After a month-long off-season, 29 LPGA Tour champions teed it up alongside 56 celebrities at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando on Thursday morning. Gemma Dryburgh, who earned a spot in the coveted event through a victory at the 2022 TOTO Japan Classic, stepped up to the tee at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club with newfound confidence. Thanks to the Scot’s win in Japan, she was able to avoid LPGA Q-Series for the first time in her career and use the full off-season to prepare for 2023, which included her first appearance at the Tournament of Champions.
Since her rookie year in 2018, Dryburgh had missed two of her final three cuts of the season. However, the end of the 2022 season was different and filled with success for the Tulane alumna – one win and two additional top-15 finishes. A strong end to the competitive season gave Dryburgh confidence and momentum to start the new year which was evident during the first round in Lake Nona. The 29-year-old sits two strokes back from the lead at -3 in a share for third.
“I wouldn't say I felt rusty, but just kind of getting back into it, I guess. I felt good out there. Hit it pretty well, not 100 percent happy with everything, but a few things to work on for tomorrow,” said Dryburgh. “It was great to play with Annika (Sörenstam) and Brian (McCann) today. We had a nice group. Yeah, had a good time-out there.”
The unique feature of the Hilton Grand Vacation Tournament of Champions is getting to play alongside a variety of celebrities, ranging from current and former professional athletes to actors, comedians and more. What started as a random grouping turned into a full-circle moment for Dryburgh. In 2011, she was invited to play in the ANNIKA Invitational, an amateur event run by the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) and the ANNIKA Foundation. Although she did not win the event, Dryburgh got to play in front of one of women’s golf’s biggest role models. Little did she know that one day she’d get to play not only in front of Sörenstam but also beside her.
“It's amazing to watch her. I've watched her since I was young,” Dryburgh said of Sörenstam. “I was telling her I played in her junior tournament when I was about 17, so it was pretty crazy looking back and now playing with her in an event. Very cool. I asked her a few questions. Hopefully I didn't bombard her too much but wanted to soak up as much information as I could.”