HARRIS - Brilliant sunshine signalled a great start to the second Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass this morning as a field of 144 women began play in the Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA tournament.
Amateur Carley Saint-Onge of Marquette joined a pair of Big Break participants in the first group off No. 10, with Nina Rodriguez and Kelly Jacques all splitting the fairway with their drives.
At the other end of the expansive driving range at Sweetgrass Golf Club were Jae Oh, Aimee Neff and Alexandra Casi, also grouping their opening tee shots in the first fairway. Neff just learned Wednesday she has moved up on the alternate list for next week's U.S. Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., less than three hours from Sweetgrass.
Dennis Grall | Daily Press
The second Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass teed off under bright sunshine this morning at the Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA tournament. The first group off No. 10, left, included, from left, Nina Rodriguez, Carley Saint-Onge of Marquette and Kelly Jacques. Rodriguez and Jacques have both competed on The Golf Channel’s Big Break.
"It's on my way home, so it works out perfect," Neff, a former Michigan State University golfer from Carmel, Ind., said on the Symetra Tour website. "God orchestrated it perfectly timing wise with this and am so grateful for the opportunity.
"I'm glad I'm playing this week because I think sometimes when you just take too much time, it would be too much thinking about it," said Neff, who has been idle for two weeks.
Stephanie Kim, who won last year's tournament, is not on hand for her title defense as she recuperates from recent ankle surgery.
However, eight of the top 10 money winners on the tour are in the international field of players from 39 countries.
No. 2 Megan McCrystal leads that group of players, followed by No. 3 Jean Chua, No. 4 Lauren Doughtie, No. 5 Kristie Smith (whose caddie is Gladstone High School golfer Callie Jensen), No. 6 Sara Brown, No. 7 Nicole Smith, No. 9 Mi Hyang Lee and No. 10 Sara Maude Juneau.
Brown, who visited Sweetgrass in 2010 when the tournament was announced but did not play here last year after earning her LPGA card, said it's important not to get comfortable resting in the top 10.
"You can't get complacent," she said in a news release. "You just have to play in as many golf tournaments as you can. One win for one girl could bump you way up."
Retiring Symetra Tour CEO Zayra Calderon attended the banquet following Thursday's pro-am and compared this tour to playing in an Olympic event because these young women "are playing for life dreams. They have to prove doubters wrong."
She said there are approximately four billion women on the planet and only 1,500 professional women golfers. "You have 144 of those elite golfers here. They are good, they are unique, they do play for their life job," she said.
Calderon said the players put on 13,000 miles visiting the 16 tournament sites.
"This is a beautiful place," she said of the reception provided by Hannahville Tribe members, the golf committee and area fans.
"She told the sponsors "you are providing these young ladies opportunities."
Former Green Bay Packer lineman Jerry Kramer also addressed the attendees. A member of the team's Hall of Fame and regarded as one of the best guards in NFL history, Kramer said Vince Lombardi turned the franchise around when he arrived in 1959, following a worst-ever 1-10-1 season.
"A man named Lombardi came along and changed our lives, changed our history," said Kramer, who joined the Packers in 1957.
He said Lombardi preached consistency. "You don't do things right once in a while. You do them right all the time," he said.
"I didn't believe in myself when I came to Green Bay. I had no dreams of being exceptional. Coach Lombardi brought that out. He gave me permission to believe in myself," he said.
Speaking directly to the players in the audience with a booming voice, he said "you've got to believe you can do it. You've got to believe you can make it happen. The sports world today has an incredible number of opportunities. Take your shot, do your thing, enjoy the journey."
The journey continues through the weekend, with the top half of the field making the cut after Saturday. The final group Sunday tees off at noon, with the first group starting at 7:30.