Two players making a run at Marathon LPGA Classic while sharing a luxury pull cart

Anne van Dam and Sophia Popov shared a pull cart at the Marathon LPGA Classic amid the coronavirus pandemic.

SYLVANIA, Ohio – From a distance, it looked like Anne van Dam was pulling a relic behind her at the Marathon LPGA Classic. There was no cooler on this trolley. No seat. No spot for her scorecard.

Ah, but this was no antique. It’s actually a TiCad pro, the Mercedes of pull carts. Handcrafted in Germany, the stream-lined TiCad trolleys are light-weight and easy to fold for travel. Van Dam pulled her staff bag around Highland Meadows with ease, raving about its performance. The titanium TiCad runs about 2,000 euros.

After carding an opening 2-under 69, van Dam was off to disinfect the pull cart before she gave it back to owner Sophia Popov for the afternoon wave. Popov caddied for van Dam last week at Inverness, carrying a staff bag. But now the former USC player is in the field too, and since they are in opposite waves, the pair decided to share Popov’s pull cart.

SCORES: Leaderboard at Marathon Classic

What happens if both make the cut?

“Yeah, we’ve gotta fight,” said van Dam, breaking into a smile. “Whoever gets the lowest score.”

Local caddies aren’t being used for the rest of the year on the LPGA due to COVID-19 testing. Players have the option to go without a caddie for 2020, and with her caddie in the Netherlands, van Dam decided not to fly him over to self-quarantine for two weeks prior to the two events in Ohio.

LPGA: Marathon LPGA Classic - First Round
Sophia Popov brought a TiCad pull cart to the Marathon LPGA Classic. (Photo: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s the first time she’s gone without a caddie since she played a handful of events on the Symetra Tour in 2018. While she would’ve rather taken a caddie at the Marathon, she liked the fact that going solo forced her to fully commit to her own decision.

“Doesn’t talk back,” she said, looking down at the trolley. “I can hit it and it doesn’t hurt.”

Van Dam, 24, first met Popov, 27, in junior golf about a dozen years ago. While van Dam stayed in Florida during the COVID-19 break, practicing with Marathon co-leader Ko and Lindy Duncan at Lake Nona, Popov competed out west on the Cactus Tour during the pandemic and won three times. She used the TiCad most weeks in the desert and said the trolley is so light-weight that she can pick it up with one finger after it’s folded like a binder clip.

Popov credited last week’s stint on the bag at Inverness in helping her to shoot 5-under 66 on a picture-perfect day in Sylvania, Ohio, putting her two back of leaders Danielle Kang and Ko.

“Today I think strategically I was doing a way better job than I usually do,” said Popov. “I really picked my spots … played a lot smarter.”

It can be stressful sometimes out there without a caddie, Popov admitted, but she’s naturally a fast player and doesn’t worry about slowing anyone down. Plus the caddies in her group on Thursday were quick to help out.

“If we both make the cut, it’s my push cart,” said Popov, laughing. “It’s obviously going to me.”

Fortunately, they have a trolley in reserve.

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While several LPGA weddings were postponed, newlywed Ally McDonald beams after 66

Ally McDonald enjoyed a more eventful pandemic break than most of her LPGA peers.

SYLVANIA, Ohio – Ally McDonald enjoyed a more eventful pandemic break than most of her LPGA peers. The 27-year-old married Charlie Ewing on May 30 at a small wedding in West Point, Mississippi.

What was supposed to be a celebration with 250 people in a big church was pared down to 50 in a small chapel.

“We really wanted to abide by everything and get as many people as we possibly could,” said McDonald. “So we waited for the numbers to get from 20 to 50 for an outside gathering and we kind of went for it.”

McDonald, who opened with a 5-under 66 at the Marathon LPGA Classic, trails co-leaders Lydia Ko and Danielle Kang by two strokes. The 2019 Solheim Cup rookie missed the cut at last week’s LPGA Drive On Championship at Inverness.

McDonald originally planned to marry Ewing on July 31 during the Olympics. With LPGA events being pushed back, the couple decided to move their wedding forward.

“We seated immediate family inside,” said McDonald, “and a few friends were able to stand outside and see.”

