Below is a list of how Canadian golfers fared across the major professional tours the week prior.
Hideki Matsuyama almost squandered a six shot lead with bogeys on three of his final four holes before holding on to win the Masters by a single stroke, becoming the first Japanese winner of the green jacket. He becomes the second man from an Asian country to win a major after Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the 2009 PGA Championship. Will Zalatoris finished second – the best performance by a first-timer to the Masters since Jordan Spieth was runner-up in 2014 to Bubba Watson. Xander Schauffele put on a late charge with fourth straight birdies on the back nine only to see his title hopes end with a triple-bogey on the par-3 16th. …Corey Conners made the weekend cut for the third straight time as a pro (he missed in his first appearance as an amateur). He had the 6th hole in one at the 6th hole in Masters history – the first one in 9 years. It was also the first hole in one by a Canadian since Sandy Somerville at the very first Masters tournament in 1934. By finishing in the top-12, Conners earned an invitation back to next year’s tournament. …Mackenzie Hughes, playing in his 2nd Masters, made the weekend cut for the first time. Has yet to shoot under par in six career rounds at Augusta. …Mike Weir was making his 22nd start at Masters. He missed the cut for the sixth time in the last seven appearances.
NEXT EVENT: RBC Heritage (Apr. 15)
CANADIANS ENTERED: Corey Conners, Michael Gligic, Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes, Nick Taylor
MACKENZIE TOUR-PGA TOUR CANADA
Patrick Cover started the final round in a four-way tie for the lead but a 5-under 65 was enough to give him a three stroke victory at the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament in Georgia. With the victory, Cover has full membership for the 2021 season. Alexandre Fuchs, who finished runner-up, along with Ben Wolcott and Daniel O’Rourke are all exempt through the first half of the season. Five players who tied for fifth went to a playoff for the final two exempt spots. Luke Schniederjans, with a birdie on the first extra hole, and Austin Morrison – who needed three more playoff holes – secured the final spots. …Golf Canada Young Pro Squad member Joey Savoie was the top Canadian, finishing in a tie for 10th and earning conditional membership.
NEXT EVENT: Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada Q-School-CANADA West 3 (May 24)
Tavatanakit holds off charging Ko in ANA Inspiration
RANCHO MIRAGE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04: Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand poses with the trophy after winning the ANA Inspiration at the Dinah Shore course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 04, 2021 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. _ Patty Tavatanakit survived Lydia Ko’s final-round charge Sunday to win the ANA Inspiration for her first LPGA Tour victory.
Five strokes ahead entering the day and six in front after a chip-in eagle on the par-5 second, Tavatanakit shot a 4-under 68 in 100-degree heat to beat Ko by two strokes in the first major championship of the year.
Ko matched Lorena Ochoa’s tournament record with a 62, shooting 7-under 29 on the front nine for the best nine-hole score in event’s 50-year history. The New Zealander began the day tied for seventh at 6 under, eight strokes behind Tavatanakit in the tournament played without spectators for the second time in seven months.
Winless since April 2018, the 23-year-old Ko played the first 11 holes in 9 under and added a birdie on the par-4 15th. On the par-5 18th, she drove into rough near the water that lines the left side, laid up and hit a wedge 30 feet long and right. Her birdie try missed to the left, stopping inches away.
Tavatanakit had a series of late par saves to keep her two-stroke lead. Her 8-footer on the par-4 15th circled the cup and dropped in, she lagged a 45-footer to 2 feet on the par-4 16th, and chipped to inches on the par-3 17th after missing the green left.
The 21-year-old Thai player finished the wire-to-wire victory with a short par putt on 18. A day after matching the tournament 54-hole record of 14 under set by Pernilla Lindberg in her 2018 victory, Tavatanakit finished a stroke off Dottie Pepper’s 72-hole mark of 19 under set in 1999.
Ranked 103rd in the world, the former UCLA star became the sixth straight international winner. She’s the first rookie to win the event since Juli Inkster in 1984 and the fourth straight first-time major winner.
Tavatanakit won seven times in two seasons at UCLA and had three Symetra Tour victories in 2019.
