WINTER HAVEN, FLORIDA | It only took five seconds. A measly five seconds for Samantha Wagner to make a grave mistake on the 6th hole of the Crossings Course at Robert Trent Jones Magnolia Grove. It was Thursday of the first week of last year’s LPGA Q-Series – a grueling two weeks of golf at which players must finish in the top-45 and ties to qualify for the LPGA Tour – and the Epson Tour stalwart fell prey to a momentary lack of awareness, one that would prove costly when the first cut was made.
“It was the sixth hole of the first round,” Wagner recalled. “I think I was one under at that point. I hit a good shot into the par five and I walked up, and I had my hands full. I had my yardage book and a tee to fix my ball mark and my caddie was waiting for me to throw him the ball. And I just picked it up. I literally had gotten six inches off the ground with it, and I was like, ‘Ah, shoot.’ I put it back down, marked it, no one had seen it. I knew right away it was wrong.
“I hit the putt and almost made it, which was great because it would have been a par then. I played with Maddie McCrary, and she finished out and then I walked over, and I told her what happened, and no one had seen it. We called a rules official just to confirm that it was a penalty. It kind of threw me. It was just like, ‘Okay, what's the shot gonna cost me?’ After that it kind of got away from me the rest of the week and I missed the first cut by a shot, and you could nitpick 10 different holes out of that. But one thing I just had never counted on was like losing my mind for five seconds. And that was rough. But at the same time, I'm like, ‘I called it on myself, and no one had seen it.’ I was pretty proud of that.”
It was a gut-wrenching way to end what had been a stellar 2021 for the 25-year-old – Wagner carded 6 top-10s last season, including a T-2 finish at the Copper Rock Championship – and she was understandably disappointed in the way things shook out. Hitting a bad shot here and there is one thing but taking unnecessary penalties is another. It bothered Wagner that what happened wasn’t the result of a misjudged chip or a poor drive. And while the experience was a tough one, Sam knows she wasn’t far off from finally earning her LPGA Tour card.
“You could have a double on the 18th hole of a round and be like, ‘We'll just get it back tomorrow’ and I tried my hardest to look at it that way, like, ‘It's just a shot. It's four days. It's a long two weeks if you get to the second week,’” she said. “But for me, it was hard because it wasn't a mistake I had made hitting the ball.
“I walked away from my season extremely proud. Every part of my game improved, and I had a lot of good things to take away. But I also missed three events. I didn't get in the first two and then I had to withdraw from one. For me, it was like if I had played these three events, would it have made the whatever amount of money difference? I don't know, but especially with how good I was playing it could have. But at the same time, I always knew Q-Series was there. So, in a way, I felt like maybe I could have done better, but at the same time, I felt like I played really well at Q-Series and just didn't get anything going.”
With all of her Q-Series woes squarely behind her, Wagner kicks off her fifth season on the Epson Tour at this week’s Florida’s Natural Charity Classic. She has a lot of confidence going into the 2022 season after finishing 17th in last year’s Race to the Card, and after making some changes physically and mentally in the off-season, Wagner feels like she’s primed for another solid year, one that will hopefully include a maiden Epson Tour victory.
“Obviously, I want to get my card. That'd be great. I want to close the gap and have a win this year. That's the main goal and I was close a lot of times last year. That was my first question to my coach after the season ended. I was like, ‘What does it take to win out here?’ and he's like, ‘Sam, honestly, winning is just hard. And you need to just keep putting yourself up there and it'll just happen. There's no change you need to make, just keep doing what you're doing.’ And that was comforting to hear that I didn't need to make some drastic change.
“After Q-Series, I set clubs down for a while, and when I came back, I was stressed out. I had to calm down and get myself in a better place because it's a brand-new season and I'm starting from scratch. I think I was frustrated because I know where I should be and where I'm capable of being. But I'm also really excited with where I'm at so I'm excited to get things going and get back into the swing of it.”