The smaller gathering made it easier to spend quality time with loved ones, which McDonald called an added blessing. The original honeymoon that was planned for Vermont moved instead to Tennessee.

Ewing, a Dallas native, works as an assistant coach for the men’s golf program at Mississippi State, McDonald’s alma mater. McDonald’s former coach, Ginger Brown-Lemm, introduced the couple.

While McDonald tied the knot in 2020, several other LPGA players were forced to postpone their weddings to 2021. Anna Nordqvist was scheduled to marry tour caddie Kevin McAlpine in a castle in Scotland on July 11. They have since rescheduled for 2021. Nordqvist joked on Instagram that the 10 dozen personalized golf balls they ordered with their original wedding date will be “lost in the bushes shortly on golf courses.”

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Happy Wedding Day @mcalpinekev 💙!! Today, July 11 2020, was suppose to be our wedding day… well it was ”our day” for a year and a half. 👰🏼🤵🏼We might not be walking down the aisle today but at least we get to spend the day together. We now look forward to celebrate with our closest friends and family in 2021. After a year and a half full of planning, it definitely has been a weird and dissapointing time having to postpone our wedding (I feel for all other couples having to do the same), cancel my bachelorette party and deal with all the logistics having a European wedding… (and we bought about 10dz of personalized golfballs w our original date on them that now probably will been found lost in the bushes shortly on golfcourses 🤣😂) Im sure Kev will be delighted with all new wedding ideas (and additions) I will come up with in the coming months 😉…. the wedding might seem far away right now, but I cant wait to be your wife- and that – will be worth waiting for. Love, Future Mrs. McAlpine 💙

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Germany’s Caroline Masson postponed her wedding to Jason McDede, who caddies for Nelly Korda, to 2021. Hometown sweethearts Brittany Altomare and Steven Stanislawzyk had a destination wedding planned this fall in Italy. The Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, natives will celebrate next year.

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Two-time champ Lydia Ko on top at Marathon Classic alongside recent winner Danielle Kang

Lydia Ko and Danielle Kang lead the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, the second event back after the coronavirus break, after the first round.

SYLVANIA, Ohio – Lydia Ko rose to fame as a bespectacled prodigy by making the game look easy. It felt like old times on Thursday at the Marathon Classic, when Ko made five birdies from tap-in range.

After Ko hit the flagstick on the fifth hole from the rough, playing competitor Amy Olson turned to her and said, “At one point, one of these shots is going in.”

Alas, Ko had to settle for eight birdies in an opening 7-under 64. She shares a two-stroke lead with good friend Danielle Kang, who won last week’s LPGA Drive On Championship seven miles away at Inverness Club.

Only five players broke par at Inverness, where relentless rain made a tough course all the more demanding. It’s a different story here at Highland Meadows, where perfect scoring conditions led to a boatload of low scores.

“Golf is a silly game where one day you feel like everything is going your way,” said Ko, “and the next day you’re like, ‘What am I doing?’”

SCORES: Leaderboard at Marathon Classic

Ko certainly felt that way at last Saturday at Inverness when she carded a second-round 80. Kang’s post-round interview actually helped Ko turn things around. Ko heard Kang talk about a conversation she’d had with Annika Sorenstam about the need to stay aggressive at a 54-hole tournament. The Kiwi committed to that for Round 3 and beyond.

“Like aggressive doesn’t mean you’re going at every pin,” she explained. “For me, the term aggressive is like even if … I’m playing safe, I’m still being aggressive and committed over that shot.”

Ko hit every green and every fairway on the back nine last Sunday and said the confidence in being aggressive suited her well.

A two-time winner of the Marathon Classic, Ko had a scoring average of 68 at Highland Meadows going into Thursday’s opening round. Her opening 64 is her lowest round on the LPGA since the 2017 Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia.

Danielle Kang during the first round of the Marathon LPGA Classic at Highlands Meadows Golf Club. (Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

Ko began working with Sean Foley over the LPGA’s COVID-19 break and said they’ve FaceTimed this week while Foley’s at the PGA Championship in California.

“He just said there is not a lot that can go wrong in my swing,” she said, “so I think when somebody tells you that it gives you the confidence.”

