Former Tarheel Reaches Final Phase Of LPGA Qualifying School

Dec 3, 2014

Katherine Perry never won a tournament when she was on scholarship for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's women's golf team. But she's made it through the first two phases of the LPGA Qualifying School. Today is the start of the third and final phase. If Perry is one of the top 20 women, she will earn a spot on the LPGA Tour.

Katherine Perry
Credit UNC Women's Golf

Most days, Katherine Perry can be found working at the Naismith Grill at UNC's Finley Golf Club. She serves food and drink to those who stop by for breakfast or lunch.

But Katherine Perry is much more than a run-of-the-mill server.  She's one of the state - and the country's - elite female golfers. When her shift ends at 3 p.m., she heads directly out on to the course.

Perry is from Cary, North Carolina. She's been playing since age 12.

"My goal right now is to get on the LPGA tour, and hopefully win some tournaments," she says.

'I'm in control of everything. If I do something bad, it's on me. If I do something good, it's on me. It's completely in my control.'

Perry had great success in high school. When she was 17-years-old she qualified for the U.S. Open as an amateur. That led to a scholarship at Carolina.

She played, but she wasn't a star. Since she left the team behind, though, she's found that the solitary nature of non-team golf is a better fit.

"I'm in control of everything.  If I do something bad, it's on me. If I do something good, it's on me.  It's completely in my control in that sense," she says.

"Being a team player, you never want to let your coaches and teammates down. [But] if you're out there alone, [if you play badly] all you're letting down is yourself. And if you go out and practice more, it'll be fine."

Advice From A Former LPGA Pro

Katherine Perry practices putting for the final round of LPGA Qualifying School.
Credit Carol Jackson

Leah Buchmann was one of Perry's college coaches. She says that college success does not indicate professional potential.

"Everybody peaks differently," says Buchmann, "and sometimes it is just a matter  of getting away from college where you learn and grow and you're playing just for yourself."

Before becoming a coach, Leah Buchmann played professionally for five years; she  was on the LPGA tour in 2009 and 2010. She knows that getting an LPGA card is just the beginning. Finding the funds to travel and eat, and pay for a caddy is hard.

"Paying the caddy. That's a huge expense just alone," says Buchmann. "You're paying somebody else's salary for a year." And you pay the caddy whether you win or lose. 

"It is a kind of different pressure," says Buchmann. Sponsors take the pressure off, but then a player must play well enough to keep the sponsors happy and the money flowing.  It's a flaw in golf, and not just professional golf," says Buchmann.

For now, Katherine Perry is keeping her eye on what she can control.

'Less than .001 percent get to play on the LPGA in terms of women golfers in the world, and to be in the elite group, it's very special and very cool.'

She practices after work until dark seven days a week. She has a hitting coach, who is helping fine-tune her swing.

And she proved something to herself when she made it through the first stage of Qualifying School.  Close to 300 women were vying for the top spots.

The first day she shot a respectable two-over-par. On the way back to the hotel, Perry's dad told her that in order to advance in the event, she had to play under par the next day. And she did. That act was a great confidence boost, Perry says.

Perry went on to tie for 4th. In stage two, she beat around 200 players for a top ten finish - some from the LPGA tour itself who were trying to hold onto their spots.

Coach Buchmann says that what Perry is trying to do is one of the hardest things in women's sport today.

"Less than .001 percent get to play on the LPGA in terms of women golfers in the world, and to be in the elite group, it's very special and very cool to think  about and [say] 'I did that. I pursued my dreams.' It's very exciting."

The tournaments for the final phase of Q School begin today at the LPGA International Course in Daytona Beach Florida.