Notes from the LPGA Tour, which is playing the Drive On Championship at Inverness, starting Friday:
Over the past three weeks, the LPGA implemented the first phase of its COVID-19 testing process.
A total of 205 players and caddies were tested prior to traveling to the Symetra Tour’s FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship in Battle Creek, Michigan which took place July 24-26. One Symetra Tour Member, Fatima Fernandez Cano, tested positive and withdrew from the event. She has since recovered and has been cleared to return to play.
The LPGA Tour conducted 233 pre-travel tests of players and caddies prior to them departing for this week’s LPGA Drive On Championship. One LPGA Tour Member, Marina Alex, and one caddie tested positive during this phase of testing. Alex, who is asymptomatic, was withdrawn from this week’s tournament and the caddie, who was only scheduled to work this week’s event, did not travel. Following a 10-day quarantine period, Alex is expected to return to competition at next week’s Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Dana.
During pre-tournament on-site testing this week at the LPGA Drive On Championship a total of 233 players and caddies were tested. One player, Gaby Lopez, tested positive and two tests are still pending after initial testing was inconclusive. Lopez has withdrawn from the event, has self-isolated and has been working with Tour and local health officials on contact tracing.
STANFORD READY FOR SOLHEIM CUP PREVIEW
At least Angela Stanford can laugh about her week’s first hiccup. The 20-year LPGA Tour veteran drove nearly 1,200 miles from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Toledo, Ohio, for the LPGA Drive On Championship, but the trip got off to an interesting start. Just 15 minutes down the road, she realized that she had forgotten some very important items – her golf clubs.
“I had packed for a couple other trips throughout those five months, but really when I had to turn around to go back I was like, Oh, this is real,” said Stanford during a pre-tournament press conference on Thursday. “This is not like a fun golf trip. It's time to tee it up and go.”
With clubs now firmly in tow, Stanford is relishing the LPGA Tour’s return to competition at the LPGA Drive On Championship. The week at the famed Inverness Club not only marks a return to competition after nearly four months, but it gives players an early sneak peek at the 2021 Solheim Cup venue. Stanford will be paying close attention to the course’s match-play aspects as she will work with Captain Pat Hurst as an assistant captain for Team USA.
“Looking forward to all feedback from all the Americans. I love seeing it, too. We played it yesterday for the first time and I was just blown away. It is so cool. There are so many things you can do it with. You can play it from long, short. I love that it's going to play firm and fast this week,” said Stanford, a six-time Team USA veteran who earned the winning point in 2015. “Just there is so much to it, and I knew right away why it's been a major golf course and held championships and why it's a Solheim course. You have to think on every situation off the tee, into the greens, and around the greens.”
Stanford will play her first two rounds alongside Solheim Cup hopefuls Amy Olson and Madelene Sagstrom, with the group spending Saturday’s second round mic’ed up for the Golf Channel broadcast.
NEW CLUBS FOR NELLY KORDA
Not only is Nelly Korda seeing a new course this week, she’s teeing it up with a whole slew of new clubs in her bag. Korda, who celebrated her 22nd birthday on Tuesday, is changing clubs for the second time in 2020.
“At the start of the year I wasn't really playing well. My first three events I was kind of dealing with club changes, not sure what I wanted to put in the bag,” said Korda. “I completely changed my clubs again since then, so I was really kind of tweaking with everything.”
Korda competed in three of the season’s first four events before the Tour went on hiatus due to COVID-19. She opened the season with a 10th-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions but could not find her groove over the next few weeks. So the three-time LPGA Tour winner decided to use the unexpected downtime to again revamp her club selections.
“Last time I played, the only clubs that are the same in my bag are my two hybrids and my 3-wood and maybe my driver,” said Korda, who is still making her final decision on whether to play her old Callaway Epic driver or put the new Mavrik in her bag. “Everything is different.”
REGARDLESS OF KANG’S FINISH AT DRIVE ON, SHE’S A WINNER AT MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Before the inaugural Drive On Championship, Rolex Rankings No. 4 Danielle Kang tried living as normal a life as she could despite a pandemic. Part of that normalcy was keeping her golf game intact, but also continuing her volunteer work at Las Vegas’ Three Square Food Bank. Kang actually created the Challenge Each Other project as a means of raising money for the worthy cause.
“I realized that people would have a lot of kids. They get two meals a day out of elementary schools or middle schools and high schools, and the schools being shut down I didn't know where they would get their meals and I felt it would be a bit more difficult,” said Kang. “So Maverick (McNealy, her boyfriend) and I were quarantining and we were just thinking we could make a little bit of a difference. It was a lot of fun. We asked to donate $1 per person, and we raised over $3000. So $1 equals three meals; that's 9000 meals we made, so we were really happy.”
Now ready to finish out the rest of her eighth year on Tour, Kang is looking forward real competition, not just a fun round with friends.
