Hometown Gals… With the Symetra Tour set to kick-off its season next week in Mesa, Arizona, Sara Brown of Tucson, Ariz., Cara Freeman of Chandler, Ariz., Paige Mackenzie of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Blair O’Neal of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Sadena Parks of Scottsdale, Ariz. all represent Arizona. In addition to the group of players who call Arizona home, several players attended college in The Grand Canyon State including Brittany Benvenuto and Alejandra Llanza of University of Arizona; and Jaclyn Sweeney of Arizona State University.
Sara Brown (@sarabrowngolf)
Hometown: Tuscon, Ariz.
Rookie Year: 2008Education: Michigan State University (Family Community Service, 2008)
Known for her bubbly demeanour and outgoing personality, you might recognize Sara Brown from Golf Channel’s Big Break: Sandal Resort series (2010) and Dominican Republic series (2010). A former member of the LPGA Tour, Brown captured her first Symetra Tour victory at the 2012 My Marsh Golf Classic. She went on to record six additional top-20 finishes last season and finished 12th on the season-ending Volvik Race for the Card standings.
Off the links, Brown recently got engaged to long-time boyfriend and swing coach, Derek Radley. Radley stepped aside from frequently caddying for Brown and recently accepted the position as Assistant Women’s Golf Coach at the University of Arizona.
Blair O’Neal (@BLAIRONEAL)
Hometown: Scottsdale, Ariz.
Rookie Year: 2004Education: Arizona State University (Communications, 2003)
A local resident of Arizona, Blair O’Neal played collegiate golf at Arizona State University where she finished third at the 2000 Ping ASU invitational and fourth individually at the 2003 Pac-10 Championship. Last season on the Symetra Tour, O’Neal played in 16 events, made six cuts, and recorded a season-best tied for 17th finish at the Four Winds Invitational.
O’Neal was runner-up on Golf Channel’s 2009 Big Break Prince Edward Island series and won the 2010 Big Break Dominican Republic series. She has appeared in serveal Sports Illustrated Swimsuit additions and in 2008 was named to Sports Illustrated’s “Top 50 Hottest Athletes of All Time”.
Cara Freeman (@CaraFreemanGolf)
Hometown: Chandler, Ariz.
Rookie Year: 2011
Education: Oregon State University (Marketing)
Cara Freeman has been knocking on the door of her first Symetra Tour victory since joining the tour in 2011. Freeman notched her best victory on tour at the 2011 Eagle Classic where she finished runner-up and in 2012, she posted four top-10 finishes include season-best tied for fourth at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic and Riviera Nayarit Classic.
Freeman played collegiate golf at Oregon State University where she posted 10 top-10 finishes. If she was not a golfer, she would want to do something in the international business field.
Players to Watch… With 10 fully-exempt cards now awarded through the Volvik Race for the Card, several players who are set to play in the VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic narrowly missed earning their 2013 LPGA Tour card.
Jenny Suh: Suh finished at the dreaded No. 11 spot on the season-ending Volvik Race for the Card standings. Coming into the final tournament of the 2012 season, Suh was eighth on the money list but after a disappointing missed cut, she dropped outside of the race to 11th.
Look for Suh, who was a member of the LPGA Tour in 2011 and 2012, to play her way towards the top of the money list again this season. Last season Suh played in 15 events, made 12 cuts, and posted three top-10 finishes. She posted a season-best tied for second finish at the Four Winds Invitational.
Jaclyn Sweeney: Last season, Sweeney played in 15 events, made 14 cuts, and recorded four top-10 finishes including one win at the Credit Union Challenge, but finished 13th in the season-ending Volvik Race for the Card standings and failed to her LPGA Tour card. Sweeney played collegiate golf at Arizona State University and will return to her old stomping grounds to kick-off her 2013 season.
Sweeney was a standout golfer at Arizona State where she was a member of the 2009 Pac-10 and National Championship Team. She was garnered NGCA Honorable Mention All-American and Golfweek Third Team All-American honors in 2010.
Jean Chua: Entering her third season on the Symetra Tour, Chua is a coming off a 2012 season which included five top-10 finishes including a tied for second at the Riviera Nayarit Classic. Despite her impressive resume, Chua came up just shy of earning her 2013 LPGA Tour card after finishing 15th on the final Volvik Race for the Card standings.
Chua, the only player on tour from Malaysia, played collegiate golf at Wake Forest University where she recorded one win and finished fifth individually at the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Golf Championship.
Symetra Tour event has LPGA flavor… While the LPGA Tour will be playing the Honda LPGA Thailand the same week as the VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic played at Longbow Golf Club, several LPGA players will be teeing-it-up on the Symetra Tour due to the limited field event in Thailand.
A total of 26 current LPGA Tour members will play in Mesa including Lisa Ferrero and Tiffany Joh who both earned their LPGA cards through the Volvik Race for the Card.
Highlighting the list of LPGA Tour players in the VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic played at Longbow Golf Club is sponsor invite and Scottsdale, Ariz. local, Paige Mackenzie. The always fashionable Mackenzie joined the LPGA Tour in 2007 and last season, she played in 19 events, made 12 cuts, and recorded a season-best T22 finish at the CN Canadian Women’s Open.
Going Global… The Symetra Tour has consistently proven to provide a direct pipeline to the LPGA Tour and in return, attracted players from all over the world. This will be reflected at this week’s VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club where a total of 19 countries will be represented including Brazil, India, Italy, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, and Thailand.
Volvik Race for the Card Begins in Mesa… The Volvik Race for the Card will get the green flag at the season-opening VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club, kicking-off the yearlong race to 10 LPGA Tour cards.
Beginning in 1999, The Symetra Tour annually awards LPGA membership to its top players on each official season money list. This year marks the second season that the top-10 money winners will receive full, equal status for the following season on the LPGA Tour. With more than 500 alumnae including Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr, and last year’s Rolex Player of the Year Stacy Lewis moving on to the LPGA, former Symetra Tour players have won a total of 371 LPGA titles, including 40 major championships.