SIOUX FALLS, S.D., August 31, 2015 – The Symetra Tour, Road to the LPGA, makes its much anticipated first trip to the state of South Dakota for the inaugural Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge at Willow Run Golf Course. The event is being billed as the biggest in the history of the Tour. First round play begins on Thursday, September 3 at 7:30 a.m. with the final round scheduled for Sunday, September 6. This is one of five 72-hole events on the Symetra Tour schedule.
The top aspiring LPGA Tour professionals from the United States and 24 countries around the globe will compete for the largest total purse, $210,000, and winner’s payout, $31,500, in Tour history. The winner of the event will have a great chance to finish in the top 10 on the final Volvik Race for the Card money list and earn LPGA Tour membership for 2016. The top 10 on the year-end money list earn LPGA membership in category nine on the LPGA priority list, which is considered “full-time” status.
The top four finishers, assuming solo finishes, will earn over $10,000. Second place payout is $19,723, third is $14,358 and fourth is $11,149.
With so much at stake, the field is very strong. The entire top 10 on the Volvik Race for the Card money list are all in the field. In fact, everyone in the top 30 is scheduled to play. The field also includes 23 LPGA Tour members and 22 that played in the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic last week.
The Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge is the 18th event of 23 total this season. The event begins a stretch of six tournaments in seven weeks to close the 2015 season. The season concludes with the final round of the Symetra Tour Championship at LPGA International on October 18.
This week is also historic as the Tour, born in 1983, will hit the 600 tournament mark with the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge.
A DREAM MAY COME TRUE SUNDAY ON THE 18TH: The ultimate dream of every player on the Symetra Tour is to earn full exempt status on the LPGA Tour. Based on current projections, which take into account total prize money still available ($760,000) and the history of the Volvik Race for the Card money list, anyone currently No. 25 or better is nearly assured a Tour card for next season with a victory in Sioux Falls.
If No. 25, Jessica Wallace (Langley, B.C.), wins the event her new season total will be $53,218. If No. 1, Lee Lopez (Whittier, Calif.), wins her season total will skyrocket to $85,142, which is more than anyone has earned in a single-season since Cindy LaCrosse pocketed $94,578 in 2010. For more perspective, tenth on the money list in 2014 earned $41,381. Keep in mind that the Tour’s schedule has grown from 20 to 23 events and prize money has increased from $2.25 million to $2.8 million. In 2013, the Tour schedule had just 15 events for a total of $1.62 million.
The $41,381 that Mallory Blackwelder earned in 2014 was the most tenth place earned in the history of the Tour and it is expected that tenth place this year will earn almost $10,000 more.
WIN IN MEXICO HAS CHRISTINE SONG BACK ON TRACK: Christine Song (Fullerton, Calif.) won twice on the Symetra Tour in 2010 and twice again in 2013. She earned her LPGA Tour card both years. She unfortunately was struggling this season. In five Symetra Tour events, she has made just one cut. She missed the cut in all seven LPGA starts.
She decided to take the Milwaukee and Boston events off and has been home for a month just practicing. It paid off when she just took what she thought was going to be a “relaxing” trip to Mexico to play in the IGPM Classic and wound up winning the tournament last week.
“I haven’t been playing well this year and I just went to Mexico to relax,” admitted Song. “It definitely is a big confidence booster for me.”
Song also swapped her putter for an Odyssey 2-ball putter. She now feels much more confident over the ball.
Song ranks No. 186 on the money list so she’ll need a win this week and additional top 10 finishes down the stretch to even have an outside chance to earn her card through the Volvik Race for the Card money list. Since she has LPGA membership, she is exempt to final stage of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament.
BRIANA MAO STARTING PROFESSIONAL CAREER: Briana Mao of Folsom, California, a suburb of Sacramento, will make her Symetra Tour debut this week on a sponsor’s exemption. She graduated from the University of Virginia in May and is just beginning her professional career.
In her first professional start, she finished 15th at a Suncoast Tour event and was so excited for her first payday as a golfer.
“My mom was like you shouldn’t cash it because people don’t cash the first earned dollar, they just put it on the wall, but I was like ‘no, it’s still $500, I’m going to cash it’,” said the charismatic Mao. “Since we have mobile banking now, I was still able to frame the check.”
