Club Pro Paolozzi among primary challengers
During its 21 years of competition, the Georgia Women’s Open has featured a number of winners in their teens or early 20s who used their victories as springboards to successful stints as college golfers or as part of a path to a future in professional golf.
That applies to the tournament’s first winner – Caroline Peek Blaylock in 1995 – as well as last year’s champion – Ashlan Ramsey, a rookie on the LPGA Tour this season, and a host of winners in between.
This year’s event will be played July 18-19 at Brookfield CC, the fourth straight year the Roswell club has hosted the Georgia Women’s Open.
Blaylock, a Cedartown native, had just finished her college career at Furman when she won at Flat Creek in ‘95, then repeated as a pro the next year at White Oak. Blaylock joined the LPGA Tour in 1997 and played on at least a part-time basis until 2003, adding a third Georgia Women’s Open title in 2000.
Roswell’s Krissie Register won the Georgia Women’s Open as an amateur in 1997 and ’99, the latter shortly after completing her college career at Arizona, which won the NCAA Women’s Championship in ’96. Register also placed second in the GWO in 1998 and 2000, the latter as a pro, and played several years on the Futures (now Symetra) Tour.
Register was edged out in ’98 by incoming Georgia freshman Summer Sirmons of Cuthbert, who helped lead the Lady Bulldogs to an NCAA Championship in 2001. After competing briefly as a professional, Sirmons has been a long time instructor in the Atlanta area.
Duluth’s Courtney Swaim Trimble won prior to her senior season at Auburn in 2001 over college rival and future Curtis Cup teammate Angela Jerman, and enjoyed success in a two-year stretch on the Futures Tour before moving into the college coaching field. After working as an assistant at her alma mater for four years, Trimble was head coach for three years at Central Florida before taking that position at Louisville, where she has been head coach since 2012.
Fayetteville’s Diana Ramage was a college teammate of Swaim’s at Auburn and won the Georgia Women’s Open in 2005 and ’07 as a pro. She was a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2006, but injuries halted her professional career. Prior to turning pro and winning the GWO twice, Ramage finished fourth or better in the tournament three times, including a third place showing behind teammate Swaim in 2001.
Cobb County native Margaret Shirley also played with Ramage at Auburn, and won the tournament in 2006 and ’08, the latter time shortly after her college career ended. She played professionally briefly, winning twice on a Florida mini-tour before following Trimble into college coaching. She served as an assistant at Georgia and Auburn before joining the staff at Atlanta Junior Golf, where she is Executive Director.
Shirley added a third GWO victory in 2013, the first year the event was held at Brookfield, and has been a major presence in the event since she finished fourth in 2003 and third in 2004 prior to her college career at Auburn, placing among the top 10 a total of 12 times.
While Shirley contended in the tournament while still playing junior golf, Riverdale’s Mariah Stackhouse won in 2009 and was a close third the next year, well before enrolling at Stanford in the Fall of 2012. Emilie Burger, at the time a member of the golf team at Georgia when Shirley was an assistant coach, edged out Shirley and Stackhouse in 2010. Burger has regained her amateur status after playing as a professional for a short time.
The 2011 Georgia Women’s Open ended in a playoff between two tour players, both of whom have played on the LPGA Tour. Valdosta’s Dori Carter, who played in college at Mississippi, won that year as an LPGA Tour rookie, taking a playoff over Jonesboro’s Lacey Agnew, who joined the LPGA Tour the following year.
Carter has been an LPGA Tour member every year since 2011, with Agnew, who played her college golf at Florida State, a successful Symetra Tour player since 2013.
After playing at White Oak from 1996-2003, the tournament was played for the first time at Summer Grove in 2004 before returning to White Oak from 2005-07. Summer Grove hosted from 2008-11, with the tournament played once at Callaway Gardens in 2012.
