Jodi Ewart Shadoff earns first LPGA Tour victory in 246th start

SOMIS – Holding the 54-hole lead for the first time in her LPGA career, Jodi Ewart Shadoff admitted she didn’t sleep very well on Saturday night as she thought about the opportunity that awaited her on Sunday as she tried to win for the first time in her 12-year LPGA career.

Thanks to three strong rounds, including an opening round 8-under 64, Shadoff took a four-shot lead to the first tee for Sunday’s final round of the Mediheal Championship at The Saticoy Club in Somis.

But just six holes into the final round, Shadoff’s four-shot cushion had evaporated, leaving her and Paula Reto tied at 13 under par. A bogey on the ninth hole dropped Shadoff out the lead for the first time in the tournament. But unlike her previous 245 starts, in this her 246th LPGA start, Shadoff found a way to win, making big shots down the stretch to finish at 15-under, earning her a two shot victory.

Yuka Saso fired a final round 66 to finish second at 14 under. Reto, Georgia Hall and Westlake Village native Danielle Kang tied for third at 13 under. Kang, fired a final round 67 to put herself into contention, but failed to make enough birdies down the stretch to catch Shadoff.

“It’s surreal. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” a champagne soaked Shadoff said after the round. “I’ve waited a long time for this. It’s been many times in my career that I didn’t think this was ever going to happen, so just really grateful in this moment.”

For much the back nine, Shadoff and Reto matched each other shot for shot, so much so that Shadoff said it had the feeling of match play. The two players were tied going to the par-4, 16th hole, where for the first time all day Reto’s short game failed her.

After hitting her tee shot in the bunker, she hit her next shot just a little fat, causing her ball to land short of the green and roll back into the fairway. Reto chipped up to 6-feet but her par putt just lipped out, opening the door for Shadoff to take the lead.

Shadoff also missed the 16th green with her approach shot, but from a swale behind the green she managed to two-putt for par, giving her a one-shot lead heading to the 17th.

After Reto bogeyed 17, Shadoff calmly rolled in a 3-foot par putt, giving her a two-shot cushion heading to the final hole. Four shots later, Shadoff took a deep breath and rolled in short par putt, earning her victory number one of her career.

“That last one-footer felt like 20 feet to me,” Shadoff said, “I was just trying to concentrate on that first lag putt just to get as close as possible. All day I just tried to stay in the moment and in the present as much as I could. I’ve been working really hard with my mental coach and my golf coach, Grant Waite, just trying to stay in the present. Lots of breathing. Just trying to tell myself that everything is going to be okay. And everything was okay.”

Reto knew if she was going to have any chance to rally from behind and catch Shadoff she needed to come out of the gate fast and she did just that. She birdied three of her first five holes, helping her chase down Shadoff.

But after taking the lead on nine, Reto said over the final nine holes she ran out of steam, leading to a few poor swings that ultimately cost her the chance to win. But her strong performance throughout the week proved to Reto she’s capable of playing with the game’s best player.

“It’s just nice knowing that you can do it, knowing your game is good enough, you can compete,” Reto said. “You just got to stick with it and let it happen. Jodi played so well. Just stuck with it, good attitude, and that got her the win this week, which is awesome.”

Just a year ago Shadoff wasn’t sure what her future looked like as she battled a back injury that made it difficult for her to play and even practice.

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“Last year was really tough,” Shadoff said. “I found that (her back injury) was a pretty significant challenge to get through. There were times where I didn’t think I was going to play this year. So to stand her today (as a winner for the first time), it’s really just awesome. I didn’t give up on myself.”

Shadoff missed just two fairways over the 72 holes, and her ability to consistently put her tee shots in the fairway gave her the chance to attach Saticoy’s unusually soft and receptive greens.

While she’s always been a strong striker of the ball, Shadoff’s putting has never been consistent. Over the last year she’s worked hard on that aspect of her game and her performance on the greens this week proved to be a difference maker.

“I got hot with the putter this week which is the reason I am sitting here,” Shadoff said. “All the facets of my game are gelling. All the hard work I have put in over the last year is finally paying off.  It feels amazing.”