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Lagedrost seeks first payday

Technically, Kelly Lagedrost has been a professional for a while.

But the five and six bucks a round she schools off her dad and his friends at Brooksville Golf & Country Club don't count toward any money list.

Now _ finally, she says _ Lagedrost gets her chance to play for some real pay, but more importantly to see if she has what it takes to compete on the LPGA Tour.

"Excited, nervous and anxious," Lagedrost said. "I have every feeling you can have."

Lagedrost, 22, has been a local legend since she began beating women and men in her teens. Then she won a state championship at Hernando in 1996, helped with a team title in '97, and became a first-team All-American at South Florida in 1999.

Today she starts her pro career by competing in her first event on the Futures Tour, the LPGA's developmental circuit. The season-opener at The Club at Eaglebrooke in Lakeland will begin a busy week and busier year.

Lagedrost will play in the Florida Hospital Futures Golf Classic, March 26-29 at Sun 'N Lake Golf and Country Club in Sebring _ the second of 17 events she has scheduled.

Her "Priority C" status, earned in the Futures qualifying tournament, will grant Lagedrost automatic entry to most events. The ultimate prize is to finish in the top three on the money list and earn an exemption onto the LPGA Tour, like her old friend, Beth Bauer, did last season.

Lagedrost said she will take a break every month and wonders what it will be like to play when money _ the average purse is $64,500 _ is within reach.

"It's going to be weird the first time I'm in contention for money or anything," Lagedrost said. "Hopefully I can get used to it.

"But I just want to compete," she said. "It's been a long time since college."

The Futures Tour offers Lagedrost the chance at everything she has wanted since she was little and her father, Randy, had a 5-wood, an 8-iron and putter cut to her size at a shop in Inverness.

But it's a dream with a hefty price tag.

Travel and entry fees will cost about $20,000 for a year. And for Randy, a math teacher at Hernando High, and his wife, Holly, a first-grade teacher at Brooksville Elementary, that's a lot of money.

"It's expensive, but we had it pretty good that she went on full scholarship to college," said Randy Lagedrost, 51. "Things are fine. Her grandmother gave her some money to help out with a car.

"But I kid her a little bit, (that) if she doesn't make any money, I'll just have to work a little longer."

Kelly Lagedrost knows a go on the professional circuit will be different than the four years she spent at South Florida earning a degree in education.

Sometimes there will be sponsors homes, sometimes bad hotels with iffy air conditioners. And long car rides between tour stops from El Paso, Texas, to Killington, Vt.

For that part of the experience, she will have former Bulls teammates Jessica Hayes and Becky Mallioux, who are on the tour this year. And they'll be a little more comfortable in the SUV Lagedrost bought with the money from her grandmother.

"It's definitely going to be one big road," Lagedrost said. "The trip is the adventurous part of it. But I think I'm traveling with a pretty good group, and it'll be better with just two. In college we traveled with five."

The first days of Lagedrost's pro career will begin just like her experience with golf _ with her father by her side caddying.

"I'm just thrilled as a dad that she wants me," said Randy Lagedrost, who caddied for Kelly in the U.S. Amateur. "We get a lot of quality time out there."

That means chatting. While Randy admits he is not much of a small-talker, he knows his daughter loves to gab. So much so, she became somewhat of a linguist in college.

"She'd try to loosen everybody up, and she ended up playing with a lot of college players, so she made it a point to try and learn the language," he said.

"If there was someone Swedish, she'd learn the phrase for "Good shot,' and then they'd teach her some more. By the end of it, she knew some Japanese, French, lots of Spanish."

She'll need that happy disposition to balance the reality that golf is about paychecks, and seizing an opportunity.

The Lagedrosts know it must be seized soon.

"I would say in two years she is going to have to decide, "Yeah, I have what it takes on the LPGA Tour" or not, and pursue other directions," Lagedrost's father said.

But of course, he has no doubt how it will end. "She's going to make it. I know it."

_ Staff writer Brant James can be reached at (800) 333-7505, Ext. 1407. Send e-mail to brantsptimes.com.

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