OPELIKA, Ala. — The eighth stop on the 2019 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Symetra Tour to the Lake Course at Grand National on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in the Heart of Dixie for the inaugural Zimmer Biomet Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez from May 23-26.
Greeting the 144-player field in Opelika, Ala. is a total purse of $300,000, the highest in Symetra Tour history. Individuals are set to compete in a 72-hole stroke play format with a cut to the low 60 players and ties after 36 holes. The winner’s share for the event is $45,000.
In addition, the tournament has some star power behind it with LPGA Tour and World Golf Hall of Fame member Nancy Lopez leaving her footprint on the Symetra Tour. A 48-time LPGA Tour winner including three major championships, Lopez continues to help grow the game by hosting the first edition of the Zimmer Biomet Championship.
This is the 23rd consecutive year professional golf has been played along the RTJ Golf Trail. Action gets underway at 7:00 a.m. CT off No. 1 and No. 10 tees all four days.
COLLEGE TIES RUN DEEP AT EIGHTH STOP
A total of four Alabama institutions for higher education are featured among the competition teeing it up at the first-ever Zimmer Biomet Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez with several names to keep an eye on once the event starts on Thursday.
Troy University and the University of Montevallo each have one lone representative in Fatima Fernandez Cano (Santiago de Compostela, Spain) and tournament sponsor exemption Elaine Wood (Spanish Fort, Alabama), respectively. Meanwhile, three Tigers are set to stir up some War Eagle chants with the host venue right in the backyard of Auburn University.
“It’s really cool to be back again, basically a home away from home for me,” said Marta Sanz Barrio (Madrid, Spain), a three-time All-SEC Second Team selection for Auburn. “There is something about feeling comfortable and knowing exactly where everything is. I spent four great years here, the community is a family and I will forever be part of that. It’s an honor to represent AU.”
Furthermore, four former members of rival University of Alabama are in town including Janie Jackson (Huntsville, Alabama), Lakareber Abe (The Woodlands, Texas), Mia Landegren (Stockholm, Sweden) and tournament sponsor exemption Kathleen Ekey (Cleveland, Ohio). Sticking with the SEC connections, the University of Georgia also has four individuals in the field.
“I’m so excited to play an event in a state that has meant so much to me over the last five years,” said Abe, who owns the lowest round in Crimson Tide history of 9-under par 63. “Getting to represent the University of Alabama is a privilege and one I’m looking forward to in an extra special way this week.”
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE ZIMMER BIOMET CHAMPIONSHIP
A total of 36 countries are represented this week at the Zimmer Biomet Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez, led by the United States with 75 players and followed by the Republic of Korea having the next highest of seven competitors.
“It means so much to be over here in the U.S. representing Australia,” said Stephanie Na (Adelaide, Australia), coming off a tied for second result in the Symetra Classic. “I have grown to really love golf for more than the sport it is because golf is like a paradigm for life. You can learn so much through this game and hopefully I’m showing others the possibilities it has to offer by flying the Aussie flag while playing tournaments on the other side of the world.”
Individuals from 25 different states are also set to tee it up on the Lake Course at Grand National. Only two players hail from the host state, while California boasts the most with 14.
“It’s going to be a very special week getting to compete in my home state,” Jackson said. “The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses are a lot of fun and provide a true test of golf. I am really excited to represent the University of Alabama as well.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN THE HEART OF DIXIE
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Symetra Tour have made the trek to Lee County, as 31 rookies are in the field and eager for the eighth event of the Symetra Tour season.
Among them is Hannah Kim (Chula Vista, California), who missed the cut in her first three career starts before playing the weekend in three of the last four events. She was a two-time Big Ten Player of the Year for Northwestern University and Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) First Team All-American in 2016 as a sophomore.
“Rookie year on the Symetra Tour has been a series of ups and downs,” Kim said. “After making back-to-back cuts including a good finish in Davidson, I’m looking forward to competing in the upcoming events and hope this gives me momentum for the remainder of this current eight-week stretch.”
VOLVIK RACE FOR THE CARD UPDATE
The Symetra Tour annually awards LPGA Tour membership to the top players on the Volvik Race for the Card money list at the end of the season and will usher in the next graduating class after 24 events on the 2019 calendar.
With seven tournaments in the books, the top-10 underwent some shifting following the Symetra Classic. All 10 members from the group are in Opelika including current No. 3 Jillian Hollis (Rocky River, Ohio), who captured her second top-five finish on the season last week in North Carolina.
“I had a great time playing in Davidson and felt really good about my game,” Hollis said. “I’m just trying to get a little better every day and improve on the little things. It is exciting that we are playing for a bigger purse in Auburn and that the Symetra Tour is getting more recognition as a legitimate way to advance your career. I love seeing the big crowds at some of our tournaments, as well as the overall direction we are trending as female athletes and role models.”
From 1999-2002, the official qualifying tour of the LPGA handed out three cards. Then from 2003-2007, that number increased to five before 10 were distributed starting in 2008. Since the inaugural year, a total of 147 players have graduated to the big stage.