BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — The second stop on the 2020 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to Battle Creek Country Club in the Great Lakes State for the seventh annual FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship from July 24-26.
Greeting the 144-player field in Battle Creek 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 Ssu-Chia Cheng (Taipei, Chinese Taipei) is not among the competitors, as she finished at No. 4 in the 2019 Volvik Race for the Card to secure LPGA Tour membership. The win was the first of her professional career and one of seven top-10 results in her sophomore season on the “Road to the LPGA.”
The FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship also marks the first of two events in this year’s Potawatomi Cup series. As well as the normal purse payout for each event, players receive “Potawatomi Points” with $20,000 in bonus money to be distributed at the conclusion of the Four Winds Invitational at Blackthorn Golf Club in South Bend, Ind., from Sept. 4-6. The top five players in the points standings receive a sum from the prize pool including $10,000 to the Potawatomi Cup winner and $5,000 to the runner-up.
Action gets underway at 7:30 a.m. EDT all three days with play starting off No. 1 and No. 10 tees in each round. A trophy presentation on No. 18 green is set to follow final round play.
COLLEGIATE CONNECTIONS IN THE GREAT LAKES STATE
Three individuals with ties to Michigan institutions for higher education are featured among competition in the Great Lakes States and players to keep an eye on once the event starts Friday.
Michigan State University has one lone Spartans representative in 2020 Michigan PGA Women’s Open champion Sarah Burnham (Maple Grove, Minnesota). Meanwhile, Sarah Hoffman (Saline, Michigan) and tournament sponsor exemption Gabrielle Shipley (Hastings, Michigan) will don the Laker Blue & White of Grand Valley State University at Battle Creek Country Club.
Hoffman is not only someone to watch when competition gets underway, but she has also been an inspiration to her fellow Tour members the past few months. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she returned to work as a nurse at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. Now, Hoffman will trade her scrubs back for clubs and compete in her native state.
“I’m excited to get back into competition. I think this long break has provided all of us an even greater appreciation for the Epson Tour and all of the sponsors that make our season possible,” said Hoffman. “It will be tough playing so close to home without my family and friends able to come support me, but the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship is one of my favorite tournaments and it will be fun to start back up in the mitten.”
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE FIREKEEPERS CASINO HOTEL CHAMPIONSHIP
A total of 28 countries are represented this week at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship, led by the United States with 92 players then followed by the Republic of Korea and Mexico each having the next highest of six competitors.
“I’m looking forward to reuniting with everyone after an unexpected few months off the road,” said Stephanie Na (Adelaide, Australia). “It is going to be great to see my Tour friends from all around the world again. We are so fortunate to be able to return to playing competitive golf, which is what we all live for. It is going to be a fun week.”
Individuals from 23 different states are also set to tee it up at Battle Creek Country Club. Six players hail from the host state—including Shasta Averyhardt (Flint, Michigan)—while California boasts the most with 15.
“I am really happy to play the first event back, in my home state,” said Averyhardt. “I love Michigan and it is so beautiful here in the summertime. Just stepping onto the tee box, seeing the lush green grass and trees everywhere sparks happy memories from my junior days on the golf course.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to Calhoun County, as 30 rookies are in the field and eager for the second event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Sierra Brooks (Orlando, Florida). The University of Florida alumna qualified for the 2016 and 2019 U.S. Women’s Open Championship, as well as the 2016 ANA Inspiration, a major on the LPGA Tour. A three-time tournament winner for the Gators, Brooks was the first player in UF program history to win individual titles in two of her first three starts.
“I’m so excited to get back into competition starting here in Michigan,” Brooks said. “I am thankful the Epson and LPGA Tours were able to put a season together for us. Especially being my rookie year, I’ve been eager and ready to really get it started.”
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 nine events on the 2020 calendar.
With one tournament in the books, the top five took form following the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in March. Three members from the group are in Battle Creek including Lauren Coughlin (Charlottesville, Virginia) and Lakareber Abe (The Woodlands, Texas), both tied at No. 3 in the standings.
“I’m extremely thrilled to be playing again and even more excited that I had a great first event which put me in the top five of the money list,” said Coughlin. “I’ve had a couple of months to really work on some things in my game and now I can’t wait to get back out there.”
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. Five cards will be awarded at the end of this season based on the total number of events on the restructured schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the inaugural year, a total of 157 players have graduated to the big stage.