Cindy LaCrosse isn't exactly sure what she's going to be doing this winter. But she knows what she won't be doing: Attending LPGA Qualifying school.
She's already qualified.
LaCrosse, a Tampa native and 2005 Plant High grad, avoided the weeklong torture test that is Q-school by finishing first on this year's Duramed Future's Tour money list. She earned $94,578, which is a record for the second-tier tour. The top five players on the Future's Tour earn a spot on the 2011 LPGA Tour.
"I get to enjoy these couple months off and don't have to worry about Q-school,'' LaCrosse said. "It's hard to bounce back and forth between the tours. I hope being out there full time next year will get me into more of a groove.''
LaCrosse, 23, joins a small group of local players on the LPGA Tour. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome, with three wins and a major on her resume, is the most notable. Kristy McPherson has relocated to Tampa.
LaCrosse's path to the LPGA has been a smooth one, from high school standout to college All-Conference player to Future's Tour champion.
"It's going exactly how I wanted it to,'' LaCrosse said.
A means to an end
Golf was just one of the many sports LaCrosse played while growing up a chip shot away from the exclusive Palma Ceia Country Club. Her father, Doug, is an accomplished golfer who played on the Champions Tour for six years. He would take Cindy to the course with him when she was young, but the golf bug didn't bite until later.
"I played a ton of sports growing up, so it wasn't my favorite thing to do,'' she said. "I didn't have any other friends who played. I didn't like it until high school, when I realized I needed it to go out of state for college. That's when I started to work hard at it, and then in college is when I really started to love it.''
Playing college golf was no sure thing. Despite a promising junior career, LaCrosse didn't have college recruiters beating down her door. In fact, no college recruiters even contacted her. It took a rain delay at the 2004 Senior PGA Championship for LaCrosse to get her break.
Doug LaCrosse was playing in the tournament at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville when he suddenly had a day to kill. He travelled to both Louisville and the University of Kentucky to talk to the golf coaches. He made his pitch about Cindy to Louisville's Kelly Meyers Rothberg, who showed some interest.
"I told (Meyers Rothberg) that she could discount this if she wanted because she's my daughter, but if I needed a hit in softball I'd want her at the plate,'' he said. "If I need a free throw at the end of the game, I'd want her to take the shot. If I needed a 3-foot putt, I'd want her to make it. She may not make it, but she's going to give it everything she's got.''
Cindy LaCrosse never thought about attending Louisville before she heard about its interest. The only other school that showed interest was Florida Southern, but the Lakeland school was too close to home. LaCrosse wanted to go to Florida, but when the Gators didn't show interest she wanted to get out of the state.
"(Louisville) didn't even know about me,'' LaCrosse said. "The coach had never seen me swing before the first day of practice. My parents recruited Louisville.''
Meyers Rothberg said it didn't take long to realize LaCrosse could play on her team.
"When we first met it just kind of clicked,'' she said. "I was going to redshirt her before she got to campus. Then we had our first qualifier and I was like, hmmm, I think we'll get her going right now. By the spring of her sophomore year she started moving forward and never looked back.''
LaCrosse went on to be a four-time all-Big East Conference player and the 2007 and '09 conference player of the year. She was a regular at the Cardinal Club, the school's golf course. And it was there LaCrosse realized she wanted to make a living at golf.
"They have a great practice facility,'' she said. "That's really where I fell in love with golf. I loved practicing out there.''
Paying her dues
This isn't a story about a player grinding for years before getting her shot. LaCrosse hit the Futures Tour running and reached the finish line long before most other players. After graduating from Louisville, LaCrosse played the second half of the 2009 Futures Tour and made nine of 11 cuts.
This year, she started quickly and never took her foot off the gas. She won for the first time in Mexico, her second tournament of the year. She added two more wins, including the season finale in Albany, N.Y.
She was named the Futures Tour player of the year, an award previously won by future LPGA regulars Lorena Ochoa, Grace Park and Vicky Hurst.
"I certainly wanted to be in the top five,'' LaCrosse said. "I was thinking before the tour started that I would like to be No. 1. I knew the way that I played last year in just the 11 events I played that I would be a good candidate to be in the top five.''
Here to stay?
LaCrosse will not enter the 2011 season clueless. She played in the U.S. Open as an amateur, and she has three LPGA events under her belt this year. Most recently, she made the cut at the NW Arkansas Championship last week and finished tied for 75th.
She plans on playing the next tournament in Alabama on Oct. 7-10, and perhaps a few more before season's end. Being between the ropes was kind of cool.
"Playing in those first professional tournaments kind of sparked my interest a little bit,'' LaCrosse said. "Being in the player dining room, being in the clubhouse, inside the ropes. That made me think, 'Well, shoot, this is pretty nice.' "
Due to her finish on the Future's Tour, LaCrosse is eligible for all full-field events. She can play her way into majors and tournaments overseas by being in the top 50.
Until then, she will hang out in Tampa, practice diligently and think often about playing with the big girls.
"It's going to be a little strange playing with the same players I've always looked up to,'' LaCrosse said. "I'm looking forward to it.''