“I never stopped competing. I always play with my brothers and my friends. I love to play, so some things I've missed about not be out here is the competition,” said Kang, who will play her first two rounds alongside Anna Nordqvist and Jennifer Kupcho. “I'm really excited to be able to play against the best women's golfers around the world. That's something that I've really looked forward to. Glad to be back.”
THOMPSON READY TO TAKE ON INVERNESS
Last week, Lexi Thompson was battling it out against the men at a Minor League Golf Tour event as a final tune-up before the LPGA Drive On Championship. She came in second but didn’t have a clue until after the final putt.
“I was obviously playing well, but I didn't know the position that I was in. When I missed the putt on the last hole I went over to my dad and I'm like, ‘What was that for? Like what position was I? Was I winning or losing?’ He was like, ‘That would've tied.’ Ah, whatever. Of course,” said Thompson. “I wanted to play well. I wanted to keep in the zone of making birdies and playing aggressive.”
The Rolex Rankings No. 9 has spent the last few months of the Tour’s hiatus in her Florida home, spending some much-needed time with family while continuing to practice and train for the inevitable restart. As the first tournament since February approaches, Thompson said it couldn’t have come soon enough.
“[The return] probably felt real a few weeks ago. I was like, ‘All right. Let’s get ready. Let’s really focus on the things I need to improve on in my game,’” said Thompson. “Honestly, the whole quarantine I was working hard on my game. I was just kind of making sure I was ready for whenever we did restart.”
Now with Inverness ahead of her, Thompson said she’s up for whatever the course decides to throw her way this week.
“I love challenging golf courses. It is a very tough golf course,” said Thompson. “It is playing very firm and fast. It's in great shape. It's all about placement. If you play for the right amount of bounce-out, especially in the fairways and into the greens, I think it'll be a lot of par holes. If you hit it to the middle of the green, just take your 2-putt and get off the hole. I think you can make some moves out there, and then on the few birdie holes that you can access pins, you have to take advantage of those.
“It’s a great layout. We’ll see how the weather is, how burnt out it gets throughout the week or how firm they want it to play, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a good, challenging golf course.”
INVERNESS CLUB WOWING LPGA TOUR PLAYERS
As the LPGA Tour resumes its 2020 season with the inaugural LPGA Drive On Championship, Inverness Club has quickly emerged as one of the week’s brightest star. The course, which opened in 1903, is hosting its first LPGA Tour event since Betty MacKinnon and Betsy Rawls teamed to win the 1954 Inverness Invitational, and has hosted numerous PGA Tour and USGA major championships.
This week, it’s the LPGA Tour’s turn to traverse the famed Donald Ross design.
“It's super nice. I mean, on 18, it's crazy,” said Rolex Rankings No. 2 Nelly Korda. “I've never seen this. Like even the way they cut their grass here, it gives you such a major championship feel when you're out there. It's crazy. It's super nice though.”
“I do think it's certainly a challenge. We did go out there today and mentioned something along the lines of it being a U.S. Open standard golf course,” added Bronte Law. “Especially after not playing in a while kind of being thrown in at the deep end, per se, is something that I think will definitely be a challenge; but one that I think everyone here is ready for and ready to be back playing.”
Beyond this week’s competition, Inverness Club will return to the women’s golf schedule when it hosts the 2021 Solheim Cup next September. USA Solheim Cup stalwart Lexi Thompson often practices at Inverness Club while in Toledo for the Marathon LPGA Classic and is looking forward to finally seeing the golf course in competition mode.
“To be able to have this as like a tune up to be on this great of a golf course, it's pretty unbelievable,” said Thompson. “And also to have Solheim Cup on it next year, it gives us a little insight and get to know the golf course to hopefully be on that team next year. I was very excited just to hear that we were playing golf again, and even more excited that we're playing a golf course like Inverness.”
LPGA FEATURES RENEE POWELL GRANTS IN POWELL’S HOME STATE AT LPGA DRIVE ON CHAMPIONSHIP
On Monday, the LPGA Tour announced the first five recipients of the newly established Renee Powell Grant. The $25,000 grant program honors Renee Powell’s lifelong commitment to golf and will help assist current and prospective LPGA*USGA Girls Golf sites create partnerships and outreach opportunities with youth organizations serving Black girls.
“This is a start. You always have to start somewhere,” said Powell, the second Black player on the LPGA Tour. “It’s great because I think we will continue to see more and more young Black girls involved in golf.”
Thanks to the support of the golf industry’s Race Fore Unity in June, the LPGA Foundation raised $50,000 toward the Renee Powell Grant, which will provide access, instruction, equipment and additional expenses required to be introduced to the game of golf and stay engaged with the sport. Through this effort, the LPGA Foundation will further its commitment to creating an engaging, safe, inclusive and diverse environment to empower, inspire and transform the lives of all women and girls through the game of golf.