Winning the South Atlantic Women’s Amateur Golf Championship (The SALLY) is a very accurate early indicator of a successful career as a professional tour player. Dave Andrews takes us through the remarkable history of this important Florida golfing tradition. The terrific photos of the SALLY winners are courtesy of Pam Shaffer.
Recent Winners Are Now LPGA Stars
Every year since 1926 some of the best women amateurs in the world have travelled to Ormond Beach, Florida, each January to compete in the South Atlantic Women’s Amateur Golf Championship. The SALLY, as it has come to be known, is one of the longest-running women’s golf events in the United States, and for each of its 89 years the prestigious four-day tournament has been hosted by the Oceanside Country Club. The 2016 edition of the SALLY is this week, Wednesday the 13th through Saturday the 16th.
There is a very impressive streak developing now that involves the most recent winners of the SALLY… more on that in a couple of paragraphs… first some history.
Oceanside is a beautiful golf course located on the peninsula in Ormond Beach. Parts of the course are just a solid three wood’s distance from the Atlantic Ocean. Members enjoy their club’s SALLY tradition. Each year many of them look forward to volunteering for the event or hosting a young player or two during the tournament week. Increasingly the players are coming from all corners of the globe as the women’s game becomes more popular in many countries. There is an international atmosphere at Oceanside each tournament week with players and spectators from around the world. Young world-ranked amateurs from Europe, South America, and Asia are regularly in the field along with top-ranked young players from all over the United States.
The SALLY’s list of winners since its inception reads like a Who’s Who in women’s golf. In the event’s early decades golfing legends Patty Berg and Babe Zaharias both won the SALLY when they were young amateur players. Berg won twice, in 1938 and 1939. Zaharias won in 1947.
Three years later, in 1950, Berg and Zaharias joined 11 other players in forming the Ladies Professional Golf Association. The LPGA is now the longest-running and most successful professional organization in American women’s sports.
In the more recent past, current LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr won the SALLY in 1996 when she was an 18-year-old high school senior from Miami. She went on to turn professional later that year and earned her way onto the LPGA in her first attempt at the tour qualifying school. Since her rookie LPGA season in 1997 Kerr has gone on to win 18 times, including two major championships. She has close to $16 million in career earnings.
Now to the event’s impressive recent streak… Over the last seven years, quite a phenomenon has developed surrounding the winners of the SALLY. Beginning in 2009 and running through 2014 each of the six winners of the SALLY has quickly gone on to turn professional and each of them has made it to the LPGA tour. All but one of them were still teenagers in their rookie seasons on the LPGA. The talent in the women’s game is getting younger every year. Fans of the SALLY are well aware of that.
In 2009 a then 14-year-old Lexi Thompson from south Florida took home the SALLY trophy. Just two short years later she became the youngest player ever to win an LPGA event. She was not an LPGA member at the time, but she received her rookie card for the 2011 season. She is now a four-time winner on the LPGA, Her first major win on tour came in 2014 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
The following year, in 2010, Jessica Korda from Bradenton, Florida, captured the SALLY title when she was just 16 years old. It took her only two years to make it to the LPGA at the age of 18. She has already won four times on the tour, including a victory in the Australian Women’s Open. She finished the 2014 season in 16th place on the tour’s money list.
In 2011 the SALLY winner was another Florida girl. 17-year-old Jaye Marie Green turned pro soon afterwards and two years later she won the final stage of LPGA Q School at nearby LPGA International Golf Course in Daytona Beach. She shot a record-setting 29 under par over the five-day event. She is now a third-year LPGA player, looking for her first tour victory.
In 2012 the winner of the SALLY came from the international amateur ranks. 17-year-old Moriya Jutanugarn from Thailand captured the trophy. She earned her LPGA card later that same year at Q School and was the 2013 LPGA rookie of the year. Coincidentally the second and third place finishers in the 2012 SALLY are also on the LPGA now. Moriya’s younger sister Ariya and Charley Hull from England are both rookies on the LPGA in the 2015 season, having earned their cards at Q School in December of 2014.
That takes us to 2013. The SALLY winner was an Ivy Leaguer. 20-year-old Kelly Shon from Port Washington, New York and a junior at Princeton University captured the victory at Oceanside. She turned pro the following year after graduating college and played one season on the Symetra Tour. In December of 2014 she earned her 2015 LPGA rookie card at Q-School and played very well in her first year on the tour. She finished her rookie season in 74th place on the LPGA money list.
The winner of the SALLY in 2014 was 16-year-old Brooke Henderson from Smiths Falls, Ontario, Canada. Later in 2014 Henderson finished tied for 10th place in the U S Women’s Open at Pinehurst, North Carolina. She had been planning to play golf at the University of Florida, but in December of 2014 she decided to turn pro.
In 2015, without any status on the LPGA, Henderson used a combination of sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers, to make her way into several LPGA events. She quickly raised eyebrows. She had four top-5 finishes and in August captured the victory in the tour’s event in Portland, Oregon while she was just 17 years old. That earned her immediate tour status on the LPGA. She is now ranked in the top 20 in the world in women’s golf and is considered a potential LPGA superstar.
The 2015 SALLY winner and this year’s defending champion is just a senior in high school. 17-year-old Sierra Brooks from Sorrento, Florida (also pictured at top of this page) had been planning on playing golf at the University of Florida after finishing high school. However she is now reconsidering her future in golf. If she follows the path of several other recent SALLY winners that future may include a decision to turn pro at an early age with the goal of joining the other recent SALLY champions on the LPGA.
Oceanside Country Club and the SALLY have established a long and impressive record of supporting women’s amateur golf. The rise of so many past SALLY winners to the LPGA will inspire future generations of young girls to take up the game of golf. That, in turn, should lead to many more years of very high quality amateur golf at Oceanside Country Club as the SALLY tradition continues.
This year The SALLY is celebrating its 90th consecutive year at Oceanside. Congratulations!!
# From the SALLY to the LPGA was originally published by Dave Andrews in April 2015 and updated in January 2016.
Dave Andrews is a retired television news reporter. He is also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the LPGA and the Symetra Tour.
He is the author of Pops and Sunshine, a novel and screenplay about a young woman pro’s dream and struggle to make it to the LPGA.
The screenplay has been optioned by a production company in Hollywood.
The novel is available at Kindle Ebooks.
Follow Dave online on Twitter @PopsandSunshine