MILTON, Ga. — Following a three-week hiatus from competition, the Symetra Tour dives fully into the swing of things with the inaugural IOA Invitational from May 4-6 at Atlanta National Golf Club, the first of four straight events for the official qualifying tour of the LPGA.
To sweeten the pot this week, title sponsor Insurance Office of America (IOA) raised the purse for the tournament from $100,000 to $150,000. The winner’s share is now set at $22,500.
“The IOA Invitational is an important event for our company and the greater Atlanta community because it allows us to showcase the future stars of the LPGA Tour, while also giving back to charity,” said John Ritenour, the Chairman of IOA. “We wanted to increase our investment to help the players continue to chase their dreams and are excited to have a long-term deal in place to grow alongside the Symetra Tour.”
In total this year, IOA sponsors three events and is the first organization to do so in the history of the Tour.
“After two tournaments over the last two months to start the season, this move really jumpstarts the 2018 Symetra Tour campaign,” said Mike Nichols, the Chief Business Officer for the Symetra Tour. “Combined with their expansion of events hosted from two to three, IOA has demonstrated it is not only a key sponsor for the Symetra Tour and community involvement, but a leading voice in the long-term support of women’s golf.”
With an even greater incentive now for the 144-player field, it also brings along the excitement of the season starting to pick up momentum.
“It’s been awhile, so I think it’s good to get back in the swing of it,” said Kelly Grassel (Chesterton, Indiana), who visited the University of Florida ahead of the IOA Invitational to practice at her alma mater’s golf facility. “Been struggling a bit with my ball striking, not hitting a lot of greens. I needed a little break because I had a rough start for the first two tournaments. It is good to get in more of a routine now.”
Play for the first-ever IOA Invitational is structured in a 54-hole stroke play format with a cut to the low 60 players and ties after 36 holes. Action will get underway at 7:30 a.m. all three rounds.
Meanwhile, Atlanta National Golf Club is no stranger to welcoming the Symetra Tour to the heart of Georgia. In 2016, it hosted the Gosling’s Dark ‘n Stormy® Classic, then the Symetra Classic last year, won by Nanna Koerstz Madsen (Copenhagen, Denmark).
After finishing in the top-10 on the 2017 Volvik Race for the Card money list to earn her LPGA Tour card for 2018, Koerstz Madsen is not among those competing this week. However, several players who have faced this dramatic and challenging Pete and P.B. Dye course before are in the mix.
“Bent greens, firm greens, fairways are soft right now, but hopefully they firm up for the tournament,” said Christine Song (Fullerton, California), who finished tied for 44th in the 2017 Symetra Classic. “It’s a good course, just plays a little tricky. If you miss the green it’s a little tough. The fairways are wide so it can be forgiving.”
SYMETRA TOUR IN THE PEACH STATE
Every week, the number of countries represented in a given Symetra Tour field is noteworthy, as it showcases the diversity of professionals on Tour, and the inaugural IOA Invitational is no different with 33 nations having at least one individual competing.
Furthermore, the host state pits an abundance of talent to be showcased this week at Atlanta National Golf Club. Five players in the field call the Peach State home, including Avery George (Perry, Georgia), Jessica Welch (Thomasville, Georgia), Amira Alexander (Alpharetta, Georgia), Lacey Agnew (Jonesboro, Georgia) and Jean Reynolds (Newnan, Georgia).
“You just can’t beat Georgia golf and it’ll be nice to know some faces in the crowd,” said George, who played in the 2017 Symetra Classic at Atlanta National Golf Club and finished tied for 9th. “There is so much pride that comes with playing in your home state at the professional level. So many great golfers have come out of Georgia and I strive to be one of them.”
In addition to several locals making their way to Milton, Ga., the University of Georgia (UGA) is located just 70 miles from Atlanta National Golf Club. Two competitors—Reynolds and Manuela Carbajo Ré (Necochea, Argentina)—are Bulldogs alumna, and will don the Black and Red this week at the IOA Invitational.
“You’re definitely going to see more Georgia fans here than in any other state. That’s a plus for me,” Carbajo Ré said. “Just being here in Georgia, I kind of feel at home. The way the courses are here is similar (to UGA)—the grass, the trees. It’s a little taste, definitely.”
Rounding out the in-state product is Casey Kennedy (Venice, Florida), who played collegiately at Augusta State University.
MEADOW VISITS IRELAND, SHOOTING FOR CONSECUTIVE WINS
Coming off her first professional victory on April 8 at the IOA Championship in Beaumont, Calif., Stephanie Meadow (Jordanstown, Northern Ireland) is still trying to catch up on sleep.
While many players spent time with friends and family, practiced and enjoyed some downtime between the IOA Championship and IOA Invitational, Meadow spent several days in her native country of Ireland.
As soon as she landed, it was nonstop action for Meadow. The trip featured meetings and shoots with her sponsor Investec for an upcoming feature campaign, several media requests including podcast appearances and radio interviews, speaking at local schools about the importance of sport and even a Gala dinner. Of course, we can’t forget about squeezing in a little practice time at the prestigious Powerscourt Golf Club.
“I thoroughly enjoy giving back to the game and sport, in general. Investec has given me a way to give back and that is truly amazing,” said Meadow. “Obviously, there aren’t many professional women golfers in Ireland, so to be able to inspire young girls to follow my path is really special, considering I never had an Irish female pro to look up to.”
The former four-time All-American at the University of Alabama is now playing that role for the next generation of youth, not only in Ireland, but the United States as well.
Now in Georgia, Meadow is transitioning her focus to the IOA Invitational. However, that champion mindset hasn’t escaped her.
“Once you get that winning feeling all you want to do is work for it again. Winning definitely motivates me to succeed even more,” Meadow said. “I’m ready to get back to the tournament grind and compete again. It’s what I love to do and I miss it already.”