Kang went out for ice cream with Lizette Salas after her victory at Inverness, keeping with tradition. She was hoping for Graeter’s, her favorite, but settled for Baskin Robbins. Amy Yang cooked her dinner.

Then it was back to work for Kang, who jumped to No. 2 in the world, her highest career ranking. Nelly Korda, who opened with a 67, dropped to third.

“I worked a lot on my putting for the last couple days,” said Kang, who had 27 putts in her bogey-free round. “Didn’t really like how the ball was coming off my putter. But I think that I kind of got a good feel out of it; then today my putting worked really well.”

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LPGA’s Kris Tamulis fighting through elbow injuries, happy to have caddie back

Tamulis hadn’t played any golf in months; she’d torn the tendon completely off the bone in both of her elbows.

Kris Tamulis’ return to the LPGA Tour didn’t go quite as smoothly as she would’ve liked as she tied for 40th in the Drive On Championship in Toledo, Ohio.

Tamulis hadn’t been playing after she tore tendons in both elbows, and also had to carry her own bag when her caddie wasn’t cleared from coronavirus testing. That included a second round in a pouring rain Saturday.

“My caddie didn’t take his COVID test in time,” Tamulis said Monday. ‘There was nobody else that could’ve done it. That was definitely a first for me, and then not having played since Dallas (last October).”

Tamulis hadn’t played any golf in months, but it wasn’t all due to the halt of the tour — and much of the sports world — from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. She’d torn the tendon completely off the bone in both of her elbows.

Tamulis, 39, said it was due to wear and tear.

“I’m an aging repetitive athlete,” she said, referring to the thousands of times her body has swung a golf club in her life.

Her husband, Jeremy Maddox, is a physical therapist, so that was a help in figuring out ways to address the injuries. But nothing seemed to work.

“You don’t realize how much you use your arms until something hurts,” said Tamulis, who had pain doing such simple things as pulling off a pillowcase. “I really struggled with it most of the winter.”

Tamulis has been using platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatments and blood flow restrictive training, which involves a machine with a cuff that goes over whatever arm she is working on. She posted a video on her Instagram of curling a can of corn, saying “Who knew a can of corn could be so heavy!!!”

So understandably, Tamulis didn’t arrive in Toledo last week feeling too confident about her game.

“I came in with very low expectations,” she said. “It’s not usually the way I prepare. But it’s not like I forgot how to play golf.”

During the time off during the pandemic, Tamulis, who lives in the Tampa area, also remembered something else she loves to do — fish. Her Instagram feed is filled with photos of Tamulis and her husband on their boat and with their catches.

“I grew up fishing with my dad,” she said. “My husband loves to fish. That’s what we like to do together. Living where we do in Florida, it’s just such a big part of our lives. I don’t think there’s any place better than being on a boat.”

And that includes golf. Tamulis, who made her tour debut out of Florida State in 2005, admitted that while there are elements of playing professional golf she enjoys, there are parts she didn’t miss.

“I just miss my friends,” Tamulis said. “I don’t miss the grind of trying to make a cut or being disappointed in a shot or feeling like you’ve never done enough.”

Yet Tamulis has an LPGA Tour victory and career earnings of more than $1.8 million.

“That’s been my job, my whole career,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily think I was going to make it a career.”

Tamulis was tied for 14th after the first round last Friday, but when the rain moved in, she was trying to balance carrying her bag, her umbrella, and keeping her clubs dry, already without the second set of eyes and advice caddie Louis Paolini brings.

“I was completely unprepared,” said Tamulis, who followed a 1-under 71 with a 7-over 79.

When she was warming up on the range Sunday, the rain was coming down again.

“I don’t like playing in the rain,” she said. “That’s why I don’t play in the Scottish and the British (Opens). I want to enjoy the golf instead of beating myself up.”

The rain cleared for the final six holes, and Tamulis finished off another 71 to win $4,293. She’ll play in the Marathon Classic in Sylvania, Ohio, this week. Now she’s more used to the coronavirus protocols, which she said pretty much have mirrored the PGA Tour’s, including an at-home test before leaving for a tournament site, daily temperature checks, and another test on site. The good news is that Paolini has returned.

