The LPGA Tour is back. After 166 days, the 2020 season resumes with consecutive events in Toledo, Ohio, starting with the inaugural LPGA Drive On Championship at Inverness Club. The Tour last teed it up in February at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, the fourth tournament of 2020, for a break of 166 days.
Rolex Rankings No. 2 Nelly Korda highlights this week’s event as the highest-ranked player in the field. The three-time LPGA Tour winner is joined by three others in the top 10 of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings: fellow Americans Danielle Kang(No.4) and Lexi Thompson (No. 9), as well as Australian Minjee Lee (No. 8). Along with Korda, Kang and Thompson, the American and European players in the field will all get a sneak peek at Inverness Club, which will host the 2021 Solheim Cup.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE LPGA DRIVE ON CHAMPIONSHIP
- This is the inaugural playing of the Drive On Championship
- This is the fifth tournament of the 2020 season and the first of two consecutive in Ohio this year
- Inverness Club has hosted one other LPGA Tour event, the 1954 Inverness Invitational; the best-ball tournament was won by Betty MacKinnon and LPGA Tour and World Golf Halls of Fame member Betsy Rawls
- Opened in 1903, Inverness boasts a prestigious history of championship play, including four U.S. Open Championships (1920, 1931, 1957, 1979), two PGA Championships (1986, 1993), two U.S. Senior Open Championships (2003, 2011) and most recently the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur
- Inverness will also host the 2021 U.S. Solheim Cup
- Originally created in 1916 by Donald Ross, Inverness Club’s championship course was restored and modernized in 2016 by Andrew Green
COVID-19 ON-SITE TESTING UPDATE
Monday’s first day of the LPGA Tour’s COVID-19 pre-tournament testing at the LPGA Drive On Championship returned one positive result.
LPGA Tour Member Gaby Lopez tested positive for COVID-19 and has withdrawn from this week’s event. Lopez has self-isolated and is working with Tour and local health officials on contact tracing.
“I was very excited to get back to playing on Tour after this long break and while I’m disappointed that I’ll have to wait a little longer, I am glad that I was able to get tested and to make sure I do not put anyone else at risk,” Lopez said. “I am self-isolating and will be following all the CDC and LPGA guidelines to get back to competing on Tour in a safe manner. I’m feeling good and looking forward to when I can return to playing on Tour.”
Following guidance from the CDC and our medical directors, LPGA protocols will require Lopez to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days. On the 10th day, she will take another saliva test and undergo a medical evaluation to determine if she is cleared to return to competition.
The LPGA will have full pre-tournament testing results for the LPGA Drive On Championship later this week.
FRESH OUT OF COLLEGE AND BACK FROM BAHAMAS, ROOKIE VALENZUELA IS READY TO PLAY
On the Wednesday before the Drive On Championship, the first event of its kind in LPGA Tour history and the first event back since the pandemic halted the season, 2020 LPGA Tour rookie Albane Valenzuela feels refreshed after six months at home in the Bahamas and is excited to finally start her LPGA career.
“Just spent time there with my family. Moved there two years ago, so that's really home base for me. And just practicing there at Albany with my brother, my dad as well. So just been nice to be home for a long period of time and try to do some different things,” said Valenzuela, who received tips on playing Inverness Club from her brother Alexis, who competed in the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur held on the famed layout. “I worked out a lot. I spent a lot of time with friends. Went to the beach and just got my mind a little bit away from golf, and still practiced hard, so took advantage of the long time period.”
In a way, the pandemic was a boon for Valenzuela, as she took advantage of the unexpected break to graduate from Stanford University. Halfway through her senior year, she finished sixth at LPGA Q Series and decided to make the jump to the LPGA Tour. But when COVID-19 sidetracked her rookie year, the 2016 Swiss Olympian took advantage of her island time by finishing the three classes needed to claim her diploma.
“I thought a lot about my decision even throughout quarantine. Had I not made that decision maybe I would not be able to turn pro even next year,” said Valenzuela. “Just kind of crazy thinking I had this one-time opportunity to turn professional, and I took it. Maybe that's a life-changing career decision I made. So it's been kind of crazy, but at the same time, so grateful I got to finish my degree, graduate from Stanford. I mean, that was my dream also, is just to complete my studies, and to have that opportunity to be on the LPGA and a Stanford graduate, I mean, I could not ask for more.”
