Epson Tour event showcases golf’s up-and-comers and dreamers at El Campeoñ in Howey-in-the-Hills

·3 min read

Two years ago rising golf star Lilia Vu made her mark on the Epson Tour and carved a path to the LPGA Tour.

A future major champion such as Vu, a three-time Epson Tour winner in 2021 who captured the 2023 Chevron Championship April 23, could be crowned this weekend outside Orlando. Or perhaps a veteran will finally get her big break during the long road to success.

Jenny Coleman’s persistence paid off during last week’s IOA Golf Classic at Longwood’s Alaqua Country Club. The 30-year-old shot 67-65 during the rain-shortened event for her first victory since joining the tour in 2015.

“It’s a grind,” she said. “Even getting on the Epson Tour is an incredible feat. It’s tough. The talent gets better every year. These fields are good.”

Coleman is among 144 players invited to the Inova Mission Inn Resort and Inn Championship. Golfers with their own unique stories and big dreams will tee it up during the 54-hole event scheduled for Friday-Sunday at the historic El Campeón course in Howey-in-the-Hills.

Gina Kim’s unexpected wire-to-wire victory during the 2022 event boosted her confidence as she went on to earn full membership on the LPGA Tour in 2023.

“It was the turning point of my career,” she said. “I want to give a huge shoutout for making this girl’s dreams come true. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”

Balancing gratitude with golf’s inevitable frustrations requires tremendous fortitude, self-belief and patience at the professional level.

Playing opportunities are essential to keep hope alive.

The Epson Tour, formerly the Symetra Tour until a 2022 sponsorship change, serves as a feeder system and keeps golfers on track through slumps, swing changes and even injuries.

The tour receives no TV coverage and does not generate nearly the purses or media coverage of the top tour.

This week’s winner will receive $30,000 of the $200,000 overall purse. A tie for 21st at last week’s Cognizant Founders Cup earned veteran Stacy Lewis $32,442.

Veteran Catherine O’Donnell has seen the gap between the two tours continuing to narrow since she joined in 2014.

“There is no room for error,” the 33-year-old said. “Every girl is good out here.”

Once on the fast track to stardom, Sorrento native Sierra Brooks finished runner-up in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur while attending Lake Mary Prep and sat sixth in the rankings among women’s amateur golfers. Brooks went on to star at UF.

Now 24, Brooks missed the cut in Longwood as she pushes to find her form.

Brooks’ journey is typical of the Epson Tour.

“It’s a little bit of a sorority out here because we’re all kind of chasing this big dream together,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a really neat atmosphere.”

Golf fans can experience it for free.

Mission inn general manager Cindy Staley, however, encourages patrons to bring a non-perishable food item to support Lake County Cares food pantry.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at osgators.