Editor’s Note: The Epson Tour rolls into Central Florida next week for the 3rd annual IOA Golf Classic at Alaqua Country Club, Oct. 9-11. The field consists of 118 professionals and two amateurs competing for a $100,000 total tournament purse. Here is a look at ten storylines to keep an eye on.
Top 10 Storylines Heading into IOA Golf Classic
Wow, this is a strong field
The IOA Golf Classic might have the strongest field in the history of the Epson Tour. Let’s start with the four LPGA Tour winners – Charlotta Sorenstam, yes Annika’s sister, won the 2000 Standard Register Ping, Heather Bowie Young won the 2005 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, Silvia Cavalleri won the 2007 Corona Championship and Jimin Kang won the 2005 LPGA Corning Classic and the 2010 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. Don’t tell Charlotta that it was years and years ago that she won. “I feel like I’m striking the ball as good as I’ve ear,” said Charlotta in a telephone interview this week. “If I can keep my nerves in check, I definitely think I have a shot.” Let’s take the strength of field a step further. There are 12 players that have at least one LPGA Tour top 10 finish.
Lots of LPGA Members Are Playing
Since the LPGA is off to Asia and those events have limited fields, a lot of LPGA Tour members are coming to play in Central Florida. There are a season high 30 LPGA members in the field this week including six that played full time on the big Tour this year. Remember, Jackie Stoelting – a full time LPGA Tour member in 2015 – won the last event. She’s in the field for Longwood and gunning for back-to-back wins.
Can Casey Grice or Lee Lopez Hoist a Trophy?
Two of the most consistent players on Tour this year have been Lee Lopez of Whittier, Calif. and Casey Grice of College Station, Tx. Lopez has eight top 10 finishes and ranks third on the money list while Grice has nine top 10’s and ranks eighth. The one thing both are missing is a win. Lopez finished T9 in Arkansas while Grice registered her fourth straight top 10. It just seems like one of them is bound to win one of the final two events. Lopez finished T17 at Alaqua Country Club last year and Grice finished T50.
Watch out for Alejandra Llaneza
This is year three of the IOA Golf Classic, but year two at Alaqua Country Club. The first year of the tournament was at Innisbrook Golf Resort. Last year at Alaqua, Llaneza finished T5 with a first round 66 and a final round 69. Two years ago, she finished solo second, just one stroke back of Katy Harris.
A Win and You’re in
No. 20 on the Volvik Race for the Card money list, Samantha Richdale, could jump into the top 10 with a win. She is currently $12,762 outside the top 10 so the winner’s payout of $15,000 could be enough to get into the top 10. So, it’s not just No. 11 or No. 12 that are clawing to get into the top 10. No. 11 through No. 20 could jump into the top 10 with a win next week.
Don’t Sleep on the Exemptions
Is it a rare that a sponsor exemption wins? Yes. However, it has happened twice already this year. Hannah O’Sullivan won the Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club and Brooke Henderson won the Four Winds Invitational on a sponsor exemption. This week, 2-time AAC Golfer of the Year from UCF Ashley Holder and Alaqua Country Club employee Carlie Yadloczky, a second year Epson Tour professional, are the exemptions. Both definitely have the home course advantage – especially Yadloczky, who works in the pro shop.
Two Moms are in the Field
If you’re looking for two players to root for at Alaqua Country Club go find Katy Harris – a mom of two – and Candy Hannemann – a mom of two. Harris actually won the inaugural IOA Golf Classic when it was played at Innisbrook. Both have had tough years. Hannemann has made four cuts in ten starts on the Epson Tour. She has also made three starts on the LPGA Tour. Harris has made four starts on the LPGA with two made cuts. She also played in the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout and finished T39. Of course, no easy task in juggling kids and golf at the same time. Kudos to both for continuing to pursue their dreams.
Chie Arimura is Lurking at No. 16
Someone to keep an eye over the final two events is 13-time JLPGA winner Chie Arimura, who currently ranks 16th on the Volvik Race of Card money list. She also has seven career LPGA Tour top 10’s. Arimura finished in a tie for 3rd in Arkansas to move up three spots. She has seven top 10 finishes this season and has been close to winning a few times. If she can find a way to win one of the final two events, she’ll land back on the LPGA. She finished 2nd at an LPGA event in 2011 so she can certainly play.
Rollins College Represented with Coe
In 2008, Joanna Coe won the Division II national championship at nearby Rollins College. She is in the field this week and looking for her first career win. Coe was a four-time NGCA All-American at Rollins and recorded nine wins and nine runner-up finishes during her amazing career.
Stephanie Meadow will make her Epson Tour debut at the IOA Golf Classic. She made headlines in 2014 when she finished solo third at the U.S. Women’s Open and earned over $270,000. Meadow earned partial LPGA Tour status through Q-School last year, but has struggled on the big Tour. She had a fantastic career at Alabama where she was a three-time All-American and the 2013 SEC player of the Year.