“We were able to play two weeks in a row and test our COVID protocols, which were fairly extensive,” she said.

Laura Diaz’s 14-year-old son set to caddie for Brittany Lang at Marathon LPGA Classic

SYLVANIA, Ohio – Brittany Lang was picking up her daughter Shay from LPGA daycare when she happened to mention that she was in need of a caddie this week. Ten-year-old Lily Diaz mentioned that her older brother was available. Cooper Diaz, 14, …

SYLVANIA, Ohio – Brittany Lang was picking up her daughter Shay from LPGA daycare when she happened to mention that she was in need of a caddie this week. Ten-year-old Lily Diaz mentioned that her older brother was available.

Cooper Diaz, 14, caddied for mom, Laura, in last week’s LPGA Drive On Championship at Inverness but was handing the job over to his dad, Kevin, for this week’s Marathon Classic.

Lang hired 14-year-old Cooper for the job after her husband went home to Texas.

“(Lily) is expecting a cut,” joked Laura. “She’s his agent.”

The LPGA has always felt like a family affair, but that’s even more the case in COVID-19 times when the only people on site are players, caddies, staff and a small band of family and friends. Each player is allowed two guests this week at Highlands Meadows Golf Club.

Lang, 34, gave birth to Shay in January and took a share of sixth at Inverness, her first event back. When asked if her performance exceeded expectations, Lang said, “I would say 1 million percent.”

Not only is working on the road with a baby a new thing, Lang is also competing on the LPGA for the first time without her brother by her side. Older brother Luke, 39, has been on Lang’s bag since she joined the tour in 2006.

Luke has retired from tour life, however, taking a job at Northwestern Mutual in Dallas. He married former pro golfer Kathleen Ekey in 2017 and the couple have a daughter, Taylor. Lang misses her big brother, who was always a force of positivity inside the ropes, but with that said, she also loves change.

“It kind of wakes you up,” she said. “I’m just excited for something different.”

Finding Luke’s replacement hasn’t been too easy. Husband Kevin filled in last week after her original caddied struggled to fly out due to a hurricane. She’s got Cooper this week and a few options for Scotland but has yet to figure out a consistent sidekick.

“If I don’t find a steady caddie soon,” said Lang, “I’m probably going to do my own thing because this is a beating, scrambling with all this COVID testing.”

And by her own thing, she means playing without a caddie. That’s now an option on the LPGA for the remainder of the 2020 season.

Cooper first caddied for his mom when he was in the fifth grade. Now a freshman in high school, the 6-foot-tall Cooper hopes to play for Ronald Reagan High School next spring near their home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Laura had a Zoom call tonight to get an update on the basketball program’s plans.

When asked which part of his mom’s game he wished he had, Cooper didn’t hesitate: short game.

“I wish I had his long game,” said Laura. “He’s got me by about 60 off the tee. I could afford to have some of that length.”

Laura, a two-time winner on the LPGA, hopes to get in the field at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship later this month. With her kids’ schooling being online this semester, it’s easier to take them on the road with her after the summer ends.

“I think it’s all about balance,” said Diaz of raising kids on the LPGA. “I think you have to feel fulfilled as a mom to come out and do your job.”




A grieving Emma Talley set to wear mic on LPGA in effort to share Cullan Brown’s story

Emma Talley will be mic’d up at the Marathon LPGA Classic on Thursday, and she’s doing it in honor of her late friend Cullan Brown.

SYLVANIA, Ohio – Before Emma Talley hit the road for the LPGA’s restart in Ohio, she had dinner with her best friend Cullan Brown. She ordered the turkey bacon from Our Daily Bread, his favorite sandwich shop in Eddyville, Kentucky.

“We had strawberry cake,” she said. “He was as normal as ever and as happy as ever.”

Talley never dreamed it would be the last meal they’d share together. On Tuesday, Brown, a standout at Kentucky, died from osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer in his left thigh. He was 20.

Talley was set to be mic’d up for the first round of the Marathon LPGA Classic alongside Christina Kim and Jillian Hollis in the 12:53 p.m. ET group. She backed out on Tuesday night, thinking it would be too much.

