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December 22, 2014

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Columnist Victoria Sun: Aspiring LPGA players on Ladies Challenge tour make stop in LV

Victoria Sun's golf column appears Wednesday. Reach her at 259-4078 or [email protected]

The prize money isn't enough to sustain the ladies of the fledgling Ladies Challenge Golf Tour, but the competition is.

Maybe one day some of the women will make the LPGA Tour. Maybe they won't.

Whatever happens, they are going to enjoy it while it lasts.

"I think we all don't realize all the time how lucky we are to be playing golf for a living," said Jennifer Sweeney, who shot a 76 Tuesday at the Badlands Golf Club in the first round of the tour's Las Vegas stop. "You don't appreciate it until you're not playing."

Or until you don't have enough money to travel to the next tournament.

The total purse for the 48-hole tournament with no cut is $5,000, with $1,700 going to the winner and $1,065 for second place.

Sweeney, Cary Kohatsu and Tracey Lipp each finished two strokes behind Shino Yokohama and Erin Carney for the lead. Yokohama birdied three holes and had four bogeys while Carney had two birdies and two bogeys.

Carney won last week's event in her hometown of Phoenix. Because the prize money is limited, some women, like Carney, survive through sponsorships. Others, like Erin Szekely, are teaching pros, while Sweeney caddies to make ends meet.

"The goal is the better you play each week, you will make a little money, which will help you get to the next event," Kohatsu said. "The experience is worth more than the money.

"I think if you can get yourself to shoot at least even par each week for the rest of your life you can be an LPGA player."

Playing competitively each week is what the women hope will help them get to the next level.

"The competition is very strong," Sweeney said. "One thing this tour lacks that is important is making cuts.

"But I guess if you have the mentality of wanting to win every week instead of just making the cut then you will get better anyway. Playing on a mini-tour helps weed out the players who aren't sure if they want to do this because you are on the road a lot, and if you can't handle it, then this is not for you."

Sweeney plays half of the year and spends the other half caddying for PGA Tour player Jonathan Kaye, her boyfriend of nearly eight years. She says being around other tour professionals -- men and women -- has helped improve her own game.

Athena Chakeres, a former Futures and Players West mini-tour player, founded the Ladies Challenge Golf Tour to give aspiring LPGA Tour players another place to play.

"This tour is to help them get ready for the LPGA, so I try to make these conditions as close to those as possible," Chakeres said. "That includes things like length and difficulty of the courses (and) the pace of play."

Anderson was named the Mountain West Conference player of the year after leading the league in scoring average. In 1998 he was a third-team Academic All America selection and was a second-team choice last year. He graduated last week with a 3.56 GPA.

The Bayno-Robinson Golf Classic will be held at Stallion Mountain Country Club's Citation Course with a 7:30 a.m. shotgun start after a continental breakfast. There will be an awards luncheon after the 18-hole round that will be played in a scramble format.

The cost is $275 and includes a tournament shirt, hat and commemorative foursome photo with the coaches. Tee sponsorships are also available for $300.

The entry deadline is June 2 and space is limited to the first 144 players. Call 895-8658 for more information.

The cost for the two-day tournament is $1,200 for locals and $1,500 for visitors, which includes a three-night stay at Caesars Palace. Fees include two days of golf, food and beverage on the course, a tee package including shirts and windbreakers, two cocktail receptions at Caesars Palace and an awards dinner and dance.

Proceeds will benefit the Ross and Coletta Miller Education Center. Call 798-6877 for more information.

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