Bianca launches bid

Bianca launches bid

MANILA, Philippines — Bianca Pagdanganan puts all the pent-up emotions of a long-delayed pro debut behind as she finally lives the dream of playing big-time golf in the LPGA Drive On Championship firing off Friday in Ohio (today in Manila).

The SEA Games double gold medalist launches her drive with Japanese Yui Kawamoto at 12:05 p.m. on No. 10 of the Inverness Club in Toledo, one of the only two twosomes in the 136-player field all eager and thrilled to hit their first shot in the $1 million event ending 166 days of stoppage due to COVID-19.

It also snaps four months of excruciating wait for Pagdanganan, who was set to kick off her pro campaign in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii last April, a strange break she put into good use by working out and training at home which she hopes to all put in display in the next three days.

“I’ve been working out, practicing and playing a lot of golf. As much as possible, I’d let myself play golf for three days straight to get my body conditioned,” said the former Philippine Ladies Open titlist.

That makes her A-ready this weekend like the rest of the elite, ensuring a spirited battle for top honors in the first of back-to-back tournaments in Ohio. The same field heads to Sylvania next week for the $2 million Marathon Classic.

Winner of a number of big-time championships in the amateurs, the Univ. of Arizona product admits playing in the pros is an entirely different thing as she recognizes the level of competition and the talents that abound in the world’s premier ladies circuit.

“In terms of excitement, I’d say this is probably a bit more than what I experienced as an amateur,” said Pagdangan, who gained her full LPGA membership on her first try by finishing tied for 38th in last year’s Q-Series.

But the ICTSI-backed power-hitter is unfazed by the opposition, raring and ready to slug it out with the best and the brightest in the fold, including world No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 4 Danielle Kang along with fellow Americans Lexi Thompson and Lizette Salas, Aussie Minjee Lee, Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, Korean Amy Yang and Chinese Yu Liu.

“On top of finally being able to live the dream and play as a pro, it’s more of finally being able to compete,” said Pagdanganan, who closed out her sterling amateur career by winning SEAG individual gold and powering the Philippines to the team championship.

“During the break, I’ve focused more on my short game, putting and controlling my shots,” added Pagdanganan, one of the two Pinays in the field, the other being Dottie Ardina.

Pagdanganan actually stumbled on the road to the pro ranks, failing to make the grade in a couple of Monday qualifiers of LPGA events in Australia last February, setbacks that only made her hungrier, better and stronger.

“It’s been a while since my last round of competitive golf, so I’m really excited. When it comes to preparation, a tournament is a tournament. I set the same standards whether it is a major event or not,” she said. “I think it is important to have a consistent routine when it comes to preparing for events so I have the proper mindset coming into the tournament.”