Lopez follows LPGA Q-School grind with U.S. Women’s Am start

PORTLAND, Ore. – For Gaby Lopez, the key to this two-week stretch is recovery time. Sit in the hot tub, put her feet up. Because nothing will drain the life out of a player like teeing it up in the U.S. Women’s Amateur one day after LPGA Q-School.

Lopez, one of five amateurs to make their way from Palm Springs, Calif., to Portland Golf Club this week, opened with a 2-over 74. The Arkansas senior placed sixth at Stage I of LPGA Q-School, a four-day grind at Mission Hills Country Club that cut a field of 283 down to 60.

“There’s a lot of golf in my mind,” she said.

Lopez, a Mexican native, gained notoriety last spring when she finished runner-up to Alabama’s Emma Talley at the NCAA Championship. Right now it’s tough for Lopez to say exactly how far she’s willing to take Q-School.

Her goal for 2016 is simple: qualify for the Olympics.

Currently she’s on the outside of a fluctuating list, as Alejandra Llaneza, a 27-year-old pro, sits 51st in the Olympic Rankings. Lopez hopes a solid showing at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, where she has an exemption, this fall will garner much-needed points. She plans to write to several LPGA events asking for sponsor exemptions next spring, and, if successful, would stay at Arkansas to finish the spring semester.

At 7 a.m. on Monday, Lopez’s younger brother Jose walked the course so that Lopez wouldn’t be coming out in the afternoon completely blind. Having a game plan on this shapely, tree-lined track with undulating greens is a must. The greens here, Lopez said, are rolling considerably faster than those in the desert.

Nelly Korda, younger sister to LPGA player Jessica, was on the same schedule as Lopez, coming directly from Q-School. Except Korda, who finished third at Mission Hills, teed off at 9:25 a.m. She shot 73 at Portland GC with her dad on the bag. Jessica is playing down the street this week at the Cambia Portland Classic.

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Emotions ran high in the scoring tent Monday afternoon when the 12:40 p.m. group faced a slow-play penalty. Samantha Griffith, who shot 76, was in hysterics while speaking to rules officials. She ran off toward the clubhouse after all three players in the group received a one-stroke penalty.

Portland’s own Ellen Secor took a much calmer approach to it all, but she wasn’t pleased. Secor, 17, who plays out of Pumpkin Ridge, comes to Portland once a week to take a golf lesson.

“You’ve just got to take the penalty and play a great round tomorrow,” said Secor, who shot 80 with an 8 on the par-3 12th.

The third player in the group, Emilee Hoffman, shot 75.

Championship director Shannon Rouillard said the group missed two checkpoints on their front nine (the back side).

“Missing those two checkpoints caused backup for the rest of the field behind them,” Rouillard said.

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Bronte Law can attest to that backup. The English player had enough time to read the plaques on the statuesque trees that line Portland Golf Club. The perfectly-groomed club has the feel of a botanical garden.

Law, winner of the last two English Women’s Amateur Championships, took the 2015 event by a whopping 16 strokes. That included a career-low of 63 in the opening round.

Law entered final qualifying for the Ricoh Women’s British Open riding a wave of confidence. Only that wave crashed on the fourth hole when she pulled out her range finder and was promptly disqualified.

It left a bitter taste, but Law was pleased with how professionally she handled the situation.

“Me doing that will make me a better person,” she said.

In a way, the U.S. Women’s Am has become the UCLA junior’s adopted championship. Because the Bruins operate on a quarter system, she has been unable to play in the British Amateur the past couple years.

The Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup star has yet to advance past the second round in America’s championship. She opened with a 73 in sunny Portland.

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Jennifer Hahn and Samantha Wagner lead the way in stroke-play qualifying after carding matching 68s. Seventeen players broke par in the first round, including 2014 champion Kristen Gillman, who shot 71. … Brooke Henderson, who was a finalist at last year’s Women’s Amateur, Monday-qualified for the LPGA event down the road at Columbia Edgewater Country Club with a 68.

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