All she wanted to do was pack up and race back home to Kentucky to comfort his parents, Rodney and Emily Brown, and his sister Cathryn. To be wrapped up in their tight-knit community and share memories of the pure-hearted man who breathed joy into the world.

But instead, she decided to stay. She’ll wear a mic while competing on Thursday for the first time, too. The sociable Talley might not be herself tomorrow, but she’s determined to do what Cullan would want. She wants everyone to know his story.

“I’m just going to try to get through it and be strong for him,” said Talley, “and hopefully play well for him, too. I definitely think I’ll have the best angel in the world and the best second caddie. He’s going to be there every step of the way.”

(Courtesy of Emma Talley)

There are fewer than 1,000 cases of osteosarcoma diagnosed each year. Because of that, new research is rare. Talley hopes Cullan’s story will help to change that. Nearly every text message she has received since his passing tells the same story: Cullan was their favorite.

“Every tournament, whether he won or got last,” said Talley, “he’d say ‘I hope the golf is good, but I’m here for the good food and the good fun.’ ”

It’s in that spirit that Talley remained on site at the Marathon Classic, wiping away tears as player after player offered her condolences.

Only weeks after Brown made the cut at the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship last year, finishing 10 under, the team announced that he would be stepping away from the 2019-20 season to start chemotherapy.

Brown made seven starts for the Wildcats and garnered four top-20 finishes in the 2018-19 season. His opening 64 at the Mason Rudolph tied for the lowest 18-hole score in the coach Brian Craig era. His 54-hole total of 206 tied for the best mark of the season.

Photo: Kentucky Athletics

When Brown got sick, teammate Jay Kirchdorfer started a GoFundMe page to help ease the family’s financial concerns. Donations surpassed $25,000 in six days. It’s now over $56,000. Both the Kentucky men’s and women’s teams had the hashtag #B4B – “Birdies for Brownies” stitched onto their clothing last season to honor Brown.

It’s still so much of a shock. Talley, a former NCAA and U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, remained hopeful throughout Cullan’s nearly year-long battle, believing that a young man so strong and so full of life would beat this cruel disease. It was only three weeks ago that Cullan was preparing a hibachi dinner for loved ones. Only last week that her mom was crying from laughing so hard at Cullan’s jokes.

One reason Cullan chose to stay in Kentucky for college was that he wanted to be home for hunting season. The two friends would often enjoy a little target practice off of Cullan’s back porch.

“That’s one reason I came out today,” she said. “I needed some fresh air and I wanted to be where he loved.”

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Perrine Delacour WDs from Marathon Classic after caddie tests positive for COVID-19

Perrine Delacour withdrew from the Marathon Classic after her caddie tested positive for COVID-19.

TOLEDO, Ohio – The LPGA has announced that Perrine Delacour withdrew from the Marathon Classic after her caddie tested positive for COVID-19. That brings the LPGA’s total positive case to four, with two players and two caddies missing action since the tour began testing.

Delacour is the first player forced to withdraw due to a caddie’s results. The 26-year-old Frenchwoman will now begin a 14-day quarantine. Both she and her caddie have been working with the LPGA and local health officials on contact tracing.

“After learning that my caddie tested positive today, despite not having any symptoms, I have withdrawn from this week’s event in order to self-isolate following CDC and LPGA guidelines,” said Delacour in a statement. “I feel perfectly normal and I wanted to do the right thing. I am looking forward to being back competing as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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Full pre-tournament testing results for the Marathon LPGA Classic will be available later this week. As the Marathon field wasn’t full, Delacour will not be replaced.

In all, a total of 466 pre-travel and onsite COVID-19 saliva tests were given to players and caddies before last week’s LPGA Drive On Championship began on July 31. Three tests came back positive: Marina Alex, Gaby Lopez and one caddie.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan was asked to assess the tour’s COVID-19 situation thus far, especially in the context of how other sports are faring.

“I never feel like you win in this process,” said Whan, “but you’re right, we’ve probably had closer to 1,000 tests all in, and certainly the numbers are low, but geez, we’re a long way from claiming victory.”

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Haley Moore overcomes bullying, becomes face of LPGA’s Drive On series

LPGA rookie Haley Moore is reflecting on being bullied in her past as she excels in professional golf in her first year on tour.

