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Hataoka wins qualifying tourney to earn LPGA card for next season

AP, Kyodo

Nasa Hataoka won the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament Sunday at LPGA International to earn one of 20 full tour cards for next season.

The 18-year-old Hataoka closed with a 1-under 71 on the Hills Course to finish at 12-under 348.

“It’s really hard to be a professional golfer,” Hataoka said. “The LPGA is one of the best leagues, so I’m going to try to prepare as soon as possible.”

Hataoka won the 2016 Japan Women’s Open, becoming the first amateur and the youngest champion to win a major tournament on the Japan LPGA Tour.

She won the title again this year to become only the second player to defend the title.

Tiffany Chan was a stroke back after a 69. She became the first player from Hong Kong to qualify for the LPGA Tour.

“I’m feeling really excited,” Chan said. “I just tried to play my best out there today.”

South Africa’s Paula Reto (71) was third at 9 under, and Australia’s Rebecca Artis (71) was another stroke back.

The last of the 20 full cards came down to a three-hole, aggregate stroke-play playoff, with amateur Maria Torres winning to become the first LPGA Tour player from Puerto Rico.

Hataoka earned her LPGA card for a second successive year after finishing Qualifying School in 14th in 2016. The top 20 finishers earn full tour cards for next season.

The LPGA Tour rookie said she was happy to have been able to hold on for a one-stroke victory.

“I was a bit worried (about Chan chasing me) but I tried to focus on my own game. I feel mentally stronger,” Hataoka said.

“My goal for next year is to win (an LPGA) tournament,” she said.

Sakura Yokomine and Mika Miyazato finished 45th and 68th, respectively.

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