MILTON, Ga.— The sixth stop on the 2019 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to Atlanta National Golf Club in the Peach State for the second annual IOA Invitational from May 9-11.
Greeting the 144-player field in Milton, Ga. 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.
Defending champion Elizabeth Szokol (Winnetka, Illinois) is not among the competitors, as she was a 2018 Epson Tour graduate. The victory just outside Georgia’s capital helped the University of Virginia alumna finish at No. 4 in the Volvik Race for the Card.
First and second round action gets underway at 7:30 a.m. ET. Meanwhile, the final round will start at 8:30 a.m. with play beginning from No. 1 and No. 10 tees all three days.
BULLDOGS ON THE LOOSE IN NORTH GEORGIA
Four alumna of the University of Georgia women’s golf program are featured among the competition in the second annual IOA Invitational with some names to keep an eye on once the event starts Thursday.
The former Bulldogs include Jean Reynolds (Newnan, Georgia), Harang Lee (Bilbao, Spain), Jillian Hollis (Rocky River, Ohio) and Bailey Tardy (Norcross, Georgia). This week, the host venue is just 68 miles from their former home of Athens.
“To compete professionally close to where I spent the last four years of my life is very special because I really grew as a golfer and person,” said Hollis, a three-time All-American and four-time tournament winner for the Bulldogs. “Athens will always have a place in my heart, and I have such a strong support system there. Also, graduating later this week cum laude in Journalism and Communications is just as satisfying as my achievements on the course. I will forever represent the Georgia Bulldogs with pride.”
Meanwhile, another institution for higher education in close proximity to this week’s venue just 105 miles north is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where Jordan Britt (Chattanooga, Tennessee) competed collegiately.
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE IOA INVITATIONAL
A total of 37 countries are represented this week at the IOA Invitational, led by the United States with 76 players then followed by Canada and Spain having the next highest of seven competitors.
“It’s an honor to represent Mexico every week on the Epson Tour and always see the country flag on the putting green,” said Alejandra Llaneza (Mexico City, Mexico), one of four from Mexico in the field. “I think the increase in players from Mexico is evidence of the impact Lorena [Ochoa] has. She showed the whole country it can be done. Also, seeing the success of Gaby [Lopez] on the LPGA Tour motivates us.”
Individuals from 24 different states are also set to tee it up at Atlanta National Golf Club. Four players hail from the host state, while California boasts the most with 15.
“I’m always excited to play in my home state of Georgia,” said Reynolds, a Newnan native. “The GSGA has always held a special place with me, and I have appreciated them so much along this journey. I’m looking forward to teeing it up at Atlanta National this week, such a great test of golf.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN THE PEACH STATE
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to Fulton County, as 34 rookies are in the field and eager for the sixth event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Bailey Tardy, who has made the cut in two of her first five career starts and is finishing four classes on campus at the University of Georgia this semester. She is set to graduate on Friday with a Bachelor’s in Financial Planning.
“Juggling school and travel for tournaments has not been easy, but I have high hopes for the rest of the season,” Tardy said. “Playing in my home state is something that means a lot to me, especially having family and friends able to come watch. Once school is out of the way, I hope I am able to relax and focus on just golf with the goals of playing to the best of my ability and trusting the work I’ve put in.”
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 five tournaments in the books, the top-10 underwent some shifting following the Murphy USA El Dorado Shootout. All 10 members from the group are in Milton including current No. 5 Lauren Coughlin (Charlottesville, Virginia), who has a season-best finish of tied for second at the SKYiGOLF Championship.
“It is a long season, so it’s always nice to have a couple weeks off to recharge the batteries and get my head in a good space before I’m ready to compete again,” Coughlin said. “I’m in a great spot thanks to my top finish at SKYiGOLF [Championship], and I’m looking forward to competing over the next three weeks to hopefully keep the momentum going.”
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.