Kristen Gillman knew exactly where she stood as she walked up to the 17th tee.
She was ranked 13th in the Epson Tour’s Race for the Card coming into the Epson Tour Championship, nearly $5,400 outside the tenth spot on the official money list that would guarantee her full LPGA Tour status for the 2024 season. Through three rounds at LPGA International’s Jones Course, Gillman had carded rounds of 70-68-67 to sit in a tie for 18th at 11-under and needed to finish solo 10th or better to have a chance at returning to the LPGA Tour full-time.
So, when she got to the par-3 17th hole on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla., sitting at 5-under on the day and needing one final push to move inside the top 10 for the tournament and give herself a shot at an LPGA Tour card, the 26-year-old decided to just go for broke. She birdied the 17th to move to 17-under for the tournament and eke closer to her goal, coming to the par-5 18th needing another to solidify a top-10 result.
Gillman’s drive found the fairway, giving her the opportunity to go for the green in two and make an eagle, one that would assure a top-10 finish and almost certainly give her one of the coveted spots in the Race for the Card top 10. She decided to take the risk and went for it, holding her finish as the ball soared through the air, bounced on the green and rolled up to within five feet, a perfect look at a closing eagle.
The crowd began to cheer as the University of Alabama alum’s putt tumbled over the edge of the cup, and she walked off the green with an 8-under 64, tying the second-lowest round of the week at LPGA International and having done all she could to secure a card for the 2024 LPGA Tour season.
“I saw the leaderboard on 16 green, and so I kind of had a feeling what I had to do,” said the 2014 and 2018 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. “The last two holes just gave it my all and went in trying to birdie 17. On 18, I knew I needed an eagle to probably get the last spot, so just kind of went after the pins. I knew it was a pretty good shot when it was in the air because I knew it was going to hit the hill and kind of stop. I feel like the crowd didn't cheer that much. I was like, ‘Oh no. Hopefully it’s still close.’ But it ended up working out.”
It's never over until it’s over at the Epson Tour Championship, and despite having put up the best score of the day at that point, she still had to watch herself oscillate in and out of the 10th spot in the Race for the Card. She and Becca Huffer, who had entered the week in the 10th spot and fired an impressive 7-under 65 on Sunday, bounced back and forth a couple of times between 10th to 11th throughout the afternoon, but as play wound down, things were looking good for Gillman.
When the final putts fell and champion Auston Kim was crowned, the Texas native had ultimately finished in a tie for fourth with Minji Kang at 19-under, a good enough result to finish inside the top 10 in the Race for the Card and send her back to the LPGA Tour with full status for the 2024 season.
Gillman first earned LPGA Tour Membership after finishing in a tie for 13th at 2018 LPGA Q-Series to become a 2019 rookie, and 2024 will mark her first full year competing on the LPGA Tour since 2021. She has five career top-10 finishes and has made $833,759 in career earnings.
As she looks ahead to next season, Gillman can’t wait to get back out on the LPGA Tour and compete alongside many of her longtime friends on the biggest stage in women’s golf once again. But she won’t forget the lessons she’s learned about herself and her game playing on the Epson Tour in recent seasons and will take the confidence she’s gleaned from her Epson Tour experience with her as she sets her sights on a full slate of LPGA Tour events in 2024.
“I feel like my game has improved a lot and I've learned a lot as a player, so I'm excited to go out there and put into play what I learned and see how it compares against them again,” said Gillman. “I got my confidence back this year. I think that was the main thing that I've been lacking the last couple of years, and so just getting the confidence back and getting some good finishes definitely helped.”