First- and second-round action gets underway at 7:00 a.m. ET off No. 1 and No. 10 tees. Meanwhile, the final round will start at 8:15 a.m. with all groups heading out from No. 1 tee in twosomes.
COLLEGE TIES RUN DEEP AT FIRST STOP
A total of seven Florida institutions for higher education are featured among competition teeing it up in the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic with several names to keep an eye on once the event starts Friday.
Florida Institute of Technology, Florida State University, Florida International University, University of Tampa and Jacksonville University each have one lone representative in Daniela Iacobelli (Melbourne, Florida), Frida Kinhult (Fiskebackskil, Sweden), Paula Hurtado-Restrepo (Medellin, Colombia), amateur Kiira Riihijarvi (Kiviniemi, Finland) and Jessica Welch (Thomasville, Georgia), respectively. Two former University of Miami (FL) Hurricanes have also ventured to central Florida in Delfina Acosta (Comandante Nicanor Otamendi, Argentina) and Dewi Weber (Groningen, Netherlands).
Meanwhile, the University of Florida leads the way with four Gators including Karolina Vlckova (Kladno, Czech Republic), Samantha Wagner (Windermere, Florida), Amelia Lewis (Jacksonville, Florida) and rookie Sierra Brooks (Orlando, Florida).
“I love Florida tournaments,” said Iacobelli, who enters her 11th season as a professional in 2020. “I love knowing home is a short ride away and my support system is close. I’ve played at Country Club of Winter Haven since my Florida Tech days, so coming back always feels like a trip down memory lane.”
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF FLORIDA’S NATURAL CHARITY CLASSIC
A total of 28 countries and regions are represented this week at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic. The United States has the most players with 70, followed by the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Korea with eight competitors apiece.
“It means a lot to represent my home country on this U.S. based tour,” said 2018 Symetra Tour Player of the Year Ruixin Liu (Guangdong, People’s Republic of China), who is also a member at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando. “I want to show the world that there are talented Chinese golfers capable of competing at some of the highest levels in professional golf. I also want to go out and inspire everyone back home, even make them proud of what I can accomplish here.”
Individuals from 22 different states are also set to tee it up at the Country Club of Winter Haven. A total of 12 players hail from the host state to lead the way, while California boasts the second most with 10.
“Being able to play the first event of the year so close to home is exciting for me, especially considering I have been out for 10 months,” said AJ Newell (Tampa, Florida), who is set for her return to competition after being sidelined since last May because of right knee surgery. “Facing an injury is so isolating and tearing cartilage on the course during IOA Invitational last year was unexpected. It was support from all my friends and family that helped me through the whole rehab process. To have them out watching at my first event back is going to be such a special moment. When I stand on the first tee, it will be fulfilling to know that every bit of grinding to get my game in shape has been worth it.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN THE SUNSHINE STATE
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Symetra Tour have made the trek to Polk County, as 21 rookies are in the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic field and eager for the first event of the season.
Among them is Dylan Kim (Sachse, Texas), a University of Arkansas graduate who finished her career in Fayetteville after two years at Baylor University. Named the 2015 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, she went on to capture All-SEC First Team honors as a junior and senior for the Razorbacks in 2018 and 2019. Kim was also a member of the victorious Team USA at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Cup. Furthermore, she ended in a tie for 51st at Stage II of the 2019 LPGA Qualifying Tournament to earn Symetra Tour status for 2020.
“It’s really an exhilarating feeling to know I am starting my first season as a professional and I feel lucky to be in this position,” Kim said. “I’m also filled with gratitude towards the people who have given so much for me to reach this point. I am looking forward to improving my game and also adjusting to life on the road, making it as much fun as I can along the way.”
VOLVIK RACE FOR THE CARD TOP-10 TAKES CENTER STAGE
The Symetra Tour annually awards LPGA Tour membership to the top players on the Volvik Race for the Card money list at season’s end and will usher in the next graduating class after 20 events on the 2020 calendar.
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 157 players have graduated to the big stage.
Kyung Kim (Chandler, Arizona) ended at No. 11 in the 2019 Volvik Race for the Card, $8,308 outside of the top-10, and is the highest-ranked returning player from a season ago. She also finished tied for 41st at the second annual LPGA Q-Series in November to secure Priority List Category 14 status for the 2020 LPGA Tour season.
“I’m excited to get the season going with the first tournament Florida’s Natural Charity Classic because it is where I had my career-best finish a year ago,” said Kim, who went solo third in Winter Haven in 2019. “With the season I had last year, I gained a bit of confidence with my game knowing that I’m capable of sticking with the best players. I worked hard during the offseason and hopefully can have an even better season than the last.”