New Trier grad playing in richest ever women's golf tourney
This week's CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida, with a $5 million purse and $1.5 million to the winner, is the biggest money event in the history of women's golf.
New Trier grad Elizabeth Szokol, the Chicago area's only LPGA player, will be right in the thick of it.
Szokol, 27, qualified for the event for the first time. Created in 2011, it's limited to the Top 60 players and ties in a season-long point race. Only her second LPGA season, Szokol missed the cut in last week's regular season finale -- the Pelican Championship -- but it didn't keep her out of the big-money wrapup. She was a comfortable 44th in the standings going into Pelican and safely into the Naples shootout that begins Thursday at Tiburon Golf Club's Gold Course.
Chicago golfers have found it tough to break into the LPGA over the last three decades. Other than Szokol, the only one to do it was Berwyn's Nicole Jeray, who starred at Northern Illinois University before spending a long career on the LPGA and its satellite tour.
Jeray, though still competing on the LPGA's Legends Tour for senior members, has taken on a heavy teaching load at Mistwood in Romeoville. Szokol's road to the LPGA was similar. She was a high school star at New Trier, then spent two seasons at Northwestern before concluding her collegiate career at Virginia.
She turned pro in 2017, won an event in her second year on the LPGA's Symetra Tour and gained LPGA membership in 2018 with four Top-10s in her last five starts. Her rookie LPGA season in 2019 was somewhat of a struggle but she improved in 2020, making seven cuts in 14 starts and earning $110,873.
The improvement was much more dramatic this year when she had three Top-10s in 21 starts, the last coming in October -- a third-place finish in the $3 million Founders Cup in New Jersey. It earned her a $198,627 paycheck, a big factor in the $515,640 she has earned for the season. That figure could grow in a hurry, given the money on the line this week.
While Szokol's missed cut last week was a disappointment, her time spent at Pelican -- a Donald Ross design that opened in 1925 -- may have played a positive part in her strong 2021 showing. Szokol had her best finish (11th) of 2020 in the Pelican. It was a new event then and was played without spectators because of pandemic concerns. This year she is spending more time at the Pelican club because her swing coach, Justin Sheehan, is the director of golf there.
• Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Len Ziehm co-hosts the "Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series" on social media. Past columns are at lenziehmongolf.com.