MILTON, Ga. — Based on the degree of difficulty that Atlanta National Golf Club played to all week, any one of the 60 players that made the cut in the inaugural IOA Invitational had a legitimate shot at winning today.
It’s no surprise then that the round of the day also belonged to the first-ever champion of the IOA Invitational, Elizabeth Szokol (Winnetka, Illinois). The University of Virginia product fired a 4-under par in the final round to finish at 4-under overall and take home the trophy.
“Very excited about it, definitely a big confidence booster,” said Szokol, who went 71-73 in the first two rounds. “Playing out here all year last year, I got more confidence so I was just really waiting for that win. It means a lot to be able to get the win in just my second event this year.”
The final pairing of 36-hole leader Lydia Hall (Bridgend, Wales), Karen Chung (Livingston, N.J.) and Regina Plasencia (Guadalajara, Mexico) really swung the door of opportunity wide open for Szokol this afternoon. They shot 19-over par, combined.
“All day was pretty tough, the wind picked up so it was a little rough,” said Chung, who went 2-over par in the final round, including 3-over on the back nine. “We definitely couldn’t vibe off each other today out there and towards the back nine, I kind of fell apart, too. This was still my best finish of the year, so going to take it as a positive.”
Meanwhile, in her first start of the year at the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, Szokol missed the cut. A lot has changed in the last month to get her into the winner’s circle.
“I actually switched my irons, so kind of have more control around the greens with my new irons,” Szokol said. “Kept working hard on my swing, putting and short game. Came out here just so excited to keep playing after the three weeks off.”
Leading up to the final round, Mother Nature provided pleasant conditions. Today, that changed with heavy, swirling winds taking over.
Nonetheless, that did not stop Szokol from signing a bogey-free card and, in the process, come from five shots back to win by one.
“Especially when I got out of the car and it was pretty windy at the course, I knew staying patient at the start and maybe making a couple birdies I’d have a chance,” said Szokol, who collected six top-10 finishes in her rookie campaign on the Symetra Tour last year. “Definitely some thought of a chance. I wanted to go out there, post a good score and see what happened.”
Taking a look at the final leaderboard, only five players scored under par for the tournament. Furthermore, three countries were represented in the top-five, including three players from the United States.
SZOKOL CLAIMS MAJOR MOVE OF THE DAY
When the final round of the IOA Invitational began this morning, Elizabeth Szokol was tied for 15th at even par, but when all was said and done, she walked away the victor.
On a day when 49 of the 60 individuals that made the cut shot over par, Szokol managed the conditions brilliantly. She was one of only eight to score under par.
“I was excited to play this morning, only five shots back,” said Szokol, who fired a bogey-free 68 today. “It was windy and I love playing in the wind. I stayed steady in the beginning and kind of patient with the wind. Made a few birdies early, so definitely a solid day.”
At the conclusion of her round, Szokol found herself tied for first at 4-under. That quickly changed when Karen Chung carded a bogey on No. 14. From there, the outcome did not waver.
“It’s definitely a good confidence booster,” said Szokol, in her second year on the Symetra Tour. “I played pretty solid today and hung in there yesterday, so I am looking forward to playing more.”
With three tournaments remaining in the May stretch of competition, Szokol has started the run in outstanding fashion. She points to one area of her game that is making her believe more each day in what she can accomplish.
“My putting has been awesome. I think I made pretty much everything from within 10 feet,” Szokol said. “My short game really helped me out today and I am driving it well. I am excited.”
ANANNARUKARN FANTASTIC IN SECOND SYMETRA TOUR START
A Symetra Tour rookie, Pajaree Anannarukarn (Bangkok, Thailand) dazzled in her second career event on the official qualifying tour of the LPGA Tour.
The 18-year-old finished second in the IOA Invitational at 3-under par overall, including a final round 2-under par 70.
“I was really excited, of course. I had a very good time out there and being here,” said Anannarukarn, who shot 71-72 in the first two rounds. “The course is in great shape and challenging. I just wanted to keep trying to play my game. It ended up really good.”
Having just moved to the United States in late March for the Symetra Tour season, Anannarukarn is a long way from home. However, she had some familiar faces in the crowd this week at Atlanta National Golf Club.
“My friends from Thailand are living around here, so it was really nice to be here and then having them come out and watch,” Anannarukarn said. “Definitely gave me a lot of confidence.”
Even after a solid performance like this in the first of four straight tournaments during the month of May, Anannarukarn still has her goals in front of her. To top it all off, the American School of Bangkok graduate will celebrate her birthday in the coming weeks.
“Just want to keep improving my game—approach shots, keep it consistent, and everything else that I can—is my goal for this year,” said Anannarukarn. “Try to learn a lot of things because this is my first year. Looking forward to the next three tournaments and trying to do my best. Just enjoy the game.”