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Published: Sunday, 8/12/2012

Concolino enjoying return to competitive golf

BLADE STAFF
Beatriz Recari, approaching the ninth green, has only made two bogeys this week and is in 12th place. Beatriz Recari, approaching the ninth green, has only made two bogeys this week and is in 12th place.
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After she completed a standout collegiate career, Jacqui Concolino completely walked away from competitive golf. She caddied at a golf course in her hometown. She spent time with her friends and rediscovered the joy that came with playing golf as an avocation, not as a career possibility.

"It wasn't a grind playing golf," said Concolino, who is tied for eighth with Angela Stanford entering today's final round of the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.

But as she sat with a group of her friends watching the Sybase Match Play Championship, someone in the group made a remark that resonated with Concolino.

"One of the guys said to me, 'What are you doing playing with us?' " Concolino said. " 'You should be playing out there.' "

Concolino heeded the call, and she plotted her return to competitive women's golf. She earned her Tour Card on her first attempt at the LPGA's qualifying school and after playing on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA's developmental circuit, the 2009 Vanderbilt graduate broke in on the LPGA Tour.

While Concolino was refreshed, she didn't necessarily feel comfortable when she made her return to competitive golf.

"It was nerve-wracking," Concolino said, looking back on her first professional tournament. "I was anxious, and I guess 'uncomfortable' would be a good word."

Concolino finished tied for 14th at the Manulife Financial LPGA Championship in June and missed the cut last month at the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship, but she played several practice rounds at Highland Meadows in preparation for the Farr Classic during a recent trip to the Toledo area.

The extra swings worked. Concolino made it into the top 10 after the third day, despite struggling with some short putts for birdies at the start of the back nine. She stuck to her game plan of strong play on the fairways and greens, finishing with three birdies to shoot a 69.

GIRLS HAVE FUN: Kristy McPherson, like most LPGA players, is used to signing autographs. But she might have experienced writer's cramp after Saturday's third round of the Farr Classic.

The veteran waded into a group of 40-plus kids from the metro Detroit area, on hand at Highland Meadows as part of the LPGA-USGA girls' golf initiative. The kids ranged from ages 7-16 and wore purple caps and backpacks, most of them autographed by McPherson.

"I'm fine," she said, laughing. "I can sign all day. It's really cool to see a big group of young girls come out and have a good time. It's fun. The least we can do is spend a little time with them."

Among those chaperoning the group were former LPGA Tour player Debbie Williams-Hoak, now the head teaching pro at Lake Forest Golf Club in Ann Arbor. She provides clinics and lessons over a nine-week schedule for the Detroit-area youngsters.

Williams-Hoke recalled that she earned her first paycheck as an LPGA player at the 2000 Farr Classic.

TWO NINES: Natalie Gulbis was asked if she felt she had worked her way back into the mix during the third round.

"A little more so after the front nine, a little less so on the back," Gulbis said.

Gulbis was 3-under at the turn, lowering her total to minus-5 for the tournament. But bogeys at Nos. 10 and 12 took the wind out of her sails, and failing to drop a birdie putt at No. 18 from inside three feet didn't help her cause.

"You finish with two par-5s here, and to not get a birdie on either doesn't help," she said.

Gulbis finished with a 69 and was at 4-under after 54 holes.

"All I can do [today] is go out early and try to post a number," she said.

STILL IN THE MONEY: Gary Pacholek of Toledo missed the chance to win a brand-new Kia Sorrento when his 50-foot putt attempt from the edge of the 18th green went about four feet wide and to the left of the final hole.

Pacholek earned the chance to win a car through the Blade's "Golf Trivia" contest. Still, for taking part in the contest, Pacholek walked off the last green at Highland Meadows with a consolation prize -- a check for $500.

"That's the most I've made in a golf tournament," Pacholek quipped.

CONSISTENT RECARI: Beatriz Recari has made just two bogeys in 54 holes, an exercise in consistency that put her in a position to land a top 10 finish today.

With a little luck on Saturday, Recari would have positioned herself to win her first title of the season. She nearly sank a hole-in-one on No. 8, coming up a foot or two short. A second attempt at eagle, on No. 17, was fruitless, and Recari settled for par.

"I had a few chances, and they didn't drop," she said. "That's just the way it goes."

The Spaniard is tied for 12th at 7-under after firing a 1-under 70 on Saturday.

EAGLE LANDS: Hee Kyung Seo had a stunning answer to back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12. She eagled the par-4 13th hole, using a gap wedge on an 89-yard shot from the fairway.

"I was feeling a little flat, just trying to keep some positive energy, and then I had the eagle," she said. "It gave me a good attitude to finish."

Seo had a 68 and is part of the four-way tie for the lead at 11-under heading to today's final round.

NO BIRDIE-FEST: A soft Highland Meadows, despite considerable rain and very little sunshine the last several days, has been saved from many really low scores thanks to breezy conditions.

"The wind has been a big factor for sure, especially on these tree-lined fairways," said Pernilla Lindberg, the first-round leader who had a 70 Saturday and is within three shots of the lead. "That's the only factor that has been saving the course a little because it's usually a birdie-fest out here."



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