Declaring the 2023 Florida’s Natural Charity Classic winner took one extra hole on Sunday at the Country Club of Winter Haven. Agathe Laisne made a birdie on the first playoff hole to beat out Jillian Hollis and Kiira Riihijarvi and become the first champion of the Epson Tour season.
“I played great,” Laisne said. “I hit every fairway, just been on the green and try to make some putts. I didn’t think about the win — I was just trying to go low and see what happens.”
Laisne shot a bogey-free 66 to come from six shots behind and take the crown. The former Texas Longhorn started her round with a birdie and kept the throttle down from there. She went out in 33, with three birdies on her card. Laisne added another birdie on the par-5 11th and then had to grind out five straight pars before closing out her round with back-to-back birdies. She said she wasn’t aware of the leaderboard, but knew she had to be close.
“I knew there could be a chance that 10-under could win,” Laisne said. “I was like ‘I got to get that eagle in on 18,’ but I didn’t so I was a bit frustrated. The girls didn’t make birdies on 18 so I was fortunate enough to get into that playoff.”
That bogey-free round came after Laisne battled high winds during the first two rounds. She took full advantage of Sunday’s near-perfect weather to earn her first Epson Tour victory in her second season. The Frenchwoman was part of the 2022 rookie class.
First round leader and former Georgia Bulldog, Hollis, put up a tough fight and was able to hold onto her two-day lead by shooting even par in the final round. That score got her into the playoff, but her 30-foot birdie putt, and chance to win, on the 54th hole came up short. Hollis had an almost identical putt in the playoff, but overcorrected and sent it six feet past the hole.
“Golf is funny like that,” she said. "I guess I was trying to make that birdie putt to kind of finish it there, but I’m happy with how I played this week and there is good stuff to come for this year.”
Riihijarvi had a strong final round that included a hole-out eagle on the par-4 5th. The Finland native chose her 3-wood off the tee and hit it just right of the green, giving her 31 yards to the pin. Riihijarvi hit a chip shot to try and get close, but instead, it rolled right into the hole. She also made a crucial birdie on the par-3 17th to finish with a 68 and secure herself a spot in the playoff.
“I’m proud of the way I played. I chipped in for an eagle on No. 5 and then I followed with two bogeys, which annoyed me,” said Riihijarvi, who will make her debut as a 2023 LPGA Tour rookie in just a few weeks. “But, I was able to fight my way back, so I was proud of the way I played.”
The final round was full of excitement even before the playoff, with two holes-in-one from Becca Huffer and Perrine Delacour. Huffer hit her 4-iron 180-yards for an ace on the par-3 17th, which was also the site of her last hole-in-one in 2018. Delacour made her ace on the par-3 15th with a 6-iron for 177 yards. She finished the event T7 at 6-under.
Huffer and Heather Lin finished T4 at 8-under and Auston Kim claimed solo sixth at 7-under.
Up next on the Epson Tour will be the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic on March 16-19 at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, AZ.
Jillian Hollis (-9, T1) on the momentum she has moving forward:
“Great momentum — I started this week out with zero expectations and wanted to see what the strengths and weaknesses were in my game. I put in a lot of hard work this offseason and it’s nice to have played well for sure. I just have a couple more things to work on this upcoming week.”
Kiira Riihijarvi(-9, T1) on how this event helps build her confidence for future LPGA starts:
“I think it helps a lot. It’s a little bit of an easier softer start — I know the venue and a lot of the people. It’s familiar, so it’s nice to start the season that way. It’s always a little different whenever you have a long period of time that you’re not playing competitive golf, so it’s nice to see it’s still there and I can shoot pretty good scores. It’s really exciting.”
Yan Liu (-6, T7) on making albatross on No. 18:
“I finished pretty good. It was my first albatross; it was so nice. I had 169 to the flag, and I hit a 7-iron, so it was pretty lucky. I hit it solid, but in my mind, it should have been behind the pin. I didn’t see it, but I heard the sounds [from 18 green]. It felt great, and I hope to hear it [cheering] lots of times on the LPGA.”
Pernilla Lindberg (-2, T21) on shooting a final round 66:
“It was nice to make some birdies again. I’ve been working really hard this winter and I’ve been playing a ton the last couple of months, and I know I’ve been making a lot of birdies. It’s kind of frustrating the first two days to not get it out and obviously just happy to be playing today being so close to the cutline. The only goal today was to go out and make a ton of birdies. I gave myself so many good chances that it kind of felt like it was the worst score I could have shot because I kept giving myself chances all day.