Ko has 15 LPGA Tour victories, winning at Mission Hills in 2016 for her second major victory.
Nelly Korda (66), Sei Young Kim (66) and Nanna Koerstz Madsen (66) and Shanshan Feng (69) tied for third at 11 under.
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., shot a two-under 70 on Sunday and finished the tournament in a six-way tie for 19th at six under.
Canadians Conners and Henderson look to capitalize on past success this week
CARLSBAD, CA - MARCH 28: Brooke Henderson of Canada looks on the 14th tee box with her sister and caddie Brittany Henderson during the Final Round of the KIA Classic at the Aviara Golf Club on March 28, 2021 in Carlsbad, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
John Chidley-Hill/ Canadian Press
Canada’s top two professional golfers are returning to tournaments this week where they were atop the leaderboard the last time they played in the event.
Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., won the Valero Texas Open in 2019 and, because the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is considered the reigning champion. As a result, every room key at the players’ hotel for the PGA Tour event this week has his picture on it.
Conners said that although his photo is everywhere at the event in San Antonio, he still enjoyed some anonymity when checking in with a hotel clerk thanks to the mask he was wearing upon arrival.
“She had no idea who I was, but I made a funny comment about it being embarrassing for the guy who’s got to look at himself on the room key every day for the whole week,” Conners said this week.
“I obviously had my mask on and a hat and I think a sweatshirt, so she probably didn’t put two and two together.”
Conners won in 2019 after entering the field as a Monday qualifier. He’s ranked 41st in the world this week after a hot start to the season.
He believes he’ll be a different player when he tees off on Thursday compared to the man who won the Texas Open in 2019.
“I think my game’s gotten a little more polished over the last few years, a little more consistent,” said Conners.
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., tees off on Thursday at the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the LPGA Tour season. It was last held in September 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Henderson was tied for first with American Nelly Korda and South Korea’s Mirim Lee at 15-under after four rounds at last year’s ANA Inspiration. Lee won the tournament with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
The 23-year-old Henderson, who has the most professional tournament wins in Canadian golf history, said she has learned from that playoff defeat.
“I think it’s really important to take away the positives from that week because I played really well and there’s a lot of good things that happened,” said Henderson. “Unfortunately I didn’t lift the trophy but I was tied for the lead when we finished 72 holes. So that’s a lot of confidence and that’s a great feeling.”
David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., as well as Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., are the other Canadians in the field at the Texas Open.
The winner, if not already qualified, gets a spot in the Masters, the first major of the men’s season, next week in Augusta, Ga.
Hamilton’s Alena Sharp is the only other Canadian in the field at the ANA Inspiration.
Canada is coming off a big week on the PGA and LPGA feeder circuits.
Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., won the Korn Ferry Tour event last week, while Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., tied for second at the Symetra Tour tournament.
Quebec City’s Anne Catherine Tanguay returns to pro golf with Symetra Tour event
AURORA, CANADA - AUGUST 23: Anne-Catherine Tanguay of Canada hits her tee shot on the 8th hole during the second round of the CP Women's Open at Magna Golf Club on August 23, 2019 in Aurora, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
John Chidley-Hill/ Canadian Press
Anne-Catherine Tanguay was watching golf on TV from her home in Florida, taking care of her newborn daughter, when she realized she wasn’t done playing the professional game.
As the Canadian saw her friend Sophia Popov win the Women’s British Open in August, she knew she had to get back to playing competitive golf.
“That really gave me the golf bug, I just missed it,” said Tanguay. “I knew throughout my pregnancy that I wanted to come back but timing wise I thought I would evaluate in January, when the baby would be six months old.
“That was kind of my timeline and then with COVID-19 and everything we weren’t in a hurry. It just kind of worked out for me to come back now.”
The 30-year-old from Quebec City is in the field this week at the Symetra Tour’s Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic in Mesa, Az. When she tees off on Thursday, it will be her first competitive round since September 2019.
“It’s a lot of familiar faces, a lot of friends, everyone’s really happy to see the baby.”
