, and it’s a learning year. I’ve learned so much, actually. I have a feeling if I spent 100 percent of my time on the Futures Tour, I would have had a much better year, but after playing a couple of weeks on the LPGA Tour, it was hard for me to want to go back to the Futures Tour. I would take some weeks off between playing on the LPGA Tour events. Those were weeks I should have been playing on the Futures Tour.

“But you’ve got to live and learn, and I’m fine with that,” she said. “I’m kind of excited for the year to end. I want to regroup and get ready for Q [qualifying] school. If I don’t make it to the LPGA Tour, I’ll focus on the Futures Tour all of next year.”

Hage’s best finish on the Futures Tour this year was a tie for third in the Greater Richmond Futures Classic in Richmond, Va. She’s made $6,985 so far (61st on the money list) and has a stroke average of 74.26.

Hage recorded 21 top-10 finishes while at Auburn. She was named both the 2004 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and the SEC Player of the Year.

So far, she’s made just one cut on the LPGA Tour.

“Making that one cut is not very good,” she said. “That was because my short game was behind where it should have been. I’ve learned a lot by playing on the LPGA Tour this year. I’ve learned how to deal with the pressure of making the cuts and figuring out how to make all my travel plans by myself. It was a lot different when I was back in college. The coaches did everything for you, and all you had to do was get on the bus.”

What does she need to do to improve?

“It’s all about the short game,” she said. “I’ve got to keep working on my putting, my chipping and my pitching. Everything from 100 yards in is the key.”

Hage will be just one of many very interesting stories at Capital Hills at Albany this week.

Players of note include leading money winner Vicky Hurst ($88,472) from Melbourne, Fla., who has four victories, two-time winner Mindy Kim from Diamond Bar, Calif. ($69,270) and Kim Welch of Sacramento, Calif. ($33,768) who collected her first professional victory in Syracuse recently. Welch, the longest hitter on the Futures Tour, was the winner of The GolfChannel’s Big Break 9” series.

The total purse this week will be $100,000, with $14,000 going to the winner and $10,000 to the runner-up.

In its 28th season, the Duramed Futures Tour has graduated nearly 300 players onto the LPGA Tour, including recent standouts like Lorena Ochoa, Grace Park, Jimin Kang and In-Bee Park . Former LPGA standout Dottie Pepper from Saratoga Springs and current LPGA Tour member Laura Diaz from Scotia also competed on the Futures Tour.

This week’s tournament will include 144 players from 26 countries and will benefit the Albany Police and Fire Foundation.

Categories: Sports

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