LPGA hopefuls will visit Laurel County again this week in hopes of becoming the Falls Auto Group Classic champion during a stop on the Duramed FUTURES Tour.

This is the second year Crooked Creek Golf Course has hosted the tournament, and the field includes the winners of all but two events of this season’s FUTURES Tour.

Eighteen of the top 20 money winners are entered, along with at least five players who have competed in at least one of the Golf Channel’s Big Break series.

“This time of year, there are only four tournaments left,” Crooked Creek Golf Pro Bill Sergent said. “The players only have a few chances left to make the top 10 in earnings. So, I’m surprised all 20 are not entered.”

Jean Reynolds of Georgia, Misun Cho of South Korea and Mina Harigae of California, the top three on the FUTURES money list, are all scheduled to compete this week. Cho won last week’s event in New Hampshire. Of the 137 entered thus far, there are 48 international players from 17 countries and 89 American players.

“It’s actually down a little this year,” Sergent said of the international contingent. “We had girls from 30 countries last year. It really shows the worldwide appeal for golf.”

Kentucky entrants include Whitney Wade of Glasgow and Brittany Klein of Owensboro. Crooked Creek will host a qualifier today for one additional spot that could go to a Kentucky player.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer will return as the honorary chairman for this year’s event. He will participate in the Pro-Am event on Thursday and will return for Sunday’s final round to present the championship trophy. Farmer, who played high school basketball at Clay County High School, went on to a legendary career at the University of Kentucky.

“We are very happy to have Richie (Farmer) come back again this year,” Sergent said. “Anytime you have someone as recognizable as him it is a great thing.”

Wade, who was the face of last year’s tournament, continues her bid to earn an LPGA Tour card for the 2010 season. She finished tied for second in the USI Championship in Concord, N.H., last weekend.

Looking for her second win of the season, she was 6-under for the day on Sunday led by three shots through 14 holes in the final round. She bogeyed three of the last four holes to finish one shot behind Cho.

Wade still won $5,926 for that tournament and moved into fifth on the tour’s money list. The top five finishers on the money list will earn their 2010 LPGA tour cards, enabling them to compete full-time on the LPGA next season.

Sergent said Wade bring a strong local flavor to the tournament.

“Her goal is to stay in the top five,” he said. “She is an outstanding individual. She is the kind of girl you would want your son to date. As much as I’d love to have her back again next year, I hope she’s not. I hope we have to go see her play on the LPGA Tour.”

Wade tied for second with Paola Moreno of Colombia, Ashley Knoll of Texas and Gerina Mendoza from New Mexico, all of whom are in this week’s field. Mendoza recently finished third on the The Golf Channel’s Big Break event at Prince Edward Island.

Tournament organizers are still looking for volunteers to work the 2009 Falls Auto group Classic. There are many positions available, including skilled golfers or even people with little golf knowledge. If you are interested, contact Sergent or Donna Gregorich at 877-4646. Each volunteer will receive a shirt, hat or visor and lunch the day or days they work. A $10 application fee is required.

“We still have a lot of things available,” Sergent said. “If they know a lot about golf or just a little we can find something for them to do. We also have things that the younger kids can help with.”

Tim Branstetter can be reached at tbranstetter@sentinel-echo.com.

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