KPMG Women's PGA Championship - Round One
Credit: PGA of America via Getty Images

Gaby Lopez feels like her first LPGA Tour victory was forever ago.

But how she battled through a neck injury to find the winner’s circle helped buoy her to a strong start to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship Thursday.

Lopez fired a 2-under-par 68 to tie for the early clubhouse lead at Aronimink Golf Club thanks to a five-birdie effort. The University of Arkansas alum won the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America to kick start her 2020 LPGA Tour season.

“I mean, it feels like last year already,” Lopez said, with a laugh, of her season-opening victory in January. “But it's good that kind of those memories come back at some point, being able to, I don't know, hit solid shots when you have to.

“It's tough out there. It's windy. It's long. I think the more determined you are with your shots the better it is. Whether it falls in or not, if you stay patient, that's probably key out here.”

Lopez came into the Diamond Resorts event just wanting to get the competitive juice going after she suffered a neck injury at the end of last season due to how much stress she put it on during a long season. In November she got a cortisone shot to help reduce inflammation and admitted she went through a “tough” process in the off-season to try to get close to 100-percent again.

“I was literally chunking the ball two out of the three weeks that I was playing,” said Lopez.

But as is the case with golf, a surprise week came out of nowhere.

“It's whenever you least expect it, whatever you're grateful with, the fact that I was healthy, that I was swinging the club again, to me that's the biggest blessing, being able to do that,” she said of her win in Florida.

Lopez was also the first golfer on the LPGA Tour to test positive for COVID-19.

She said Thursday her positive result was surprising, and “a little disappointing.” She said she had symptoms of dry throat and fatigue for two days, but quickly recovered on the third and fourth day, joking that she felt she could “play the weekend” on the LPGA Tour.

She’s since fully recovered, and it makes sense that she said Thursday her biggest strength, when things were going well in golf, was her determination.

She proved that at the opening round at a tough Aronimink layout. While she told her caddie after her opening-round 68 that sometimes “boring” golf that gets the job done, she was happy to have given herself chances Thursday.

“Championship golf courses are designed to not have super low scores. I guess the biggest challenge is just being mentally prepared, patient, being calm. The wind got a little strong out there, so hitting it to the right places, being smart,” said Lopez. “We'll see how tomorrow ends up and the rest of the week.”

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