Lydia Ko Outduels Danielle Kang to Win the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio

By Jeff Babineau

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Winning once was a habit for Lydia Ko, who started collecting LPGA trophies at the age of 15. But then she struggled with her game, her confidence waned, and only in the past few years has she been able to get to the other side of a pretty thorough rebuild.

Sunday at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, there was a calmness and sense of peace about Ko, who started the day with a two-shot cushion over her friend, Danielle Kang. On a beautiful, sun-splashed Sunday, Kang kept the pressure on, and Ko never failed to have an answer. 

A nice par save from the greenside bunker at the tough 18th hole would lift Ko to a final-round 69 and one-shot victory, the 17th of her career. Ko finished at 14-under 274. Kang shot 68 and had a chance at the end, but a 20-foot putt down the hill to tie started left and stayed there. She fell a shot short in trying to become only the second player since 1966 to win the LPGA’s first two events of the season. 

Ko, 24, who was born in South Korea but plays under the flag of New Zealand – for whom she collected medals in each of the last two Olympic Games – has come to the realization that golf is not a perfect game. There will be bad swings and missed putts. It’s more about the fight, about dealing with what you have in your arsenal on any given day, and about finding a way. 

Her coach, Sean Foley, had an inspiring message for her on the morning of the final round: “Every day, every shot, you have a chance and a choice.” By that, he explained later, you have a chance to do something incredible, and a choice to deal with the success – or failure – of each shot. 

Ko chose to do something incredible. She had been near the top of the leaderboard at Boca Rio Golf Club since the opening round, as she birdied half the holes in a 9-under 63. Temperatures cooled on the weekend, and a strong breeze kicked up in Saturday’s third round, which presented a completely different challenge. 

Sunday’s final round was friendlier to scoring, though Ko and Kang spent much of the early portion of the round trading pars. Ko was even par on the day through 10, Kang two shots better. Both players birdied the 11thhole, and Kang tacked on a birdie at 12 to take the lead at 13 under. It was short-lived, as she made bogey at the par-3 13th, missing the green right. 

At the par-4 15th came the difference-maker. Kang hit a terrific shot inside 10 feet, and seemed to have the advantage. Ko was 25 feet away after her second shot, and faced a slick, downhill, right-to-left curler. She stepped up and rolled it in, Kang missed from 7 feet, Ko led, and Ko would protect the one-shot edge all the way to the clubhouse. 

Ko made a nice scrambling par on the final hole from a short-side bunker, and Kang could not coax her 20-footer to fall. Ko, who’d blasted her third shot to about a foot from the hole, was expecting her friend to make the putt, and expecting to go extra holes, but when her putt stayed out, another trophy was Ko’s. 

“I think holing that putt on 15 was kind of the momentum-shifter for me,” Ko said. “That wasn’t the easiest putt. I kept turning more and more right (as she aligned herself) because it looked like it was a swinging putt, and ended up being the perfect read.”

Kang, coming off a victory in the LPGA’s season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, was impressed with how Ko handed the pressure of the downstretch. Beyond her solid play – she made only one bogey all day – it was Ko’s demeanor that resonated with her. 

“You have to be able to hit good putts, and she hit a phenomenal putt on that hole,” Kang said of Ko’s decisive birdie at 15. “It breaks about three feet on that green.

“Even my 7-footer (at the same hole) broke more than three cups and I was still low … so those kind of things, I was very impressed by. And I loved how calm she stayed throughout the round. Even on the last hole she was going through a little bit of trouble, but she stayed in there.”

Yuka Saso, the U.S. Women’s Open champion, shot 67 and finished third. Charley Hull (68) and Celine Boutier (69) tied for fourth. 

Ko got one point closer to earning her way into the LPGA Hall of Fame – a definite goal – and continues to learn about herself, and her game. She was sitting next to a beautiful trophy, realizing that though there was a great amount of good in her week, it wasn’t perfect.  