TOLEDO, Ohio – Haley Moore’s Apple watch buzzed throughout her pro-am round on Tuesday at the Inverness Club. The LPGA had launched Moore’s story of overcoming childhood bullying on every one of its social media platforms that morning, and Moore’s wrist was feeling the love.

“My story is truly powerful,” she told the media after the round, “and I want to help every young girl and boy.”

When middle school bullies filled Haley’s backpack with water and threw it in the boys’ bathroom, ruining her favorite Justin Bieber book, Haley called home sobbing. Her mother, Michele, went down to the middle school and let administrators know that “enough was enough.”

“The school could handle this, or our family would,” Moore penned in a first-person essay for the LPGA. “Either way, the pattern of abuse of our daughter was going to end right then and there.”

Now a rookie on the LPGA, Moore is the latest subject of the tour’s Drive On series, a campaign launched last March aimed at highlighting the stories of grit, determination and inspiration on the women’s tour.

Young Haley Moore regularly collected junior titles. (Photo courtesy of Michele Moore)

On Tuesday at the Marathon Classic, the second event of the tour’s restart and Moore’s third tournament as a rookie, the LPGA unveiled a 30-second video spot along with first-person accounts written by Moore and her mother.

“Being bigger, stronger and better than boys on the soccer field didn’t make me popular when I was a kid,” Haley wrote. “Continuing to grow didn’t put me in the popular girls’ club, either. Throughout my school years, I heard every taunt and laugh; I endured every insult and rejection. I tried to brush it off.”

Michele cried herself to sleep many nights, wishing that she could take away her daughter’s pain but also knowing that she couldn’t possibly protect Haley from all the ugliness in this world.

“Three words that we’ve kind of used throughout this process are dream, believe, achieve,” said Michele. “It doesn’t matter how different you are, everybody has a dream. You believe in it and then you go out and achieve it, and don’t let anybody stop you.”

Moore’s parents met as freshmen at Ohio State. Mom played tennis and dad was recruited as the short and long snapper for the football team. Moore’s father, Tom, grew up in Orrville, Ohio, which is situated about 2 ½ hours east of Toledo. Family members had planned to watch her compete at this week’s Marathon Classic, but players are only allowed one guest on the course.

Moore teed it up in 11 tournaments during the LPGA’s 166-day break, winning three times on the Cactus Tour. She closed out her latest victory with a 10-under 62 on a day when no other player in the field broke 70 at Troon North.

“She’s the real deal,” said fellow Arizona alum Alison Walshe. “She’s got a lot of talent.”

Haley stands at nearly 6-foot-2 and graduated from Arizona at age 20. As a junior, her teammates rushed to embrace her on the 18th green at the 2018 NCAA Championship, when she lifted the Wildcats to the national title by draining a 4-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole to defeated top-ranked Alabama.

It was a deeply emotional moment for the Moore family, and one that put the spotlight squarely on a player who felt left out for much of her life

Haley Moore hugs the NCAA trophy. (Photo courtesy of Michele Moore)

She grinded through all three stages of LPGA Q-School last year to earn her card, relying on the kindness of friends and strangers to help cover costs. Nearly 300 donors raised more than $40,000 on GoFundMe to help get Haley to the LPGA and allow her to compete. Now she wants to start a foundation to help kids who’ve been bullied.

“Depending on the statistics you read,” Roberta Bowman, LPGA Chief Brand and Communications Officer, “thirty percent of young teens worldwide experience bullying.”

Despite Haley’s first season on tour being interrupted by a global pandemic, she’s enjoying her new job, noting that former top-ranked Americans Stacy Lewis and Cristie Kerr went out of their way to welcome her.

She’s ready to pay it forward.

“Just don’t let those cruel people who are telling you stuff, judge you,” said Moore. “Just go on and do what you want to do. If it’s playing golf or playing any sport that you want to do, just go out there and keep doing you. You’ll get looked at, but try to wipe it away from your mind and keep going.”

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Danielle Kang edges Celine Boutier at LPGA Drive On, collects fourth career title

Danielle Kang might be the only player to ever win the LPGA Drive On Championship, a last-minute event thrown together in the COVID-19 era.

