The Symetra Tour, Road to the LPGA, returns to Beaumont for the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. The 54-hole tournament begins on Friday, March 24 and concludes on Sunday, March 26. This is the second event of the 2017 season and the first of a three-week West Coast Swing.
The field of 132 aspiring LPGA Tour golfers from the United States and 27 countries around the globe will compete for a tournament purse of $100,000. The winner will earn $15,000 and move towards the top of the early season Volvik Race for the Card money list. The top 10 earners on the final money list will earn LPGA membership for the 2018 season.
There are 127 professionals and five amateurs in the field.
The next three events are co-sanctioned with The LPGA of Taiwan (TLPGA). There are 12 players in the field this week from the TLPGA including 15-year-old Tzu-Yi Chang, the youngest in the field.
The first-round begins on Friday, March 24 at 7:20 a.m. from the first and tenth tees. There will be a cut made to the low 60 and ties following Saturday’s second round. The final-round will begin at 7:30 a.m. The trophy ceremony will take place on the 18th green immediately following play.
Tickets to the IOA Championship are free while parking is also free and available on site.
This is the third year the Symetra Tour has played at Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon and the second year of the IOA Championship. Erynne Lee fired a final-round 7-under, 65 last year to capture her first career win at 11-under, 205 while Katie Kempter grinded through tough weather conditions in 2015 to win on the third playoff hole. Both Lee and Kempter are in the field this week.
The field is loaded with talent as 41 LPGA members will tee it up this week. There are also 23 players in the field from the state of California. Further, everyone that finished in the top 10 at the season opener is in the field this week.
The Tour will head to Mesa, Arizona for the Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club next week and then to Windsor, California for the POC MED Golf Classic at Windsor Golf Club in two weeks. This is the first true West Coast Swing for the Symetra Tour since 2001, when the season opened with four straight events in the state of California.
Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon is a par-72 and will play 6,527 yards this week.
RECAP OF FIRST EVENT, JORDAN-HIGGINS WINS THIRD
Olivia Jordan-Higgins (Jersey, UK) posted three under-par rounds at the season-opening Florida’s Natural Charity Classic two Sunday’s ago to claim her third career victory by one shot at 10-under, 206. She outlasted Christine Song and Yu Liu.
With the first place check of $18,750, Jordan-Higgins owns the top spot on the Volvik Race for the Card money list entering the IOA Championship. She hit 43-of-54 greens in regulation and 28-of-39 fairways.
Jordan-Higgins, a veteran of seven years on the Symetra Tour, has come close to earning an LPGA Tour card several times. She finished 16th in 2012, 11th in 2013 and 20th in 2014. She has not finished inside the top 50 each of the last two years.
The first event featured a mix of rookies and veterans rising to the occasion. Rookies Lindsey Weaver and Ruixin Liu finished fourth and tied for fifth respectively while veterans Kim Welch (2006 rookie) and Samantha Richdale (2006 rookie) finished tied for fifth and ninth.
DEFENDING CHAMP LEE RECALLS LAST YEARS WIN AT TUKWET CANYON
At the start of the 2016 season, Erynne Lee wasn’t even sure she’d get into the IOA Championship. It’s certainly a good thing she did. She wound up coming from behind to win her first career start on the Symetra Tour.
“I still remember every detail and all the emotions that I felt going into that week, during the week and after the week,” said Lee, who was asked to reflect on her return this week. “Once I got into the tournament, I didn’t have many expectations and didn’t put pressure on myself. However, I definitely wanted to finish well so I could give myself a chance to get bumped up (status) for the reshuffle.”
Her win propelled her to full status and she played a full schedule the rest of the season. Lee posted four additional top 10 finishes and closed the season 17th on the money list.
“The last round was just one of those days when you’re in the zone and you feel that every shot and putt was dialed in,” Lee recalled about her 7-under, 65 to win. “I saw the leaderboard on hole 16 after I stuffed my 7-wood to about 3-feet and knew I had a chance to win. It was exciting to be in contention with only a few holes left and to win from behind.”
EASTVALE’S MICHELLE PIYAPATTRA STAYS AT HOME
Michelle Piyapattra stayed at her childhood home in Eastvale (just west of Riverside) during the IOA Championship last year and finished T13. She’s in the field this week playing the IOA Championship for a third time. She made the cut as a rookie in 2015 and finished T66.
Piyapattra is coming off her best season yet with a pair of top 10 finishes. She finished 40th on the Volvik Race for the Card money list last year.
