Edges tour’s top player with birdie on final hole
The Symetra Tour returned to Georgia for the first time since 2012, and had the misfortune of inheriting the rainy weather usually reserved for the Champions Tour event at TPC Sugarloaf.
Atlanta’s Champions Tour event enjoyed a rare precipitation-free week in April, but the Symetra tournament was impacted by May showers, although it started and ended on schedule even though players and spectators got wet at various times.
The damp and unseasonably cool conditions that prevailed for much of the tournament did not prevent an exciting finish, which involved the player who has dominated the tour this year.
Madelene Sagstrom, a 23-year-old Swede who is a professional rookie after earning SEC Player of the Year honors and first team All-America status at LSU in 2015, won two of the first six Symetra Tour events of 2016, finishing second, third and fifth in three of her other four starts.
Sagstrom nearly earned a third win on the season last week at Atlanta National, settling for the second runner-up finish of her young pro career win the inaugural Gosling’s Dark ‘n Stormy Classic. The victory would have earned Sagstrom an immediate promotion to the LPGA Tour, where she will play next year regardless of how she does on the Symetra Tour the rest of the season.
With her second runner-up finish and sixth top-5 in seven starts, Sagstrom became the first player to eclipse $100,000 in a season on the LPGA’s developmental tour, becoming the top single season money winner exactly one-third of the way through the 2016 season.
Sagstrom, who won previous Symetra Tour events in Ft. Myers, Fla., and Greenwood, S.C., trailed by one shot going to the final hole of the tournament and reached the par-5 ninth in two at Atlanta National, with the hole playing as the 18th for the tournament. She made her seventh birdie of the day on the hole to finish with a final round 70 and a 54-hole total of 5-under 211 on the demanding Pete Dye layout, but that wasn’t quite enough.
Laura Wearn, a former Furman golfer from Charlotte, held off Sagstrom with a two-putt birdie of her own on the tournament’s finishing hole, completing a wire-to-wire victory.
Wearn finished the tournament at 6-under 210, highlighted by an opening 65 that gave her a 2-shot lead over Sagstrom. Wearn fell into a tie for the lead after a second round 73, but won a three-player duel from Sagstrom and Thailand’s Prima Thammaraks, who shared the 36-hole lead.
Thammaraks, who played her college golf at Iowa State, has competed in two LPGA events this year, but was making just her second Symetra start. She opened with back-to-back scores of 69, and jumped out to a quick 3-shot lead the final day when she parred the first two holes while a nervous Wearn started bogey-double bogey.
Sagstrom, who started the third round three shots back after scores of 67-74—141, birdied the first hole, but fell three behind Thammaraks when she bogeyed the second.
Wearn rebounded with a birdie at the dangerous par-3 12th at Atlanta National, which played as No. 3 for the tournament. A bogey at the fifth and another at the seventh cost Thammaraks the lead, and when Wearn reached the converted par-5 ninth – No. 18 at Atlanta National – in two and made eagle, her 3-stroke deficit early in the round was suddenly a 3-shot lead.
Birdies at 10 and 11 increased Wearn’s lead to a seemingly comfortable five shots over both her playing partners, but bogeys at 12 and 13 combined with a birdie by Sagstrom at the 12th quickly reduced Wearn’s lead to two, Sagstrom also birdied the short, par-3 sixth (tournament 15) to close within one, but her bogey on 16 was matched by a Wearn bogey on 17, leaving the lead at one going to 18.
Thammaraks also birdied the 15th to get within two of Wearn, but a bogey at 17 prevented her from cutting the deficit to one going to 18. She parred the final hole for a 75 to tie for third at 213 with LPGA Tour veteran Kristy McPherson, who birdied the last three holes of her final round for a 71.
Wearn’s final round 72 included an eagle, four birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey. She also eagled the 18th in the opening round, when she played Atlanta National’s par 5s in 5-under to shoot 7-under 65 for a 2-stroke lead
Sagstrom was 1-over after 10 holes in the opening round when she holed her second shot on Atlanta National’s par-4 11th for eagle. She added four more birdies on the nine, including holes 16, 17 and 18 for a back nine 30 and a 67 to lead the morning wave before Wearn shot 65 in the afternoon.
Wearn fell into a tie after 36 holes after a second round 73 that began with nine straight pars and ended with pars on her last eight holes after a bogey on Atlanta National’s first hole (tournament 10).
Thammaraks moved into a tie for the lead with a second straight 69, which included her only bogey of the first 36 holes. She had five bogeys the final day against only two birdies.
The victory for Wearn came one year after she underwent back surgery which sidelined her for almost all of what would have been her second season on the tour.
“To win just over a year after surgery is awesome,” Wearn said after her victory. “I definitely didn’t think I’d come back that quickly.
“It was a tough process and it was frustrating that I had to miss most of last year. Everyone told me that it takes a long time to come back, but you’ll get there eventually.”
Wearn said her victory “gives me confidence I can compete out here, and that every week is truly an opportunity to win. “
In her rookie season of 2014, Wearn made just five of 17 cuts and earned a little over $5,200. She missed her first three cuts of 2016 but made her last three prior to her win in at Atlanta National. She earned $15,000 from the $100,000 purse to move up from 72 to 17 on the money list. The top 10 at the end of the season earn spots on the 2017 LPGA Tour.
Reynolds was the only one to make the cut, finishing well back after a 2-under 70 had her among the top 10 after the first round. Reynolds, a Newnan native and veteran Symetra Tour member, barely made the cut after a second round 80 and followed with a 76 for a 226 total. Reynolds was 27th on the money list after the tournament.
Fears, a former Mercer golf team member from Bonaire, opened with a 73 and was in good position to make the cut after shooting 1-over on her first nine the next day. But she shot 43 on her final nine for an 80 and missed the cut by three shots at 153.
Paolozzi, a Georgia PGA member and one of the country’s top female club professionals, struggled the first day with an 81, but bounced back with a 1-under 71 in the second round to miss the cut by two at 152. A poor day on the greens and a 7 on the island green, par-3 17th doomed Paolozzi’s first round.
Shirley, the state’s top female amateur, shot 76-74—150 to make the cut on the number, but after the second round, she determined that she had taken an improper drop and was disqualified. Shlrley is the Executive Director for Atlanta Junior Golf and has reached the finals of the last three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, winning the title in 2014.
Also competing in the tournament was Siviter, a former Georgia State golfer who has settled in the Atlanta area. She shot 162 for 36 holes.
Former UGA golfer and St. Simons resident Garrett Phillips, a Symetra Tour veteran, did not play at Atlanta National, and tour member Lacey Agnew of Jonesboro was unable to play due to recent shoulder surgery.