Caligiore rallies for first pro win

Lake Placid native Aimee Caligiore celebrates after winning the Hartford Women’s Open on Sunday. It was the first victory of her professional golf career. (Provided photo)

HARTFORD, Conn. — Aimee Caligiore couldn’t have had much more of a deflating start to her final round in the fourth annual Hartford Women’s Open at wind-swept Keney Park Golf Course on Sunday.

Caligiore began the day tied with Elizabeth Choi after each shot a 1-over-par 71 in the opening round at nearby Goodwin Golf Course on Saturday. But five holes into the final round, Caligiore found herself four strokes back after she bogeyed No. 1 and made a double-bogey 6 at No. 5 while Choi was sinking 7-foot birdie putts at the third and fourth holes after a bogey at No. 2.

“I think the nerves got the best of me on the fifth hole, but I just told myself to stick to my game plan and look at my targets,” Caligiore said. “I told myself to forget about the double bogey because I was hitting the ball really well. I wasn’t going to force anything because you have to just try to control what you can control.”

Caligiore immediately heeded those thoughts, sinking birdie putts of 12 and 3 feet at the seventh and eighth holes to take a lead that she would never relinquish. The birdie at No. 7 was the first of two two-stroke swings in favor of Caligiore, who rallied from 4 down to 3 up over seven holes on the way to a closing even-par 70, a 36-hole total of 1-over 141 and a one-stroke victory over Choi.

The key moment in Caligiore’s first win as a professional was the par-4 12th hole, where the long-hitting Choi knocked a 50-yard wedge shot over the green into a bunker and missed a 10-foot, par-saving putt. Meanwhile, Caligiore hit a wedge to 18 feet and made the putt for birdie and then doubled her lead to two when Choi bogeyed the par 3 13th hole.

Aimee Caligiore stands in front of the leaderboard following her victory in the Hartford Women’s Open on Sunday. (Provided photo)

Caligiore extended her advantage to three strokes with a wedge shot from 100 yards that stopped 6 feet from the cup, setting up another birdie at the 14th hole. Caligiore bogeyed the difficult par-4 15th hole when her approach came up short and rolled 25 yards backward down an embankment, and Choi made it interesting when she nearly holed her approach at No. 17, settling for a birdie that got her within a shot.

Choi and Caligiore each hit the green on the 175-yard, par-3 18th hole, and Choi narrowly missed her birdie putt from 40 feet, tapping in from six inches. Caligiore rolled her downhill 35-foot birdie try 2 feet past the cup and made the comebacker to earn the $1,500 first prize.

“I was so shaking,” a smiling Caligiore said of her final stroke. “I just took two practice strokes to get the feel and managed to knock it in.”

Caligiore, 28, said her first pro check will go toward expenses, including the LPGA Tour qualifying school in August. She grew up in Lake Placid and graduated in 2013 from St. Lawrence University, where she was a Division III All-American who won twice. She turned pro in 2014 and moved to Orlando, Florida, where she began playing on the Eggland’s Best Ladies Professional Tour.

The first pro win was extra special because it came with her father, Sandy, doubling as her caddie. Sandy said being alongside his daughter for her first pro title was even more special than calling the United States’ monumental men’s hockey victory over the Soviet Union and subsequent win over Finland that gave the Americans the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

“I was working for WNBZ radio and on the opposite of the rink from (ABC announcer) Al Michaels,” Sandy recalled. “As the final seconds (of the Soviet Union game) counted down, I said, ‘This is a miracle. I can’t believe it. It’s a miracle.’ I obviously didn’t have any idea what Al was saying, but it’s pretty amazing how we said almost the exact same thing.”

The victory ended a hectic 10 days in which Caligiore missed the cut in a Symetra Tour tournament and then tied for 13th in the Connecticut Women’s Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield. After accepting congratulations and taking a brief respite from her hectic schedule, Caligiore and her father drove to Newbury, New Hampshire, for a practice session on Monday, June 10 with her teacher, Nick Adcock. She met Adock four years ago at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Florida, where she works and practices in the winter.

“Nick reconstructed my physical and mental game 18 months ago,” Caligiore said.

Caligiore next plans to play in the Georgia Open on July 15-16 and then head to the LPGA qualifying school, where she could again run into Choi.

Choi, 21, who graduated this year with a degree in physical therapy from William & Mary University, was satisfied with her long game, often outdriving Caligiore by 20 to 30 yards, but not her work on the greens.

“I had a solid round and played my own game the whole way, but I couldn’t make enough putts,” Choi said. “I didn’t think there were any real momentum shifts, but I had only one one-putt green on the back nine, and that was the difference.”

So what was Choi going to do with her first pro check of $800?

“I’m going to save it,” she said with a smile. “Professional golf can be a pretty expensive thing.”

Choi, who grew up in Syosset, and works with teacher Mike Bender in Lake Mary, Florida, plans to play in the Michigan Open and Tennessee Open before heading to the LPGA qualifying school.

Kayla Lawrence of Groveland, Massachusetts, finished as third low pro after a 73 for 147.

The tournament was a prelude to the PGA of America’s Junior Championships at Keney Park GC. The girls play on July 9-12 and the boys on July 30-Aug. 2. Each are 72-hole, medal-play events, and past girls’ winners have included In-bee Park and Lexi Thompson, who won the U.S. Girls Junior Championship at Hartford Golf Club 10 years ago and captured her 11th LPGA title on Sunday in the ShopRite LPGA Classic on the Bay Course at Seaview in Galloway, New Jersey. Notable past boys’ runners-up include Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.


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