The 24-year-old played college golf on the east coast at Columbia where she earned First Team All-Ivy honors three times and was the 2011-12 Ivy League Player of the Year.
#11 ON 2016 MONEY LIST MAKES FIRST START
Clariss Guce (Artesia, Calif.) was one of the great stories from the 2016 season. She played college golf at California State University, Northridge and entered the season with limited acclaim. Guce proceeded to win two tournaments, but ultimately came up short of an LPGA Tour card. She will make her first start of 2017 this week as a favorite to contend for a Tour card this year.
Guce, who was the 2013-14 Big West Golfer of the Year, won the Danielle Downey Classic in Rochester, New York and the Decatur Forsyth Classic in Decatur, Illinois in a span of a month last year. She totaled four top 10 finishes and $66,573, but fell 1,004 short of finishing in the top 10.
Guce finished T18 at the IOA Championship in 2016.
LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR WINNERS IN FIELD
The Symetra Tour has seen an increase in the amount of Ladies European Tour (LET) players that are coming over from Europe to play over the last several years. This field is no different as three LET winners are scheduled to compete: Rebecca Artis (2013 Helsingborg Open, 2015 Ladies Scottish Open), Camilla Lennarth (2014 Allianz Ladies Slovak Open) and Marianne Skarpnord (2009 Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open, 2009 Carta Sì Ladies Italian Open and 2013 South African Women’s Open).
GREEN, LAW, BOUTIER DEBUT
Three of the headliners this week will be making their debuts on the Symetra Tour. Hannah Green (Perth, Australia), Bronte Law (Manchester, England) and Celine Boutier (Montrouge, France) all enter the IOA Championship with impressive resumes.
Green, 19, finished second to Lydia Ko at the 2015 New Zealand Open and finished T7 at this years’ ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open on the LPGA with three under-par rounds.
Law, 22, was the 2016 ANNIKA Award recipient as the nations top golfer and won a record won seven times at UCLA. This past summer, Law went 5-0 to help Great Britain and Ireland win the Curtis Cup. She was a WGCA First Team All-American in 2015-16.
Boutier, who won four times during her stellar career at Duke, was All-ACC all four years in Durham. She was the 2012-13 ACC Rookie of the Year and the 2013-14 ACC Player of the Year. She was also the WGCA National Player of the Year in 2013-14 when she held a stroke average of 71.50, the fifth lowest in Duke history. Boutier finished T29 at The Evian Championship in 2014.
FULLERTON’S SONG CONTINUES TO EXCEL ON SYMETRA TOUR
While Christine Song would rather be spending time on the LPGA, she continues to shine when she plays the Symetra Tour. Song opened the season at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic with a tie for second - her 20th career top 10 finish. Song also has five career wins.
Last year, Song played predominantly on the LPGA, but made six starts on the Symetra Tour and had three top 15 results including a win at the Garden City Charity Classic.
Song has made 61 career starts on the LPGA Tour since 2010.
This will be her first IOA Championship at Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon.
• There are five former UCLA Bruins in the field: Erynne Lee, Ani Gulugian, Bronte Law, Brianna Do and Stephanie Kono and five former USC Trojans: Kyung Kim, Sophia Popov, Paola Moreno, Doris Chen and Veronica Felibert.
• Augusta James Monday Qualified for the LPGA Founders Cup this past week, but missed the cut. James won the 2015 Chico’s Patty Berg Memorial on the Symetra Tour as a rookie. She was a three-time All-ACC selection at N.C. State.
• Brittany Benvenuto, who played college golf at Arizona, won the last Cactus Tour event for her first professional victory. Benvenuto is a rookie on the LPGA Tour this year.
• Kyung Kim has won three of the seven Cactus Tour events this year. Kim is a sponsor exemption into the next two Symetra Tour events. She was a three-time WGCA All-American at USC and graduated in 2016.
• Nine different countries are represented in the current top 20 on the Volvik Race for the Card money list (United Kingdom, USA, China, Sweden, Canada, South Korea, Thailand, Denmark and Ecuador).
• Seven players averaged 270 or more yards per drive at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic including Laura Wearn, who averaged 290 yards per strike off the tee.
• There are five teenagers in the field this week: Tzu-Yi Chang (15), Tze-Han Lin (16), Yu-Hsin Yen (17)Ruixin Liu (18), Benyapa Niphatsophon (19) and Budsabakorn Sukapan (19).