THE ROAD TO THE LPGA GOES THROUGH SARA BAY

Casey Kennedy of Venice is no different than the other 143 golfers who will tee it up Friday in the Symetra Tour’s Sara Bay Classic at the Sara Bay Country Club.
All have the same goal: Getting to the Promised Land, also known as the lucrative LPGA Tour. However, earning a membership for the 144 professionals from the United States and 29 countries is no easy task.
Friday begins the fifth tournament on the 2017 Symetra Tour schedule, and Kennedy and the rest of the field have three avenues to choose from en route to the LPGA Tour.
Either they must win three tournaments, finish in the top 10 on the money list or survive many rounds at the year-end qualifying school.
Finishing in the top 10 is the preferred route for most. That’s how Bradenton’s Nelly Korda earned her tour card for the 2017 LPGA season after graduating from high school last summer. After eight LPGA events, she has won $93,700 and ranks 35th.
Kennedy wants to walk a similar path to the LPGA Tour.
“You have to play well throughout the season,” she said.
There are 10 players from the state of Florida in the field including three from Bradenton – Ginger Howard, Christina Miller and Ericka Schneider.
At No. 48 on the money list, Kennedy has the highest ranking of the other area pros. She has played three events and has won $2,394. Winning this week’s first-place check of $16,500 would move her well into the top 10.
That’s why she gets out of bed at 4:30 a.m. at her parents’ home in Venice, works out, goes to her job at the Ritz-Carlton Members Club, then hits balls and possibly plays a round of golf.
The Ritz provides her a place to play and practice and enough income to pay for travel and the $500 tournament entry fee. Her significant other (Andres Escobar) is her caddie.
“It is not easy,” she said. “Some girls have a sponsor. I don’t.”
In less than two full years on the Symetra Tour, Kennedy has won a grand total of $11,839.

“I was a young girl once, dreaming of becoming a real professional golfer,” she said.
That dream started when Kennedy was six-years-old and continued through her early years as a member of the Greater Sarasota Junior Golf Association. She won the Florida State High School Association title as a junior at Venice High, and captured three wins on scholarship at Augusta State in Georgia.
Long off the tee, the 25-year-old Kennedy admits she needs to hit more fairways and greens in regulation.
“Also, I have been working on my short game and putting,” she said.
Being a big hitter helps on most courses, but at Sara Bay, it is all about the short game. The crowned greens can be a menace to the most experienced pros.
“It is different,” she said. “It is one of the hardest courses we play.”
Past winners at Sara Bay Country Club include Brittany Altomare (2016), Rachel Rohanna (2015), Marissa Steen (2014), Christine Song (2013) and Esther Choe (2012). Altomare and Steen are currently competing on the LPGA Tour.
Kennedy hopes to join them next year.

PHOTO/SYMETRA TOUR/ SCOTT A. MILLER

Venice’s Casey Kennedy will tee it up in the Symetra Tour’s Sara Bay Classic this weekend.

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Mark Cardon

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