Maddie Szeryk of London, Ont., Maude-Aimee Leblanc of Sherbrooke, Que., Brittany Marchand of Orangeville, Ont., Rebecca Lee-Bentham of Markham, Ont., and Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C., are the other Canadian entries in the field for the opening event of the Symetra Tour season.
Tanguay had a career season in 2019, tying for 11th at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in June. Another highlight was tying for 44th at the CP Women’s Open that August at Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ont.
But lingering injuries, including back problems, were hampering the newly married Tanguay’s play so she decided to take a step back from her career to focus on “personal projects” in October 2019.
Her daughter Livia was born in July and Tanguay resumed her training in February. Golf Canada women’s coach Tristan Mullally worked with Tanguay remotely, reviewing videos of her swing as she worked back into form.
Tanguay never stopped doing yoga, but she mixed in some weight training to help her get back into playing shape. She said that she had to be patient with herself as she resumed training after her pregnancy.
“Even though I stayed in shape, there are so many changes your body goes through,” said Tanguay.
“One of them was my core. Before it wasn’t something I didn’t really have to think about it to activate it but now I have to be conscious on every swing to activate it.”
Tanguay’s time off has also brought some personal perspective. Early in the 2019 season, she had said that representing Canada in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was a goal. But a lot has happened in her personal life in the intervening two years and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the Tokyo Games to this coming July.
“I mean my goal is to enjoy myself out there,” said Tanguay of her upcoming season. “I think that’s my No. 1 goal. Obviously, I didn’t want to set too high expectations just because I’m coming back and I don’t know how it’s going to go.”
The top 10 players on the Symetra Tour money list at season’s end earn LPGA cards.
ROGERS, ARKANSAS - JUNE 29: Jaclyn Lee of Canada plays a shot on the fifth hole during the second round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G at Pinnacle Country Club on June 29, 2019 in Rogers, Arkansas. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Jaclyn Lee has been a member of Golf Canada’s National Team Program for the last eight years dating back to 2014 and is currently in her third season as part of the Young Pro Program. The 23-year-old is happy that her wrist injury is a thing of the past and is now focused on doing what she loves most – competing on the golf course.
Having first started out at the age of 10, Lee says she’s always really enjoyed the competition associated with the sport.
“My dad took my older sister, Carolyn, and I golfing in the summer time when I was 10 and that’s when I picked it up. Actually, I wasn’t a huge fan at first because I really didn’t know what I was practising for. But we started competing in tournaments a year later, and that’s when I fell in love with the game,” she recalled.
The 23-year-old says her parents Stephen and Maria Lee were always very supportive of her and her older sister’s interest in the sport. Lee recalls their sibling rivalry would often be played out on the golf course.
“I remember in one of the first tournaments we played in together my sister beat me by a few strokes and I was shocked. I remember thinking ‘I should’ve beaten her,'” Lee recounted.
“I remember saying to my parents ‘How did Carolyn beat me? I’m better than her.’ And they were like ‘This is what happens when we give you mulligans all the time,'” she added with a laugh.
Fast forward a few years and Lee was not only beating her old sister on a regular basis, but also most of the top girls in her age group. In 2012, she won the Future Links Western Championship. In 2013, she won the Future Links Prairie Championship and the Alberta Junior Girls Championship. Then in 2014, Lee captured the Future Links Prairie Championship, the Alberta Junior Girls Championship, and the Alberta Ladies Amateur.
For young Jaclyn enjoying that level of success on the golf course required that she make certain sacrifices off the golf course.
“School was very important for me so I would always prioritized school and golf. You grow up pretty quick when you are trying to managed your time like that,” she pointed out.
Lee’s dedication would pay off as it earned her a spot on Golf Canada’s Junior Squad.
“I remember that I was playing at a tournament at Cherry Downs and Tristan (Mullally) came up to introduce himself, and told me that I was on track to make the national team,” she recalled about her first meeting the Canadian national women’s head coach.
“I also remember being shocked and being really excited because of the meeting. Then, I got the call later that year that I made the team and it was pure joy and pure excitement.”
