Down the Fairway: ‘Road to the LPGA Tour’ has long helped develop local stars

Scotia native Laura Diaz won 3 times on the Epson Tour before securing 2 titles on the LPGA Tour. (Photo provided)

Scotia native Laura Diaz won 3 times on the Epson Tour before securing 2 titles on the LPGA Tour. (Photo provided)

The Capital Region has embraced the Epson Tour, previously called the Futures Tour, the Duramed Futures Tour and the Symetra Tour, for more than 35 years. The “Road to the LPGA Tour” has helped develop local stars like Dottie Pepper and Laura Diaz, and has also given valuable experience to our best young female players over the years, including Kerri Murphy, Tiffany Maurycy, Betsy Drambour, and Madison Braman, just to name a few.

Last year, the local stop, now called the Twin Bridges Championship, gave a sponsor’s exemption to Albany Academy phenom Kennedy Swedick, who is back again for this year’s event — set for Friday through next Sunday at Pinehaven Country Club — after proving she could compete with the pros.

Our local connection helped launch the professional careers of both Pepper and Diaz.

Pepper is a Saratoga Springs native who won two majors on the LPGA Tour among her 17 wins there and 25 worldwide. She stunned the local golf world when she won the 1985 Futures Tour local stop at Town of Colonie Golf Course as an amateur.

“Winning on the then Futures Tour as an amateur reinforced that I could compete and ultimately win on the next level,” said Pepper, a member of both the New York State Golf Association and Furman University halls of fame.

“It was also reinforcement of how difficult it is to be a professional, and the 24/7 commitment it takes, validating my backup plan in a four-year college degree in case things didn’t go exactly as planned in professional golf,” she added.

Pepper, now an extremely talented CBS golf television broadcaster and author, was recently honored by the Metropolitan Golf Association for her many contributions to the game. She was a multiple winner of the NYS Girls’ Amateur as a youngster and also won the Gazette Women’s Amateur.

Diaz, a Scotia native and the daughter of former Capital Region NENY PGA club pro Ron Philo, also became a success on the national scale after a brilliant collegiate career at Wake Forest. She won three times on the Futures Tour and twice on the LPGA Tour.

“The Futures Tour was a fantastic stepping stone to the LPGA Tour for me,” said Diaz, whose first big tournament was the Gazette Women’s Amateur as a 12-year-old. “I combined it with the European tour and together was given the opportunity to continue to work and grow my game. My time on those tours prepared me for the LPGA Tour, and I am very grateful for that opportunity,” she added.

Adding to the local flavor is the fact that tour co-founder Eloise Trainor, from West Lebanon, actually began the Futures Tour as the Tampa Bay Mini Tour in 1981. It went national and became the Futures Tour in 1983.

The Capital Region hosted Epson Tour events at Town of Colonie Golf Course, Western Turnpike, Orchard Creek Golf Course and Capital Hills before moving to Pinehaven last year.

The Epson Tour’s role in player development for the LPGA Tour is unrivaled. More than 600 Epson Tour alumnae own have earned LPGA Tour membership, and they have accounted for nearly 450 victories on the LPGA Tour. Some of the most well known Epson Tour graduates include 2016 Olympic gold medalist and multiple major champion Inbee Park, 2014 RICOH Women’s British Open champion Mo Martin, LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member Karrie Webb and other standouts like Stacy Lewis, Ryann O’Toole, Vicky Hurst, Christie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Christina Kim, Rosie Jones, Laura Davies and Alilson Nichols. Hurst is currently back competing on the Epson Tour.

These days, Epson Tour members compete for more than $4 million in prize money. The top 10 players on the Epson Tour money list every year earn automatic playing cards on the LPGA Tour the next season.

WHO TO WATCH

Besides the sensational amateur Swedick, who won the inaugural New York Public High School Athletic Association’s girls’ championship last month at McGregor Links, there is a huge, talented international field for this year’s event.

Leading the Epson Tour’s player of the year point list is 19-year-old American Lucy Li, who has one victory and 5 top-10 finishes this season to along with $77,241 in earnings.

Linnea Strom, 25, of Sweden, has one win this year and two overall. She’s earned $51,275 this season and has $121,960 career earnings and seven top-10 finishes.

Kum-Kang Park, 21, of Korea, has one victory this season and two overall. She’s won $50,768 this season and has career earnings of $105,427.

Grace Kim of Australia, 21, has her only career victory this season and has earned $50,744

American rookie Alexa Pano, just 17, has won $47,043 this season with three top-10 finishes.

Defending champion Lilia Vu earned her graduation to the LPGA Tour.

Hurst once won three consecutive Epson Tour tournaments.

The total purse is $200,000, with more than $25,000 awarded to the winner.

