American Danielle Kang earned a wire-to-wire victory at the LPGA Drive On Championship, finishing at -7 to take a one-stroke win over France’s Celine Boutier. Kang has now won in four consecutive LPGA Tour seasons and survived a Sunday battle with Boutier that started in constant rain and ended under gloriously sunny skies.
“I'm really, really happy that I got to pull it off after leading the first day and second day,” said Kang. “Leading after the first day definitely gave me some hope, and I wanted it close it out. It came down to the last hole, last putt, but it was a really good battle out there, and it's pretty cool.”
Kang held a two-stroke lead through 12 holes, but her advantage fell to one with a bogey at the par-5 13th. Boutier pulled into a tie with a birdie at No. 14, but her own bogey at No. 15 gave Kang a tenuous one-stroke lead.
“I kept telling myself, stick to the game plan. The game plan was to play aggressive and play my game,” said Kang. “No matter what anybody else did it didn't really matter. It does but it doesn't, because I still have to hit the shots. So I stayed really aggressive on 16, 17 and 18.”
It all came down to No. 18, where Boutier put her approach from 94 yards out to just 6 feet below the hole. After Kang closed with a two-putt par, Boutier’s birdie putt heartbreakingly lipped out, handing the victory to Kang.
“She was ahead the whole front, and then I just tried to focus on my game, because at that point I hadn't played that well,” said Boutier. “So I just tried to hit fairways, hit greens, give myself opportunities, and then I managed to make a couple of birdies.”
Australian Minjee Lee took solo third at -4, with Japanese rookie Yui Kawamoto finishing fourth at -3. England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff finished fifth at -2, with the top-five finishers the only players to finish under par at Inverness Club.
The LPGA Drive On Championship is the fifth event of the season and the first of two consecutive events in Toledo, Ohio. Next week, the Tour will take to Highland Meadows Golf Club for the 35th playing of the Marathon LPGA Classic presented by Dana.
KANG IN LOVE WITH INVERNESS CLUB
In just over one year, the LPGA Tour will return to Inverness Club for the 2021 Solheim Cup. It’s safe to say that Danielle Kang will be one of the most excited players to take on the renowned Donald Ross design.
“Inverness Club is definitely a chameleon. That's what I kept calling it. Depending on the weather, depending on the time, it changes how it how it plays, how receptive it can be, defense. It's just so different,” said Kang. “I think the best way I can put it is you have to respect the golf course. The golf course changes so often, and you can't take little shots for granted. I just try and keep as much focus as possible and not let the golf course get to me and try and play the course instead of fighting it.”
IN HER OWN WORDS – DANIELLE KANG ON THE STATE OF HER GAME
“I haven't played since January at a tournament, and I even said after I won in the winning speech that I'm so thankful for our commissioner and the entire LPGA staff, because I love the decisions that they made, and I am so thankful in how safe they made it for us.
It's normal -- feels a little bit more normal to be back, and I know that the staff and everyone and the diligence that it takes for all the COVID protocols. I know it's an extra many steps that they have to take, but I'm so thankful that they're going out of their way to make sure that we can play.
All in all in that sense, I'm really happy and excited even for the LPGA and for the fans that are at home that could be watching and that we're doing the best we can to put on entertainment and to be on TV.
I'm so thankful for the LPGA Drive On Championship. It's an inaugural tournament, and at Inverness Club that's brand new. Well, brand new on our schedule. I know that a lot of people have gone through a lot of tough things in the last many, many months and this year in 2020 has not an easy year for a lot of people, so I'm just thankful to be where I am.
During the COVID, all the time off, I made sure to try and be thankful every day for what I had. I think that really paid off, and I'm just in such a grateful position where I'm trying to do my best to be able to give back, whether it's excitement or entertainment or happiness or joy, whatever I can.”
BOUTIER COMES OH-SO-CLOSE TO VICTORY
There was an understandable sadness in Celine Boutier’s eyes as she walked off the golf course following Sunday’s final round of the LPGA Drive On Championship. The 26-year-old from the Parisian suburbs had a 6-foot birdie putt that would have sent the tournament into a sudden-death playoff. Instead, the ball hit the left side of the hole and spun away, leaving Boutier straining to find the positives in an otherwise stellar week of golf.
“Any time you have the opportunity to play for the win it's always positive,” said Boutier, who earned her first LPGA Tour victory at the 2019 ISPS Handa Vic Open. “Then especially after the break you don't really know where you stand, where the other player stands, so it's definitely good to have top two. Then it's just hopefully I just learn from this and take it for experience for the next time I get the chance to play for the win.”
The last nine holes proved to be a preview of the 2021 Solheim Cup, which will be held at Inverness Club next September. Kang and Boutier battled back and forth, with Kang holding the lead for much of the back nine and Boutier holding close. While Boutier ultimately did not walk away with the win, she was the only player in the field to card three rounds of sub-par golf at Inverness Club.
“I definitely had, you know, a little bit of trouble in the beginning,” said Boutier, who has just one over-par round this season. “I just couldn't get my round going, and especially with the tough conditions. I managed to save some pars here and there, and then the back nine was much better. So I'm definitely happy with the way I overcame my struggles in the front.”
RETURN TO LPGA TOUR WAS ALL ABOUT FAMILY FOR BRITTANY LANG
With daughter Shay in tow and with husband Kevin Spann on the bag, Brittany Lang’s first LPGA Tour event since October 2019 was a shared victory for her new family of three. The 34-year-old Texas tied for sixth at the LPGA Drive On Championship with three consecutive days of shooting even par, nearly seven months after delivering via Cesarean section.
“I had Shay January 23, so it was right before this [pandemic] hit,” said Lang. “It was great for our family just because I needed to heal and get strong. So it's been great for our family.”
What got Lang through the week at Inverness was having her husband of six years by her side, especially after the caddie she originally hired unfortunately got stuck in a hurricane back at his home in Hawaii.
“When I put Kevin on the bag, I was comfortable. He knows golf. He knows me,” said Lang, who won the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open. “He has a good perspective on being more aggressive, and that's why I think it was helpful for me. But just having a familiar face, it gives me so much confidence moving forward to have a good finish for sure.”
By the end of what was an especially hard final round at Inverness Club, the player-caddie couple only had one thing on their minds — get to the Smucker’s LPGA Child Development Center and pick up Shay. This first week as a working mom was definitely a learning experience.
“I was a little nervous traveling with her, and then you're tired after you play golf, but then you have to be a mom. Like you have to be on,” said Lang. “So I'm a little nervous about that because I want to be able to give her my all but also still play. So we'll see how it goes. Because she deserves my best.”
CME GROUP CARES CHALLENGE – SCORE 1 FOR ST. JUDE
The CME Group Cares Challenge is a season-long charitable giving program that turns aces into donations. CME Group donated $20,000 for each hole-in-one made on the LPGA Tour in 2019, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $500,000 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which is leading the way in how the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
There were no holes-in-one at the 2020 LPGA Drive On Championship. The 2020 season has seen four aces, for a total of $80,000 donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The 2019 LPGA Tour season saw 32 aces from 31 different players, for a total of $620,000. This more than covers the average cost of $425,000 needed to treat a pediatric cancer patient.