After six-plus seasons on the LPGA Futures Tour, Jessica Shepley of Oakville, Ont., put together rounds of 67-70-66 to post a 13-under finish of 203 in recording her first-ever win on that circuit at the International at Concord in New Hampshire..
“This is what I came here to do this week,” said Shepley, 28. “For so long, everybody has said, ‘be patient, be patient,’ and there have been times when I doubted, but I guess it doesn’t matter how you start anything. It’s how you finish.”
Shepley certainly didn’t win the tournament in walk-away fashion. First, she had to battle 100 F temperatures in the first round and mid-90s heat on Saturday.
On Sunday, the heat came from third-year pro Lauren Doughtie, who played in front of Shepley and tied the Canadian for the lead with three holes to play. Doughtie picked this week to post her career-best runner-up finish with rounds of 71-67-66 and a 12-under total of 204.
Tied for the lead with Doughtie as she walked down the 18th fairway on Sunday, Shepley had hammered her drive and knew she’d better grip down a half gap wedge some 88 yards into the green. Her approach landed 10 feet from the cup.
“It looked more like 40 feet,” she said. “I was shaking so badly while I was trying to line up my putt that I finally told myself to just trust it. I hit it and two feet from the hole, I could see it was totally in.”
Her ball found its mark to finish a bogey-free round that included five birdies on the front nine and a single birdie on the final hole.
“I feel like everything is a process and you have to build a foundation,” said Shepley, who used her old University of Tennessee carry bag this week. “I’ve always felt like I had to win out here because I’ve wanted to win at every level.”
A winner of Canadian amateur events, as well as the 2009 Canadian PGA Women’s Championship and two CN Canadian Women’s Tour events, Shepley has long been one of Canada’s top young players. Stateside, wins have taken longer.
She has worked with teachers and fellow Canadians Sean Foley and Annie Mallory, who have tweaked her swing to match her athleticism. She has read books, sought advice and more than once, wondered when her week would finally arrive.
Shepley’s expectations over the years sometimes didn’t match her results, but her result on Sunday didn’t surprise her fellow peers.
“I played with her yesterday and today, and what I saw her do out here is nothing I haven’t seen her do before,” said Mo Martin (70) of Altadena, Calif., who tied for third with Misun Cho (71) of Cheongju, South Korea at 8-under 208. “When putts go in, you win.”
Doughtie carded six birdies in her bogey-free round and posted only one bogey in 54 holes en route to her first top-10 finish on the LPGA Futures Tour. Standing adjacent to the 18th green watching Shepley stare down her last putt, Doughtie could only wait.
“I figured she’d make that putt because Jessica’s a great player,” said Doughtie of Suffolk, Va.
-With files from LPGA Futures Tour