GREENWOOD, S.C. — The Symetra Tour rolls into the Palmetto State for the fourth stop on the road to the LPGA Tour in 2018, with The Links at Stoney Point Golf Club hosting the 5th annual Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic from May 10-13.
Defending champion Celine Boutier (Montrouge, France) is not among the competitors this week, as she finished third on the 2017 Volvik Race for the Card money list to graduate onto the LPGA. That means the event will yield a new winner this year.
Featured in a 72-hole stroke play format, the 144-player field will be cut to the low 60 players and ties after 36 holes. They will battle for a purse of $200,000, with the winner’s share set at $30,000.
“This tournament means a lot to us because the purse is double compared to other tournaments,” said Hyemin Kim (Seoul, Republic of Korea), who has played in the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic every year since it came on Tour in 2014.
First and second round action begins at 7:30 a.m. ET on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Players will go off No. 1 and No. 10 tees.
As for the weekend, third and fourth round play on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, is slated to begin at 8 a.m. ET and all groups will start on No. 1 tee. A trophy presentation will take place at the conclusion of the tournament on No. 18 green.
“I’ve always really enjoyed the four-day events,” said Elizabeth Szokol (Winnetka, Illinois), who won her first career Symetra Tour event last week at the inaugural IOA Invitational. “Even though I ended up winning, after the second round I really wanted another day in there. I felt like a moving day would have been fun. One more day to play good golf.”
Off the course, a fireworks display will take place on Friday night and a concert will wrap-up festivities on Sunday, also Mother’s Day.
“The atmosphere is just southern hospitality, super relaxed, good food, everybody is just enjoying having us here,” said Olivia Jordan-Higgins (St. Helier, Jersey), who played collegiately just down the road at Charleston Southern University. “We enjoy coming back—nice weather, golf course is always good. They just make us feel at home when we’re here. It’s a good week.”
TOURNAMENT RUN COMING TO A HALT
When the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic joined the Symetra Tour calendar in 2014, it became the first event in Tour history to offer a $200,000 purse.
Entering its fifth and final year on the schedule, the event has been a shining light of positivity for not only the Symetra Tour, but in the Greenwood community as a whole.
“First year, I was not familiar with this area. I never heard of Greenwood, I thought it was Greenville,” said Hyemin Kim. “When I come here, it was a really small town, but the people are so nice to us, we really appreciate it. They welcome the Symetra Tour so much.”
It has raised more than $1.25 million for local organizations including Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, Greenwood Project Hope and the Burton Center. It has generated $250,000 in new net revenues for title sponsor Self Regional Healthcare Foundation. On top of all that, it still boasts one of the largest purses on Tour.
“The Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic was truly a game changer for the Symetra Tour. It raised the bar in terms of what both the players and Tour staff believed a tournament could be. Greenwood elevated the Tour to an entirely new level and other tournaments immediately followed their lead,” said Mike Nichols, the Chief Business Officer of the Symetra Tour. “We could not be more pleased with the overall partnership that has been developed over the last five years.”
The tournament directors Jim and Denise Medford have shown great pride and enthusiasm in growing the tournament and sparking interest. Big-name players such as Nancy Lopez and Jan Stephenson have made their way to Greenwood to participate in the Pro-Am, a fireworks display illuminates Lake Greenwood one evening after play, and hole No. 13 has transformed into a party hole, with those that live on the lake parking their boat in the cove next to the green.
However, with the level they aspire to, a sort of exhaustion sets in after five years.
“I think we still would have sponsor support, but it was getting more and more challenging to maintain each year,” said Jim Medford. “If we can’t be the best out there doing it, then it’s time to take a break and come back again later.”
Medford now spends about 75 percent of his time working for KC Pharmaceuticals in California. Instead of the 2018 version of the tournament being a permanent end, he has called it a hiatus from hosting to allow staff and sponsors to regroup.
Even as the core foundation of tournament leadership steps away, it may be sooner rather than later that women’s professional golf is back in Greenwood.
“The Symetra Tour has not written off Greenwood by any means,” Nichols said. “If we can make the economics work and find a way to be back, we’ll keep coming back.”
SOUTH CAROLINA TIES ABUNDANT IN GREENWOOD
Several players with ties to the state of South Carolina have made their way to The Links at Stoney Point Golf Club for the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic.
