Symetra Tour players seek revenge against tough Sara Bay C.C. course

Pros want revenge after course, conditions made 2012 tourney a beast

jdill@bradenton.comApril 26, 2013 

MANATEE -- The greens were slippery. The weather produced heavy winds and some rain.

Consequently, last year's inaugural LPGA Symetra Tour event at Sara Bay Country Club produced the highest winning score of the season when Esther Choe captured the title with a 1-over-par 217.

It was the highest winning total dating back to 2009.

Choe spring-boarded from that victory into another win the following week and earned herself a 2013 LPGA Tour card for this season after topping the 2012 Symetra Tour money list.

Choe isn't in the field this week, meaning the tournament, now with a title a sponsor in Guardian Retirement, will see a new winner after Sunday's final round.

That isn't the only change this week, as the Donald Ross-designed course is expected to play a little easier, although there are similarities to last year's setup.

"The greens aren't as fast as last year," Bradenton resident Rachel Connor said. "It's playing pretty similar, though, to be honest, except for the green speed. I don't think they are as fast, and I don't think they're going make them too fast because I think they found it was pretty tough out here last year."

Slightly slower greens won't necessarily equate to lower scores. Ball placement is the key as the sloping greens can cause some serious navigating skills.

"It's a frustrating golf course," Connor said, "because the greens are tough. They are like upside down bowls. ... Everything rolls off on all the sides. It takes a little bit more thinking around this golf course, so just patience and taking my time with my shots."

Connor isn't the only local in the field. IMG Academy alum Ginger Howard, coming off a tie for 10th place in last month's tournament, is in the field alongside Bradenton resident Jaclyn Sweeney, who won the season-opening event in Arizona.

Howard said the trick to playing Sara Bay well is to find fairway and greens. However, there's more emphasis on placing the ball below the hole on the approach shots.

"The greens slope from back to front," Howard said. "I just think putting up to the hole is very smart on this course."

Two exemptions were handed out to local amateurs, too, with Saint Stephen's senior Yvonne Zheng, who is headed to UCLA, and Hally Leadbetter are set to test their skills against the pros.

And those pros are the focus this week as fans get a chance to watch a future LPGA Tour star.

Choe was a perfect example of someone that used the victory in Manatee County to launch a successful season and ultimately a spot on the LPGA Tour.

Former world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa also plied her trade on the Symetra Tour in the early 2000s before taking over the women's golf scene.

And among those returning from last year is Hannah Jun, who tied for second with Mi Hyang Lee after both players tallied a 5-over-par 221 total for the 54-hole event.

"I just thought the wind and conditions were difficult all week," Jun said. "I know we had one massive rain delay on the second day, and the last day that was some serious wind. So I knew that if I posted a good number, I'd come close. I gave away a couple shots, obviously, at the end coming in. It is what it is. I think the more difficult the course, the more challenging it is for the entire field. It was really about making pars out there last year; it wasn't necessarily going after birdies a lot of the time."

In addition to the local contingent, which also includes past IMG alums' Natalie Sheary and Seema Sadekar, this year's tournament also features players ranked in the top 10 of the Symetra Tour money list with Sue Kim (No. 4), Courtney Massey (No. 6), Samantha Richdale (No. 7), Cydney Clanton (tied for No. 8), Stephanie Kono (tied for No. 8) and Caroline Westrup (No. 10) competing.

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