Her dream was always two-fold, though, with a degree in Political Science and a career on the LPGA Tour. On Friday, the 22-year-old will get to safely jumpstart her career all over again.
“I think everyone was getting ready to get back on tour and I think really the LPGA took the time to set everything ready, took all the right measures, to get back on tour, and I think it was kind of reassuring to see what the PGA Tour has done before us,” said Valenzuela. “I think it really gave us confidence to see that we could really get back out there and feel safe and be protected.”
LAW REJUVENTATED IN TIME FOR THE LPGA TOUR’S RESTART
Bronte Law found out that the LPGA Tour was starting to postpone U.S. events due to COVID-19 on March 12, her 25th birthday. She had just flown to Arizona from her home in England after taking advantage of the Tour’s cancelled Asia swing in February to spend time with family.
Three days later, she was on a flight back across the pond, where she stayed in England until quarantining in the United States before the LPGA Drive On Championship. “I felt like it was the best choice to make to fly back to the U.K.,” said Law. “At the time I thought, you know, maybe two months or something. You know, it was obviously a lot longer than that in the end. But had time with my family that I would never have gotten, and I'm very grateful for that. I try and look at all the positives.”
Law spent most of her time following the U.K.’s strict quarantine procedures, where she had to adjust her practice and lifestyle. There was only one hour of exercise outside a day and one trip to the grocery store a week. With a gym at home, Law said she also maintained her practice schedule thanks to a net in her backyard and virtual coaching lessons.
Once courses reopened, Law competed in the Rose Ladies Series, organized by PGA Tour player major champion Justin Rose and his wife Kate. The pair created the mini circuit to create opportunities for British female professionals to continue playing during the pandemic, an effort that Law greatly appreciated.
“It's incredible what they've done. I cannot thank Justin and his wife enough for what they've shown, the importance of women's golf,” said Law. “We don't want it any less than the guys do. I think that's the huge thing that people often forget, is we work as hard as them and we don't necessarily get the opportunities that they have. But we are willing to do whatever we can to get those, and I think for him to show that and to give the girls in the U.K. that opportunity to, in a time like this, kind of show what they're made of is really incredible.”
As Law sets her sights on Inverness, she said this week is more than just a tune-up tournament, as she’ll be trying out the site of the 2021 Solheim Cup. Law said she’s determined on returning next year with the European Solheim Cup team.
“I think I played here actually three years ago in a pro-am when I was playing at Marathon. Even then just playing it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really good golf course.’ Obviously hadn't even played in my first Solheim Cup then when I was thinking that, but I knew I wanted to be here. Solheim is definitely something that I know I want to be a huge part of my career,” said Law. “This will be a really good test I think. It gets a little windy out there and there is lots of elevation changes in places. You have to be smart for sure. I think thinking your way around, and in terms of it being a match-play course, there be a lot of great golf on show for sure.”
LPGA FEATURES RENEE POWELL GRANTS IN POWELL’S HOME STATE AT 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.
“To us, [Drive On] means our personal and our organizational commitment to leave this game even better than we found it, to make golf even more enjoyable and inviting to all people in the future,” said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan. “That’s why we hope you’ll join us at the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf program that is quite literally changing the face of the game and inviting more girls into this game than ever in the history of 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.
Tiffany Joh, who took part in the Race Fore Unity event, posted a photo on Instagram in support of the Grant with a personal anecdote about being a young Asian girl and the importance of representation on screen. “Representation matters, and I hope that in the future, the game of golf represents how beautifully diverse we collectively are,” she said in her caption.
“The Race Fore Unity was about a month ago, and it’s so exciting to see all the work that Morgan (Pressel), Jeehae (Lee), and Henni (Zuel) put come into fruition,” said Joh. “I think back to growing up and not seeing a lot of Asian women on TV playing sports, and that really changed the day I saw Se Ri Pak taking off her shoes and hitting that iconic shot out of the water at Blackwolf Run. LPGA players like Cheyenne Woods and Mo Stackhouse are such great role models and I see them making that same kind of impact on the next generation and it’s so exciting to watch.
“Representation is so important, especially for a young girl, and I hope that the legacy that we pass onto the next generation of golfers is one that nurtures inclusivity and embraces diversity.”