“My game has improved a lot and I’ve grown as a person. Tristan knows so much about the game and I trust him. He’s really good with everything in life and he’s taught me so much about putting, chipping and how to improve my short game,” she noted.
Keeping on the topic of her game, the long time national team member was asked how she would best describe it.
“I would like to improve my short game; it was a lot worse before I met Tristan, but we’ve come a long way,” she added.
Besides access to the world class coaching and resources available through the National Team Program, Lee is also grateful to have gained a strong mentor along the way in Alena Sharp.
“Alena is someone I got to know in my later junior and amateur days and she’s really taken me under her wing and has been there for me. I have a lot of respect for her,” Lee said.
The talented young Canadian golfer adds that her time at Ohio State University has also played an important part in her development.
“I wanted to go a program that had good athletics but also had good academics. Ohio State had a really good balance. And, I really loved the new indoor facility they built at the campus.”
Lee’s notable highlights at OSU includes a win at the 2018 Westbrook Invitational and the 2018 Big Ten Championship. The Canadian amateur standout also made it to the quarter-finals of the 2018 US Women’s Amateur and to the semi-finals of the 2018 Ladies British Amateur Open Championship.
“There were so many great memories on the golf course during my time at Ohio State. I learned a lot from all the coaches there, especially head coach, Therese Hession. It was amazing to work with coach Hession. She’s always so excited about the game and we had such a cool vibe working together.”
Off the golf course Lee enjoyed taking in the cool vibes at the Ohio State University football games.
“It was always such an electric crowd and atmosphere in those football games,” she said.
In November of 2018, Lee finished sixth at LPGA Q-School to secure her LPGA Tour card for the 2019 season and made the decision to forgo her last semester of eligibility with the Ohio State women’s golf team.
However, a serious wrist injury combined with the COVID-19 pandemic would force her to miss significant parts of the 2019 and the 2020 seasons. On her road to recovery, Lee spent much of her off season in Arizona working on her game.
With plenty of time to rest and recover, she is back at 100 per cent and eager to play a full season of competitive golf – regardless if that’s on the LPGA Tour or on the Symetra Tour or a combination of both.
Looking ahead at her long term goals, the talented young Canadian has big ambitions on the golf course.
“I would love to be able to win out on the LPGA Tour, maybe win a major. As well, I’d love to compete in the Olympics,” she said.
And looking at the bigger picture, I would love to be able to inspire young kids to play the game and do my part to help grow the game.”
Having missed large portions of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, she’s grateful to be healthy again and is focused on playing a full season in 2021.
“Between me getting injured and COVID, it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to really compete regularly, so it’s a great feeling to get back out there again,” she said.
“I just want to get back to competing regularly and playing the kind of golf that I know I can play.”
Henderson finishes 9th at Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Canadian Press with files from Golf Canada
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — For Jessica Korda, the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions was all about her ability to just hang in there.
Trailing by three shots headed to the back nine at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando on Sunday, she first caught Danielle Kang with a late four-birdie burst to shoot 5-under 66, then won with a curling 30-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole.
Kang shot 68. The leader after each of the first three rounds, she had a chance to extend the playoff, but missed her 18-foot birdie putt on the low side at the 185-yard 18th.
Smiths Falls, Ont. native Brooke Henderson finished in ninth place at 13-under par. She shot a 70 in her final round Sunday.
It was the sixth LPGA victory for the 27-year-old Korda, her last one coming nearly three years ago.
She and Kang finished at 24-under 260 to eclipse the previous tournament record by 10 shots. Korda, ranked 23rd in the world, also had to turn back her younger sister, Nelly Korda, 22, who at No. 4 in the world ranking was the top player in the elite winners-only field.
“I knew I was going to have to go low today,” said Jessica Korda. Half of her six victories have arrived at season-opening events. “It was a crazy day … A crazy two days. A crazy week!”
Nelly Korda started her round six shots back Sunday and shot a 64 —- which included a missed 3-footer for birdie at 16 —- that left her two shots out of the playoff.