“I think sometimes I try and become too much of a perfectionist,” she said. “I’m just trying to play golf and not control everything out there.”

For four days, her best had been better than anyone’s. For Lydia Ko, it had to feel like old times. 

Winning Combo: A Day Off From School AND A Front-Row LPGA Seat

By Jeff Babineau

Boca Raton, Fla. – Four members of the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) High School girls golf team were watching Saturday’s action from behind the ropes at Boca Rio. On Wednesday, they got to experience life inside those ropes, participating in – and winning! – the Wednesday Baptist Health Pro-Am. 

The girls – Angelina Marie Guertin, 15; Valentina Marie Guertin, 14; Kayla Bryant, 14; and Amelie Phung, 14 – have been playing golf together for about half their lives, and now are part of the team at nearby FAU High. They were paired for nine holes with Stacy Lewis and nine holes with Aditi Ashok. It was a day-long clinic in watching two standout LPGA competitors manage the course and build a strategy for the week at Boca Rio. 

The girls enjoyed hearing their names announced as if they were professionals on the first tee, and spent a good part of the day listening to Aditi’s dad, Ashok Gudlamani, who caddies for his daughter. 

“That was a first for me, personally,” said Aditi Ashok. “It was the first time that I got to play with juniors, and it was a lot of fun. Lots of birdies. It was great to play with the younger generation. I don’t get a chance to do that. I’m rarely home in India, so I don’t play much there, and on tour, pro-ams usually mean you are playing with older golfers. 

“It shows how much the game has changed compared to when I was their age. They really hit it really far, and just the ideas they have on how they look to play golf, it was interesting to see. Obviously, all four of them are great golfers. One of the girls actually told me she had watched me in the Olympics and was hoping she would get me in the pro-am.”

Asked about the pro-am pairing with four high school players, Lewis also had a smile cross her face. 

“It was awesome,” she said after shooting 72 on Saturday. “I wish I could have played 18 holes with them, to be honest. I was definitely not that good in the eighth and ninth grade. It’s amazing to see the talent, and how the girls are getting into it at younger ages, and having role models. I’m sure they love Nelly (Korda) and all the younger girls.

“But we had a blast, and they were awesome, too.”

For Lexi, the Proof of 2022 Will be in the Putting

By Jeff Babineau

Boca Raton, Fla. – Lexi Thompson accomplished a lot in 2021. She made 19 starts without missing a cut, had seven top-10 finishes, and represented the U.S. in the Solheim Cup and at the Olympics. She just didn’t win, which is pretty rare for her. At 26, her next victory will be her 12th on tour. 

Thompson, whose last victory was the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer in June of 2019, had a chance to open her 2022 campaign close to her Delray Beach home at this week’s Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. She said it’s great to have so many friends and family from South Florida get to see her play. 

Thompson’s focus during her offseason was her putting. One look at her 2021 numbers, and her ballstriking was terrific – first in Greens in Regulation (78.81 percent), fourth in Driving Distance (278.35). In putting, she ranked 132nd in average putts (30.83). 

“I would say I worked extremely hard on my short game,” she said of her offseason. “Putting. I mean, I putted three hours a day, at least. I have a putting green in my house, too. Did that every night.

“Just worked extremely hard. Put in the hours in the gym as well. I didn’t have too much off time in between playing in (QBE) Shootout (in Naples, in December) and now. I have a little bit more time off after next week. So, I continue to work hard. I don’t have really a time that I don’t. I just love the goals, love determination, and always striving to improve.”

Thompson has been known to get off to hot starts, finishing in the top 10 in each of her five previous season openers. Her scoring average in that span (not including this week): 68.5. She shot 1-over 73 on Saturday, and will start Sunday in a tie for 10th, looking to extend her streak. 

