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LECOM Suncoast Classic returns this week to Lakewood National

The Korn Ferry Tour will return to the area April 18-21 for its sixth annual Classic with an intriguing field.

Former Lakewood Ranch High and University of Virginia golfer Danny Walker will play in the LECOM Suncoast Classic for the second time in 2024.
Former Lakewood Ranch High and University of Virginia golfer Danny Walker will play in the LECOM Suncoast Classic for the second time in 2024.
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Justin Kristich still gets nervous. 

Even though Kristich, the LECOM Suncoast Classic tournament director, has put the event together six times now, the butterflies remain until the first round of the Korn Ferry Tour event gets underway at Lakewood National Golf Club. 

"I think everyone in the business probably has that feeling," Kristich said. "Until spectators start coming in, you're always nervous about something. You just don't necessarily know what (could happen)." 

Kristich's nerves will soon be gone. The 2024 Suncoast Classic will run April 18-21, and there's as much for golf fans to experience at the event as ever. Kristich said that thanks to advertising campaigns, this year's event has generated approximately twice as many advance ticket sales as the 2023 event. Kristich declined to give an exact prediction on fan turnout, as the Suncoast Classic generates a large portion of its ticket sales from walk-up purchases, but he's optimistic — and hoping for good weather throughout the weekend, he said. 

LECOM Suncoast Classic tournament director Justin Kristich said he still gets nervous before the event begins, even though the 2024 event will be his sixth.
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Kristich said the 18th green at Lakewood National will feature a new bleacher section and a Tito's mobile bar this year, and the No. 17 hole will feature a Michelob Ultra Lounge. Suncoast Classic spectators tend to gravitate to those areas, Kristich said, which is why they are the focus of the upgrades. It also means that, after six years of tournaments, the space around the 18th green is close to maxed out, Kristich said. In future years, more upgrades will go to the 17th hole and elsewhere along the course. 

This year's Classic will also feature a new charitable initiative, with every birdie sank on the No. 18 hole sending $50 to Suncoast Blood Centers — all the more reason for fans to cheer for low scores. There will also be a free clinic for junior golfers on April 20 at 2 p.m., giving kids a chance to improve their skills and ask KFT players questions. Parents with junior golfers in the clinic will receive free admission to the event that day. To sign up a junior golfer for the clinic, visit

While fan zones are fun and charitable initiatives are helpful, the Suncoast Classic is still about good golf first. To that end, the Classic will be home to several intriguing golfers in 2024. They are intriguing for various reasons including their talent, their home base, their story, their family, or even their age. 

Here's a snapshot of six golfers playing in the Classic and why they are worth watching: 

Kevin Roy
Kevin Roy received his PGA Tour card for the 2022-2023 season and played in 31 events, making nine cuts.
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Roy, who lives in Lakewood Ranch, has taken a bumpy road to golf success, but he's finally found some successs in recent years after turning pro in 2012, reaching the PGA Tour in 2023 and fighting to get back there in 2024. Roy once shot a 59 at Lakewood National, his personal-best round, while playing with family in 2023. 

A repeat performance at the Suncoast Classic would put Roy in prime position. 

Danny Walker

Walker is a Lakewood Ranch High alumnus who turned professional in 2018 after graduating from the University of Virginia. He's had a difficult start to his Korn Ferry Tour career, playing in 48 events since 2019 and only making the cut in 21 of them, with two top-10 finishes and one top-five finish. As of April 9, Walker is 90th on the KFT points list and has made $22,567 in 2024. 

As Kevin Roy has shown, a golfer's career can turn around at any time. For Walker, his career could be jump-started with a strong outing at the Suncoast Classic.

Walker's best 2024 finish was his most recent, as he tied for 14th (nine under par) at the Club Car Championship, held April 4-7 at The Landings Golf and Athletic Club in Savannah, Georgia. He played the Suncoast Classic in 2019, shooting three under par and missing the cut. 

Miles Russell

Russell, who is from Jacksonville Beach, can't yet get his Florida driver's license, but don't discount him as a contender. 

Russell, 15, got an exemption to play in the event. He's one of the top junior golfers in the world, evidenced by his No. 1 ranking by the American Junior Golf Association. He won both the Boys' Junior PGA Championship and the Junior PLAYERS Championship in August 2023. When Russell was named the AJGA Rolex Boys Player of the Year in November, he became the youngest player to receive the honor, breaking a record set 32 years ago — by Tiger Woods. 

At the Suncoast Classic, fans will get to see how this young talent does against the pros. 

Harry Higgs

After playing on the PGA Tour in 2023, Higgs failed to keep his Tour card and fell back to the Korn Ferry Tour for 2024. In five KFT events this season, Higgs has made just two cuts, but both resulted in top-20 finishes. He's earned $31,500 in 2024. 

Higgs will be playing the Suncoast Classic for the second time. In 2019, Higgs finished tied for 25th at 12 under par. 

Davis Shore

Shore, who lives in Sarasota, turned pro in 2021 after graduating from the University of Alabama. 

Shore began playing Korn Ferry Tour events this year, and though he's played in three, he has already tied for 11th (13 under par) at the Astara Chile Classic, held March 7-10 at Prince of Wales Country Club in Santiago, Chile. He's earned $22,963 this year. 

Austin Lemieux

If that last name sounds familiar to hockey fans, yes, Lemieux is the son of Pittsburgh Penguins Hall of Fame forward Mario Lemieux, who ranks eighth all-time with 1,723 points. 

Austin Lemieux attempted to follow in his father's skates, but his hockey career came to an end after college, when he played at Arizona State University. He then turned to golf, another sport he loved growing up. Lemieux is still an amateur golfer, mostly playing events on the developmental Minor League Golf Tour, but he did get qualify for the first stage of the Korn Ferry Tour's Q School last year before being eliminated. 

The Suncoast Classic will be a step up for Lemieux. Might "Super Mario" be in attendance to see his son in action?



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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