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Koyama Preparing for Finishing School : Golf: She's playing in U.S. Women's Amateur this week before trying to qualify for LPGA Tour.


Debbi Koyama sees the end as a new beginning.

Koyama is playing this week in the U.S. Women's Amateur golf championship at San Diego Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, the final tournament of Koyama's successful amateur career.

Later this month, Koyama will attend the LPGA qualifying school in Florida, where she hopes to take the first step toward earning her tour card and beginning her professional career. Thereafter, she hopes to play for pay.

Koyama, a 25-year-old member of North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, has already proven that she can compete with the pros. Last month, she was the low amateur in the U.S. Women's Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. She finished tied for 26th, 11 shots behind champion Lauri Merten, a showing that would have earned her $6,894 had she been a pro.

"Everyone in junior golf grew up wanting to be a professional, but that was not my intention when I went to college," said Koyama, who played on UCLA's 1991 NCAA Division I championship team. "But after going to college and playing the way I have this last year or so, I thought I should give (the LPGA Tour) a chance.

"Also, my father had a stroke recently. After something like that happens, you start seeing things in a different light. I'm more aware of what's happening with our family. (From a financial standpoint), I don't think it would be best to stay amateur."

Koyama, who lives in Monrovia, wants to relinquish her amateur status with a flourish. She has competed in the U.S. Amateur several times, but her highest finish was a quarterfinal appearance in 1987.

In the first round of match play Wednesday, Koyama defeated Tamara Dougan of White Rock, Canada, 3 and 2. If Koyama defeats Angela Buzminski of Bloomington, Ind., this morning, she will play another match in the afternoon.

"I feel like I have achieved most of my goals except for one--winning this tournament," said Koyama, who captained the boys' golf team at St. Paul High. "I'm giving myself one last shot. If it works out that I win, that's great. If not, that's fate, and it's time to move on."

Consciously or not, Koyama has been gravitating toward the professional ranks since she started playing golf as a youngster in Monterey Park. Her play as an amateur--she was a two-time All-American in high school--attracted the attention of UCLA women's Coach Jackie Tobian-Steinmann.

"Debbi looked like a determined young lady and she had a good demeanor on the course," said Tobian-Steinmann, who has been coaching the Bruins for 17 years. "In college, she was kind of an all-around good player. She never sprayed the ball, she was always down the center. And her short game has gotten a lot better."

Koyama was an assistant at UCLA last year, which enabled her to keep her game sharp.

She approached this year's U.S. Open, her third, with several goals.

"My first goal was to make the (36-hole) cut, which I had never done before," Koyama said.

Koyama got over that hurdle by shooting a 70 and 74. She finished the tournament with a 72 and a 75.

"Once I made the cut, I wanted to be in the top 25," Koyama said. "I came up a stroke short."

However, she came away from the tournament with confidence that she can compete on tour.

"I didn't think my game was that far behind everyone else's," Koyama said. "But from talking with other players, you can't really prepare yourself for what it's going to be like once you're out there playing every week."

After the tournament, she will be off to qualifying school, where she must finish among the top 25 to make the finals in October.

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