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Symetra returns to U.P., Sweetgrass

AP photo Kaitlyn Papp wears a medal for low amateur after the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament, Dec. 14, 2020, in Houston.

ESCANABA — After a year’s pause, the Symetra Tour is returning to the Sweetgrass Golf Club.

The June 11-13 tournament will be the 10th edition of this popular event. Defending champion is Daniela Iacobelli, who won the 2019 event. The 2020 tourney was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass will have a purse of $200,000, with the winner earning $30,000 and an automatic berth into the Evian Championship in France, one of five LPGA major tournaments.

The June 11-13 tournament will be the 10th edition of this popular event.

“This is very high quality golf,” tourney co-director Tony Mancilla said Monday during a zoom press conference. Also speaking virtually were Tim Kramer, vice-president of the Symetra Tour, and two players who have received exempt status into the tournament, Sierra Brooks and Kaitlyn Papp.

“This is probably the highlight of the golf season in the Upper Peninsula,” Mancilla said.

“You are going to see some tremendous golf,” Kramer said.

Brooks, a former University of Florida golfer, made the cut six times in 10 Symetra events last year and was 17th in earnings with $29,507. She was runner-up at the NCAA Division 1 women’s golf championship in 2019 and played in the U.S. Open in 2016 and 2019.

Brooks said college golf “prepares you for the professional game. I am incredibly excited to play on the Symetra Tour.” She said playing on the Symetra Tour is vital to her growth “if you keep on believing, keep on grinding.”

She said the U.S. Open experience allowed her to understand that “I felt I was ready and my game does stack up.”

Papp is a two-time first-team All-America golfer at the University of Texas. She finished ninth in the 75th U.S. Women’s Open in December and will play in the 2021 Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco a week before arriving at Sweetgrass.

A third exempt entrant is Teresa Toscano Borrero, a native of Spain who has been playing at South Dakota State University since 2016. Casey VanDamme, a native of Perkins, is the men’s and women’s golf coach at SDSU. She played at Sweetgrass last year to prepare for the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Borrero has won four times this spring and has eight wins for the Jackrabbits.

“Playing in your event would allow me to learn even more from some of the best players,” she said in her application to a second Symetra tourney.

“College golf has benefitted me,” Papp said. Noting former Sweetgrass competitor Sophia Popov won the women’s British Open last year, she said, “that was really inspiring and uplifting for all the players. If you keep the faith, anything can happen.”

The Symetra Tour, billed as the “official qualifying Tour for the LPGA,” has grown to an average purse of $190,000 and three of the LPGA’s top 10 players are graduates.

“The Island Resort has been out front leading us in that direction,” Kramer said of rising from $103,000 average purses in the past 10 years. “They have been tremendous partners with the Tour. You know you are going to get the best of the best.”

Mancilla told Brooks and Papp, “The course will stun you. It is like a private country club.”

Mancilla said a key to the tournament’s success is having the same committee members over the years “and we get great great sponsor support.”

A three-day ticket to the championship is $10 (kids are free) and refreshments and food are $2.

Past champions include:

2019 — Daniela Iacobelli; 2018 — Ruixin Liu; 2017 — Emma Talley; 2016 — Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong; 2015 — Dani Holmqvist; 2014 — Molly Aronsson; 2013 — Kim Kauffman; 2012 — Leah Wigger; 2011 — Stephanie Kim.

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