Lydia Ko Takes Two-Shot Leading Heading into Sunday at Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio

By Jeff Babineau

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Morgan Pressel, a Boca local and club member, said a rare winter Saturday like this at Boca Rio Golf Club would be the kind of day in which the dining room might be packed, and the golf course relatively empty. 

Conditions were highly challenging, for sure. Players teed off in temperatures hovering in the 40s, but the bigger test was the wind. It blew steadily at 15-20 mph, and gusted to 33 mph. For 74 players competing in the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, the task was figuring out how to get to that dining room at day’s end by making as few bogeys as possible. It wasn’t easy. There were lots of reddened cheeks, and the words “British Open” were used a bunch. 

Lydia Ko handled things better than most, which is nothing new. Though only 24, she already is a 16-time LPGA winner (including two majors). She has been winning LPGA trophies since she was a 15-year-old amateur, and she is the third-ranked player in the world. On Sunday, she will be in great position to collect another title. Ko’s very steady effort on Saturday – one birdie, one bogey, 16 pars and a hard-earned 72) staked her to a two-shot lead over good friend Danielle Kang entering Sunday’s final round of the LPGA’s first full-field event of the season. 

Ko is the only player sitting at double-digits under par; she is at 11-under 205 through 54 holes. Kang (74) is 9 under, one shot better than France’s Celine Boutier, who had the round of the tournament on Saturday (yes, even better than Ko’s opening 63 in perfect scoring conditions). Boutier made three birdies, no bogeys and her 3-under 69 was the lone sub-70 round of the day. She will start Sunday three shots behind Ko, at 8 under par. 

Boutier’s round beat a quartet that managed to shoot 71 on Saturday. Thirty-three of the 74 players who survived the cut would shoot rounds of 76 or higher.  Ko made a terrific up-and-down from a back bunker to salvage her 72. 

Kang had a nice up-and-down at 18, as well, but struggled on the back nine, where she said she temporarily “checked out” mentally. She made three bogeys coming in after making the turn at 1-under 35. Kang is coming off a victory at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions last week in Orlando. Saturday marked her first round of 2022 that wasn’t in the 70s. Her 74 kept her in the tournament, though. The day’s scoring average was 75.136, more than three shots higher than Thursday’s average. It was a day to plug away and minimize the damage. 

“You have to be more focused, and, you know, try and move on when you do make mistakes,” Ko said. “Overall, I don’t think I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities, but I still was able to hit a fair amount of greens, and that way putting obviously makes it a little bit easier to kind of get around the golf course, and not having to scramble a lot.

“But finishing the two pars in the last couple holes, I think I got away with it there. And to finish even par after a tough, ‘grindy’ day, I think it was a solid day in the office.”

Stacy Lewis, a former World No. 1, said the value of experience comes in big on such a demanding day conditions-wise. She woke up, saw the cold and windy conditions, and couldn’t wait to play. A missed 4-footer at the last hole kept her from posting the day’s sixth under-par round. She stepped up to the 403-yard fifth hole, for instance, playing into a hard breeze, and faced 163 yards to the flagstick. So she decided to pull a 4-iron, her normal club from 185 yards, and ripped it. “Perfect shot,” said Lewis, who enters Sunday tied for seventh.

Lewis played alongside the current World No. 1, Nelly Korda, who normally would be pounding the ball well beyond where Lewis could hit it. But Saturday had little to do with power and distance, and far more to do with creativity. Korda made one birdie and struggled to a round of 76.

“As I get older, I need more days like this,” Lewis said. “If it’s hot and nice and sunny, Nelly is hitting it 50 by me, and it’s a different day completely. As I get older, I love days like this.”

Experience is everything – experience and attitude. You know, if you go into it with, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ the score is going to show. So you just try to have a good attitude about it and not complain too much, and just keep fighting through it.”

Sunday is not as expected to be nearly as windy, but could be even colder, with morning temperatures potentially in the 30s. Readying for the potential of frost on the course, players have been grouped in threesomes, not twosomes, and will go off two tees beginning at 9:28 a.m. 

