SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The 19th stop on the 2019 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to Willow Run Golf Course in the Mount Rushmore State for the fifth annual Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge from August 29-September 1. It is the first tournament in the Million Dollar March, the stretch of five events to end the season with a cumulative purse of $1 million.
Greeting the 144-player field in Sioux Falls is a total purse of $225,000. Individuals are set to compete in a 72-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 $33,750.
Defending champion Linnea Ström (Hovas, Sweden) is not among the competitors, as she was a 2018 Epson Tour graduate. The victory in South Dakota’s largest city helped the alumna of Arizona State University finish at No. 5 in the Volvik Race for the Card.
Action gets underway at 7:30 a.m. CT all four days with play starting off No. 1 and No. 10 tees in each round.
LOCAL AMATEUR JOHNSON ONE OF TWO SPONSOR EXEMPTIONS
A native of Sioux Falls, S.D., amateur Shannon Johnson returns home this week to compete in her first ever Epson Tour event as a tournament sponsor exemption at the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge.
The festivities will be extra special for Johnson, a graduate of O’Gorman High School who has more than a dozen South Dakota Golf Association titles to her name. She grew up playing Willow Run Golf Course and received her first lesson there at the age of 12 from longtime teaching pro and South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame member Dave Hanten.
“I’m very excited to be competing in the GreatLIFE Challenge,” said Johnson, who even worked in the Pro Shop at Willow Run for several years during the summer months. “Being able to come back now will certainly bring back many memories.”
Johnson has worked for golf equipment company PING ever since graduating from Indiana University in 2006 and deciding against a career in professional golf. However, the former Hoosiers standout played in her first professional event earlier this year and it just so happened to be the U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston. Now she welcomes her first Epson Tour tournament.
“Having a full-time job limits the amount of time I’m able to work on my game, so when I do have an opportunity to play or practice, I try to enjoy it,” the 36-year-old said. “Managing my expectations on the course is a huge part of the puzzle. There aren’t many weeks or months that I’m not busy with work so going out and taking one shot at a time is my main goal. I’m playing better than when I was in college and believe having a different perspective allows me to have fun on the course.”
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE SIOUX FALLS GREATLIFE CHALLENGE
A total of 35 countries are represented this week at the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge, led by the United States with 77 players then followed by the Republic of Korea having the next highest of seven competitors.
“It’s definitely an honor to represent Switzerland every week on the Epson Tour and have done so on many occasions including the European Team Championships and World Amateur Team Championships, where we won a silver medal in 2016,” said rookie Kim Metraux (Lausanne, Switzerland), coming off a career-best finish of tied for 14th at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship. “To think that my sister [Morgane] was the first Swiss player on the Epson Tour and that we are also the only two players from Switzerland playing professionally in the United States, is really special. A lot of support comes from our family, as well as others back home and the Swiss Federation.”
Individuals from 26 different states are also set to tee it up at Willow Run Golf Course. One player hails from the host state, while California boasts the most with 15.
“This week is going to be close to my heart and not only because it is near to where I grew up, but we were recently hit by intense flooding,” said Danielle Lemek (Doniphan, Nebraska), the Epson Tour professional that is closest in proximity to her hometown. “The whole state of Nebraska has struggled with heavy rains all year and I debated even coming to this event as I was wading through my parent’s house last week working to save bits and pieces of our belongings. My mom and dad encouraged me to compete, so I am going to play the best I can for my family and the community. I hope to do well so I can help them in this rough time, especially with one of the largest purses on the season.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN THE MOUNT RUSHMORE STATE
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to Minnehaha County, as 44 rookies are in the field and eager for the 19th event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Moa Folke (Tranas, Sweden). The alumna of Murray State University has played the weekend twice in six starts with a season-best tied for 13th result at the PHC Classic. Folke was a four-time All-Ohio Valley Conference selection for the Racers and back-to-back OVC Championship individual medalist in 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, she was honored as the 2017 OVC Golfer of the Year.
“Playing junior golf in my native country Sweden and the awesome opportunities provided at Murray State really helped get me ready for the professional level,” said Folke. “Even so, there has been a bit of a learning curve on new courses, setting my own schedule and stronger competition. I feel that I have come a long way in my rookie season, but am for sure going to keep building from the valuable lessons.”
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 18 tournaments in the books, the top-10 underwent some shifting following the sixth annual FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship. All 10 members from the group are in Sioux Falls including Leona Maguire (County Cavan, Ireland), currently ranked No. 4 with two wins and six top-10s across 11 total starts.
“I’m really looking forward to playing again in Sioux Falls after battling tough conditions in Europe over the past few weeks,” said Maguire, who will make her first start since The CDPHP Open. “There is a lot of girls playing well, so it’s going to make for an exciting final stretch. It is great that there’s been a purse increase for each of the last five events and makes them even more important. I had some good work with my swing coach when home and I hope to finish the season as strong as I started it.”
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.