Saturday, Jessica Korda became the sixth player in LPGA history to shoot 60 or better with her sparkling 11-under 60. A day later, she was slow to build any sort of momentum, playing her first 12 holes in 1 under. At one point early in the opening nine, Kang had a 7-foot putt to stretch her lead to five shots, and she was threatening to leave the field way behind.
Jessica Korda had owned the back nine all week (she would play it in 21-under par despite her three closing bogeys Friday). Trailing by two shots while standing on the par-5 13th tee, and relaxed as she chatted to three celebrity players on the tee, she knew she needed to be more aggressive —- especially because Kang had yet to make a single bogey all week.
“When you’re chasing, you need to keep the pedal to the metal,” Korda said, “and I wasn’t doing that.”
Kang went 68 holes in the tournament without a bogey (and 84 holes overall, dating to December’s CME Group Championship) her streak ending when she three-putted for bogey at the rugged 419-yard 15th.
She followed that with her loosest swing of the day, a driver flared right, into the trees and pine straw at the drivable par-4 16th. She did well to scramble for par. Jessica Korda, meanwhile, made an easy birdie after hitting a drive onto the front apron, and with two holes to play, the pair were tied at 23 under. Both birdied the par-5 17th.
Kang, also seeking her sixth LPGA victory, had spoken all week about not being able to prepare for the event as she normally would. That caught up to her down the stretch. Though she never tested positive for COVID-19, she twice was exposed, and took six tests before getting on a plane from Las Vegas to Orlando, landing late Monday night. Still, she’d played flawlessly. But when she needed to make clutch shots down the stretch, she discovered something was missing.
“’I’m not disappointed in that I didn’t win,” Kang said. “It’s not about winning and losing for me. It’s about being able to execute when I want to —- and having a feeling when I feel like I can’t do something is something I don’t like.”
In the Diamond Resorts’ 53-player celebrity division, tennis player Mardy Fish, captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, finished on top with 158 points, beating Chad Pfiefer, an inspirational former military serviceman who competes with a prosthetic leg. With his victory Fish became the event’s first three-time winner. He also won the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe in July.
Henderson sitting in 5th before final round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Canadian Press with files from Golf Canada
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Danielle Kang played great, tying her career low with an 8-under 63 and protecting her lead Saturday in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
Jessica Korda owned the day.
A sizzling 28 on the back nine — 9-under par — at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando lifted Korda to an 11-under 60, just one shot off the LPGA Tour scoring mark.
Kang was at 21-under 192 through three bogey-free rounds. Her total tied an LPGA mark for raw score through 54 holes (shared by three others) and shattered the tournament’s 54-hole record (200). She will take a two-shot lead over Korda into Sunday in what sets up as a terrific shootout for the LPGA’s season opener:
Kang leads Jessica Korda by two and Nelly Korda (67) by six. South Korea’s In Gee Chun (67) sits fourth, eight shots back.
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., carded a third-round 65 and enters the final round eight shots off the pace in 5th place.
Jessica Korda, 27, is the older of the LPGA’s uber-talented sisters — younger sister Nelly, 22, is No. 4 in the women’s world ranking, just ahead of Kang. She followed a ho-hum start with birdies on six of her first seven holes on the second nine. She then finished with a huge kick, making an eagle on the 537-yard 17th hole, which she reached in two with a 4-iron, pouring in an 18-foot, right-to-left putt.
Korda added a ninth birdie at the challenging, water-guarded par-3 18th, where she struck a soft 6-iron to 9 feet.
The slick downhill putt tumbled in on its last turn, giving Korda the tour’s first 60 since Paula Creamer in the 2008 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. Korda became the fifth LPGA player to ever shoot that number.
The back-nine birdies and eagles were arriving at such a pace that neither Korda nor those playing alongside could keep up with the dizzying math. The two celebrities in her group — NFL receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Fox television anchor Brett Baier — knew something special was happening and just tried to stay out of her way.
Korda’s round was just one shot off the record of 59 by Annika Sorenstam nearly 20 years ago in Phoenix. Sorenstam is at Diamond Resorts this week competing in the 53-player celebrity division.
