Epson season is complete: Meet the graduates — Must-click women’s golf links
The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, Oct. 12, 2023
Happy Golf Thursday! It’s safe to say that this 2023 season is winding down, the conclusion of the Epson Tour Championship ushers in the 2023 graduating class, which means that we get a glimpse at ten of the newest LPGA rookies for next year.
From 1999-2002, the official qualifying tour of the LPGA handed out three cards. Then from 2003-2007, that number increased to five before 10 cards started being distributed in 2008. Since that inaugural year, 192 athletes have graduated to the big stage including the top 10 from this season.
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So let’s meet the 2023 Epson Tour graduates:
Gabriela Ruffels, 23
We’ve previously discussed Ruffels’ redemption story and consider here officially redeemed. After missing the Q-Series registration deadline last year, Ruffels had something to prove and she came out this season swinging. The former USC Trojan won three times in the first 15 events, earning her the title of the 2023 Epson Tour Player of the Year. Her third victory solidified her spot on the money list, clinching her card, and she will finally be an LPGA Tour rookie in 2024.
Natasha Andrea Oon, 22
The 2023 Epson rookie has been one to watch since her tour debut in March. Oon started her season strong with four top-10 results in her first five starts. In beyond consistent fashion, she kept her foot on the pedal carding four second-place results before capturing a win late in the season at Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout — ultimately earning herself 2023 Epson Tour Rookie of the Year honors, while being one of nine players to break the $100,000 mark in season earnings. With two events left on the schedule, OOn was able to clinch her card for the 2024 season.
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Auston Kim, 23
Kim took the saying “save the best for last” quite seriously, securing her LPGA Tour card for 2024 by winning the Epson Tour Championship last week. Kim joined the Epson Tour in 2022 and has 11 career top-10 finishes on the Epson Tour, 10 of which came in 2023, including her season-ending victory. Her second-round 64 at the Epson Tour Championship tied her career-low round on the Epson Tour which she last shot during the second round of the Island Resort Championship.
Jiwon Jeon, 26
The University of Alabama has had a successful run during her first two seasons on the Epson Tour—recording five top-10 career finishes and two career victories. While playing 10 events in 2022 and 21 events in 2023, Jeon missed just four cuts, while collecting two victories and one additional top-10 finish this year, helping her vault up in the Race for the Card and secure her card for her return to the LPGA Tour with two events left to play on the schedule.
Jeon on earning 2024 LPGA Tour Membership: “I can’t even describe how I’m feeling. I’ve been working really hard for this moment, and I’m getting really emotional right now. It’s been a ride, so many ups and downs, but I proved to myself this year that I’m good enough to play on the LPGA Tour. Two wins this year means a lot and proved to myself that I deserve to win and to play on the LPGA Tour, so I’m very happy.”
Minji Kang, 28
Minji Kang is one of three Epson Tour rookies to secure their spot on the LPGA Tour through the 2023 Race for the Card and is one of three players to earn their card without a win. She played in all 22 events in the 2023 Epson Tour season, finishing in the top 10 a total of eight times and missing the cut twice throughout the year.
Agathe Laisne, 24
Golfers on the supporting tours will tell you that the path to success is not linear, and Agathe Laisne is a prime example. After finishing T22 at the 2021 LPGA Q-Series, the Frenchwoman earned her LPGA Tour membership for the 2022 season. But golf is quite difficult, and she made just three cuts in her rookie campaign. This season, Laisne played in a total of 20 events, grabbing a victory as well as five additional top-10 finishes—she will return to the LPGA Tour in 2024 with full status.
Laisne on earning 2024 LPGA Tour Membership: “I have a little headache, but I feel very pumped. I want to celebrate tonight, and I just feel so happy because my friend got in, Kristen Gillman, just at the end, so I feel even more happy for her and for us next season to share it. It’s going to be sweet. Yeah, it’s so good because you put the hard work in and it pays off at the end of the season. It is a great feeling.”
Jenny Coleman, 31
Coleman will return to the LPGA Tour in 2024 after a season of conditional status in 2023. In 2016, she finished T29 at the 2016 LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament to first earn LPGA Tour Membership for the 2017 season. After playing in 23 Epson Tour and three LPGA Tour events this year, she has found herself within the top 10 in the Race for the Card once again. She earned her first career Epson Tour victory at the IOA Golf Classic and earned three additional top-10 finishes to finish seventh on the official money list.
