Lincicome and Tan lead early at Aronimink
NEWTOWN SQUARE, Penn. – Brittany Lincicome bade farewell to her husband and young daughter, sending them home to Florida earlier this week, and decided it was time to get back to work at the KPMG PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club.
Real work. Not bunt-it-around-and-try-to-make-the-cut kind of work, but major championship work. That means being patient to a point but recognizing when opportunities are presented, and slamming the gas pedal down when they are. Aggressive thinking. Bold playing. For Lincicome, whose playing career has flickered on and off since July 2019, when she welcomed Emery Reign to the world, passing through months of maternity leave and then a lengthy layoff due to a Covid-19 pandemic, it just seemed like it was time.
“Each week, it’s just kind of been ‘Let’s make the cut, let’s make the cut,’ and that’s not the way an eight-time winner should play golf,” Lincicome, 35, said firmly on Thursday. A birdie at her last hole (the par-5 ninth), her fourth of the round, lifted Lincicome atop the first-day leaderboard at the KPMG alongside Kelly Tan. The two players shot matching 3-under 67s.
Something clicked for Lincicome last Friday in Atlantic City, even as she was missing another cut by a shot at the ShopRite Classic She played aggressively, made a handful of birdies, and stepped out of her own way. She shot 67, tying her low round of the season. It was invigorating. On Thursday at Aronimink, a stern test, it was more of the same. A fire has been ignited.
“Today it was kind of trusting my process,” Lincicome said. “Fairways and greens, being aggressive, don’t leave the putts short, and attack the golf course, and it kind of worked … which is really scary, because this golf course is not easy. It was windy, it was cold at times. But yeah, I just trusted my process.”
Aronimink played to 6,539 yards Thursday, which is about as long as many of the 132 players in the field have ever encountered. A change in wind direction from the practice rounds helped to shorten some of the longer holes, and a dozen players managed to break par. Former World No. 1 Lydia Ko and current No. 3 Danielle Kang, the 2017 KPMG champion, led a group of six players who shot 68.
Dr. Alison Curdt, a PGA Master and LPGA Master Professional from Simi Valley, Calif., led the contingent of eight club professionals in the field. She birdied two of her first three holes and shot 75. Club professional Ellen Ceresko, a teaching professional and two-time Pennsylvania Amateur champion, had the honor of hitting the opening tee shot some two-plus hours from where she learned the game, in Scranton. For a player who played a lot of junior golf in Philadelphia and always had Aronimink on her wish list, it was a true thrill.
Aronimink on Day 1 of the KPMG was its lengthy self, but very playable and unusually kind. Inbee Park, a seven-time major champion who ranks 143rd on the LPGA in driving distance, wondered aloud before the tournament how she could even compete against the younger, longer hitters on a brutish track such as this. She went out Thursday morning and shot an even-par 70.
“They set up the golf course really nice … It was playing perfectly today,” Park said. “Hopefully the wind direction doesn't really change, and the fairway and the greens are getting a lot firmer. We are getting some runs on the balls, and greens are getting firmer and faster, which is really great to see.”
Tan, 26, from Malaysia, is seeking her first victory on the LPGA. She has been encouraged by her showings of late, playing nicely into the weekend at the ANA Inspiration and playing solidly again last week in Atlantic City (11 under through 54 holes) before shooting 74 on Sunday. (She tied for 18th). Her ballstriking is good, and Thursday her putter got hot. It was a nice combination. She made five birdies to pace her 3-under effort. She ran in three birdie putts measuring 25 or more feet, a nice bonus on a series of Donald Ross greens that can be rather tricky.
“When I come here the Sunday before this week, it was pretty wet, so it was playing really long, and no, I did not see five birdies,” Tan said. “Just trying to make pars are good.”
As for the putting? “Yeah, I feel the putter was behaving itself pretty well,” Tan said, smiling. “I feel great. I’m in a great spot.”
So, too, is Lincicome, and she is no stranger to being out in front at a major championship. She owns two major titles among her eight victories, and though she jokes she no longer hits it as long as some of the younger stars, she has plenty of length to be a factor this week at Aronimink. A brace on her left thumb has helped to alleviate some pain she has felt this season at the top of her swing, and Facetiming with Emery a few times a day cures any blues she might feel about missing her cute little daughter. Thursday, she cleared everything for the golf, and her golf was strong.
Earlier this season, when Stacy Lewis won in Scotland for the first time as a mom, there was somebody taking special notice. And even though it’s still early at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, Lincicome can be forgiven if she peeks ahead ever so slightly.
“If I could do that (win as a mom), that would be the icing on my career, and I could probably retire,” Lincicome said, laughing. “That would be just a dream come true.”
Lots of work remains on a rugged, rugged test. Thursday, having played boldly in her old, signature way, Lincicome appeared determined to take it on.