This is a piece originally posted on Sioux Falls Business with Jodi Schwan.
Shannon Johnson, a 2001 O’Gorman graduate who has since emerged as one of the top amateur golfers in the nation, is returning home to play in the Symetra Tour’s fifth annual GreatLIFE Challenge this week.
The tournament, which begins Thursday and goes through Sunday at Willow Run, gets two exemption entries each year. One is for Kelly Whaley, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina who is considered one of the top college golfers coming into the professional ranks this summer.
The other is going to Johnson, who won 12 South Dakota Golf Association titles during her time living in the state.
Now living in Massachusetts, Johnson won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship last September in St. Louis after contending for that national title several times in the previous years. That tournament is open to the nation’s best non-professional golfers older than 25.
Johnson, who has worked as a sales rep for Ping since graduating from Indiana University in 2006, qualified to play in the U.S. Open earlier this year. She missed the cut, but so did many of the LPGA’s top players.
“Getting Shannon in the tournament is going to be pretty cool,” said Jason Sudenga, GreatLIFE’s director of golf. “She should be able to come in and make the cut and hopefully play well enough to compete through the weekend.”
This year, the GreatLIFE Challenge represents the first tournament in the Million Dollar March on the Symetra Tour and comes with a beefed-up first prize and a strong field.
The last five Symetra Tour tournaments this year total $1 million in prize money, with the GreatLIFE event contributing $225,000. The winner’s share is $33,750, up from $31,500.
Known as the Road to the LPGA, the Symetra Tour began in 2012 with 16 events and $1.7 million in purses. It’s now up to 24 events and $4 million in prize money.
“Continuing to enhance the purse keeps Sioux Falls as a top destination for Symetra Tour professionals and can provide even more of a major feel,” said Tom Walsh, CEO of GreatLIFE. “Our mission at GreatLIFE is to enrich the lives of families and individuals through golf, fitness and healthy lifestyles. We are proud of our partnership with the Symetra Tour and having LPGA stars of tomorrow help spread this message.”
Defending champion Linnea Ström of Hovas, Sweden, is now playing on the LPGA Tour and will not be in Sioux Falls. Her win last year at Willow Run helped vault her to a No. 5 finish in the Tour’s Volvik Race for the Card, which sends players to the LPGA.
In addition to providing one of the Symetra Tour’s highest purses, the event has become increasingly popular because of the way GreatLIFE operates the tournament. Treating people right is a top priority.
“A lot of the golfers develop ties with Sioux Falls,” Sudenga said. “They recognize that Midwest hospitality. Everybody is so friendly toward them. We take care of them pretty well, and that makes a difference.”
Individuals are set to compete in a 72-hole stroke-play format with a cut to the low 60 players and ties after 36 holes. Play begins at 7:30 a.m. all four days, with golfers starting off No. 1 and No. 10 tees in each round.