A DJ sat just off the 18th green at Lake Nona Country Club. He was spinning mind-thumping tunes that reverberated throughout the golf course. It’s one of the elements that makes the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions one of the most unique on the LPGA Tour and has rightfully earned the event the moniker of “party on tour.”
Sunday, as leader Danielle Kang made her way up the 18th fairway the bass was pulsating, but she heard nothing. Perhaps that’s a credit to Kang’s ability to focus. Or maybe she was just in her element.
“Didn't bother me one bit. I don't even know what music was on. I heard nothing,” Kang said after her win on Sunday. “I was just more focused on doing what I needed to do.”
It seems only fitting that Kang, who riles up the fans sitting on the first tee at the Solheim Cup to cheer louder as she tees off, would win an event which, at times, feels more like a dance party than a golf tournament. It was an atmosphere befitting the 29-year-old who didn’t flinch as she rolled in four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine on Sunday to win by three strokes for her sixth career win on the LPGA Tour.
If the Tour’s first stop of the year was the prelude, a small winners-only event that marked the official start of the season, then the Tour’s second stop is the overture, a grand homecoming for the best female golfers in the world who are making their return to competition.
The Gainbridge LPGA comes back to Boca Rio Golf Club for the third installment of the event following a one-year stint at Lake Nona Country Club. Boca Rio hosts the first full-field event of the season with 120 of the world’s top players, including seven of the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings.
Thursday, Lexi Thompson makes her season debut in search of her first win on Tour since 2019. And, the Tour will see the return of Karrie Webb, the World Golf Hall of Fame member who hasn’t competed on Tour in two years. Rising stars, who made their presence known in 2021, like Leona Maguire, Jennifer Kupcho and Yealimi Noh will also kick-off their season in Boca Raton.
Kang’s come-from-behind victory at the Tournament of Champions saw her overtake Nelly Korda, the world No. 1. Korda carded a final round 75 in frigid, final round conditions in which temperatures topped out in the mid-40s. Born and raised in Florida, Korda isn't afraid to admit her disdain for the cold which may have played a factor in her struggles on Sunday.
But Korda won’t have much time to shake off her disappointing finish in Orlando as she pivots to the role of defending champion in Boca Raton. Ironically, Korda finds herself in a similar position to just one year ago.
At the season-opener in 2021, Korda played in the final group on Sunday, only to finish outside the playoff that saw her sister, Jessica, hoist the first trophy last season. But Nelly rebounded immediately by winning the next week at the Gainbridge LPGA.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I got to get one now,’” Korda said about her bounceback win.
There won’t be music thumping as players arrive in Boca Rio for the Tour’s second stop of the year, but the Gainbridge LPGA will have its own quiet melody - a soft refrain that simply says, ‘welcome back.’