“I didn’t process what exactly was happening until I made that putt on 17,” Korda said. “I was like, `Oh, OK. That’s nice.’ ? Days like today don’t come often, so you really cherish them when they do. Everything has to come together to have a day like today.”
Fitzgerald, who said he watches the LPGA more than he does the PGA Tour, said of Korda, “It was mastery at its finest. She had complete command of her ball today.”
On a day conducive to low scoring —- overcast, light wind, and late morning rain that softened greens —- Kang, a five-time LPGA champion, made eight birdies against no bogeys and tied her career low. Her streak without a bogey was stretched to 70 holes, dating to the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in December.
The eight birdies were nice, but Kang took particular pride in a hard-fought par at the 17th that kept her card clean. She chunked her 5-wood second shot into a pond fronting the green, took a penalty drop, hit wedge to 11 feet and made the par-saving putt. When it fell, she gave a belt-high, intense fist pump. She then birdied the last hole from 4 feet to push her lead to two shots.
“Overall, I think my game is pretty solid,” Kang said. “I think my mental game is pretty strong this week. Just kind of chugging along. That’s what I’m doing, is just focusing on what I need to hit, and what I need to execute. That’s pretty much it.”
LPGA players in the winners-only field have been grouped with celebrity players in each of the first three rounds, but on Sunday, Kang will be joined with the Korda sisters in the final threesome.
Jessica and Nelly are best friends, and they downplay that any rivalry exists, but both are highly competitive. Kang is the player to beat, sure, but finally, the Kordas will play with something big on the line.
With a wry smile, Jessica Korda said, “You guys finally get your wish.”
Among celebrities, who are using a Modified Stableford format, former tennis player Mardy Fish (117 points) leads by six over former NFL kicker Josh Scobee.
Henderson holds on to T7 after second round of Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Canadian Press with files from Golf Canada
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Danielle Kang continued to sail along at the LPGA Tour’s season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions on Friday, shooting a 6-under 65 to stretch her lead to two shots.
A five-time LPGA Tour winner ranked fifth in the world, Kang had a 13-under 129 total at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando. She has yet to make a bogey.
Nelly Korda, at No. 4 the top-ranked player in the 25-woman, winners-only field, was second after a 66.
In Gee Chun and defending champion Gaby Lopez were four strokes back at 9 under. Chun, a two-time major champion, matched Kang for the best score of the day with a 65. The South Korean player had a triple-bogey 7 on the sixth hole Thursday in an opening 68.
Lopez shot 68. The Mexican player won last year in a seven-hole playoff.
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., shot a bogey-free 68 Friday to remain in a tie for seventh place at 6 under.
The 28-year-old Kang won twice last season. She’s a serious, focused player who prepares well and figures out a lot of things on her own. When she doesn’t, she has some pretty sage mentors. Her boyfriend is Maverick McNealy, who competes on the PGA Tour.
And in the last year, Kang has struck up a texting relationship with Annika Sorenstam, the World Golf Hall of Famer and 72-time LPGA Tour winner who happens to be on the grounds this week competing in the tournament’s 53-player celebrity division. For Kang, it’s a nice little edge.
“I did reach out to her specifically about stuff, but she’s always been just very a welcoming, classy person that has been approachable, always giving me a door to approach her,” Kang said. “So I took it.”
Kang was remiss to share much detail about “best” advice, but Sorenstam said the two started first texting about Kang’s wedge game, than progressed into discussions about better starts, and how to score better.
“She felt like she was a slow starter and always played better in the end,” Sorenstam said. “So we had little few chats how to get off to a better start. She’s obviously doing well this week. She’s very committed to her game and working hard. I think it helps to have Maverick, her boyfriend, in the same industry. I am sure they push each other quite well.”
Kang missed only three greens in regulation Friday, and her short game and putting continue to be sharp. Her round was very tidy, and she stretched her lead with three birdies on the back nine, converting on two par 5s (13 and 17) and the short par-4 16th.