Last week, Mao finished third at the Colorado Women’s Open and earned $4,000. This week, she plays in her biggest tournament yet with a chance to really add some zeros to her bank account.
“I was really excited and fortunate to get the exemption, I know the process can be pretty competitive,” said Mao, who finished in a tie for 48th at LPGA Qualifying Tournament Stage I and is using the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge as a way to gear up for Stage II. “I just want to dip my toes in the water and see how the Symetra Tour is going to be. This is a great opportunity to get more experience before Stage II of Q-School.”
Mao comes from a family of tennis players, but her dad, Lee, first started playing golf when her mom, Tiffany, was pregnant with her.
“He really wanted to be a single digit handicap and by the time I was born, my dad would spend everyday at the range after work and he would take me in the stroller so I basically grew up on the range watching him,” said Mao. “I had plastic clubs at three and I’ve really been playing ever since.”
Sounds like the classic born and raised to be a professional golfer story, right? Not the case. After being named Sacramento Golfer of the Year in 2009 and 2010, she was a little burned out on golf. Mao entered UVA as a pre-med student and had a fascination with the heart and wanted to be a cardiologist. She re-found her love for golf at UVA where she was a two-time All-ACC selection and life as a surgeon is now on hold.
Mao has two former college teammates to lean on this week in Brittany Altomare and Portland Rosen.
“It’s exciting because when Brittany graduated I still had two more years and I was always like I can’t wait until I’m out there and I can travel with you,” said Mao. “Then Portland graduated and I was so jealous that two of my really good friends were traveling and playing tournaments and now in a blink of an eye, I’m here.”
CATCHING UP WITH SIOUX FALLS SYMETRA TOUR CHAMPION: Jane Egan (now Jane Noble) remembers fondly playing golf with her mom everyday during the summer months. She also used to work at Minnehaha Country Club. The Sioux Falls native and former O’Gorman High School star won twice on the FUTURES Tour, now known as the Symetra Tour, in 1999.
“My mom would always say ‘nine more holes, nine more holes’ and soon it turned into 36 holes,” Noble recalls. “After golf, I knew I got to go to the pool and eat a candy bar. The majority of my brothers and sisters played golf so I definitely grew up in a golf family.”
Her father, Tom, now 84-years-old is volunteering this week at the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge. He still works part time at Willow Run Golf Club three to four mornings a week.
“My dad works four to five hours a day with the maintenance crew, he loves it,” said Egan. “He loves all the people out there. Actually, the majority of my family is volunteering at the event including both my parents.”
Although Noble, who married a fellow teaching professional from Arizona Gary Noble 11 years ago, now lives and works in Arizona at Paradise Valley Country Club, she still keeps a close eye on South Dakota golf in part because of her nephew Tom Zining, who won the South Dakota State Match Play Championship and the state stroke play by eight shots. He became the youngest ever to win both in the same year. Noble called it “one of the best summers” she has ever seen for a South Dakota amateur golfer.
Many years have now passed and Noble is now giving back by teaching the game of golf, but those countless summers on the course armed her with the tools to become the first and only woman from Sioux Falls to win on the Symetra Tour.
“This tournament was a long time coming, I know when I was out there playing I tried to get a tournament in Sioux Falls,” admitted Noble. “We’ve had some mini tour events for men come through and I think it is about time that a women’s event has arrived. There is such a large audience in Sioux Falls with girls from The First Tee program and the country clubs and I think you’ll be amazed at the crowds you’re going to have.”
“I wish I could be there and I’m already planning on being in Sioux Falls for the tournament next year.”
2011 PGA TEACHER OF THE YEAR’S DAUGHTER IN EVENT: Ashley Malaska Moss, a sponsor
exemption into the field, never “in a million years” thought she’d be competing in a Symetra Tour event against the top aspiring LPGA Tour golfers from the U.S. and around the world. Even though she grew up around golf because of her dad, Mike Malaska, a well respected teaching professional and a partner in GreatLIFE Malaska Golf & Fitness, Ashley didn’t pick up the game until she was 16 years old.
“My dad is a pretty predominant teacher in the industry and I grew up around the game, but I was into
soccer and softball and other team sports,” said Moss. “I didn’t like golf at all and it wasn’t until I quit soccer to focus on softball and I found out that if I didn’t pick up another fall sport, I was going to have to go to the last hour of school.”
