LONGWOOD, Fla. — The 22nd stop on the 2019 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to Alaqua Country Club in the Sunshine State for the sixth annual IOA Golf Classic from September 27-29. It is also the fourth tournament in the Million Dollar March, the stretch of five events to end the season with a cumulative purse of $1 million.
Greeting the 108-player field in Longwood 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 Ruixin Liu (Dalian, China) is not among the competitors, as she finished No. 1 in the 2018 Volvik Race for the Card to earn Epson Tour Player of the Year. The victory in central Florida was the second of three for Liu in her sophomore season on the “Road to the LPGA” and one of 12 top-25s.
Action gets underway at 8:00 a.m. ET all three days with play starting off No. 1 and No. 10 tees in the first and second round. Meanwhile, all groups will head off No. 1 tee in twosomes for the final round with a trophy presentation to follow on No. 18 green.
COLLEGE TIES RUN DEEP AT PENULTIMATE STOP
A total of six Florida institutions for higher education are featured among the competition teeing it up at the IOA Golf Classic with several names to keep an eye on once the event starts Friday.
Florida Institute of Technology, Florida International University, Jacksonville University and University of Miami (FL) each have one lone representative in Daniela Iacobelli (Melbourne, Florida), Paula Hurtado-Restrepo (Medellin, Colombia), tournament sponsor exemption Jessica Welch (Thomasville, Georgia) and Dewi Weber (Groningen, Netherlands), respectively.
“Florida is home and there are so many great memories throughout the state,” said Iacobelli, an eight-time winner for the Panthers including the 2007 NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championship individual title. “College golf was thousands of rounds ago, but there’s so many special moments still so incredibly vivid that make being this close to home that much more special. It’s not quite close enough to sleep in my own bed, but is just close enough.”
Meanwhile, Florida State University and the University of Florida lead the way with two Seminoles and Gators apiece in Kim Metraux (Lausanne, Switzerland), Matilda Castren (Helsinki, Finland), Samantha Wagner (Windermere, Florida) and Amelia Lewis (Jacksonville, Florida), respectively.
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE IOA GOLF CLASSIC
A total of 30 countries are represented this week at the IOA Golf Classic led by the Red, White and Blue with 59 players and then followed by the Republic of Korea having the next highest of six competitors.
“We all take pride in where we come from and the walks of life that got us here,” said Laura Restrepo (Panama City, Panama), who captured her first victory and the first professional golf title for her native country on Sunday at the Guardian Championship. “I wouldn’t be here without amazing support from my family of course, but also many people throughout Panama. They have all believed in me and made this journey possible.”
Individuals from 21 different states are also set to tee it up at Alaqua Country Club. Eight players hail from the host state, while California boasts the most with nine.
“It is really a secure feeling to be competing in an area that I am familiar with,” said Katie Yoo (Orlando, Florida), the Epson Tour professional in closest proximity to her hometown. “The region is filled with lots of good golf and practicing on them over the years has prepared me to know more of what I could expect, especially for a week like this. Competing as a professional near where I grew up is awesome.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN THE SUNSHINE STATE
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to Seminole County, as 26 rookies are in the field and eager for the 22nd event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Lisa Pettersson (Taby, Sweden). A two-time All-American Athletic Conference First Team selection for East Carolina University, she was also a tournament medalist at the 2016 Pinehurst Challenge. In her first season on the “Road to the LPGA,” Pettersson has advanced to the weekend nine times in 19 starts with a top finish of tied for 10th at The Forsyth Classic presented by Decatur Park District.
“This season has been such a great opportunity to learn on and off the course, while growing as both a player and person,” Pettersson said after a tied for 16th result in the Guardian Championship. “Since my first event, I feel like I have come so far and making four of the last five cuts just shows what I am truly capable of. I’m excited to end my rookie year strong and can’t wait to see where the future takes me.”
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 21 tournaments in the books, the top-10 underwent some shifting following the third annual Guardian Championship. All 10 members of the group are in Longwood including Leona Maguire (County Cavan, Ireland), currently ranked No. 7 with $84,757 earned across 14 starts.
“My coach [Shane O’Grady] made the trip to Longwood and it is really good to have him here, work on some things to finish strong over the last two events,” said Maguire, one of five two-time winners on the Epson Tour this season. “I’ve worked with him since I was 11 years old, so he knows my game pretty much better than anyone else. Going to be a battle to the end, but I’ve put myself in good positions all year long and have it in me to do so a couple more times.”
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.