BEAUMONT, Calif. — The second stop on the 2021 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon in the Golden State for the sixth annual IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa from March 26-28.
Greeting the 120-player field in Riverside County 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 Fatima Fernandez Cano (Santiago de Compostela, Spain) will be in the field to defend her title. The win in Southern California was her first victory on the Epson Tour, helping her finish No. 2 in the 2020 Race for the Card and earn her LPGA Tour Card for 2021.
Action gets underway at 7:15 a.m. PST in the first and second rounds with play starting off No. 1 and No. 10 tees all three days. The final round will start at 8:00 a.m. with a trophy presentation to follow on No. 18 green.
SEVERAL COLLEGIATE TIES AT SECOND STOP
A total of 15 individuals with ties to 9 different California institutions for higher education are featured among the competition in the Golden State and names to keep an eye on once the event starts Friday.
Six Bruins from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are in Beaumont including Brianna Do (Lakewood, California), Erynne Lee (Silverdale, Washington), Lee Lopez (Whittier, California), Lilia Vu (Fountain Valley, California), Alison Lee (Los Angeles, California) and Louise Ridderstrom (Stocksund, Sweden). The University of Southern California follows with three representatives in Karen Chung (Livingston, New Jersey) Kyung Kim (Chandler, Arizona) and Gabriella Then (Rancho Cucamonga, California).
San Diego State University, Stanford University, California State University, Northridge, San Jose State University, University of California, Riverside, and The University of California, Davis each have one lone representative competing in Milagros Chaves (Asuncion, Paraguay), Casey Danielson (Osceola, Wisconsin), Clariss Guce (Artesia, California), Elizabeth Schultz (Walnut Creek, California), Savannah Vilaubi (Downey, California, Demi Runas (Torrance, California), respectively.
“Being from California, it typically means being in different time zones and staying with a host family or in a hotel. This week there is definitely a level of comfort that I don’t usually get during events, and I’m thankful for that,” said Runas. “It’s all the more special to me since I also stayed in California to attend college. Even though UC Davis isn’t exactly close by, I do feel a little extra support when we have west coast events.”
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE IOA CHAMPIONSHIP
A total of 29 countries are represented this week at the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, led by the United States with 54 players and followed by Sweden having the next highest of seven competitors. Canada, Spain and the Republic of Korea each respectively having six.
“I am proud to be Spanish and to represent my country all over the world,” said Maria Parra (Guadiaro, Spain). “I like seeing all the Spanish players on Tour, both Epson and LPGA, and know that we are helping the growth of the game in our country.”
Individuals from 24 different states are also set to tee it up at Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon. A total of 12 players hail from the host state, while Florida features the second most with nine.
“I’m so excited for the week. I’ve played this course many times between junior golf and college, so I feel that I know it well; but it’s always great to see what tournament pressure does to a familiar place,” said Savannah Vilaubi (Downey, California). “Home state or not, these greens are demanding, and it really makes you feel like you’re competing against the course. I can’t wait to tee it up for Round 1.”
ROOKIES APLENTY IN BEAUMONT
Numerous professionals in their rookie season on the Epson Tour have made the trek to Riverside County, as 12 rookies are in the field and eager for the second event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Anna Redding (Concord, NC) who carded eight birdies and an eagle in the first round for a career-best 8-under par 64 last year at Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon. She finished the event in second place to 2020 Road to the LPGA graduate Fatima Fernandez Cano.
“I’m glad to be back at Tukwet Canyon again this season. It will be quite a different course, playing it in March vs August like last year, but the course layout is great,” said Redding. “I’ve got good vibes from this event last year, so I’m excited it’s early in our season to help me get some momentum for the year.”
RACE FOR THE CARD UPDATE
The Epson Tour annually awards LPGA Tour membership to the top players on the Race for the Card money list at the end of the season and will usher in the next graduating class at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
With the first tournament in the books, the top 10 took form. Nine members from the group are in Beaumont this week, including Haylee Harford (Leavittsburg, Ohio). She placed solo fourth last week at Longbow Golf Club and took home a check of $14,204."I'm very excited to start the season in this position,” said Harford. “It would be a dream to come out of the year with my card. I'm looking forward to what is to come and grateful for this opportunity on the Epson Tour."
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 162 players have graduated to the big stage.