There is no question that the road to the LPGA passes through the Symetra Tour. That’s the path taken by major champions, Solheim Cup team members for both the United States and Europe and top-10 players in the Rolex Rankings. This week, the 2021 quest to join the best begins at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic.
When 132 women tee it up on Thursday at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa. Ariz., in pursuit of the $200,000 purse, it kicks off the 41st season of the developmental tour that has been an unqualified success. This year, more than 300 players from at least 40 countries will be trying to join the impressive list of Symetra Tour alumnae that populate the LPGA.
In the last decade alone, those dream-chasers who traveled the Symetra Tour on their road to the LPGA Tour have included Mo Martin, winner of the 2014 AIG Women’s Open, and Hannah Green, who took the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – both major championships on the LPGA Tour.
Also among those who earned their LPGA Tour cards off the Symetra Tour since 2011 are LPGA winners and Solheim Cup participants Marina Alex, Madelene Sagstrom and Celine Boutier as well as Nelly Korda, who has four LPGA wins, was 3-0-1 in the 2019 Solheim Cup and is currently No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings.
That’s certainly an elite list. Those looking to join it this week at the Carlisle Golf Classic include Sarah White, who won the Founders Tribute last August on this same Longbow Golf Club, and Emily Kristine Pedersen, a four-time winner on the Ladies European Tour in 2020, including three in a row.
They are joined by Ana Belac, the former Duke player from Slovenia who was the 2020 Symetra Tour Player of the Year, and the Coleman Twins – Kristen and Jenny, the latter of whom finished third in the LPGA Tour Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala earlier this month.
Also in the field are Bailey Tardy, the 2020 Symetra Tour Rising Star who just missed an LPGA Tour card in the abbreviated season by finishing sixth on the Symetra Tour money list, and U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang, the 17-year-old sensation entering Stanford University and competing on a sponsor’s exemption.
There’s also 18-year-old Lucy Li, who won hearts when she qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at 11 and charmed all by devouring an ice cream cone during her visit to the media center. Earlier that year, the California kid won the girls’ 10-11 age division in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club.
By every measuring stick, the Symetra Tour has flourished. The 20-event schedule in 2021 has total prize money of $3.8 million and since 2013, the average purse has increased by 76 percent while total purses are up 135 percent. Certainly, the road to the LPGA is better paved than it once was.
“There is so much anticipation amongst our athletes and staff to finally commence a full 2021 season and award the 10 LPGA cards at the Tour Championship,” said Mike Nichols, Chief Business Officer of LPGA Qualifying Tours.
“We are especially grateful to our partners for supporting this record-breaking schedule and providing our members the opportunity to chase their dreams,” Nichols said.
As has been the case since 2008, at the end of the season, the top 10 players on the official Race for the Card money list will graduate to the LPGA Tour. Because of the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, only five cards were awarded last year.
In addition to those earning LPGA Tour playing privileges for 2022 off the Symetra Tour Race to the Card, those finishing from Nos. 11-35 on the money list will advance to the LPGA Q-Series.
“Each year, our two stated goals for the schedule are to improve the quality of the venues for both new and existing tournaments, and to increase the amount of money for which our athletes are competing for each week,” Nichols said, noting that 2021 has six new title sponsors, six new venues and three existing tournaments that increased their purse.
Dig deep into the list of Symetra Tour alumnae and you’ll find legends like Dame Laura Davies, Karrie Webb, Inbee Park, Cristie Kerr, Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford, Dottie Pepper and Rosie Jones. For all of them, the Symetra Tour has been a road well-traveled.
This week, at the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic, the journey begins for a new crew of talented players chasing a dream. Their quest to quench the thirst for LPGA Tour membership begins in the desert.