This time they were tears of joy. And the skies wept with her.
On a gray day in Dothan, 30 miles from her home state but a million miles removed from her days as the can’t-miss kid out of Georgia, Bailey Tardy finally got it done. This time there was no doubt. After missing out on earning her LPGA Tour card three years in a row by less money than the average American’s monthly utility bill, Tardy didn’t leave her fate at LPGA Q-Series to chance.
She fired a 65 in the eighth round of the grueling two-week event in Alabama. It was the low round of a drizzly Sunday afternoon, the kind of day that most golfers would have found miserable, but one that Tardy will remember for the rest of her life.
“I'm ecstatic,” the 26-year-old said as drops fell from the clouds and welled up in her eyes. “Just a lot of hard work and it all paid off the last two weeks. I don't know, it's kind of surreal right now. I think it'll hit me a little bit later. But I can finally say I'm an LPGA member.”
It’s been a harder road than she’d ever imagined. Tardy was the star of the University of Georgia in the late 20-teens. She was pegged as one of the up-and-coming future stars of professional golf. But the game doesn’t work like that. After qualifying for the Epson Tour, Tardy missed 14 cuts in her rookie outing in 2019. Back pain and other physical ailments plagued her and had her wondering if this whole professional golf idea was ever going to work.
She persevered, coming back in 2020 only to have COVID-19 shorten the season and cut the number of qualifying spots. In a normal year, 10 LPGA Tour cards are handed out at the end of the Epson Tour season. When 2020 came to a merciful close, the number had been cut to five. Tardy finished sixth.
The margin of her miss was $343 - a car payment, two nights in a modest hotel, April’s electric bill if the thermostat is set at 79; not quite pocket change, but the kind of money that a shot here or there would have covered with ease.
She licked her wounds and came back for the 2021 Epson Tour season where she finally found the winner’s circle again at the Copper Rock Classic. But there were still consistency problems. Tardy had three top-5 finishes but missed seven cuts. When the final putt fell at the Epson Tour Championship, she had missed her card again, finishing 12th on the money list, two spots shy of LPGA Tour Membership.
Tardy went into a funk. She had trouble practicing, her mind darting back to this tournament or that, to one or two lost opportunities along the way. Was it time to hang it up?
She came back one more time with a giant chip on her shoulder. Four years in, the Epson Tour had become a nice niche home, but it wasn’t the end goal.
Tardy played 21 events in 2022, the most starts of any player on Tour. Going into the final event, the Epson Tour Championship at LPGA International, a short par-four distance from LPGA headquarters, Tardy was inside the top-10.
But when the final putt fell that Sunday, she was 11th, and inconsolable.
Q-Series gave her one more shot. This time there was no dwelling on the past. Tardy showed up in Alabama ready to run through walls. In 144 holes, she had 8 bogeys, one double, an eagle, and 43 birdies. When the fog rolled in on Sunday in Dothan, Tardy was -27 and alone in second place.
“My parents came (to Dothan) and they brought my dog,” Tardy said. “I actually -- we had a couple waits on the back nine, so I actually tracked them. I knew they were here. I didn't know they brought my dog, though, so that was a big surprise. He actually has cancer, so being away from him is hard. Right now he's with me, so I'm happy.”
She also knows more about herself than she ever has in her career.
“I'm good enough to be out here,” Tardy said, affirming to herself what everyone else has seen. “I think I really proved myself on the Epson Tour this year, and even these past two weeks.
“I've also learned the talent on the Epson Tour is insane. I think if you are consistently in the top 15 there, then you can survive on the LPGA Tour, especially from what I've seen from some of the girls out here.
“I mean, just gives me all the confidence in the world that I'll be able to survive on the LPGA if I continue playing the way I do.”
And what does it mean to have her name listed as a 2023 LPGA Tour rookie?
“It means the world,” Tardy said. “It's something that I've always dreamt of and it's here. I can't wait to start next year. I want to start tomorrow.”