PRATTVILLE, Ala. — The 19th stop of the Symetra Tour season and fourth in the Million Dollar Drive takes the official qualifying tour of the LPGA Tour to the Yellowhammer State for the second annual Guardian Championship at the Senator Course of Capitol Hill on the Robert Trent Jones (RTJ) Golf Trail from Sept. 21-23.
Greeting the 120-player field in Prattville, Ala. is a total purse of $160,000, the seventh highest on Tour this season. Individuals are set to compete in a 54-hole stroke play format with a cut to the low 60 players and ties after 36 holes.
“As our relationship continues to strengthen with Guardian Credit Union, they have further developed this event into one of the elite on Tour and are now extended through 2022,” said Mike Nichols, the Chief Business Officer of the Symetra Tour. “The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail is a gracious host and with its rich background—468 holes of championship golf on 11 sites across Alabama—we are lucky to be competing at one of the best courses they have to offer.”
With only three tournaments now left on the “Road to the LPGA,” the Million Dollar Drive is the run of six consecutive events to end the season. They have a cumulative purse of greater than $1 million, roughly one-third of the total prize money for 2018.
Defending champion Lindsey Weaver (Bellefontaine, Ohio) is not among the competitors this week, as she was a 2017 Symetra Tour graduate. All members of the current Volvik Race for the Card top-10 are set to tee it up in the Heart of Dixie, as well as 34 of the top-35 players on the money list. In addition, 28 different countries and 21 states will be represented.
“It’s pretty special to be the inaugural champion of an event, especially in such a fun city like Prattville where everyone is so kind and helpful, and the course is as pure as they come,” said Weaver, who made the cut in five of eight LPGA starts in 2018. “My best advice would be to look carefully at pin positions and undulation on greens because that is the trickiest part of the course. Setting yourself up to make birdie will be key on the quick greens.”
Meanwhile, the event is particularly special for Alabama native and University of Alabama alumna Janie Jackson (Huntsville, Alabama). One of two competitors with ties to the host state—the other being sponsor exemption Elaine Wood (Spanish Fort, Alabama)—she is eager to get back to an area she knows and loves.
“When I was in high school, I Monday qualified in 2011 for the Navistar LPGA Classic played here, so Prattville has always been special to me because it is where I played my first LPGA event,” said Jackson, currently No. 56 in the Volvik Race for the Card. “In 2015, I Monday qualified again and played in both of those events as an amateur, but now actually playing here for a second straight year as a professional means a lot to me. Having a Tour stop in Alabama gives the people closest to me an opportunity to come out and watch, so I feel very blessed.”
Action gets underway at 7 a.m. CT for the first and second rounds on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Final round play is set for a 7:30 a.m. CT start on Sunday and all three days, groups will begin off No. 1 and No. 10 tees.
GUARDIAN CHAMPIONSHIP EXTENDED THROUGH 2022
Early this morning, a three-year extension was announced for the Guardian Championship to bring the Symetra Tour back to Alabama for the foreseeable future.
Guardian Credit Union and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, as well as Symetra Tour and River Region elected officials released details about the agreement that now extends into 2022 from what was originally contracted through 2019.
“We are grateful to Guardian Credit Union for appreciating the value of hosting the Symetra Tour after just one tournament,” said Mike Nichols. “Knowing that we have at least four more years together after this year’s event will allow us to work with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and focus on making this one of the premier stops on Tour.”
Professional golf has been played on the RTJ Golf Trail for the last 21 consecutive years. The news also makes the Guardian Championship the first contracted Symetra Tour event to run through 2022 and continues the tradition of outstanding golf in the Cotton State.
“Guardian is excited for another great tournament at Capitol Hills this year and to extend our relationship for an additional three years,” said Guardian Credit Union CEO Heath Harrell. “We are pleased with the outcome from the 2017 Guardian Championship and looking forward to growing the event this year and beyond. Guardian has been invested in the community for 60 years now and we are proud to continue the tradition of women’s golf in Alabama.”
Positive sentiments also came in from the organization that manages the RTJ Golf Trail—Sunbelt Golf Corporation.
“The RTJ Golf Trail has been part of the LPGA Tour family for over 20 years now and after just two years with the Symetra Tour, we’re thrilled to once again extend our relationship with the LPGA family,” said John Cannon, the President and CEO of Sunbelt Golf Corporation. “The young women of the Symetra Tour are a delight to host in Alabama and we hope to do so for many great years in the future.”
SEVERAL SYMETRA TOUR PROFESSIONALS GIVE BACK WITH JUNIOR CLINIC
It was a day of teaching at Capitol Hill on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, as six Symetra Tour professionals joined forces to lead a junior clinic hosted by Alabama Power.
Those in the group included University of Alabama alumnae Janie Jackson (Huntsville, Alabama) and Lakareber Abe (The Woodlands, Texas), as well as Casey Danielson (Osceola, Wisconsin), Samantha Wagner (Windermere, Florida), Celina Yuan (Sydney, Australia) and Allyssa Ferrell (Edgerton, Wisconsin), a 2018 Symetra Tour champion.
“I liked the format, that the kids got to see what we do and how we do it,” said Danielson, who has recorded five top-10 finishes in six starts this season. “Hopefully it’s inspiring to the kids and they starting playing the game, either seriously or just as a hobby. Golf can take you a lot of places, no matter what level you’re at.”
Meanwhile, the occasion was especially sweet for Abe. She was able to coach the next generation in a state that helped her grow into the person and professional she is today.
“Alabama played a big part in my life, so it is really cool to give back and help kids hopefully reach another level,” Abe said. “Camps and clinics did have a big impact on me starting to play the game and to see where it took me, it’s cool to have come full circle and be on the other side.”
During the clinic, lessons about integrity and honesty were incorporated into the run of show. These core values to the game are aspects that Ferrell said helped her land in the winner’s circle this year for the first time in her professional career.
“I try to hold the same respect for myself, whether I win or not,” said Ferrell. “Integrity and honesty are a huge part of golf, but I would also include patience. The overall big message is that hard work pays off because if you want something, you have to work for it."
Danielson echoed Ferrell’s sentiments.
“To teach the kids those words is definitely beneficial so they get it in their vocabulary and understand what it’s like to have the values in action as a person and golfer,” Danielson added. “Even a clinic like this, to be introduced to those words is really powerful.”