Furman University, located just 63 miles from the tournament site, boasts alumnae Taylor Totland (Tinton Falls, N.J.) and Laura Wearn (Charlotte, N.C.). For the former Paladins, it is welcoming to play professionally near their second home and see the program strengthen as a member of the Southern Conference.
“It’s really nice to be back in South Carolina. It’s close to Charlotte too, where I’m from, so that’s good,” said Wearn, who graduated in 2013. “Especially this week, people know where it is and there’s a lot of people around here that went to Furman. It’s fun to talk to other graduates. I loved it there and I’m so proud to be an alumnae.”
Meanwhile, Justine Dreher (Valbonne, France) and Sarah Schmelzel (Phoenix, Arizona) represent the University of South Carolina this week in Greenwood. Only 80 miles from the USC campus, donning the Black and Garnet will be extra special for both players.
“Definitely a comfortable feeling. I got through maybe three holes yesterday and just thought this is just like one of our courses back in Columbia,” said Schmelzel, who is planning to visit her alma mater after tournament play. “It’s great to be back near your old stomping grounds and be around the people in the south. It should be a good week.”
A little farther down the road (172 miles to be exact) is Charleston Southern University, where Olivia Jordan-Higgins played collegiately. She has a history of strong performances in Greenwood County. Just 11 miles around the corner from The Links at Stoney Point Golf Club is The Patriot at Grand Harbor, where Jordan-Higgins led the Buccaneers to two Big South Conference Championships. She also won the individual title her senior year.
The former Symetra Tour winner says this tournament and its environment is unique for her.
“I always like coming back to this event because it definitely feels like home,” said Jordan-Higgins. “Even just the town of Greenwood has a special place for me. It feels good to be back and I like these style of golf courses, too. The people sure make it feel like home.”
While the roots run deep for these players in South Carolina, as far as their college experience, two individuals in the field are native to the state: Kristy McPherson (Conway, S.C.) and sponsor exemption Mary Hillow (Charleston, S.C.).
VOLVIK RACE FOR THE CARD UPDATE
Following the IOA Invitational at Atlanta National Golf Club, there was quite the shake-up in the Volvik Race for the Card standings with a new name taking the top spot.
Elizabeth Szokol, who captured the title on Sunday in Milton, Ga., with a 4-under par overall performance, collected $22,500 and a spot at No. 1 in the Volvik Race for the Card.
“I never won last year and was never in the top-10,” said Szokol, who captured six top-10 finishes last year in her rookie campaign. “Good start to the year. Definitely gives me some confidence, bit of a cushion to feel more free, go out there and just play golf.”
Even though Szokol missed the cut in her first event this season at the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, she still sits $213 ahead of No. 2, Stephanie Meadow (Jordanstown, Northern Ireland).
Meanwhile, rookie Pajaree Anannarukarn (Bangkok, Thailand) also made a significant leap, jumping 21 spots to No. 4 after her runner-up finish at the IOA Invitational. In her first two career starts on the Symetra Tour, Anannarukarn has recorded two top-10 results, but that’s just what she hopes is the beginning of her success.
“Try to learn a lot of things because this is my first year,” Anannarukarn said. “Looking forward to the next three tournaments and trying to do my best. Just enjoy the game.”
Checking in at No. 3 is Lauren Kim (Los Altos, California), who won the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic to start the 2018 season. Then after Anannarukarn at No. 4, rounding out the top-10 (in order) is Karen Chung (Livingston, N.J.), Daniela Iacobelli (Melbourne, Florida), Annie Park (Levittown, N.Y.), Charlotte Thomas (Guildford, England), Carleigh Silvers (Martinsville, Indiana) and Brittany Marchand (Mississauga, Ontario).
This may be what the top-10 looks like right now, but with 18 events remaining on the Symetra Tour schedule, there is still a lot of golf to be played.
“I’m not going to focus too much on that and get distracted by the money list,” said Szokol. “Just focus on playing. I’ve really been trying to keep myself in the present and now.”
The top-10 on the Volvik Race for the Card money list at the conclusion of the Symetra Tour Championship earn LPGA Tour membership for the 2019 season.