It will be a day to layer up and fight for pars. This much we know: The player who holds aloft that winner’s trophy late Sunday afternoon at Boca Rio will have earned every bit of it. 

At the Gainbridge LPGA, the Teacher Became the Student

By Jeff Babineau

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Taylor Collins made bogey at the 18th hole, finishing off a round of 77, and started to fist pump, much to the delight of a spirited group of family and friends who joined her on her journey. Collins, an assistant club professional and teacher at Fort Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Country Club, had competed in her first LPGA tournament since 2013, and had enjoyed every second of it. 

Certainly, she learned a few things along the way after shooting 77-77 and missing the cut.

“I learned that I need to play 18 holes more often,” said Taylor, 32, who played several seasons on the Symetra Tour, then walked away from golf after dealing with rheumetoid arthritis that caused her great pain in her joints. “We were only playing nine holes (a day) this week, and 18 was a lot.”

Collins laughed after saying that, adding next time she plays, she won’t be changing putters at the start of the tournament, either. She realized it would be tough to go up against the LPGA stars knowing her preparations might allow 45 minutes a day after lessons, if she is lucky. But she was going to enjoy the ride. Awaiting her with a warm hug when she walked off the 18th green was 95-year-old teaching legend Bob Toski, who has taught Collins , and has known her family for years. 

Collins, a Fort Lauderdale native who once won Golf Channel’s “Big Break Mexico,” has had a great few months. In September, she became the first female to win the South Florida PGA Section Championship. Collins shot 8 under at BallenIsles (East Course), competing on a golf course measuring 81 percent in length to the setup of her male counterparts. She also was surprised recently when she received a call from the PGA of America telling her she was Rolex Women’s PGA Professional of the Year for 2021. 

She played this week on one of two sponsor exemptions that Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio gave out. In her gallery on Friday were several of the students that she teaches at Coral Ridge.

“I took the week off, and everybody has been super-supportive. A lot of them actually came out to watch, students and members,” she said. Can this add something to her teaching, she was asked. 

“I felt like I needed to play really well so that they trusted me with their swings,” Collins said. “I think it was good enough, yeah.”

Oh, my! Aussie Oh Gets a Legendary Pairing and a Terrific Start

By Jeff Babineau

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Su Oh is off to a great start to the year. The 25-year-old from Australia captured the Fortinet WPGA Championship at Royal Queensland earlier this month, which earned her the first Karrie Webb Cup. Webb, also Australian, just happens to be her idol. 

This week at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, Oh not only has continued her solid play to start 2022 (opening 69-70, tying her for 10th), but also got a chance to play alongside Webb, who, at 47, is playing in her first LPGA event since 2020. Webb, a 41-time LPGA winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member, started nicely, too, playing well enough to earn her way into the weekend. Webb shot 72 on Friday, and was at 1-under 143 through two rounds.

“I was like, ‘Did you pull some strings to play with me?’” Oh said. 

After a great 20-plus years on the tour, Webb couldn’t even recall her practice routine when she showed up to play at Boca Rio, a course she’s never seen despite living not far from it. 

“I was on the chipping green,” she said, “and I was like, ‘Oh, no, I normally putt first,’ Webb said. “I think coming out here this week, I guess it feels a lot like coming home. You had this life and this routine for over 20 years, 25 years, so you pick up where you left off pretty quickly. It feels comfortable, and it’s great to see a lot of friends that I haven’t seen for a long time and catch up with them. The banter back and forth, the caddies and some of the players, I do really miss that, so that’s been fun this week.”

Webb wasn’t able to make it to see Oh win at home in Australia. Oh had not won since 2015, but was inspired once the champion’s trophy became the Karrie Webb Cup. 

“Once Karrie’s name was on it I was like, I really want to be first person to win it,” she said. “That’s pretty cool, because I’ll always be the first person to have won it.”