Korda’s ball-striking has been very good through two days, leading her to 13 birdies and an eagle. Starting her round one shot behind Kang, Korda hit 12 of 13 fairways and 17 greens. She also got an added bonus: she played her round alongside Sorenstam.
“It was very cool, honestly,” Korda said. “She still has it.”
Korda returned to coach David Whalen in December, worked on quieting her hips in her swing, and has been happy with what she has seen in her game. Outside of one three-putt bogey on Friday, her round was pretty solid. Older sister Jessica Korda (69) is in the mix, too, five shots out of the lead, and Nelly was eager to see what the weekend will bring.
“Danielle is playing well. My sister is playing well. So there is going to be some low scores this weekend,” Nelly Korda said. “We’ll try to stay aggressive and capitalize on that.”
Tennis player Mardy Fish, a two-time champion of the tournament’s celebrity division, leads the celebrity side through two rounds. Using a Modified Stableford format, he has 78 points through 36 holes, five points better than New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks and NFL kicker Josh Scobee.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Danielle Kang managed to steal some of the spotlight from the Korda sisters on Thursday as the LPGA Tour opened its 71st season with a winners-only field at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.
Kang opened the year with a bogey-free, 7-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Jessica Korda and Nelly Korda, along with defending champion Gaby Lopez, at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando.
Kang is coming off a two-win season last year that was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, winning back-to-back in Ohio when the LPGA resumed after a five-month shutdown.
The highlight for Kang, who birdied three of the four par-3 holes — including a 30-foot chip-in at the ninth — came at the 530-yard 13th. Facing a downhill lie with 241 yards to the front edge for her second shot, and needing to hit a hard draw, Kang took a gamble with a 5-wood and pulled it off, setting up a two-putt birdie from 20 feet.
She joked later that her caddie, Oliver Brett, did not think she could hit the shot.
“It’s one of the top-20 shots I’ve ever seen,” Brett said. “She saw it, I didn’t. That’s why she’s the player.”
Kang, No. 5 in the women’s world ranking, had to quarantine twice in recent weeks after being exposed to COVID-19 and did not arrive into Orlando until late Monday night. She tested negative six times before getting the go-ahead to play.
Playing alongside country music singers Lee Brice and Cole Swindell, she was back to being her high-energy self, her closest brush to making bogey solved with a 7-footer for par at the fourth hole.
“I think my short game was really good today,” Kang said. “I had a lot of feel and touch around the greens.”
Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., was part of a group at tied for seventh at 4-under 67. In an interview prior to the first round, Henderson expressed excitement to be playing at in the first LPGA event of the year. “It’s a great golf course, and as I mentioned, just getting to know some of the celebrities and playing with them, they’re really great golfers” she said.
“it’s just a different atmosphere. It’s fun. It’s just a great way to start the season”
Nineteen players in the 25-player field broke par.
A good portion of the day belonged to the Korda sisters. Jessica played her first nine holes in 7 under and was atop the leaderboard for a majority of a calm and sunny day. Nelly, the top-ranked player in the field at No. 4 in the world, caught her with a late run, dropping a long putt for eagle at 17 after reaching the green with a 3-wood.
When Jessica reached her final hole, she glanced over to a digital leaderboard to see her little sister had her by a shot. So much for that. She ran in an 18-footer for birdie to temporarily join Nelly in the lead. The world of women’s golf has waited for these sisters, two of the top young American stars, to battle head-to-head with a tournament on the line.
The sisters’ view? If it happens, it happens.
“We don’t really think about it too much,” said Nelly Korda, who atoned for three early bogeys by playing her last seven holes in 5 under. “We both root on each other, but at the end of the day we want to beat each other, as well. It’s healthy, but a good competitiveness.”
The season-opening Diamond Resorts TOC features 25 LPGA champions paired with 53 athletes and celebrities. The $1.2 million LPGA portion (the celebrities compete for a separate $500,000 purse) traditionally is open to LPGA winners of the last two seasons. But the LPGA’s condensed 2020 schedule prompted the tournament to add winners from 2018.
