By SCOTT COTTOS
SYLVANIA — For former University of Findlay star Kasey (Petty) Miller, the Marathon Classic was her second professional golf tournament.
After qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago and missing the cut, Miller received a sponsor’s exemption for this year’s annual LPGA Tour stop at Highland Meadows Golf Club and had the same result.
She started the Marathon Classic well with a one-under-par 70 on Thursday, but then came a four-over 75 on Friday then ended up in her “slamming the trunk,” as the players say.
Miller left the course disappointed but undaunted, owning a different feeling than she had when she played in the U.S. Women’s Open
“When I first played in the Open, I was quoted a few times as saying I felt very overwhelmed, very starstruck,” Miller, who with husband Jake recently returned to live in Findlay after having resided in Columbus, said after Friday’s round. “I’d see Michelle Wie and Paula Creamer and Lexi (Thompson) on the range and I’m like, ‘I don’t belong here.’ But this year just felt different. I mean, I still had the nerves on the first tee, but in leading up to this week, I’m like, ‘I belong here. This is where I’m supposed to be.’ And hopefully I’ll be there next year.”
That will mean playing in the LPGA “Q School” in an effort to qualify for next year’s tour. Q School is scheduled for Aug. 19-25 at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
In preparation, she’s been sharpening her game with a great deal of tournament play.
“I play on the Eggland’s Best Ladies Pro Golf Tour throughout the winter and spring months and then I fill it in with state opens through the summer,” she said. “So, I’m heading to Illinois on Monday for a practice round (followed by the Illinois Open). I just kind of go around state to state — state opens in the summer and Eggland’s Best whenever I can.”
The competition she sees in those tournaments, as one might expect, is “definitely not as good as this,” she said, referring to the LPGA Tour.
“This is the biggest stage, obviously,” said Miller, who received All-America recognition as a senior at Findlay in 2016 and finished second in the NCAA Division II championship. “But it’s still good competition. It keeps you playing, keeps you in it, keeps you competitive. So, I try to play in as many as I can so I’m ready.”
Miller was happy to be granted a spot in the Marathon Classic this year after being able to make it in previous years via the Monday qualifying event at Sylvania Country Club.
“It’s definitely a lot more pressure when you have to go to the Monday qualifier,” she said. “I’m just glad I didn’t have to do that this year. I kind of felt a little more freed up because of that. I had a good round yesterday and I can’t really complain — I mean, beautiful weather and I had a lot of friends and family out.”
RISING STAR: Erica Shepherd made the most of her sponsor’s exemption to play in the Marathon Classic.
The 18-year-old freshman-to-be at Duke University not only was the only amateur to make the cut, but she finished tied for 35th place with a five-under-par 279 strokes. Her best round was Sunday’s 68.
“I think that was the best I hit it out of the four days,” said Shepherd, who not only was the youngest player in the field but the only left-hander. “Everything was kind of working together. I had a bad three-putt and a bad up-and-down, but I converted a lot of my birdies and I felt pretty good about it.”
Shepherd, who hails from Greenwood, Indiana, will join the Blue Devils in the fall with already quite a resume in hand. The Marathon Classic was her fifth professional event. Her first pro tournament was the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 14; she again played in the Open at 16. Playing with professionals has certainly paid off, she said.
“I’ve always been super competitive, so just having one of the best players in the world to compete with the whole 18 holes, I think that’s definitely beneficial,” she said.
Shepherd said she enjoyed her first visit to Highland Meadows.
“It was awesome,” she said. “I got the call a week ago yesterday that I was in the tournament. So, it all just happened really fast and I’m super-grateful for it and hopefully I’ll be back soon.”
HOME COOKING: Toledo native and former world top-ranked player Stacy Lewis struggled for many years in the Marathon Classic, and she’s generally struggled since returning to the tour from maternity leave in March.
Things took a dramatic turn for the better all the way around this week. Her round of 66 on Sunday put her at 268 (16 under par), good for third place. She was six shots behind winner Sei Young Kim of South Korea.
Coming off the 18th green, she was greeted by husband Gerrod Chadwell and 8-month-old daughter Chesnee, adding to her memories of playing in the tournament since she received a sponsor’s exemption shortly after wrapping up her collegiate career at the University of Arkansas in 2008.
“I think the first one’s always memorable,” Lewis said. “I remember being on that first tee, like, shaking. I mean, I couldn’t get the ball on the tee. But, definitely, playing good golf and having (Chesnee) here and (being) with the family, it’s been an awesome week.”