Two two promised to celebrate once they got together, and sure enough, Saturday looks to be the night. 

“She actually told me she’s taking me out to dinner tomorrow night,” Webb said, “so I’ll have to find a nice place to get my reward.”

On Your Way to No. 17, Stop off at the Delray Beach Market

By Jeff Babineau

BOCA RATON, Fla. – The 17th hole at Boca Rio Golf Club is a haven for spectators. The short but picturesque par 3, guarded by water on the right, has nearly yielded an ace or two this week – co-leader Danielle Kang hit the flagstick on Day 1. Perhaps the most challenging thing for players is trying not to drift away and be distracted the many delicious food aromas coming from the Delray Beach Market off to the right of the tee.  

The actual Delray Beach Market is a fairly new (less than a year old) cultural hub in the heart of downtown Delray Beach, offering a wide variety of foods and a great gathering experience. At the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio, the Market has recreated a taste for what the full Delray Beach Market offers for tournament attendees.

“We wanted to bring a taste of the market to the golf course,” said Tara Lubin, Vice-President of Marketing for Menin Development, which oversaw the building of the unique 60,000 square-foot market a block south of Atlantic Avenue over what was once a parking lot. “For us, it’s been a great experience as far as bringing out our vendors, which include many small mom and pop shops, and to give them exposure to come out here. It’s been tremendous.”

A customer can walk station to station sampling all kinds of foods from different vendors, and the offerings shift with each day. On Friday, that included pizza from Salvo’s Pizzeria, vegan offerings from Roots, or tasty organic Mexican salad from Freshop, among other stations. There was an ice cream truck from Bona Bona on the grounds on Thursday. This weekend, Vote for Pedro is plotting and planning to become the most popular stop by offering hot soup to all tournament attendees.

The man at the point of developing the Delray Beach Market, Craig Menin, happens to be a member at Boca Rio. Two years ago, the development group bought a traditional, covered hospitality suite, the kind you’re seen at hundreds of tournaments. This year, a bustling market, with folks drinking tequila and other beverages in an outdoor patio setting, has become a cooler vibe. 

Why has the downtown market been successful? Because it’s hard to get 10 of your friends together and decide on one restaurant on a Friday night. “People can come and drink, they can dine, and they can take goods home with them and eat at their own homes,” said Bob Higginbotham, Director of Food and Beverage for Menin Development. “It’s great for groups.”

Best part of this week’s temporary market at Boca Rio: It’s different. Even if the great smells may make that tee shot tough for those standing on the nearby 17th tee. 

Weekend Delray Beach Market Hospitality Passes are $50, which includes complimentary food and beverages and available for purchase at

Kang and Ko Share 36-Hole Lead at 11-Under at Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio

By Jeff Babineau

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Danielle Kang is on a roll, one of those hot runs when a player almost can ‘will’ great things to happen. She didn’t have a whole lot going on during the second round of the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio late Friday afternoon, then decided to throw down a challenge to herself. 

“Let’s get to double-digits under par” she thought as she stood in the fairway at the par-5 eighth hole, her 17th hole of the day. Mind you, she’d played her previous six holes in 1 over par in windy and cool conditions, and was only 2 under for the round. 

Soon the magic followed: Driver, 6-iron and wedge to 7 feet at No. 8; 7-iron from 155 yards to 10 feet at 18. Two closing birdies, a round of 4-under 68, and Kang stood tall at 11-under 133, shoulder to shoulder with Lydia Ko, who had shot 2-under 70 in the morning wave. 

“I just really wanted to get to the double digits,” Kang said. “That was kind of my goal today, so I was happy to do that.”

Kang has been achieving lots of goals at the outset of a fresh LPGA season. Mostly she has been able to stay in the present and do her best not to let anything deter her from a positive attitude. She won the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona in cold temperatures last weekend after working on playing in the cold during her offseason in Las Vegas. On chilly mornings when others would not bother to get out of bad, she made her way to the range, experimenting with how many layers she could wear and still swing freely. 