Tennis player Mardy Fish, a past champion of the celebrity division, took the opening round lead in a modified Stableford format with 41 points, two better than New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 6, 2021 – After completing his 11th year as LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan has notified the LPGA Board of Directors that he has made the difficult decision to transition out of the LPGA in 2021. While no firm date has been set for his departure, this announcement begins the start of a thorough and thoughtful Commissioner succession process.
Whan shared his decision today with LPGA staff, Members and sponsors in the attached letter, including the following messages:
“When I first joined the LPGA, I told the Board it would be a four-year term, giving me time to help the organization achieve its immediate goals. Now, as the longest-serving LPGA Commissioner, I look back on these 11 years with enormous pride and satisfaction at what we’ve accomplished together to provide opportunities for women to achieve their dreams in golf.
“You may be wondering why I’ve made the decision to step down – and why now? In many ways, this past year – with all the pandemic challenges – was also the LPGA’s most triumphant. We are entering 2021 on a wave of momentum – a strong schedule with record purses, new events/sponsors, double-digit viewership growth, and a talented team that demonstrated exceptional skill, resilience and capability to lead through challenging times.
“I simply wouldn’t leave the LPGA if I thought the future was uncertain or not trending straight up. In fact, even after the challenges we faced in 2020, the LPGA has NEVER been more financially secure, deeper in leadership talent, or more anchored by passionate, diverse sponsors from all around the world. The LPGA is poised for even greater heights; and as such, I’m excited to hand the baton to the next leader and become their biggest supporter.
“One of the hardest jobs of a leader is to know when their work is done. If the COVID-19 pandemic taught me anything, it was that the LPGA executive staff has full control of our business and is capable of incredible things. We have leaders who are visionary, compassionate, collaborative and humble. You may not agree with every decision they make, but they have led our Tours to new heights virtually every year.”
Laurence Applebaum and LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan at 2019 CP Women’s Open press conference (Bernard Brault/ Golf Canada)
LPGA Board Chair Diane Gulyas said, “Mike Whan has been a transformational leader of the LPGA and we’ve been fortunate to retain him for 11 years. When he told of me of his intention to step down this year, I had two reactions: First, can we persuade him to stay? And, when that wasn’t possible, to fully respect his decision and begin a seamless transition.
“Mike’s leadership legacy will be felt for years: in the LPGA’s financial strength and value proposition; in its global reach; in the breadth of programs and services it now offers for women and girls in golf; and in the diversity and quality of companies wanting to partner with the LPGA. He has effectively guided the LPGA through a range of economic cycles and challenges, including the COVID 19 pandemic. And, he has been the voice of our Association and its commitment to opportunities for women in golf.”
“Mike has absolutely been the right leader at the right time,” said Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, the LPGA Tour’s Player President. “He rebuilt the Tour – and then reimagined its future – by bringing new events, new sponsors and a new value proposition around diversity and inclusion to the LPGA. He has that rare ability to get people of all ages and backgrounds excited and on board with his vision. We’re grateful for his leadership over these 11 years and know he’ll remain an advocate for the LPGA long after he departs.”
Marvol Barnard, President of the LPGA’s 1,800 teaching Professionals, said, “When Mike joined the LPGA in 2010, we were essentially a Tour and a Teaching division. Today, we are a bigger, broader, integrated organization dedicated to women in golf of all ages and abilities. Mike will always be an incredibly important person in the history of the LPGA Professionals, and we will always be grateful for his leadership, vision and guidance.”
Gulyas said the Board will establish a Commissioner Selection and Transition Committee and consider candidates from the LPGA’s talented executive staff as well from outside the organization. “It’s clear the LPGA today is a very different Association than the one Mike joined in 2010,” said Gulyas. “Our commitment to the LPGA – and all of our stakeholders – is to find the right leader to guide the Association through this next chapter in its storied history.
“We are so grateful for Mike’s passion and leadership of the LPGA over more than a decade of service as our Commissioner. He will leave the LPGA well positioned for continued success, with an outstanding team of leaders and a strong and sustained culture – Act Like A Founder – that will endure for years to come.”