Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Robinson: Success is process for Rebecca Lee-Bentham

Toronto's Rebecca Lee-Bentham dispelled any notion that she might not belong on the LPGA Tour by going back to Q-school and emerging a co-winner.

The kid clearly has some game.

That kid, of course, is Rebecca Lee-Bentham, a 20-year-old from Toronto who dispelled any notion she didn't belong on the LPGA Tour by going back to Q-school and emerging the co-winner, capping an uneven rookie season on the world's best women's circuit.

"Another 67 on Sunday," Lee-Bentham said matter of factly, in a tone that sounded more mature than a teenager but still with a hint of youthful blasé that could also be a metaphor for how young players are dominating women's golf. 

More specifically, Lee-Bentham was describing how she tied with Thailand's Moriya Jutanugarn, whom she reeled in from six shots back entering the fifth and final round at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"Another" was in reference to Lee-Bentham posting the same number last year to surge inside the cutline during the final round and earn her Tour card at the tender age of 19. Effectively, that meant skipping the Symetra Tour and turning professional after just a year of college golf at the University of Texas.

Things didn't go as well as expected as Lee-Bentham made three of the first four cuts, but just a single one over the rest of the season to earn $14,449 US. That dollar figure wasn't nearly enough to re-earn her card, which sent her back to qualifying.

"Making it to the LPGA [last year] was a bonus," she said. "I got to play against the very best ... I'm just learning now that success is a process."

Lee-Bentham's showing last week and the quality of the field she beat is an indication of two things: the relative depth of women's golf continues to be enhanced; and that perhaps Canada isn't being left behind as much as the lack of LPGA results of recent years suggest. By winning a tournament that included a number of LPGA veterans and at least a handful of youngsters considered among the world's best amateur players not long ago, Lee-Bentham has legitimately put herself in the conversation as a new season looms.

"The skills don't come overnight," she said, adding that some of her maturation as a player last year came by taking advice from established players, many of whom hail from Korea, the country that numerically dominates women's golf (Lee-Bentham is not fluent in Korean but knows enough to get by in the mother tongue of both her parents).

"You have to learn how to fail ... breaking through is a process."

Five round mindbender

The process, of course, has pitfalls.

Just like on the men's side, more Q-school grads fail to earn enough money during the season that follows and have to return to the five-round mindbender held every year in late November (it's even worse for the men -- six rounds).

There is even a cautionary tale with a Canadian angle. Montrealer Isabelle Beisiegel was a co-medallist at Q-school nine years ago but was stricken with Graves disease the following year. Her game suffered and, after recovering physically, the then 26-year-old embarked on a misguided attempt to play against men while not even having full LPGA status. Now 33, Beisiegel is still looking for a breakthrough and missed the 72-hole cut on Saturday.

Before Beisiegel, A.J. Eathorne of Penticton, B.C., won Q-school in 1998 and, for a time, appeared to be one of the LPGA's best young players. Eventually, Eathorne was left behind in the slipstream created by the influx of so many good young players, mostly from Asia. Eathorne lost her LPGA status and, though she eventually found some success as a PGA Tour caddy, is now out of competitive golf altogether and working as a golf executive at a resort in her home province.

Six full-time Canadians

Lee-Bentham, who earned $4,750 US for the co-medallist honours, now heads back to put in the hard hours over the holiday season and at her winter base in Orlando ahead of her first start in Australia in February at that country's national open.

Stephanie Sherlock, a 26-year-old from Barrie, Ont., was 10th and also re-stamped her ticket to the LPGA, where she has played the past two seasons with limited success. Lee-Bentham and Sherlock, along with established veterans Lorie Kane of Charlottetown and Hamilton's Alena Sharp, will join Quebeckers Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Sara-Maude Juneau to give Canada six full-time LPGA players in 2013.

Vancouver's Sue Kim grinded out a 3-under-par 69 on Sunday to earn a non-exempt card for 2013 and will headline a handful of other Canadians with limited status next season.

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