PRATTVILLE, Ala. — The 21st stop on the 2019 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to the Senator Course at Capitol Hill on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in the Heart of Dixie for the third annual Guardian Championship from September 20-22. It is the third tournament in the Million Dollar March, the stretch of five events to end the season with a cumulative purse of $1 million.
Greeting the 120-player field in Prattville is a total purse of $175,000. 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 $26,250.
Defending champion Kendall Dye (Edmond, Oklahoma) is not among the competitors, as she was a 2018 Epson Tour graduate. The win in central Alabama was the second of two victories last season for the University of Oklahoma alumna and helped her finish at No. 7 in the Volvik Race for the Card.
Action gets underway at 7:00 a.m. CT in the first and second round with play starting off No. 1 and No. 10 tees all three days. Meanwhile, final round action will begin at 7:30 a.m. with a trophy presentation to follow on No. 18 green.
COLLEGE TIES RUN DEEP AT ANTEPENULTIMATE STOP
A total of four Alabama institutions for higher education are featured among the competition teeing it up at the Guardian Championship with several names to keep an eye on once the event starts Friday.
Marta Sanz Barrio (Madrid, Spain) and tournament sponsor exemption Patricia Sanz Barrio (Madrid, Spain) are sure to stir up some War Eagle chants with the host venue just 65 miles down the road from Auburn University. Meanwhile, both Troy University and University of Montevallo have one lone rep in Fatima Fernandez Cano (Santiago de Compostela, Spain) and tournament sponsor exemption Elaine Wood (Spanish Fort, Alabama), respectively.
“It is such a great feeling to return to the region that really helped launch my professional golf career,” said Marta Sanz Barrio, a three-time All-SEC Second Team selection for Auburn. “Between the Zimmer Biomet Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez earlier this year being right in the backyard of my alma mater to now this event, it reminds me of courses I’m familiar with and provides a comfortable setting.”
Furthermore, three former members of rival University of Alabama are in town including Mia Landegren (Stockholm, Sweden), Janie Jackson (Huntsville, Alabama) and Lakareber Abe (The Woodlands, Texas). Sticking with the SEC connection, the University of Georgia has four individuals in the field.
“There’s a little extra on the line when we compete in Alabama because of the pride in your school and having the opportunity to steal some bragging rights,” said Abe, who owns the lowest round in Crimson Tide history of 9-under par 63. “That chance doesn’t always present itself in the professional world, but adds another element to the week that is really exciting. I can’t wait to make the Alabama faithful proud and hear plenty of Roll Tide around Prattville.”
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE GUARDIAN CHAMPIONSHIP
A total of 33 countries are represented this week at the Guardian Championship led by the Red, White and Blue with 62 players and then followed by the Republic of Korea having the next highest of seven competitors.
“Every time I compete, wearing the South African colors and seeing the flag wave in the breeze is what truly matters most to me,” said Paula Reto (Bloemfontein, South Africa), who finished tied for ninth in central Alabama last year. “There’s a rich golf history back home with several connections to PGA TOUR major championship winnersand the women’s game continues to grow. I hope to build on all the titles and accomplishments of recognizable names such as Gary Player, Ernie Els and Sally Little.”
Individuals from 24 different states are also set to tee it up on the Senator Course at Capitol Hill. Two players hail from the host state, while California boasts the most with nine.
“Breathing in the Alabama humidity and just knowing I’m home makes the soul happy,” said Huntsville native Janie Jackson, the Epson Tour professional in closest proximity to her hometown. “I take a lot of pride when I play events in my home state. From showing friends on Tour all the favorite local spots, to being familiar with the grass and having family come watch, not much can beat this week for me.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN THE YELLOWHAMMER STATE
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to Autauga County, as 29 rookies are in the field and eager for the 21st event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Kendra Dalton (Poughquag, New York). She was a three-time All-West Coast Conference First Team selection for Brigham Young University, as well as a two-time WCC Player of the Year for the Cougars. In her first season on the “Road to the LPGA,” Dalton has advanced to the weekend 10 times in 18 starts and captured a top finish of tied for sixth at the Prasco Charity Championship.
“This year has been an awesome learning experience and a great time to adjust coming from college,” Dalton said after a tied for 28th result in the Garden City Charity Classic. “I love the learning from week to week and see my game really coming together. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had and really looking forward to this last stretch of the season.”
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 23 events on the 2019 calendar.
With 20 tournaments in the books, the top-10 underwent some shifting following the sixth annual Garden City Charity Classic. Nine of the 10 members from the group are in Prattville including Min Seo Kwak (Seoul, Republic of Korea), currently ranked No. 10 with $65,831 earned across 19 starts.
“There’s only little time left for me to make a move to climb higher and make sure I end the year as one of the 10 heading to the LPGA next season,” said Kwak, who went tied for second at the 2018 Guardian Championship. “I will give it my all on every shot, as each stroke has even more meaning now. It’s great purses increased down the stretch to give good finishes a greater impact on the overall race picture.”
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.