LONGWOOD, Fla. — The seventh stop on the 2021 “Road to the LPGA” takes the Epson Tour to Alaqua Country Club in the Sunshine State for the eighth annual IOA Golf Classic presented by RP Funding from May 21-23.
Greeting the 144-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 Laura Wearn (Charlotte, North Carolina) is among the competitors in the field. She finished No. 7 in the 2020 Race for the Card with $41,222. The victory in central Florida was the third career title for Wearn and one of three top-15s last year.
Action gets underway at 7:15 a.m. ET in the first and second rounds with play starting off Nos. 1 and 10 tees. The final round will begin at 8 a.m. ET and all groups will start on No. 1 tee with a trophy presentation to follow on the 18th green.
COLLEGE TIES IN THE SUNSHINE STATE
Five 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, Jacksonville University, University of Miami (FL) and Florida International University each have one representative in Daniela Iacobelli (Melbourne, Florida), tournament sponsor exemption Jessica Welch (Thomasville, Georgia), Dewi Weber (Groningen, Netherlands), and Meghan MacLaren (Wellingborough, England), respectively.
“I’m definitely excited to play in Florida again, it’s always nice to be a little closer to home. I’ve lived here now for about 6 years and gotten more used to the typical Florida conditions, weather and grass,” said Weber. “I hope that can play bit in my advantage this week.”
Florida State University has two representatives in Amanda Doherty (Atlanta, Georgia) and Frida Kinhult (Fiskebackskil, Sweden), while the University of Florida leads the way with three Gators in Sierra Brooks (Orlando, Florida), Karolina Vlckova (Kladno, Czech Republic) and Samantha Wagner (Windermere, Florida).
“Obviously a good feeling playing in Florida. A little used to the grass and types of golf courses! It’s also really nice to play two courses where I’ve played before, and this time I’ll have dad on the bag caddying which is super exciting,” said Kinhult.
COUNTRIES (AND STATES) OF THE IOA GOLF CLASSIC
A total of 27 countries are represented this week at the IOA Golf Classic led by the United States with 76 players, followed by Sweden and Mexico with eight competitors each.
“I’m super excited to be able to compete this week, Orlando is my second home and it’s the city that showed me how in love I am with the game. Being only 30 minutes away from home gives me the opportunity to invite my friends and family to watch me play,” said Maria Balcazar (Tuxtla, Mexico). “As a Mexican I’m proud to represent my country with my other fellow Mexicans. I’m grateful for the work IGPM (supporting Mexican professional golfers) has made to create an environment that allows us to be a family and have mentors such as Lorena Ochoa, Gaby Lopez and María Fassi.”
Individuals from 26 different states are also set to tee it up at Alaqua Country Club. Nine players are from the host state of Florida, while California is represented by 14 players.
“It’s always special getting the opportunity to play in a home event. Having my family and friends out to watch and staying in my own bed, there’s not much that can beat it,” said Sierra Brooks (Orlando, Florida). “I grew up playing high school golf tournaments out here as well, so it’s exciting now to come back for my second year as a pro on the Epson Tour and play Alaqua (Country Club).”
ROOKIES VENTURE TO ALAQUA COUNTRY CLUB
Numerous professionals in their first year on the Epson Tour have made the trek to Seminole County, as 30 rookies are in the field and eager for the seventh event of the Epson Tour season.
Among them is Florida State University alumna Amanda Doherty (Atlanta, Georgia). With two top-10 finishes so far this season, Doherty currently sits at No. 14 in the Race for the Card with $18,537. This week, she returns to Alaqua Country Club where she finished T5 last year.
“I am excited for this week because always love getting to play in Florida, and I enjoyed playing at Alaqua Country Club last year,” said Doherty. “I have been playing well the last few events and I feel like my game is in a good spot to hopefully continue playing well.”
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 after 10 events on the 2020 calendar.
Nine of the 10 members from the group are in Longwood, including Fatima Fernandez Cano (Santiago, Spain), currently No. 2 with $54,806 earned across six starts. Last week, she lost in a two-hole playoff at the Epson Classic to claim second place, one of five top-10 finishes so far this season.
“We are six tournaments in and a fourth of the season is over. I don’t want to get too comfortable, but I feel like I am on the few players up there that has not gotten a win yet, so that is something to build on,” said Fernandez Cano. “I feel like a win should come sometime soon, I’m playing good and I just need to put three rounds together and I’ll get it, so I just have to stay patient.”
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.