TOLEDO, Ohio – Exactly 100 years ago, Inverness hosted its first of four U.S. Opens. There’s an official program from the championship inside a glass case in the clubhouse. There weren’t any programs at this week’s LPGA Drive On Championship because there weren’t any fans. No friends and family or coaches or agents. Tee times were posted on a board outside the pro shop.

Danielle Kang might be the only player to ever win the LPGA Drive On trophy, as it was a last-minute event, thrown together in the COVID-19 era to give the tour a chance to create a bubble and give players an opportunity to compete.

And yet, it felt like a major championship inside the ropes. Only five players broke par. The No. 4-ranked player in the world won on a course and in conditions that tested every part of the game.

And bonus: The venue that will host the 2021 Solheim Cup delivered a Sunday singles-like showdown between Kang, who leads the U.S. points race and Boutier, who went 4-0 in her Cup debut at Gleneagles last year.

And double bonus: Kang’s boyfriend, Maverick McNealy, still had a chance to win on the PGA Tour at the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada, by the time Kang wrapped up her own title.

“We definitely told each other, go and be aggressive,” said Kang of their pre-round talk. “Trust our games and don’t leave putts short.”

On the front nine Sunday, in unrelenting rain, Kang looked like she might run away with the Drive On after her aggressive lines yielded one strong look at birdie after another.

But Boutier bounced back, making three birdies in a four-hole stretch, even hitting the flagstick for a near ace on the par-3 12th. The Frenchwoman pulled into a share of the lead with Kang with four holes to play.

On the final hole, Boutier needed birdie to force a playoff. The former Duke standout delivered a beauty, knocking her 50-degree wedge to 5 feet. The ensuing lip-out stunned everyone, including the members who were dining on the clubhouse patio. (They couldn’t go on the golf course.)

“Yeah, it’s hard right now to just see the positive right away,” said Boutier, “but I definitely had, you know, a little bit of trouble in the beginning.”

As the sun broke through, Kang, 27, enjoyed a celebratory champagne shower from friends Amy Yang and Lizette Salas along with air hugs. A closing 2-under 70 put Kang at 7-under 209 for the tournament.

Now a four-time winner on the LPGA, Kang insisted that she wouldn’t look at the scores on her phone during the final round. It was permitted this week as there were no leaderboards. Ultimately she couldn’t help herself, pulling her phone out of the bag to check with three holes to play.

When it was over, Kang made sure to thank instructor Butch Harmon for spending a good deal of time with her in Las Vegas during the 166-day break in competition.

When asked to compare her game today to when she won the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA, Kang said it’s less about mechanics and more getting a feel for the course.

“I felt at KPMG, everything happened at the right time,” said Kang. “Now I feel that my game is stable. That I can contend I’m not looking for that one thing that will get my going that week.”

Inverness presented a stern welcome-back test and players who chose to stay sharp through the offseason with tournament play were rewarded at the Drive On.

Mina Harigae rediscovered her love of competition during the coronavirus break, winning four Cactus Tour events. She took a share of sixth at Inverness alongside former Michigan State player Sarah Burnham, who won twice on the Cactus Tour in Arizona, once on the Eggland’s Best Tour in Florida and the Michigan PGA Women’s Open by 10 shots. Burnham’s previous best finish on the LPGA was a share of ninth at the Cambia Portland Classic.

Gemma Dryburgh won twice on the Rose Ladies Series before coming over to the U.S. for a two-week quarantine.

“I can’t imagine this being the first tournament back,” said Dryburgh, who became the first woman to win a professional event at Royal St. George’s during the break. “Definitely thankful I had that prep coming in.”

One of the most impressive showings of the week came from 2016 U.S. Women’s Open champion Brittany Lang, who finished tied for sixth in her first LPGA event since giving birth to daughter Shay in January.

“I’m winning in life right now,” said Lang. “I feel like a champion.”

LPGA: LPGA Drive Championship - Second Round
Brittany Lang walks from the 7th green to the 8th tee with her caddie and husband Kevin Spann at the LPGA Drive Championship. (Photo: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

Shay aced her first time on an airplane, said Lang, whose husband Kevin Spann also made the trip. Because Lang’s caddie couldn’t travel due to a hurricane, Spann picked up the bag, a first for the couple at an LPGA event. Lang felt they made a good team out there, which isn’t always the case for couples inside the ropes.