Duluth’s Kendall Wright, who had several close calls in the tournament as an amateur, won as a pro at Callaway Gardens in 2012, but has struggled to establish herself as a tour player,. She also managed a close third place finish in the Georgia Women’s Open in 2014. Wright will be among a small number of former champions who will compete in this year’s field.
The tournament has been played at Brookfield CC since 2014, with the club also serving as host of an LPGA event annually from 1977 to 1984. The course is currently in outstanding condition despite the intense Summer heat, with lush fairways, a healthy spread of turf around the greens and the putting surfaces rolling smoothly.
The three years Brookfield has been the site of the Georgia Women’s Open, three of the state’s most prominent female players have won the tournament.
Shirley captured her third GWO title in 2013, but has slipped back a bit the last two years, tying for sixth and ninth. She shot 6-under 138 to win by five shots over Roswell amateur Jessica Haigwood and Johns Creek pro Carmen Bandea.
Haigwood, who will be a senior on the Augusta golf team this fall, placed fourth in the tournament in 2012 at Callaway Gardens prior to beginning her college career, and has been a runner-up in the Georgia Women’s Open each year the tournament has been played at Brookfield. Haigwood played high school golf at Brookfield while she was attending Roswell HS.
Bandea has been a contender in the GWO since her early teens, placing 11th in 2004 and fifth the next year before turning pro prior to the ’06 tournament, when she finished seventh. Bandea lost a playoff to Ramage in ’07 and placed fourth or better five years in a row from 2010 to ’14, tying for second with Haigwood in 2013 and tying fourth the next year behind Karen Paolozzi, one of the country’s top female club professionals.
Paolozzi joined the Georgia PGA Section earlier in 2014, and has finished first and tied for second in her only two appearances in the GWO. Paolozzi, an assistant at Druid Hills GC, has twice placed second in the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional Championship, won the 2015 Georgia PGA PNC qualifier and 2015 Assistants Championship, both against the Section’s top male players, and recently competed in the national club professional championship against the country’s top men’s club pros, tying for seventh.
In 2014, Paolozzi shot 4-under 140 to finish one ahead of Haigwood, two in front of Wright and three ahead of Bandea, and improved her total by one shot last year.
Unfortunately for Paolozzi and fellow runners-up Haigwood and pro Jessica Welch of Lavonia, Ramsey won by seven shots with a tournament record total of 12-under 132, posting scores of 65 and 67.
Ramsey is playing her rookie season on the LPGA Tour after a strong showing in the finals of qualifying late in 2015. Prior to turning pro, she was the country’s top-ranked female amateur and spent one season at Clemson, turning pro after competing on the 2014 U.S. Curtis Cup team along with Stackhouse.
Through her first 13 starts as an LPGA rookie, Ramsey had made just two cuts and was 155th on the money list, which would not be enough to retain her status for next year. An LPGA event in Toledo is scheduled to end the day before the Georgia Women’s Open begins, but Ramsey has already signed up to defend her title.
Ramsey, who grew up in Augusta and Milledgeville, is living in Greenville, S.C., but remains eligible to compete in the tournament, which is open to players from outside Georgia.
Other entrants include Paolozzi, Haigwood, Wright and Peachtree City’s Cindy Schreyer, who played on the LPGA Tour from 1989-2004, winning a tour event in Chicago in 1993. Prior to turning pro, Schreyer won the NCAA individual championship in 1984 while playing at Georgia and the U.S. Women’s Pubic Links in ’86, and was a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team that year. Jerman, also a former LPGA Tour member who is semi-retired from competition, is also in the field.
Shirley is not playing due to a work conflict, but a number of the state’s top college players and juniors are competing. Among them are Amira Alexander, Ji Eun Baik, Hannah Mae Deems, Marin Hanna, Kayla Jones, Lauren Lightfritz, Kayley Marschke, Michaela Owen, Payton Schanen and Louise Yu. Emee Herbert, a rookie pro, is also entered, along with Welch, who tied for second last year.
In addition to a championship flight for pros and low handicappers, there is a regular flight as well as a senior flight.