Five players entered Sunday’s final round of the IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa tied for the lead of 8-under par. Linnea Strom was two shots back at -6, but the last one standing following a 5-under 67 on Morongo Golf Club at Tukwet Canyon to capture her second Epson Tour title by three strokes.
“I had a feeling the whole day, but I tried not to think too much and play as well as I could,” Strom said.
Strom started her final round with birdie on each of the first four holes to set the pace at 10-under. Four other players—Mila Chaves, Roberta Liti, Dani Holmqvist and Nishtha Madan—eventually reached that same mark after their respective birdies at No. 4. The leaders played musical chairs over the next several holes before Strom buried a birdie on No. 9 to make the turn with a two-stroke advantage at -10.
“Deep down, I believed winning was an option,” said Strom, who finished at 11-under overall. “For some reason, I had 12-under in my head. I thought that would be the winning score because of all the players tied [going into the day]. I tried to get there and am just happy my effort was enough.
“I had a really good start and after that, it made me think a little. It wasn’t until No. 16, when I saw the leaderboard, that I actually realized I could win.”
A 2018 Epson Tour graduate, Strom recorded 10 top-20 results as a rookie on the “Road to the LPGA” that year including her first pro win at the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge. She went on to make 11 cuts in 22 starts as a 2019 LPGA Tour rookie with a season-best finish of a tie for fifth at the Dana Open pres. by Marathon.
But in 2021, she didn’t want to open her eyes.
“I was scared of hitting the golf ball and mentally, I couldn’t really manage it,” she said. “It got to a point where I actually played with my eyes closed.”
The struggles ran deep, so Strom turned to this trusty practice tool—which she started in her amateur golf days—during preparations the week before the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club. Her fear was real, and it seemed like a logical fix. She even implemented the technique into her routine for the rest of the season, closing her eyes at address and opening them at the peak of her follow through.
“It was really hard, and I did not enjoy playing. Going into this year, I wanted to enjoy the game because I love playing,” said Strom. “I worked on mentality and technical aspects, which has given me confidence again.
“Going into this year, I wanted to enjoy it, be my happy self and hopefully my game would come back. I feel like it has, and this is very nice to finally win again.”
Sarah Jane Smith (69), Mila Chaves (71) and the 2021 IOA Championship winner Sophie Hausmann (72) finished in a tie for second. Six individuals tied for fifth including Norway’s Celine Borge, who matched the 18-hole tournament scoring record with an 8-under 64 in the final round to finish the week at -7.