When she missed a couple of short-range putts on her incoming nine on Friday at Boca Rio, it rolled right off her. And when the time came to do something special, she stepped up. Her 68 marked her sixth consecutive round in the 60s to start the season. 

“I’m just proud of the process,” said Kang, a six-time LPGA champion ranked third in the Rolex Rankings. “It’s not just about today or tomorrow, or this week or last week. It’s kind of being able to keep the consistency up and working on what I need to work on to get to where I want to get to.

“It’s going to take some time, but I’m proud that I’m executing and working on the things correctly, and kind of trusting what I’m doing. That’s hard to do a lot of times.”

Ko, 24, is a gifted player who won her first LPGA title when as a 15-year-old. She has endured leaner times, too, but regained needed confidence last season after winning the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She seems to be in a great place, and, despite having to grind out a round of 2-under 70, really seemed to enjoy herself. 

She could do little but smile sheepishly when a 33-foot putt straight up the hill at the par-4 14th crashed into the back of the cup and vanished. Those are the good types of things that are happening. A week ago, she struggled to put her home greens at Lake Nona, and this week a new putter is in tow. It is called a Ping Ketsch – as she notes, as in “catch fire.” 

“Kind of seeing something new sometimes, I feel like it brings a little bit of a different energy,” Ko said. “To kind of have putted well yesterday (in a 63), I thought it was a good to debut for the putter. At the end of the day all I can do is put a good roll on it. If it goes in, great; if not, you’re onto the next.”

England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff birdied three of her first five holes than ran off 13 pars to shoot 3-under 69 and move to 7-under 137, four shots off the pace. Also at 7 under is Japan’s Yuka Saso (70), last summer’s U.S. Women’s Open champion. A group at 6 under included Nasa Hataoka (71), who was runner-up at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio two years ago, and France’s Celine Boutier, who posted the day’s best round, a bogey-free 67. 

Seventy-four players at 1-over 145 and better made the cut into the weekend at the LPGA’s first full-field event of the season. Among those earning a tee time on the weekend was World Golf Hall of Fame member Karrie Webb, a 41-time winner who shot 71 in her first LPGA start since late 2020. World No. 1 Nelly Korda shot 72, and is at 4 under through 36 holes. 

Temperatures are expected to cool significantly over the weekend, dipping into the 40s on Saturday and possibly lower on Sunday. Kang sees it as just one more obstacle to overcome. 

“Yeah, for right now, just focused on finishing well today,” Kang said, “and then tomorrow I don’t know what the weather is going to be. We can all predict, but when I wake up and go outside and see how cold it is, I’ll figure out how to dress and then attack it tomorrow.”

Lydia Ko off to Blazing Hot Start With 9-Under Par 63, Leads by Two

By Jeff Babineau

BOCA RATON, Fla. – How is this for blazing out of the gates at the 2022 Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio: New Zealander Lydia Ko went out and birdied half of the holes that she played. That’s a pretty good day. 

The result was a 9-under 63 that was one shot off the tournament scoring record (Madeline Sagstrom, 2020). Ko, 24, who won the first of her 16 LPGA titles at age 15, gave herself a great look at equaling the record, but failed to convert a 5-foot birdie putt after an incredible approach at the 398-yard, par-4 ninth hole, her last. It was about the only glitch in Ko’s day. She leads Danielle Kang by two shots and Aditi Ashok by three after the first day of play in the LPGA’s first full-field event of 2022. 

Ko birdied three consecutive holes beginning at Boca Rio’s par-3 13th, and went on another three-birdie run after making the turn. She never was in much danger of making a bogey.

“When I had an opportunity for birdie, for the most part I was able to hole it, which is nice,” said Ko, whose 2021 Lotte Championship victory was her first since 2018. “I didn’t have a great time on the putting green last week, so to kind of see putts going in, I think it was definitely like a good imagery, and I tried to feed off that for the rest of the round.”

