The Georgia Women’s Open returns to a familiar site this year, with Brookfield Country Club hosting the event July 16-17 for the fifth time in the last six years.
However, many of the most familiar and successful players in the tournament’s recent history will not be in the field, with only one former Georgia Women’s Open champion competing this year.
The tournament has been played annually since 1995, with many of the state’s top female players over the past 20-plus years among its champions.
Former LPGA Tour Player Caroline Blaylock won the first two Georgia Women’s Opens in 1995 and ’96 and for a third time in 2000. Krissie Register, part of an NCAA Championship team at Arizona before turning pro, won in ’97 and ’99, with Summer Sirmons, part of an NCAA title team while at Georgia, the ’98 champion.
Auburn golfer Courtney Swain, now the head coach at Louisville, won in 2001, with Laura Coble, the state’s top female amateur for years, the 2004 champion. Diana Ramage, Swaim’s teammate at Auburn who went on to play on the LPGA Tour, won in 2005 and ’07, with Margaret Shirley, who also played at Auburn and briefly as a pro, matching Blaylock with wins in 2006, ’08 and ’13.
Shirley was one of the strongest supporters of the tournament, but is no longer playing competitively on a regular basis and is not in the field this year, along with most of the players who have been consistent contenders in the event over the past decade.
Two of them – 2009 champion Mariah Stackhouse and 2011 winner Dori Carter – are currently LPGA Tour members. Former UGA golfer Emilee Burger Meason, who edged out Shirley and Stackhouse in 2010, is absent this year, as are the last five tournament winners, including defending champion Jessica Haigwood, who had five consecutive top-5 finishes before breaking through last year.
Karen Paolozzi, a winner in 2014 and frequent tournament contender in recent years, was among the country’s top female club professionals, has left the golf business, and 2015 winner Ashlan Ramsey, who has played on the LPGA Tour and tied for third last year, will also be missing from the field.
The lone former champion who is playing this year is Kendall Wright of Peachtree Corners, who won the tournament at Callaway Gardens in 2012 and has a history of success in the event with eight career top 10s, most recently in 2016. Wright has played on the Symetra Tour in recent years.
The Georgia Women’s Open’s other veteran player is Angela Jerman Ormsby of LaGrange, a teammate of Sirmons on Georgia’s 2001 NCAA Championship team and a former LPGA Tour player. Jerman was second behind Swaim in 2001, and after an absence from the tournament, tied for third with Wright in 2009, one shot behind Stackhouse, a high school student at the time. Jerman has played several times since, but has not contended since ’09.
Among the other top players in the field are some of the state’s best collegiate players and recent college players from the state who are now playing professionally.
The two most prominent college players are the Georgia duo of Roswell’s Rinko Mitsunaga and Bailey Tardy of Peachtree Corners, both rising seniors. Mitsunaga won a USGA title as part of the duo that won the first ever Four-Ball Championship, with Tardy a first team All-American as a freshman and a member of the winning U.S Curtis Cup team. She played a limited schedule as a junior due to injury. Mitsunaga played in the Georgia Women’s Open last year at Pinetree and tied for third, three shots behind Haigwood.
There are also two metro Atlanta players from Auburn (Kayley Marschke and Woodstock’s Melanie Talbott) along with one from Vanderbilt (Duluth’s Louise Yu) and Milton’s Kayla Jones, who recently completed her college career at Florida State. Marschke tied for sixth the last time the tournament was played at Brookfield in 2016. Talbott has twice been a contender after 18 holes the past three years, but struggled in the final round both times.
Mercer will be represented by current players Payton Schanen of Johns Creek and Lauren Lightfritz, a high school teammate of Marshcke at Lambert in Forsyth County. Schanen has placed in the top five in the GWO the past two years, finishing fourth in 2016 and fifth last year.
Former Mercer golfer Lacey Fears, now an instructor at Idle Hour in Macon, has four top 10s in the Georgia Women’s Open as both an amateur and a pro. She was fourth in 2011 and eighth in 2012 while a member of the Mercer women’s team, and tied for seventh as a pro in 2014 shortly after graduating. She was second last year at Pinetree, two shots behind Haigwood.
Katy Harris of St. Simons Island played with Fears at Mercer before transferring to Mississippi, where she recently completed her college career. Other recent college players from the state who have since turned pro include Alpharetta’s Amira Alexander, who played several seasons at Georgia before transferring to Kent State, Ji Eun Baik of Cumming, who played at Mississippi State and Eunice Yi of Evans, a teammate of Haigwood at Augusta State.
Baik tied for sixth at Brookfield in 2016, with Yi seventh the previous year. Alexander placed second behind Wright at Callaway Gardens in 2012.
The field of 74, one of the largest in tournament history, includes 15 players from out of state. Meagan Wallace of North Carolina won the GWO in 2016 and placed 15th last year, but is not in the field this year
Brookfield will play around 5,935 yards to a par of 72 from the tournament’s championship tees, with shorter yardages for players not competing in the championship flight or playing in the senior division. The course, which was designed by Joe Lee and renovated by Mike Riley, hosted an LPGA event in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. During the four years Brookfield hosted the Georgia Women’s Open, the winning score was between 138 and 140 except in 2015, when Ramsey blitzed the course to win by seven shots with a 132 total.
The front nine at Brookfield includes a number of holes with OB stakes in play down the left side, with two of the par 4s (2 and 7) featuring hazards that are prominently in play. While the fairways are fairly generous, those who stray off the tee (especially to the left), will pay a price.
The back nine starts with a short par 4 that is perhaps the easiest hole on the course, but there are no soft touches after that. Hazards are in play on holes 13, 14, 15 and 16, with the 14th one of three par 5s on the final five holes and beginning with the most perilous tee shot on the course. The 15th is the only par 3 with any serious trouble in play, with the par-5 16th requiring some precise positioning to avoid trouble near the green on both sides.
The only problems on the two finishing holes are the length of the par-4 17th and an abundance of sand on the 18th, the most vulnerable of the three closing par 5s.
Brookfield is currently in excellent shape, with a decent spread of rough off the fairways and around the greens, which are rolling nicely for the summer but are not overly speedy. Two of the keys to handling the Lee/Riley layout are a deft sand game to handle the sizeable bunkers that guard many of the greens, and a quality putting touch to solve the subtle puzzle of Brookfield’s ample putting surfaces.