Winnetka's Szokol is back on the LPGA Tour and making noise
Chicago's only LPGA Tour player is back in business.
Elizabeth Szokol, who grew up in Winnetka, won the 2012 Illinois Women's State Amateur and spent half her college years at Northwestern, exploded with an opening round 64 in the HSBC Women's World Championship last week in Singapore.
She didn't back off much after that, either, finishing in a tie for eighth place in the second full-field event of the LPGA season.
Szokol, 28, has had an up-and-down professional career after completing her collegiate career with two solid seasons at Virginia. She earned her LPGA membership during two seasons - that included one victory - on the Symetra (now Epsom) Tour and made slow progress in her first two seasons on the women's premier circuit.
Her first breakthrough came in 2021 when she had three top-10s, earned $530,570 and qualified for the season-ending CME Globe - the biggest money event in women's golf. She looked like a rising star then, but that changed in 2022, the week before the LPGA event in Singapore a year ago.
"I had a back injury, a herniated disc, and decided to take some time away from the game," she revealed after the hot round in Singapore. "It was a really tough decision at the time. That was a good decision looking back, as I really focused on getting better and feeling healthy."
Szokol didn't touch a club for 12 weeks and stayed away from LPGA play for nearly six months. Her recuperation didn't involve surgery, just injections and rest, she said.
She missed the first nine tournaments of the LPGA's 2022 season and didn't regain her form in the 13 she played after returning, making the cut in just six and finishing 108th on the season money list. She got into her first two events of this season - in Thailand and Singapore - on a medical extension.
Szokol won't likely need the extension for long. She earned $50,925 in her first two tournaments and even sees some benefit from her battle with the back issues.
"It gives golf some perspective, which is very helpful for bad shots on the golf course and bad days, which is great," she said. "It definitely helps going through some tough days in 2022 and being here now. I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."
The LPGA season resumes March 23 at the Drive On Championship in Arizona.
HERE AND THERE: The third leg of the PGA Tour's Florida Swing, The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, starts on Thursday. Nick Hardy and Kevin Streelman, who missed the cut last week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, are in the field as is Arlington Heights' Doug Ghim, who tied for sixth in The Players last year.
Tim Clarke, president of Wilson's golf division since 2007, has parted company with the Chicago-based equipment manufacturer.
Jake Mendoza, assistant superintendent at Rich Harvest Farms from 2005-08, is back at the Sugar Grove private club as it prepares to host the LIV Golf League for the second straight year. Mendoza had stints at Medinah, Winged Foot and Detroit Golf Club after his original stint at Rich Harvest.
Illinois' golf teams garnered two Big Ten players-of-the-week honors. Tommy Kuhl won on the men's side and Isabel Sy on the women's. Kuhl has won the honor in back-to-back weeks.