DECATUR — In 2008, the Forsyth Classic was an important stepping stone for future-LPGA golfer Vicky Hurst.
At 17 years of age, Hurst burst onto the Symetra Tour with 10 top-10 finishes and five tournament wins, including the Classic which was called the Michelob Ultra Duramed Futures Players Championship at the time. Hurst also set a tour record with $93,107 in tournament earnings that season.
"It was a good year. I won here, so it is exciting to come back. I haven't played here since 2008, but I have really good memories," Hurst said before taking to the course for the Busey Bank Pro-Am at Hickory Point Golf Course. "It is nice to be back also in the sense that this is the last year of this event and it makes it a little more special."
The 35th edition of the Forsyth Classic will be tournament's last. The event is currently the longest-running tour stop on the Symetra Tour and overall it is the third-longest women's golf tournament in the country.
"It's really great to see that this event has been around for 35 years. The support for women's golf in this town has been incredible and it's great to be back. If this tournament doesn't come back hopefully we can get another event back into this town," Hurst said.
With a win on Sunday, Hurst would become the third multi-winner in tournament history, joining two-time winners Tammie Green (1985, 1986) and Nicole Jeray (1998, 2000).
Hurst has seen the tour blossom from the early days of the Duramed Futures Tour into the Symetra Tour of today.
"We have a lot more events since 2008 and a lot more money. The tour has gotten larger and more competitive. It's a really great place to come to as you prepare for the LPGA whether you are a rookie, just out of college or if you have gone through injury and you have come back from the tour," she said. "This is probably the best place to prepare yourself for the LPGA. It is so competitive and it's great it has gotten bigger and better."
Those early professional days in 2008 were very different than Hurst's experience in 2019.
"When I first started, I traveled with my mom and I didn't know anyone. Even when I went onto the LPGA I didn't know anyone. My first year I was playing very well and didn't really have friends so all I did was play golf," Hurst said. "I was super focused but you can't really keep that up or you will drive yourself crazy.
"Now it is fun to come out here and play with all the people that I know from the past years. I've been playing professional golf for 12 years, I might as well enjoy it."
With a larger $200,000 tournament purse, the competition at this year's Classic will be a fierce and Hurst is hoping all aspects of her game come together this weekend.
"This year is going OK, I've had some top-10 finishes and I was hitting the ball pretty well at the start of the season. Hopefully I will be able to put my short game and my long game together and have a couple top finishes. That's what you need to get into the top 10," she said.
An international presence
International players have had a huge impact on the Forsyth Classic's recent history. International players have won seven of the past 10 tournaments with Madison Pressel's win in 2014 as the last time an American won Decatur's Symetra Tour stop.
This year's tournament brings golfers from 35 different countries to Hickory Point Golf Course and players hail from such diverse places as Latvia, Malaysia, South Africa, and Chinese Taipei.
One international player who may be in contention on Sunday is Ireland's Leona Maguire. Maguire debuted on the Symetra Tour at last year's Forsyth Classic and finished tied for third overall.
"This was my first event last year. I played well and it was a really nice way to start the tour. It is nice for me to finally have a course I can go back to," Maguire said. "The weather is not quite as hot as it was last year so I'm looking forward to it."
The temperatures might be cooler but Maguire's game has caught fire this year. She has two victories and five top-five finishes this season, placing her at No. 1 on the Volvik Race for the Card money leader board. A top 10 finish would give Maguire an LPGA Tour card.
"I've been playing pretty well and I got off to a fast start which is very nice. I was able to get those two wins under my belt, so it makes it a little more comfortable," she said. "Last year, I was trying to play catch up and I was starting at zero. It is a very different position to be in.
"I try not to think about (the standings) too much. I try to play the best I can and hopefully that will take care of itself."