POTTSTOWN, Pa. — The final stop of the four-week May stretch on the road to the LPGA has the Symetra Tour setting up shop at Raven’s Claw Golf Club in Pottstown, Pa., for the inaugural Valley Forge Invitational from May 24-26.
“Making our way back to the greater northeast area to showcase women’s professional golf has been on our to-do list for awhile,” said Mike Nichols, the Chief Business Officer for the Symetra Tour. “We are excited to have the future stars of the LPGA compete in an event near a top market like Philadelphia. Furthermore, we are grateful to the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board and Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation for making it possible.”
The 132-player field will battle for a purse of $100,000 in a 54-hole stroke play format. After 36 holes, a cut will be made to the low 60 players and ties.
Play begins at 7 a.m. ET for each round and all action starts off No. 1 tee.
Meanwhile, coming off her first Symetra Tour win in the Symetra Classic, Jenny Haglund (Karlstad, Sweden) is looking to continue the momentum. In order to do that, she won’t deviate from what has got her to this point.
“Keep doing what I do every week,” said Haglund, who celebrated her victory with a stop in Washington D.C. on the way to Pottstown. “Obviously, I’m a bit tired, but just going to try to get through this week.”
Since it opened in 2005, Raven’s Claw Golf Club has been a consistent selection on the list of “Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Daily Fee” courses, as selected by Golfweek.
The Valley Forge Invitational will mark the first professional golf event played on the challenging Ed Shearon-designed course, and the first time the Symetra Tour has played a tournament in the Keystone State since 2011.
“Most of the courses we’ve played this season have been very wide off the tee and this one is too,” said Louise Ridderström (Stocksund, Sweden), who recorded a career-best tied for fifth result last week at the Symetra Classic. “You have to be very strategic of where you want to land the ball on the green. The best iron and short game player will win this tournament.”
As we near the end of the month, which started in Milton, Ga., at Atlanta National Golf Club for the IOA Invitational and featured 847 miles of travel up the East Coast, players are eager for a short time to regroup. However, it hasn’t altered their gameplan, or goals, for the Valley Forge Invitational.
“It has been quite an experience this past month on the road,” said Karolina Vlckova (Kladno, Czech Republic), who also earned a career-best finish of tied for fifth at the Symetra Classic. “Knowing there is a week off after this event to relax and work on my game is nice. It would be great to end this stretch on a good note, so that definitely motivates me to give my all this week.”
GIMPEL RECEIVES SPONSOR EXEMPTION
This week’s Valley Forge Invitational at Raven’s Claw Golf Club may be on the Symetra Tour schedule for the first time, but it’s a familiar setting for local professional Emily Gimpel (Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania).
“There has been a ton of buzz and excitement. I feel really honored to be a part of the event with so many people I have known since junior golf being involved with the tournament,” said Gimpel, a two-time Pennsylvania state champion at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. “It’s so fun to think back to my time competing in high school events around the area and now to be able to play at the highest level here is just really neat for me.”
A good friend of Gimpel’s is Ed Shearon, the course architect. Furthermore, Raven’s Claw head golf professional Jim Bromley gave Gimpel her first official golf lesson at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, her home course.
The connection in the area and with Raven’s Claw Golf Club runs deep for the fourth year Symetra Tour professional. It also won’t be the first time she has competed at the venue.
“I think we will have great crowds, as the greater Philadelphia area is one of the best for golf,” Gimpel said. “My family and boyfriend, as well as lots of friends from our home club will be in attendance. Hopefully they bring me lots of birdies.”
A former standout at the University of Maryland, Gimpel also won the Philadelphia Women’s Amateur in 2013. The Valley Forge Invitational will mark her second start on the Symetra Tour this year and with the first reshuffle taking place next week, Gimpel is hoping for a strong start to jump up the priority list.
“I changed swing coaches last November after Stage II of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament,” said Gimpel. “It has been awesome, but there has definitely been a transition in taking what I’ve learned into tournaments with confidence. I am really happy with every aspect of my game right now, I just need to trust and believe in myself.”
PAPALE TO PLAY IN PRO-AM
Tomorrow at Raven’s Claw Golf Club, the Pro-Am event will take center stage and Vince Papale, a former professional football player who spent three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, will be part of the festivities.
Papale attended Interboro High School in Prospect Park, Pa., part of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, and went on to attend Saint Joseph’s University on a track scholarship. In 1976, Papale was a teacher at his high school alma mater, as well as part-time bartender. Even so, he entered the Eagles unprecedented open tryout and eventually made the team. At age 30, Papale was the oldest rookie in the history of the National Football League (NFL).
His story is the subject of the 2006 Disney movie Invincible.
“I see a lot of me in them, they have the dream and know what it takes to get there,” said Papale, in reference to the players on the Symetra Tour. “They’ve got the grit, they’ve got the desire, they’re willing to pay the price, they’re willing to sacrifice. There for the love of the game and the opportunity, like I got, to eventually hit it in the big time. It takes guts to do that.”
Pro-Am groups feature one professional and three amateurs. All play will begin off No. 1 tee starting at 7 a.m. ET tomorrow, with starting times every 10 minutes.
Papale is paired with Karolina Vlckova (Kladno, Czech Republic), and will also be joined by his wife Janet and daughter Gabriella. They will start their round at 7:10.
“I am very excited to play with Vince and can’t wait to meet him,” said Vlckova. “His story is such an inspiration, so I will probably ask a lot of questions. We will have a lot of fun and it is going to be a great day.”
That story Vlckova mentioned is one of the ultimate underdog. It’s a background of an ordinary man who defies the odds to achieve a lifelong dream. The premise is something very relatable for Symetra Tour players looking to make it to the LPGA Tour through hard work and perseverance.
“I always say first of all you have to believe, and more than anything you have to believe in yourself,” Papale said. “There’s always that dream, but understanding that there’s things that need to be done to achieve it. You have to have focus, grit in order to get to the end line. Surround yourself with a good team, positive people to block out the noise.”
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