SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The 10th stop on the 2019 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to Blackthorn Golf Club in the Hoosier State for the eighth annual Four Winds Invitational from June 7-9.
Greeting the 144-player field in South Bend, Ind. is a total purse of $150,000. Individuals are set to compete in a 54-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 $22,500. In addition to the normal payout and new in 2019 is the Michelob Ultra Long Drive Challenge. It will take place at Blackthorn Topgolf Swing Suite tomorrow evening and give players a chance to compete for $1,750 in bonus money. First place earns $1,000, with $500 going to second place and the final $250 to third.
Defending champion Maia Schechter (Chapel Hill, North Carolina) is among the competitors and the win was the first of her Epson Tour career. It helped propel the University of North Carolina alumna to finish at No. 26 in the final Volvik Race for the Card standings for 2018 and earn a spot in the inaugural LPGA Q-Series last October.
First and second round action gets underway at 7:30 a.m. ET. Meanwhile, the final round will start at 9:00 a.m. with play beginning from No. 1 and No. 10 tees all three days.
FAMILIAR TERRITORY FOR DEFENDING CHAMPION
To kickoff tournament week, Blackthorn Golf Club hosted the Daddy-Daughter Pro-Am event on Monday evening. Last year’s Four Winds Invitational winner Maia Schechter participated in the festivities for a second straight year, once again paired with Duane Ungethum and his 7-year-old daughter Lucy.
It’s already a similar start to her time in South Bend as when she won a year ago, and Schechter is even coming off four consecutive missed cuts. That is the same streak she entered with in 2018. The old adage, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” just might receive a positive spin when competition begins Friday with the University of North Carolina alumna aiming to defend her title.
“Fairways and greens,” Schechter said with a smile. “Played a practice round yesterday with Leslie [Cloots] and the greens are rolling really well, but I think they’ll speed up as the week goes on. The rough looks a little thicker than before, so hitting fairways will be key. Stay in my process, stay present.”
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE FOUR WINDS INVITATIONAL
A total of 30 countries are represented this week at the Four Winds Invitational, led by the United States with 74 players then followed by Canada and the Republic of Korea having the next highest of seven competitors apiece.
“Every time I see a Thai flag flying in front of my name on the leaderboard, it means so much,” said Prima Thammaraks (Bangkok, Thailand), who was part of the field for the 74th U.S. Women’s Open. “It reminds me that I’m out here to represent my country, family and more importantly, that I am part of an amazing group of people who can do a great deal to inspire the next generation of golfers. The sport continues to gain popularity back home and we have lot of kids who start playing at a young age.”
Individuals from 24 different states are also set to tee it up at Blackthorn Golf Club. Zero players hail from the host state, while California boasts the most with 13.
“Starting this stretch of events in the Midwest really makes me feel like I’m home,” said Gabrielle Shipley (Hastings, Michigan), the player that is closest in proximity to her hometown. “Being from the Mitten means having to live away from home for months on end. That includes training in Florida during the winter and traveling on Tour once the weather is finally nice, so I don’t get to return often. The next few weeks give me that feeling of being back where I grew up and be surrounded by family and friends.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN THE HOOSIER STATE
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to St. Joseph County, as 38 rookies are in the field and eager for the 10th event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Ji Eun Baik (Cumming, Georgia), who missed the cut in her first career start at the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout. Since then, the Mississippi State University product has played the weekend twice in three events with a season-best showing of tied for 10th at the Zimmer Biomet Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez.
“I had a hard time at the very first event because I wanted to play well so bad that I forgot to just play golf,” Baik said. “Now that I’ve played a few times and experienced the Tour, I know to go enjoy the game and execute the shots I have in mind. I’m sure I’ll have ups and my downs, but I feel really good about my game and where it is headed. I love being a Epson Tour player.”
VOLVIK RACE FOR THE CARD UPDATE
The Epson 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 nine tournaments in the books, the top-10 underwent some shifting following the Valley Forge Invitational. Six of the 10 members from the group are in South Bend including current No. 5 Jillian Hollis (Rocky River, Ohio), who has captured six top-25 finishes in seven starts this year.
“It was super nice to have last week off and recharge,” said Hollis, a first-time Epson Tour champion at the 2019 IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. “To endure such a long season, it is important for me to take the time to rest mind and body. I am excited for the next couple weeks, my first start in South Bend and continuing to sharpen the game in all aspects.”
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.