Saturday, January 16, 2021

LPGA returns to Texas for VOA Classic

Dec 02. 2020
Jin Young Ko,
Jin Young Ko,
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The LPGA Tour heads back to the lone star state for the eighth edition of the Volunteers of America Classic, but months later than it normally would.

After months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first year the tournament will take place in December. Rolex Rankings No. 5 and 2015 champion Inbee Park returns to Old American Golf Club in hopes of becoming the third player this season to win twice in 2020. Cheyenne Knight is also back to defend her 2019 title, with friends and family supporting from home. Knight has already earned two top-five finishes this year, a tie for second at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and a tie for fifth at the Cambia Portland Classic.

The field includes World No. 1 Jin Young Ko, who played in her first 2020 event at the Pelican Championship presented by Dex Imaging & Konica Minolta and 2019 U.S. Women’s Open champion Jeongeun Lee6. All three of the 2020 Rolex First-Time Winners will tee it up this week, including the most recent, Ally McDonald-Ewing, who secured her maiden Tour victory at the LPGA Drive On Championship – Reynolds Lake Oconee.

There are several Texas residents supporting their state with pride at the Old American Golf Club, including Rolex Rankings No. 16 Mi Jung Hur and a new face to the Dallas community, Lindsey Weaver. After the VOA Classic comes the U.S. Women’s Open in Houston, TX followed by the final event of the season in Naples, Fla., the CME Group Tour Championship.  

Originally from Austin, TX, 23-year-old Kristen Gillman is ready to compete at Old American Golf Club for the third time. Not only will the experience of playing here help her this week at the Volunteers of America Classic, but the support from her home state will help keep her momentum up.

“I think it's just anytime you get to play in Texas, it's kind of a different feeling just because it brings you back to like your roots. I mean, I always love playing in Texas,” said the winner of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship.

“Everyone's been texting me and asking if they can come and watch, so sadly I have to keep telling them ‘No, sorry, fans aren't allowed yet.’ I know that they're all watching and they're all excited to watch live scoring,” said Gillman. “I mean, they're just excited to be able to see me compete. Even though they won't be here in person, they can at least watch some of it on TV. I think they're excited to see me out here playing in Texas.”

Though some players from around the area may seem like they have an advantage, Gillman said this course is a lot more versatile than most think. With the event in December for the first time, she said the conditions will certainly be challenging for all.

“It's definitely different playing this late. We’re just lucky though to still be able to get this event in and we'll probably get the crazy Texas weather with the wind and the cold, but I think it's good that we're still able to get this event in. I think that this golf course is a little bit different I feel like than the typical Texas golf courses that you see. I feel like it has a little bit more links feel to it, so I just think it kind of brings out a different kind of creativity in your golf game,” said Gillman. “You kind of have to think your way about where you want to place the ball on the fairway and around the green. I feel like that it just makes it easier doing that.”

FROM RON SIRAK: VOA CLASSIC MARKS HOMESTRETCH OF LONG STRANGE TRIP THAT IS 2020

Fifty years ago – in November 1970 – the Grateful Dead released its iconic song “Truckin’” with the even more iconic line: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” Fittingly, no one person took credit for the song, with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter all sharing writing honors. History sometimes serves up sweet ironies. This is one.

The collective process by the Grateful Dead that produced “Truckin’” perfectly captures the spirit of this turbulent year. When the LPGA Tour season began at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January, who suspected the 70th anniversary campaign would exemplify the resilience of the oldest professional sports organization for women. COVID-19 made sure of that.

And what organization embodies the “we are all in this together” spirit needed to tackle adversity better than Volunteers of America? In its memorable TV commercial, a young man grapples with himself in hand-to-hand combat in the middle of a street, ending with the tagline: “Moral injury is a war inside that no one should have to fight alone.”

As personal as the Drive On spirit is, it is also a collective process. Golf is about individual initiative; the LPGA Tour is about collective effort. The Tour collectively presents doors of opportunity that individual women kick open. This Drive On season began in Florida, went to Australia and then went on hiatus for five months.

Now, in a month in which it wasn’t supposed to be playing, this week’s Volunteers of America Classic at The Colony near Dallas exemplifies adaptability and determination. Originally scheduled for Oct. 1-4, the VOA Classic changed dates, modified its format to exclude spectators and still provides women with what it is all about – opportunity.

“VOA serves on the frontlines of our nation’s COVID-19 response, helping those most at risk during the pandemic,” said Volunteers of America National President Mike King. “We know how important it is to take all necessary precautions to keep people safe, and holding this year’s tournament without spectators was the best thing to do.”

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