Early in the week of the Cambia Portland Classic, when smoke from the Oregon wildfires wiped out practice and trimmed the tournament to 54 holes, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan tweeted:
“Hey 2020 – that all you got?? Virus, quarantine, borders, air quality, extreme temps, limited travel, no fans, etc. No worries – you can’t stop @LPGA ! We #DriveOn – 70 years & never stronger!”
As if to prove Whan’s point, the Tour’s passage through the Pacific Northwest served up more than its share of excitement, needing two holes beyond the planned 54 before Georgia Hall topped Ashleigh Buhai on Sunday.
“I was pretty nervous the last six holes and definitely in the playoff, but I'm really happy to get the job done,” Hall said after securing the victory on the second extra hole. “I'm happy to get over the line and get my first American win.”
Hall, who started the final round four strokes behind leader Mel Reid, closed with a 68 to complete three rounds at 12-under-par 204. Buhai was even better in the final round, finishing with a 65 to erase a seven-stroke deficit and earn a spot in the playoff.
The triumph is the second on the LPGA Tour for Hall, a 24-year-old Englishwoman, adding to the major title she earned in the 2018 AIG Women’s Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes in her homeland, a year in which she was runner-up to Jin Young Ko as Rolex Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year.
“Obviously, it was amazing winning my first major, let alone my first event,” Hall said about the AIG. “Then, yeah, I kind of had a 50/50 year last year where my first half wasn't very good and my second half was good. My goal this year was to win in America, and I'm really glad I've done that. This will get my world ranking down quite a lot, and now it's kind of reevaluate,” she said.
The final leaderboard at the Cambia Portland Classic was full of fighters who represent the feisty spirit of the LPGA that’s been tested often during its 70-year history, but perhaps never so much as in the year of COVID-19.
One of those who knows all about that #DriveOn spirit is Buhai, who burst on the scene out of South Africa as Ashleigh Simon when she won the Catalonia Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour in 2007 at the age of 18 and in only her third start as a pro.
While winning two more events on the LET, Ashleigh, 31, who married David Simon in 2016, has yet to win on the LPGA Tour, although she was fifth at the AIG Women’s Open last year.
“The fact that I shot seven under today and got myself in contention,” Buhai said when asked what she will take from her finish at Cambia. “To be able to hit shots under pressure, that's when you really know, and I executed that really well today, so I'm proud of myself,” she said.
“I know this will bump me up into CME [Group Tour Championship] and get me into the U.S. Women’s Open, so it takes care of a lot of stuff,” she said.
Also in the mix at Columbia Edgewater Country Club were a slew of players emphasizing the talent, youth and global reach of the LPGA Tour.
At 205, one stroke out of the playoff, were Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand and Yealimi Noh, 19, from California. At 206 were England’s Reid, Rubynn Ree, Mariah Stackhouse and Cheyenne Knight of the United States along with Caroline Masson of Germany, Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand and Hall of Famer Inbee Park of South Korea.
After a week off, the LPGA Tour returns Oct. 1-4 with the ShopRite Classic in New Jersey followed Oct. 8-11 by the next major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Aronimink, outside Philadelphia. October concludes with the second Drive On Championship, this one in Georgia.
November has the Pelican Women's Championship presented by DEX Imaging in Florida with the season concluding in December at the Volunteers of America Classic and the U.S. Women’s Open -- both in Texas – then the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship Dec. 17-20 in Naples, Fla.
This, truly, has been a season unlike any since the first LPGA event was played January 1950 in Tampa, Fla. But as the Commissioner says: “No worries – you can’t stop @LPGA ! We #DriveOn – 70 years & never stronger!”
When the smoke cleared in Portland, Georgia Hall was left holding the Cambia trophy – and the LPGA Tour and its players were ready for the next challenge. That all you got? Bring it on.