So, she went to her dad the day before the golf tryouts and said ‘teach me how to play’. Somehow, without even nine holes under her belt, she made the golf team. Even more impressive, the summer before her senior year of high school, the University of Arizona women’s golf team offered her a spot on the team as a walk on.
Moss didn’t get into the rotation much, but she learned a lot being around some of the top players in the country including current Symetra Tour players Margarita Ramos, Alejandra Llaneza and Brittany Benvenuto. She transferred to Brigham Young University to get more playing time for her senior year and then turned professional in 2013. She played on the mini tour circuit and then last year decided to focus on teaching golf.
“I decided that maybe my game wasn’t where it needed to be to play LPGA Tour golf and I got married so my priorities naturally changed a bit,” said Moss, who expects her husband and father to trade off as her caddie this week. “With my dad and the name he has built up in the teaching industry, I started teaching to make some money to play and never in million years did I think I’d be teaching golf. Even a year or two ago, if you said that is what I’d do for a career, I would have laughed at you.”
Moss is now a teacher at Superstition Mountain Country Club in Gold Canyon, Arizona and Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa.
Although this will be her first Symetra Tour event, she has been around the Tour. She was on the bag for former Arizona teammate Margarita Ramos at the Gateway Classic at Longbow Golf Club and the Volvik Championship, the first two events of the year.
“I’m hoping I do well, I’ve been working hard on my game and I definitely hope to be around for the weekend,” said Moss. “I’m really looking forward to seeing GreatLIFE because my dad is a partner and I haven’t been to Sioux Falls yet to see the whole business.”
CLARK’S KIM KAUFMAN WRITES LETTER: Kim Kaufman of Clark, South Dakota took the Symetra Tour by storm in 2013 and 2014. She posted two wins and five total top 10 finishes in 16 starts. She is now playing full time on the LPGA Tour and ranks No. 57 on the Race to the CME Globe. She already has four career top 10 finishes and earnings of nearly a half million dollars. Recently, Kaufman wrote the below letter in support of the event.
Ever since I was little girl in Clark, I dreamed of playing on the LPGA Tour. After graduating from Texas Tech, I turned professional and took a step towards my dream, and was thankful to have the opportunity to play on the Symetra Tour. I can say with 100 percent certainty that my year on the Symetra Tour prepared me for the rigors and level of competition that I currently face on the LPGA Tour. It was also a confidence booster to win twice on the Symetra Tour.
Although I now play on the LPGA Tour and won’t be playing the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge at Willow Run, I want to urge everyone in Sioux Falls and really all of South Dakota to support this event. Many of the Symetra Tour professionals are good friends of mine and I know that many of them will be competing with me on the LPGA in no time.
I’m proud to call South Dakota home and it’s really amazing to see a women’s professional golf event arrive in my home state. Looking back, I wish that I had an opportunity to attend a women’s professional golf tournament in South Dakota when I was a kid.
I can’t stress enough to parents, with girls especially, the opportunity you have to expose your kids to the game of golf and some great female role models. It’s my goal as a current LPGA player to help grow the game of golf in South Dakota. My hope is that this tournament is going to inspire young girls in South Dakota to take up the game.
Let’s show the Symetra Tour how we support major events in the area. Be sure to head out to Willow Run September 3-6 for the Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge!
OF NOTE: Alejandra Llaneza (Mexico City, Mexico), No. 2 on the money list, could be a player to keep an eye. She has finished in the top 10 in both of the 72-hole events she has played on the Symetra Tour including a win at the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic. Llaneza has made 31 career LPGA starts including six this year so she has more experience in the 72-hole events…No. 1 Lee Lopez has posted back-to-back top 10 results to takeover the top spot previously held by Giulia Molinaro…No. 4 Daniela Iacobelli has finished inside the top 15 in all three four round events this year including a tie for sixth at the Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women’s Health Classic…No. 5 Annie Park has finished inside the top 15 in five straight events. She has placed in the top 20 in six of seven starts…In her 186th career start on the LPGA Tour, Kris Tamulis won on Sunday at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic. Tamulis finished ninth on the Symetra Tour money list in 2004. At that time, only five cards were being awarded per year. The Naples, Florida native has played in at least one Symetra Tour event every year since 2010.