LPGA stars give Zach Johnson Foundation Classic rave reviews

Scheduling allowed Johnson to bring in event's most talented group of athletes

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The crowd at Elmcrest Country Club Monday saw great golfers. The girls in the crowd might have seen something else.

With a tournament in nearby Arkansas over the weekend and the Zach Johnson Foundation Classic scheduled for earlier in the year, a host of the LPGA’s best made their way to Cedar Rapids for the charity event.

Of course, Arkansas being close to Iowa is relative, but Johnson’s tournament being moved up did not conflict with practice for the LPGA U.S. Open. The tournament also comes on an off week for the LPGA, another draw.

Johnson said with the schedule working out for the LPGA players, he did not hesitate to bring in a talented field of women.

“With the schedule change it just kind of worked out,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a lot of girls who want to come out here, and if they can see some model pros in that and maybe see some girls that they aspire to be like I think that’s terrific.”

Johnson’s foundation supports Kids on the Course, a partnership between the Cedar Rapids School District and the foundation to help local students graduate college. He said he’s wanted to bring more women to the tournament and called this years field of six terrific.

Mallory Blackwelder, Gerina Piller, Carlota Ciganda, Sara Brown, Sara Jane Smith and Azahara Munoz made the trip to Cedar Rapids. “Things like this, obviously, you have to get out of your schedule, and I could go home instead of going here,” said Munoz, an LPGA pro from Spain ranked No. 44 in the world. “When you see the things that Zach is doing, and you see all the kids out here and everyone supporting the event, it’s very refreshing.”

 

Munoz, who met Johnson through their mutual sponsor, has two top-10 finishes this year and is 53rd on the LPGA money list so far this season.

“It’s a cool opportunity for us to be with the guys, and see how they are,” Munoz said. “Zach has been so good to me since I met him with Transamerica. He asked me if I could come, of course I said yes.”

Monday’s pro-am tournament raised more than $930,000 for Johnson’s Kids on the Course charity, and many of the LPGA professionals gave the same reviews Munoz did.

Playing in groups of mostly men, the women routinely out-drove, out-chipped, and outputted their playing partners.

“I’m sure the guys that are playing with them are going to be humbled immediately,” Johnson said.

Some were dazzled by the company on the course, which included PGA tour members Rickie Fowler, Ben Higgins, and Jordan Spieth.

“We don’t really get to do a whole lot of events like this where we even get to see the guys,” Sarah Jane Smith said. “Most of us kind of are star struck even, ‘it’s like woo.’”

Smith, an Australian, turned pro in 2004 and broke onto the tour in 2006. She’d met Johnson before, but was impressed that Johnson remembered her from their first meeting.

Between the money raised, the influx of talented women in the field, and the almost cloudless afternoon, Monday’s edition of the classic seemed to be an improvement all the way through.

“He’s super nice, and remembered, which was even nicer,” Smith said. “It’s beautiful, the weather is perfect and me, I have a great group, we’re having a lot of fun.”

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