Roberta Liti, 28
Roberta Liti had a successful amateur career representing the Italian National Team twice in the World Amateurs and winning the Italian Championship in 2013. She played collegiately at Arizona State before joining the Epson Tour in 2019. Liti earned conditional status with a T38 finish at the 2022 LPGA Q-Series but opted to spend most of her 2023 season on the Epson Tour. The decision worked out for Liti as she went on to have the best season of her career, finishing in the top 10 six times.
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Isabella Fierro, 22
Since beginning her rookie season on the Epson Tour in March 2023, Isabella Fierro played in 22 events and a good year turned great for the 22-year-old in September as she recorded three consecutive top-10 finishes before capping off the month with her first career victory at the Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic. The Mexico native only missed four cuts in her first professional season and will look to make her debut on the LPGA Tour in 2024.
Kristen Gillman, 26
Gillman was both an Epson and LPGA Tour rookie in 2019 but did not compete on the Epson Tour until 2022. She first earned LPGA Tour Membership after finishing T13 at the 2018 LPGA Q-Series to earn status for the 2019 season. As an amateur, Gillman won the 2014 and 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateurs. Since then, she has earned five career top-10 finishes, the best of which was a runner-up at this year’s French Lick Resort Charity Classic. On the LPGA Tour, the 26-year-old has recorded five career top-10 results, most notably tying for third as a rookie at the 2019 Buick LPGA Shanghai.
Gillman on earning 2024 LPGA Tour Membership: “I’m excited to get back out there. I feel like my game has improved a lot and I’ve learned a lot as a player, so I’m excited to go out there and kind of put into play what I learned and see how it compares against them again.”
This week in women’s golf
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Five at The IX: Quick quotes from the Shriners Children’s Open
“I’m very excited I actually got this new white Cobra bag, and for this week — it’s totally blank – I have the Shriners kids designing it and writing a few things on it which makes it even more special because that’s what this week is all about. It’s amazing what Shriners does for these kids and gives them the opportunity to follow their dreams and give them the healthiest lifestyle that they can. So, I’m basically carrying them all with me around this week and having their support means the world.” – Lexi Thompson on her bag this week
“It’s definitely and inspiration to know that women can still participate in men’s sports and still manage to do as well as they do. Finding out that she was going to be a part of (this tournament) was mind blowing and I was on cloud nine all day because I’ve been waiting to meet her all day. It finally happened and now I’m still on cloud nine. It just means a lot that women can still compete like this… I’m honored, I’m flattered because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me because a player like that is really an amazing representation of the women’s game.” – Shriners Hospital St. Louis patient Kerrigan Rudolph on meeting Lexi Thompson
“It’ll be inspirational for the kids to look up to someone like Lexi and make them believe that they can do it one day, too. It’s cool. It’s a fun sport because it brings in anyone from wherever you are, whether it’s gender or whatever, this sport isn’t necessarily limited to one certain person. It’s awesome to see that inclusion, to have her here, and it’s going to be fun.” – PGA Tour player Ben Griffin on Thompson playing on the PGA Tour
“Providing an exemption to Lexi for the Shriners Children’s Open came about from our relationship with her management team. The addition to having Lexi in our tournament field is twofold. She brings additional awareness for our title sponsor and benefactor, Shriners Children’s. However, more importantly to everyone was the opportunity for Lexi to interact and engage with the numerous Shriners Children’s patients who are involved in and at the tournament. With Lexi competing in the tournament, she immediately becomes a source of inspiration and hope to the Shriners Children’s patients and basically anyone who is trying to break through barriers.” – Patrick Lindsey, Executive Director of Shriners Children’s Open
“You know, (female representation in golf) it’s everything. I think that there is much room for growth in the women’s game, and continued in our game, too. But for them, just having that opportunity to — on the biggest stage — to show their skills, even her just teeing it up is a success with whatever she shoots. I know she’ll handle it well. Just crossing those barriers is really important and I think that just the tournament being progressive and giving her the opportunity is really cool.” – PGA Tour veteran Luke List
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