FRENCH LICK, Ind. — The next stop on the road to the LPGA Tour in 2018 is the Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort for the second annual Donald Ross Classic from July 12-14.
Awaiting the 144-player field is a purse of $225,000, tied with the Symetra Tour Championship for the largest on Tour in 2018. Players will compete in a 54-hole stroke play format, with a cut to the low 60 individuals and ties after 36 holes.
“After a week off, getting back into the swing of things with an event at such a prestigious course and so much on the line really sets the tone for the rest of the season,” said Mike Nichols, the Chief Business Officer for the Symetra Tour. “Playing at the host site of the 1959 and 1960 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will surely test the Symetra Tour’s best this week and crown a deserving champion.”
In addition, the Donald Ross Classic has been designated as the “flagship” event on the Symetra Tour schedule. This means it will receive a minimum strength of field of 50 and players can receive additional points toward the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
It will be the highest strength of field for a Symetra Tour event since it started being included in the rankings. The winner will receive six points and the top-41 finishers are eligible for points.
“Coming off of a win, I do feel that there is less pressure knowing that I have the ability within me to take it home,” said Muni He (Chengdu, China), who won the inaugural Prasco Charity Championship nine days ago. “I know it’ll still take a lot of patience and hard work to keep the ball rolling. I just want to keep a good mindset and focus on my own game, instead of being stressed about scores and rankings.”
Defending champion Erynne Lee (Silverdale, Washington) was a 2017 Symetra Tour graduate and will not be among the competitors in the Hoosier State this week. However, she does have fond memories of her time at last year’s inaugural event.
“Winning the Donald Ross Classic was a huge push in the right direction for a LPGA card,” said Lee, who shot 12-under par overall. “To have a moment like that, it was big in terms of everything I worked for. The course is a challenging layout, with every hole having an uphill walk at one point. You have to be patient and committed because it feels like a marathon. It’s a true test of golf, mentally and physically.”
Lee outlasted August Kim (St. Augustine, Florida) on the third sudden-death playoff hole to capture what was her second career Symetra Tour victory. While Lee won’t be in French Lick, Kim will. However, her finish a year ago is in the rearview mirror.
“The Donald Ross Course is just an all-around special place,” said Kim, a Purdue University alumna. “You have to be solid from tee to green, for sure. Last year I played well, but the real key was my putting. I’m hoping to bring that again this year, but I don't want to get bogged down by the expectations after my finish.”
First and second round action will begin off No. 1 and No. 10 tees at 7:30 a.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Final round play is set to start at the same time on Saturday, but all groups will head out from No. 1 tee.
GAHM READY TO START SECOND HALF OF SEASON CLOSE TO HOME
Across the Ohio River and just 66 miles from the Donald Ross Course one can find the historic Churchill Downs, but only 65 miles away from the venue for this week’s Donald Ross Classic is Sacred Heart Academy, where Lindsay Gahm (Louisville, Kentucky) graduated from in 2010.
“Playing close to home this week is very exciting because I'm very proud of where I come from and there is so much great golf around this region,” Gahm said. “Louisville and southern Indiana have hosted several professional golf tournaments, so I can't wait for the community to see what the Symetra Tour is all about. Also, my family and friends do not get to watch me very often so it will be a fun week having them around to cheer me on.”
An alumna of Louisiana State University (LSU), Gahm spent the final three years of her collegiate career in Baton Rouge after completing her freshman year at Indiana University. She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a Second Team All-Big Ten performer for the Hoosiers.
In her third year on the Symetra Tour, Gahm had a season-best tied for third finish at the IOA Invitational in early May.
“My goal for the second half of the season is to improve my putting from 15 feet and in,” said Gahm, who finished her LSU career with a 75.10 stroke average and one win. “I feel like my overall game is very close, but I have missed too many good birdie opportunities with my putter. My big picture goal is to always steadily improve.”
With three career top-10 results to her name, Gahm is trying to find her groove again after taking a medical exemption for 2017 because of wrist surgery. Therefore, this will be the first time that Gahm faces the daunting Donald Ross Course at French Lick Resort.
“Many players have talked about the course being physically challenging with many hills and elevation changes,” Gahm said. “I have played other Donald Ross courses and the second shot into the greens is very crucial. Playing smart will be a big key this week.”
Combine the course with the purse and Gahm said there is definitely a “major” feel to the Donald Ross Classic.
“This event could definitely change the course of the season,” said Gahm. “We are halfway through the schedule and it is very important to get yourself in good position to have a chance at the top-10. No matter where you are on the money list, a solid finish here would give a lot of momentum.”
Gahm begins the quest to win in her backyard at 8:03 a.m. ET on Thursday off No. 1 tee, paired with Regina Plasencia (Guadalajara, Mexico) and Elise Bradley (Mandeville, Louisiana).