BELLEAIR — LPGA Tour professional Elizabeth Szokol has taken on a side gig this week as Tampa Bay tourism promoter.
In the weeks leading up to The Annika, the newly named elevated Tour stop Thursday-Sunday at Pelican Golf Club, Szokol has been touting the highlights of her new home and course to fellow Tour members.
“I love Tampa,” the Illinois native said. “I’ve lived here about four or five years now. So, hopefully, they’ll come out to some restaurants and do that sort of a thing. And then they’re always looking for some golf course tips as well.
“A lot of players are excited about this and looking forward to it.”
The tournament, formerly the Pelican Women’s Championship, this year became the first-ever LPGA event named after a former player, Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam. It will feature nine of the top 10 players in the Women’s World Golf Rankings and 17 of the top 25, playing for an elevated purse of more than $3 million dollars.
The field includes world No. 1 Ruoning Yin, Lilia Vu (2), Celine Boutier (3), Jin Young Ko (4), Minjee Lee (5), two-time defending champion and Bradenton native Nelly Korda (6), Charley Hull (8), Atthaya Thitikul (9) and Lydia Ko (10).
The Annika is the third-to-last event of the LPGA season. The $3.25 million purse is the largest in 2023, aside from the major championships and CME Group Tour Championship Nov. 16-19 in Naples.
Sorenstam said the event is about seeing players such as Szokol or Louise Rydqvist, a South Carolina junior who will be playing in her first LPGA event, make their marks on the sport.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was playing in my first event like Louise, or celebrating my first win like Elizabeth,” Sorenstam said. “So, this is about seeing women’s golf continue to grow and a way I can continue to be involved.”
Szokol, a fifth-year player, picked up her first LPGA Tour win (along with partner Cheyenne Knight) in July at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, Michigan, the LPGA Tour’s lone team event.
“It’s been amazing,” Szokol said. “Definitely a bit of a confidence-booster and makes the end of this year and the next few years a little bit easier, which is great. But it just shows me I can compete with the best in the world. And I’m looking forward to doing that at this event.”
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Pelican Golf Club is where Szokol, 28, has been working to build on that first win. A native of the Chicago area, she relocated to Tampa after making the LPGA Tour. Here she found the weather, course and coach to help futher her career.
“A friend of mine that also plays on the tour was from Tampa, and I’m from Chicago and needed a warm place to be. Chicago wasn’t quite the right place for me,” Szokol said. “And so I just love Tampa. I have some great golf courses to practice at and started working with Justin (Sheehan, director of golf at Pelican). So, kind of everything fell into place to move here.”
Szokol has used the club as her home course for the last few years and is looking forward to competing there with the new-found confidence from her first Tour win.
“It’s going to be so nice,” Szokol said. “It’s so amazing. I don’t have to pack a suitcase. So I’m really looking forward to that. And then it just it’s so much more familiar. So less to do during the tournament week in terms of getting there, learning the golf course and that sort of preparation. So I’m really excited.
“And hopefully we’ll have members out here and family and friends cheering me on. It’s one of my favorites of the year.”