Patty Berg, a true golf legend, won 63 professional tournaments from 1937 through 1958 and was the first president of the Ladies PGA Tour. For much of her career she represented Joe Jemsek’s St. Andrew’s facility in West Chicago but since her heyday the LPGA has been tough for Chicago players.
Berwyn native Nicole Jeray toiled on the tour for three decades. Now teaching at Mistwood, in Romeoville, she had recent success on the Legends of the LPGA senior circuit but hasn’t had a win yet. Another Illinois native, Nancy Scranton from downstate Centralia, captured one of the LPGA major titles — the duMaurier Classic, in 1991. She had two other LPGA victories and five wins on the Legends Tour.
Otherwise no Illinois player made an impact on the LPGA Tour — until Elizabeth Szokol earned her playing privileges, that is.
Though she lives in Florida now Szokol has solid Illinois roots. She grew up in Winnetka and was on New Trier’s varsity team for four seasons. The Trevians finished in the top three of the state high school tournament every year and won the title in 2010. Then Szokol spent two seasons at Northwestern before transferring to Virginia.
Last July she broke into the LPGA winner’s circle for the first time at the Dow Great Lakes Invitational in Midland, Mich. It was a team event, with Cheyenne Woods as her partner, but that still counts as a win and it meant a lot to Szokol.
“It’s been amazing,’’ she said. “It was definitely a confidence booster and made the next few years a little bit easier, which is great. It shows me I can compete with the best in the world, and I’m looking forward to doing that.’’
A champion gets more playing opportunities on the LPGA circuit, a perk for winning on most every golf tour. Szokol had a couple of significant wins before turning pro. She captured the Illinois Women’s State Amateur in 2012 and the Stanford NCAA Regional in 2016 after transferring to Virginia for her last two seasons as a collegiate player.
She also earned a victory on the Epson Tour – the LPGA’s developmental circuit, in 2018. Szokol was hot that entire year, finishing it off with four top-10s in her last five starts to finish fourth on the Epson money list and claim her LPGA playing privileges for the next year.
Injuries have been a problem since then. Knee surgery in December of 2017 slowed her start on the LPGA Tour and she missed the first nine tournaments of the 2022 season with a herniated disc. That issue forced her to not touch a club for 12 weeks and kept her away from the LPGA tournaments for nearly six months. No surgery was needed, just injections and rest.
The reward for her patience and determination was not only the victory. It triggered a return to the form she exhibited in 2021 when she made the cut in 13 of 23 tournaments and earned $530,570 – her best season money-wise. That season was no fluke,
In 2023 she made seven cuts in 12 starts and earned $408,497 to finish 39th on the season money list. In both of those big years she was among the 60 qualifiers for the CME Group Tour Championship, the season-ending tournament that offers one of the biggest purses in women’s golf – $7 million.
Suffice it to say that Szokol has made it on the LPGA Tour. She had two other top 10s in 2023. In March, the second tournament of the season, she shot an opening-round 64 and finished in a tie for eighth at the SBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore. After the win in Michigan she tied for 10th in the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship in September. Those finishes helped boost Szokol’s LPGA career winnings to more than $1.4 million.
She was also given celebrity status when she shared a promotional role with Annika Sorenstam at a late-season tournament. The Annika – a rejuvenated event to honor Sorenstam – was held at the Pelican Club in Belleair, FL. Szokol, now a Tampa resident, is a Pelican member and her swing coach is Justin Sheehan, the club’s director of golf.
She learned that the Illinois Women’s Amateur had celebrated its 90th anniversary in the days leading into The Annika tourney. (At that time the Illinois Amateur’s future was in doubt until the Chicago District Golf Association took over the event in December).
“Hopefully that’ll inspire other Illinois girls to come out here (on the LPGA Tour) with me,’’ said Szokol. “When I was young it was great that I had that as a place to play. When I went to college at Virginia I met some teammates, and we had a contingent of players who were wanting to play on the LPGA. It was helpful for me to follow in their footsteps.’’
Szokol can attest to the fact that getting to the LPGA won’t be easy.
“Hopefully there’s enough information out there for any girl to get an understanding of it, an understanding of the process,’’ said Szokol.