Gaby Lopez Win What LPGA Needs

Heroic Gaby Lopez Victory Increases Our Investment in the Tour

For LPGA watchers, we had a nail-biter in Florida this week. Actually, it was mostly last week, but an astonishing playoff took it into this week, the second longest in LPGA history. It took Gaby Lopez seven extra holes with a night’s sleep in between the 5th and 6th to pull off her second tour victory at the Diamonds Resort Tournament of Champions. It was her second win on tour since becoming a rookie in 2016, and in both cases, the best of the field showed up. In the first one, she beat Ariya Jutanugarn at the Blue Bay Classic. This week, she outlasted Inbee Park, who was eliminated on the third playoff hole, and eventually Nasa Hataoka.

It was the second longest playoff in LPGA History. In 1972, Joanne Prentice beat out Kathy Whitworth and Sandra Palmer, taking ten holes to do it. For myself, I love it when I experience good timing, even if it’s just a luck-out. I had just finished two articles on putting and the short game, where the  scoring really happens and the strokes are really saved, often the difference between victory and defeat.  Then along comes Lopez, who gets into the playoff with an 18-footer on the final hole. She wins the tournament, not with a 300 yard drive, but with a 30 footer from the edge of the putting surface.

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Lopez is the first woman from Mexico since Lorena Ochoa to win on the women’s tour. She came by way of the University of Arkansas What makes it all the better is that the field consisted of 26 players who have won tournaments in the past two seasons, hence the name Tournament of Champions. The Pro-am component with celebrities from various fields was an added attraction to an already fascinating event. This one was a Mike Whan winner.

I’ve always wondered if part of the reason the LPGA lagged behind the PGA in coverage was a lack of emotional investment by spectators, the sort that fueled the era of the Big Three not that many years ago. Today, I am rethinking it, as this event, the way it come down in 2020, is just the ticket for such a spectator/player relationship. We attach differently to celebrity events depending on age. Young men want to live vicariously through PGA stars, and their three hundred yard drives – that’s natural. However, past that age, getting excited with the LPGA is wide open. As young women play golf, they can attach to the women’s game earlier. Players like Lopez, long putts and playoffs are perfect. In my life, I have attached to male and female players in different ways at different times. When I was young, they were my age, and mirrored my aspirations. Years later, an almost parental attraction to their life stories emerged, playing out on the course. Now, I’m everyone’s grandfather in that regard, with lots of people to root for. Through all those phases, the golf was first-rate. Next? I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Our interest is heightened by a player appearing from a country that doesn’t send that many. With Gaby Lopez, we have today’s winner from Mexico, and an emotional connection to the glory days of Lorena Ochoa. Suddenly, the LPGA has gained a deeper “story.” In a field of recent winners, we’ve seen every one of these women hoisting the trophy. The “what’s going to happen today?” factor in a field devoid of also-rans is enormous. Celebrities provided a spice to the main course, and it’s good not to have them all be movie stars. I was particularly riveted to the game of John Smoltz, great baseball pitcher, and it is always intriguing to see how a super athlete from another sport translates to golf.

In terms of Gaby Lopez, she’s primed for future victories, having defeated the best in the game. Her story is deepened for the fans who keep the game going, and the LPGA continues to ascend.



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