Long hitting rookie climbs the leaderboard in first major start
NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA – Welcome to the majors.
That’s what Bianca Pagdanganan’s father, Sam, told her after an opening round 7-over par, 77 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. She was nervous, anxious, not sure how to cope with all the feelings she was having. But in Sam’s pep talk to his daughter he explained that those emotions are part of the challenge that comes with playing golf on the biggest stage in the women’s game. This week, the LPGA Tour rookie making her first start in a major championship.
Friday, Pagdanganan better handled her nerves. She was less mechanical with her swing. And she tried to think less. After 54 holes, the Filipino now finds herself inside the top 10 heading into the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship after carding back-to-back rounds of 65.
“I was able to embrace my nerves,” Pagdanganan told the PGA on Saturday. “I’m meant to be here I don’t need to try too hard. I just need to play my game.”
And Pagdanganan’s game? It’s long. Super long.
In 2020, the rookie not only leads the Tour in driving distance, but her average of 287 is the longest driving average for which the Tour has documented records dating back to 1990. At a course like Aronimink Golf Club, which can be maxed out at 6,577 yards, the long hitter has a leg up on the field. Ahead of this week’s championship, KPMG Women’s PGA Champions Inbee Park and Danielle Kang said the course is likely the longest they have ever played and planned to hit 3 and 5 woods into several greens. Pagdanganan has hit hybrid into the par 5s but was left with a mid-iron or wedge on most holes.
“It is an advantage, but not necessarily everything,” Pagdanganan said about her length. “You’ve got to have the whole [game] intact.”
As a rookie in an unusual season like 2020, Pagdanganan has tried to make the most of the opportunities she’s had to play. She made the cut in the five starts she’s made, which earned her a spot in the field at her first major championship. Imagine where she might stand in the Rookie of the Year standings had the race not been suspended in 2020 due to the unusual circumstances surrounding COVID-19, which limited the playing opportunities for many rookies.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Pagdanganan told the PGA after her round on Saturday. “I didn’t even think I was going to get into a major this year as a rookie I was just trying to enjoy my rookie year and learn as much as I can and have fun and enjoy this whole experience.”
Part of that experience means getting used to competing not just on the LPGA Tour but in major championships and the long-hitting rookie is making it look easy.
Welcome to the majors.