CHIP SHOTS

Speaking of Swedick, she was the lone female qualifier for the 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship after shooting a 2-over-par 73 in the qualifier at Teugega CC in Rome last week. She birdied four of her final six holes to win by three shots. This is the second consecutive year that the 15-year-old Swedick earned a spot in the U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur, which will be held at The Club at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Kentucky July 18-23.

Colonie Golf & Country Club hosts the local New York State Men’s Amateur qualifier Tuesday. There are 80 entries vying for 13 berths.

Meanwhile, on the same day at the same course, the local qualifier for the NYS Boys’ & Girls’ Junior Amateur Championships will be held. The tournament itself will be July 26-27 at Soaring Eagles.  There is a $25 fee to qualify and a $150 entry fee for the 36-hole stroke play championship.

Hales Mills Country Club’s 2-Person Dash for the Cash Tournament will be held July 30 with a 12:30 p.m. shotgun start. The format will be nine holes of best-ball and nine holes of scramble. There will be gross and net prizes, but teams can’t win both. All players must have an established GHIN handicap index. Top prize will be $500. Entry fee is $150 per team and includes hot dogs and hamburgers at the turn. Call 518-736-4622 for more information.

The McGregor Links Invitational is scheduled for July 29-30. There will be three scratch divisions and will be limited to the first 54 teams that sign up. Entry fee is $350 per team and will include golf, cart and prize money. The championship division will play from the gold markers, the senior division will play from the white tees and the legends division will play from the white/green tees. Top prize will be $900 for all three divisions. For more information, contact McGregor Links CC head pro Michael Decker at 518-584-6664 or [email protected]

McGregor Links CC also hosts the 92nd annual NYS Women’s Amateur and Mid-Amateur July 11-12. The first day will include 36 holes for the Women’s Amateur division but just 18 holes for the Women’s Mid-Amateur division.

Town of Colonie GC’s Noel Gebauer and NENY PGA tournament operations manager Christian Torres will play 100 holes for hope to raise money for the veterans and their families to learn the game of golf at no cost. They will play a match on Friday. To donate, go to https://neny.pga.com/about-the-foundation/

Canajoharie G&CC will host the third annual Ladies Invitational July 11. Entry fee will be $150 per two-person team and includes golf, cart, Continental breakfast, buffet lunch and cash prizes. There is a limit of 36 teams. Make checks payable to Canajoharie Women’s Golf Committee and mail them to Canajoharie Women’s Golf Committee c/o Betsy Baker 131 Walnut St. Canajoharie NY 13317.

Schenectady Municipal Golf Course will host the 14th annual Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame Golf Tournament Sept 18. The format will be a modified four-person scramble. Entry fee is $420 per foursome and includes golf, cart, buffet and prizes. This event is named after SCSD Hall of Fame member Pete Famiano. Call Bob Pezzano at 518-346-9297 for more information.

Briar Creek Golf Course will host the Coors Light Tournament July 15. Entry fee is $75 and includes golf, Continental breakfast, lunch at the turn and a grill buffet after golf. Contact the Briar Creek pro shop (518-355-6145) to reserve your foursome.

The second annual 9 & Dine Golf Scramble, to benefit To Love a Child, Inc., will be held July 22 at Fairways of Halfmoon Golf Club. There will be registration at 3:15 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. shotgun start. Entry fee is $85 and includes 9 holes of golf with cart, prizes, an Italian buffet dinner and a cocktail hour. There also will be a themed basket auction and a 50/50 raffle. For more information, contact To Love a Child, P.O. Box 165, Clifton Park, NY 12065 or call 518-859-4424. Proceeds will benefit Food Forests & Clean Water in Zimbabwe and Thyme to Thrive Educational Programs in the Capital Region.

Schenectady Municipal Golf Course is the site for the Schenectady High School Football Golf Tournament Saturday at 9 a.m. Entry fee is $135 and includes golf, cart, Continental breakfast, hot dogs/hamburgers/refreshments at the turn, dinner, a golf towel, T-shirt and golf divot/marker tool. Contact Schenectady High head coach Carmen DePoalo at 518-495-6555 for more information.

HOLES-IN-ONE

At the Country Club of Troy, Tim Nimmons aced the 167-yard eighth hole with an 8-iron during the 79th Invitational Team Competition.

Rudy Filin used a 5 hybrid for his hole-in-one on the 160-yard ninth hole at Mill Road Acres Golf Course.

EAGLES

Joe Firlet used a 3 hybrid and a wedge for an eagle-2 on the par-4 328-yard sixth hole at Mechanicville Golf Club.

At Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, Jack McDonald posted an eagle-2 on the par-4 10th hole, and both Cliff Ruth and Lee Quivey eagled the par-5 12th hole.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected]

 

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