The Symetra Tour returns to Atlanta national in the suburbs of north Fulton County for the fourth year, with the 2019 event scheduled for May 9-11 and featuring some new faces in the field after playing their college careers in Athens.
Among the players expected to tee it up on the intriguing Pete and P.B. Dye design are Bailey Tardy and Jillian Hollis, who would be closing out their careers on the UGA women’s golf team had they not turned pro in the past year.
Hollis turned pro after her junior season concluded in 2018, and has already made her mark as a professional, winning the third tournament on the Symetra Tour’s 2019 schedule recently in California. Hollis was third on the tour’s money list coming into the last Symetra Tour stop before the tournament at Atlanta National.
Tardy elected to turn pro midway through her senior season to join the tour after qualifying for it late last year. Tardy made her first two cuts as a pro, but missed her last two, and is 88th on the money list after four tournaments.
Also on the Symetra Tour this year is Harang Lee, a third former Georgia Bulldog. Lee played full-time on the Symetra Tour last year along with making five starts on the LPGA Tour. She played well enough to retain exempt status for the 2019 Symetra Tour and is currently 59th in earnings, just ahead of her finish on the money list last year.
Along with the three ex-UGA golfers are a pair of Georgia natives who have played on the Symetra Tour and also have LPGA experience. Valdosta’s Dori Carter, who has played on the LPGA Tour since 2011 and still has limited status on the tour, is playing both tours this season, and with the LPGA off that week, should be in the field at Atlanta National.
Newnan’s Jean Reynolds is playing her ninth season on the Symetra Tour and its predecessor (the Futures Tour), including the last seven years after competing for two seasons on the LPGA Tour.
Reynolds is off to a strong start this season, and came into this week’s event in Arkansas 10th on the money list. She opened the 2019 season with a tie for 10th in Florida, and made a strong run at a victory in the first of two tournaments in California, tying for fourth that week, just two shots behind Hollis. Reynolds is 4-for-4 in made cuts, turning in respectable efforts the two weeks she did not finish in the top 10.
Prior to turning pro, Reynolds graduated from UGA, but did not play on the golf team while in Athens after a successful junior career. She made her pro debut in 2008, and won twice in her second season on the Futures Tour in ‘09, placing second on the money list. She also attracted some national attention that year with her play in the U.S. Women’s Open, contending for most of the tournament before dropping back the final day to finish tied for 17th.
Reynolds returned to the Symetra Tour in 2013 and was one of the tour’s most consistent performers for the next five seasons, placing 34th, 27th, 31st, 41st and 45th on the money list before suffering through a down 2018 season.
Like Reynolds, Carter was an early success as a professional after playing her college golf at Mississippi. She won as a Futures Tour rookie in 2010 and added another victory the next year in the Georgia Women’s Open during a break from her first season on the LPGA Tour. She finished 70th in earnings on the LPGA Tour in 2014, but has not cracked the top 100 since, and has lost ground on the money list every year since 2014.
Carter has played limited LPGA schedules in recent seasons and has made just three starts this year, making the cut in two, one after playing her way into the field in a Monday qualifier. She has played on both tours the past two seasons, and opened 2019 with a tie for 13th in the first Symetra event of the year. She has made one of two cuts since and stands 41st in earnings.
Hollis placed second in her first Symetra start last year after completing her junior season at Georgia, and added two more top 10s to finish 40th in earnings after her late start. She opened 2019 with finishes of eighth and 20th in Florida, and collected her first win as a pro in California.
Tardy, a Peachtree Corners resident, will be playing close to home for the first time as a pro. She played well enough in LPGA qualifying last Fall to earn a spot on the 2019 Symetra Tour, and decided to turn pro midway through her senior year after some injury-marred seasons following a successful freshman year in Athens. Prior to being sidelined with injuries, Tardy enjoyed a successful amateur career and was a member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team.
Also competing on the Symetra Tour this year is Duluth resident Min Seo Kwak, who is in her eighth season on the tour and also been an LPGA member for five years, finishing as high as 76th on the money list in 2015. Kwak won twice on the Symetra Tour in 2014 and was second on the money list, and played the LPGA Tour the next three seasons before returning to the Symetra Tour last year and finishing 11th with six top 10s. She is 23rd this season with a tie for eighth and a T23 in California.
Previous winners at Atlanta National are Laura Wearn, Nanna Koerstz Madsen and Elizabeth Szokol, with Madsen and Szokol moving up to the LPGA Tour after their wins in 2017 and ’18. Madsen edged out Riverdale’s Mariah Stackhouse in 2017, with Stackhouse also going on the play on the LPGA Tour.
The top 10 players on the Symetra Tour money list earn spots on the LPGA Tour the following season, with the tournament at Atlanta National the sixth of 24 events on the 2019 schedule. The field will compete for a $150,000 purse, with the tournament scheduled to be played Thursday through Saturday, May 7-9. With the LPGA off that week, the tournament may pick up some players who compete on both tours.
Atlanta National is one of the strongest courses the Symetra Tour plays, with the average winning score 7-under for 54 holes and Madsen the lone player to finish in double digits under par, posting 11-under two years ago to finish two in front of Stackhouse.
Atlanta National is listed at playing just over 6,500 yards for the tournament, 140 yards longer than it did the first two years. The layout is one of the most distinctive in the Atlanta area, with Dye design staples including waste areas, pot bunkers, greens propped up by railroad ties and an island green par 3.
The course is not especially tight off the tee, but there are an abundance of hazards in play, among them the par 3s on the front nine and the par 5s on the back. The greens complexes are among the most challenging the Symetra Tour players will encounter, with some extremely deep bunkers in play on a few holes, most notably the long and demanding par-4 ninth, which is the finishing hole for the club’s members. The hole is part of unique closing trio for the tournament opening that includes a quirky, drivable par 4 and an island green par 3.
With the nines reversed for the tournament, Atlanta National will close with a dangerous dogleg right par-4 17th and a risk-reward par-5 18th.
The IOA Invitational is sponsored by the Insurance Office of America, which also sponsors a late-season Symetra tournament in Florida. For more information, visit the tournament’s web site at ioainvitational.com.