LPGA schedule is finally working in Jeray’s favor

Berwyn golfer Nicole Jeray spent most of the winter in Augusta, Ga., and she had a pass to get into last week’s spectacular Masters tournament there. The Chicago area’s lone member of the Ladies PGA Tour, however, had more important things to do.

“I could have gotten in off my LPGA pass, ‘’ said Jeray. “I’ve been to the Masters numerous times, but now I prefer to watch on TV. Plus, I’ve got work to do for my own tournaments.’’

Hopefully that work will pay off starting this week, when Jeray’s tournament schedule dramatically picks up. It’s hard to improve your golf game in Chicago winters, so Jeray has been staying with her boyfriend and practicing at Jones Creek – a challenging Rees Jones design near the site of the Masters. When the weather improves her she’ll do her practicing back at Cog Hill, where Jones recently renovated the Dubsdread course, and work with her long-time swing instructor, Dr. Jim Suttie.

At 42 Jeray is among the oldest players on the women’s circuit. She qualified for the first time after her 1992 graduation from Northern Illinois University, where she won eight collegiate tournaments – an accomplishment that led to her being the youngest inductee into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2002.

As a professional, however, things haven’t come so easily. Not only was the competition much stiffer, but Jeray has had to deal with narcolepsy – a sleep disorder. Still, she remains the only LPGA card member from Chicago since Medinah’s Deedee Lasker, who competed briefly in the 1970s.

Jeray’s dedication and determination is extraordinary. She has been on and off the premier women’s circuit several times and has been to its fall qualifying school 19 times.

“Kind of crazy, isn’t it,’’ she said. “My game is better than it’s ever been. A lot of the girls now are 18 years old, but I’m a mature player. I feel I can compete.’’

Lending credence to that belief is her standing in one of the LPGA’s more important statistical categories. She is second among all LPGA players in driving accuracy, having hit 86 percent of the fairways in her first three tournaments.

“I’m very straight. I just need to putt,’’ she said. “When I putt I make money. I’ve tried all kinds of putters. Now I’m holding one that I feel I can make anything with, so we’ll see.’’

On years when she didn’t have LPGA privileges Jeray competed on the much less lucrative Symetra (formerly Futures) Tour. Her latest venture to Q-school was in December, when she tied for 17th among 122 finalists. It took her 90 holes of regulation play and five playoff holes to earn playing privileges in 2013.

Her current card, though, hasn’t gotten her into every tournament and she’s been in limbo the last four months. Just an alternate in the field for the season-opening tournament in Australia, she didn’t know she could play until a week before the event. She hurriedly made the long trip there, but missed the cut.

“I wasn’t prepared mentally or physically,’’ she said. “People were dropping out like flies, so I got in. Then at Phoenix I signed up for Monday qualifying and got in.’’

With an uncertain schedule Jeray has played in three of the year’s six events, missed the cut in all of them and hasn’t earned a dime yet. That could change starting this week, when her schedule solidifies. She’s playing the next three weeks – the Lotte Championship, which tees off Wednesday in Hawaii; the North Texas Shootout, April 25-28 in Dallas; and the Kingsmill Championship, May 2-5 in Virginia.

“It’s been frustrating. When I left Q-School I knew I’d get into a lot of events,’’ she said. “But from now on I should get into all of the full-field events the rest of the year.’’