Ex-Open champ Birdie Kim easily wins ShopRite LPGA qualifier
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Dina Ammaccapane just wanted to prove to herself she could still play competitive golf.
With the Bay Course at Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club practically deserted, she did just that Monday evening.
Ammaccapane beat Marcela Leon in a three-hole playoff to grab one of two spots available in the $1.5 million ShopRite LPGA Classic during Monday’s qualifying round.
Birdie Kim, the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open champion, earned the other spot with a 6-under par 65 that won the qualifier.
Ammaccapane hasn’t played in an LPGA event in little more than a year.
“I had nothing to lose,” Ammaccapane said. “It’s kind of exciting. Now, I’m just going to tee it up with my old buddies.”
Monday qualifiers are for non-exempt professionals and amateurs. Players earn exempt status, which grants then automatic entrance into tournaments — based on their past performances.
Twenty-eight players teed off Monday, trying to earn two spots in the Classic, which starts Friday. Ammaccapane and Leon each shot a 1-over par 72.
Local professional Joanna Coe of Mays Landing shot a 73, just missing the playoff. The LPGA’s latest teen phenom — 17-year-old Ariya Jutanugarn — also shot a 73.
Ammaccapane, 44, joined the tour in 1993. Her older sister Danielle also played on the tour. Dina has no career wins and played in just two events last year. She’s been troubled by a variety of hand injuries.
Ammaccapane was born in Long Island but was raised in Phoenix. She came to ShopRite because she was invited to play in the pro-am. She decided she might as well also play the qualifier.
“I thought I’ll give it a shot,” she said.
Ammaccapane played well in difficult conditions. Eleven golfers shot 80 or higher.
“I was proud of myself,” she said. “I didn’t let the round get away from me. I hung in there until the end.”
Ammaccapane and Leon began their playoff on the 10th hole — a 352-yard par-4. Just three spectators and two LPGA rules officials watched the playoff. The rest of the course was empty.
“I think I was a little nervous,” Ammaccapane said. “I haven’t been in that position. I haven’t been practicing or playing. I’m retired, so to speak.”
Ammaccapane hit her drive right of the fairway. She and Leon both bogeyed the first hole.
Ammaccapane then blasted her drive left on the 501-yard, par-5 18th hole. Again the missed fairway didn’t hurt her. Both she and Leon bogeyed the 18th.
“I needed to loosen up again,” Ammaccapane said. “I was a little stiff, and I made a lot of bad swings.”
The duo went back to No. 10 for the third playoff hole. Ammaccapane enjoyed the competition.
“There was some fire in me,” she said.
Ammaccapane split the fairway with her drive and then hit her approach shot to within three feet of the pin. She sank the birdie putt to win the playoff. Leon warmly congratulated her.
“You don’t want to see anybody lose,” Ammaccapane said, “but you don’t want to lose yourself.”
Kim earned her Classic berth with far less dramatics. But her round left her fellow golfers shaking their heads when they learned of her score. Most of them struggled in Monday’s windy conditions.
She birdied all three of the Bay Course’s par-5 holes. It was a performance that reminded people that the 31-year-old Kim is a major champion. She won the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open when she holed a shot from a greenside bunker on the final hole.
Like Ammaccapane, the Classic will be Kim’s first LPGA event of 2013.
The duo proved Monday was a day for tour veterans.
“I was really calm,” Kim said with a smile. “Maybe it’s because I have experience, and I’m old.”
Contact Michael McGarry: