Kristy McPherson admits she checked out the job market and listened to offers to become a college golf coach over the past couple years.
After nine years on the LPGA Tour, she spent the past three predominantly on its feeder circuit, the Symetra Tour, and finished outside the top 50 on that tour’s money list in both 2016 and 2017.
But the Conway native held onto the belief that she belonged on the LPGA, and that’s where she’ll be once again in 2019.
McPherson tied for 27th in the LPGA’s Q-Series final this past weekend to earn full status for the 2019 season.
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“I gave it some thought, you know. I had some job opportunities, some offers in coaching, but I wanted to put in the effort to get back out there and give myself another chance that I’ve still got it and I still want it,” McPherson said. “It was something I still wanted to fight for.
“You never want to be 37 years old playing on the Symetra Tour. If I didn’t know I could get back on the LPGA full time, and not only get back on the LPGA full time but compete on the LPGA with the best, I wouldn’t have done it.”
With her status, McPherson expects to get into every full-field regular season event this upcoming season, beginning with an event in Australia in February.
McPherson was a full-time member of the LPGA Tour from 2007-15. Her career peaked in 2009 when she finished second in two events, including a major championship, played on the U.S. Solheim Cup Team and reached No. 14 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
Over the past three years, McPherson has played in 10 LPGA Tour events, including two this past season, and missed the cut in each.
She played in 34 Symetra Tour events in 2016-17 and finished 29th on the money list in 17 events this year to qualify for the final stage of the LPGA Tour’s revamped qualifying tournament renamed the Q-Series.
The top 10 on the Symetra money list earned LPGA status and Nos. 11-30 were exempt into the final of three Q-Series stages.
“My struggles are well documented. People have asked multiple times if I was still going to play, if I was still going to do it,” said McPherson, who is spending this week at the Murrells Inlet home she bought for her parents. “Maybe that’s the fight I’ve needed to get back out there and be ultimately even better than the best years I’ve had out there.”
McPherson’s career has been impacted by several surgeries and injuries – particularly to an elbow – that were exacerbated by her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and have likely forever changed her swing.
She wants to improve her swing and ball-striking, and has three months to work on it before the 2019 season starts.
“I’m not sure it will ever be exactly where I want it to be,” McPherson said. “I’ve learned it’s not going to be the short, flat, compact golf swing I had when I was playing my best, but I also know the golf swing I have now is good enough to compete with the best in the world, and if I can own that golf swing I can get back to the top with that.”
McPherson’s short game, encompassing both chipping and putting, improved over the past year and is what she credits for earning her LPGA status again. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my short game and it has taken a lot of pressure off my ball-striking,” she said.
The Q-Series final consisted of an eight-round marathon on Pinehurst Resort’s No. 6 and No. 7 courses that was broken into two 72-hole sessions over 11 days.
The top 45 and ties out of a field of 102 received LPGA status for 2019. The prior system awarded 20 fully exempt cards from a field of 150, and those who finished 21-45 were placed behind Nos. 101-125 on that year’s LPGA money list on the next season’s priority list.
Now, those who finished 21-45 at Q-Series are ahead of Nos. 101-125 on the money list, so McPherson is 25 spots higher on the priority list than she would have been with the same Q-School finish last season.
“It was a long eight rounds,” McPherson said. “You just try to stay patient for eight rounds and that was my goal. You go into more of a U.S. Open mentality or major mentality and try to stay mentally strong and avoid a big number.”
McPherson made just one double bogey over the 144 holes, in her final-round 76. She finished with a 5-over 581 with steady rounds of 75, 72, 73, 72, 73, 69, 71 and 76. Her brother, former Coastal Carolina men’s golf coach Kevin McPherson, who now operates a golf cart rental and custom cart business, caddied for the eight rounds.
“I had a pretty good cushion, and it was really the hardest way to play golf because you’re not trying to be aggressive,” McPherson said. “. . . You get out of the mentality of attacking and trying to score, and you kind of put it on cruise and avoid the big mistakes and you know that’s going to be good enough to get you through.”
McPherson, 37, is the oldest qualifier from the Q-Series by four years, and two of the qualifiers are less than half her age at 18.
She played on the Symetra Tour for more than three seasons from 2003-06 after graduating from South Carolina, where she was a two-time SEC individual champion.
“What I’ve done the past few years of trying to go back and forth and getting two to five LPGA starts the last three years is just a tough way to play. You put so much pressure on yourself in those few events,” McPherson said. “I think it’s just going to be more of a relief knowing I get a full season to go compete and get some confidence back from getting out there.”