“I always just say, stay positive, let’s be positive,” said Lang when asked if the couple had any caddie rules. “Let’s be in a good mood. I’m not a machine. You’re gonna make a lot of mistakes.”

Shay rocked her first week in daycare too.

“Everybody’s like, who cried most? You or Shay?” said Lang. “Actually, nobody cried. (Maybe) Kevin. Just kidding.”

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Next year’s Solheim Cup buildout will add to the Inverness splendor

This week at the LPGA Drive on Championship, players and television viewers are seeing Inverness in its purest form.

TOLEDO, Ohio – Can you picture it? A massive u-shaped structure that seats 3,000 rowdy Solheim Cup fans situated around one teeing area at Inverness Club, serving both the 1st and 10th holes. Rather than a tunnel, Solheim Cup players will walk across a bridge from the practice putting green, over the road and through the crowd, likely high-fiving their way down the stairs and onto the tee box, music blaring.

In Dennis Baggett’s mind, the crowds at Inverness are going from zero to 150,000 in 13 months’ time.

This week at the LPGA Drive on Championship, players and television viewers are seeing Inverness in its purest form. No fans. No leaderboards. No grandstands. No hospitality suites. Maybe two ropes.

The build-out around the first tee next year will extend into where players are parking their cars this week. The ninth and 18th holes will be switched for Solheim so that players can make the short walk to the 10th tee and back into the rockin’ grandstand. On Sunday, players making the turn in their singles matches will have to wait on players who are just beginning the round. The action there will be nonstop.

Exactly the kind of environment that Danielle Kang thrives in. As a Solheim rookie in Des Moines, Iowa, Kang revved up the gallery on the first tee, encouraging them to scream and shout right through her swing.

Apparently Kang doesn’t mind the quiet either, as she’s tied for the lead here at Inverness with European Solheim Cup players Celine Boutier and Jodi Ewart Shadoff. With so many Asian players opting to skip the two events in Ohio, past and potential Solheim Cuppers are peppering the board.

Mel Reid, a three-time European Solheim Cup player who served as vice captain last year at Gleneages, said Inverness is one of the toughest courses she’s ever played on the LPGA, a fact that she loves.

“Kind of the running joke between players and caddies this week,” said Reid, “is it’s a major for $1 million.”

The LPGA lost one of its five majors to COVID-19 this season when the Evian Championship was canceled. Inverness, a course that has hosted four U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, has certainly given the women an unexpected treat. It was only seven weeks ago that the LPGA approached Inverness about hosting the last-minute event and five weeks ago that the club agreed.

While the first round played firm and fast, the second offered a completely different challenge as rain ruled the day. There was a 45-minute delay Saturday afternoon for maintenance crews to squeegee water off the greens. Kang marveled at the way Inverness changed like a chameleon.

There likely hasn’t been a more fan-friendly course than this Donald Ross design. Baggett has walked the course this week like he would as a fan, anticipating crowd flow issues and fairway crosswalks.

“I remember standing in the clubhouse one time and I could see 13 flags,” said Baggett.

Fans can purchase upgraded tickets to the Solheim Pavilion, a structure that offers fans views of the greens on Nos. 4, 11 and 14, the 15th tee and the entirety of Nos. 5 and 12.

Community support is terrific, too. Before the pandemic hit, 84 partners signed up for next year. The good news is that not a single one has pulled out. The bad news is that it’s a tough time to add more.

The Toledo market is faithful to the LPGA. Next week the Marathon Classic will be held less than 10 miles away for the 35th time. When Drive On organizers spotted a concerning pothole on Dorr Street earlier this week, right at the entrance of Inverness, a phone call was placed to the mayor and the hole was fixed the next day.

There are 19 of 24 Solheim Cup players from last year in the field this week as well as 2021 assistant captain Angela Stanford. Captains Pat Hurst and Catriona Matthew aren’t here now, but they’ll be on property soon enough.

“Honestly, this is going to be a spectacle,” said Reid.

At last, a course that is as spectacular as the contest itself.

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