Kang’s new season is off to a torrid start. It began with a hole-in-one near home in Las Vegas at TPC Summerlin in a recreational round on New Year’s Day. Sunday, she won on the LPGA for the first time since the summer of 2020, prevailing at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando. She collected her sixth LPGA victory and a winner’s check for $225,000. 

In Thursday’s opening round, Kang still had the pedal down. Even though she said she didn’t drive the ball great at times, her sound iron play led the way to eight birdies and a first-round 65. It was her fifth consecutive round in the 60s to open the season. 

In between Sunday and Thursday, Kang spent some time in South Florida, first playing alongside Wayne Gretzky at Michael Jordan’s ultra-private The Grove XXIII on Tuesday morning, and then joining Gretzky and his wife, Janet – whom Kang knows from Southern California – for Wayne’s birthday dinner on Wednesday. They enjoyed hibachi. Kang, who resides in Las Vegas, said Janet’s home-cooking and hospitality made her feel as if she were home for a night, and had her in a relaxed mood to open strong on Thursday.

Kang was hanging out at a table in The Grove XXIII clubhouse (“One of the coolest places ever,” she said) when she heard a booming voice behind her say, “Hey DK. Nice win!!” It was Jordan. Gretzky and Jordan? Two GOATs in the same week? That has to be some sort of record. 

“I’m just staring at him,” Kang said, smiling. “This is Michael Jordan. So cool.”

Kang finished third when the Gainbridge LPGA was played at Boca Rio two years ago. She said she details of how she played are hazy outside of remembering the greens being fast. To start out the new year, she has been very focused on the here and now, taking things a shot at a time and keeping everything in the present. At Lake Nona last week, she said she wasn’t too focused on results after a winless 2021 season, and then shot 69-68 to sprint away on the weekend. The last time that Kang won previously to Sunday, she reeled off back-to-back victories. 

The field at Boca Rio includes seven of the top 10 players and 17 of the top 25 from the Rolex Rankings. World No. 1 Nelly Korda, who played in an afternoon power group along with Ko and Lexi Thompson, opened with a round of 4-under 68. (Korda technically is the tournament’s defending champion, though she won her 2021 Gainbridge title at Lake Nona.)

Yuka Saso, the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champion, opened with 67, as did Nasa Hataoka, who was runner-up two years ago when the event was played at Boca Rio. More than half the field (62 of 120 players) broke par on opening day. Round 2 will begin off two tees on Friday at 7:10 a.m.

Jennifer Kupcho’s Fresh Approach to 2022

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Jennifer Kupcho tried something new as she readied for her fourth LPGA season. She rested. On Thursday, she felt fresh as she opened a new season with a bogey-free round of 68. It marked the first time she had walked 18 holes since the CME Group Tour Championship in November. 

“Definitely a little bit tired,” she said afterward. Kupcho had concerns that her chipping might be a bit rusty, but took care of that by not missing many greens. When she did miss one, she found herself on the fringe, and could putt. 

She didn’t start practicing for her 2022 debut until about 10 days ago. The break was nice. She was sick for part of it, but also took some time to go home for Christmas. She didn’t miss the grind of practicing. She feels very fresh. Maybe this is the season – perhaps the week – that she gets that first LPGA victory.  

“It’s very beneficial,” she said regarding her time off. “It’s really hard to come out here and play that much golf (23 starts in 2021, plus the Solheim Cup) when you’re used to playing a few events every couple weeks in college.

“I had never taken off more than two days before I came out here, so it’s definitely a big difference.”

In addition to getting her season started, Kupcho has plenty to distract her these days. She is getting married next month in a small ceremony in Arizona. Her boyfriend, Jay Monahan (no relation to the PGA Tour commissioner) proposed to Kupcho just before last year’s Solheim Cup. He caddied for her in her first professional triumph when she won the Colorado Open.