WINTER HAVEN, Fla.—
Action gets underway at 8 a.m. ET all three days, with groups going off No. 1 and No. 10 tee in rounds one and two. Meanwhile, the final round will feature twosomes all from No. 1 tee.
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF FLORIDA’S NATURAL CHARITY CLASSIC
A total of 32 countries are represented this week at the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic, led by the United States with 67 players and Sweden with the next highest of seven competitors.
“It is an honor for me to represent Spain every week I’m out here competing,” said Fatima Fernandez Cano (Santiago de Compostela, Spain), one of five individuals from Spain ready to tee it up at the Country Club of Winter Haven. “In a way, it is about being part of something bigger than myself because of the other Spaniards out here working just as hard. We feel like a small family, being so far away from home. and cheer each other on, like a team.”
Individuals from 22 different states are also set to tee it up at the Country Club of Winter Haven. A total of 11 players hail from the host state, while California leads the way with 12 calling the Golden State home.
“There is something special about playing at home because you get the comfort of seeing friends and family, as well as restaurants and other local places that are filled with so many memories,” said Erica Popson (Davenport, Florida), who grew up just 15 miles from the tournament venue. “It brings you back to playing for the love of the game, and not necessarily playing because it is your job. There’s a feeling of true pride when you’re home and the results are much more than a score on the leaderboard.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN WINTER HAVEN
Plenty of professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to the Country Club of Winter Haven, as 26 rookies are in the field and eager for the second event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Maddie Szeryk (London, Ontario), a four-time winner at Texas A&M University who set the NCAA Division I record with 91 rounds of par or better during her time in College Station. In addition, Szeryk was named a Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) All-American three times and holds the Aggies record for career top-10 tournament finishes at 32.
“Even after the first tournament it all still feels so new,” said Szeryk, who missed the cut at the SKYiGOLF Championship. “Not competing, but learning how to handle this new level of pressure so it doesn’t affect my game. The one thing I have already learned that is different from college is the recovery time from a difficult day on the course is zero. You don’t have time to be upset because the next tournament is right around the corner, so you need to immediately dust yourself off and get working to improve.”
TOURNAMENT SPONSOR EXEMPTIONS
Two sponsor exemptions round out the competitors for the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in Jenna Peters (Kohler, Wisconsin) and amateur Ina Kim-Schaad (New York, New York), who was also an invite to last year’s 10th annual event.
Kim-Schaad still has no plans to turn professional and is looking forward to a full 2019 schedule as an amateur. Last season, Florida’s Natural Charity Classic was the first of six Epson Tour events that Kim-Schaad played and she finished tied for seventh at 3-under par for the tournament.
“It means the world to me that Florida’s Natural has invited me back this year,” Kim-Schaad said. “This is where it all started for me. They took a chance and I’m so thankful to Florida’s Natural and the Epson Tour for the opportunity. I love playing this event and seeing all the wonderful ladies I got to meet.”
VOLVIK RACE FOR THE CARD UPDATE
The Epson Tour annually awards LPGA Tour membership to the top players on the season-ending Volvik Race for the Card money list and will usher in the next graduating class after 24 events on the 2019 calendar.
With one tournament in the books, the initial top-10 is set and eight members from the group are in Winter Haven this week. That includes Karen Chung (Livingston, New Jersey) in solo third after a fourth place finish at the inaugural SKYiGOLF Championship.
“It’s nice for me to have the first two events in Florida because it’s closer to where I currently live and allows for a very comfortable vibe to get the season started,” said Chung, who finished at No. 17 in the 2018 Volvik Race for the Card. “With the first tournament being one of the biggest purses, I definitely wanted to finish well and was fortunate enough to be able to follow through. The season is long and playing on the Epson Tour last year showed me that slow and steady wins the race.”
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.