LPGA TOUR GOES TO LAS VEGAS FOR BANK OF HOPE LPGA MATCH-PLAY HOSTED BY SHADOW CREEK
The world’s best female golfers hit the famous Las Vegas Strip for Round 2 of the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards. The tournament field has 64 competitors, led by the 2021 Match-Play Champion Ally Ewing and finalist Sophie PopovRolex Ranking No. 4 Minjee Lee and resident of Las Vegas Danielle Kang.
The Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards has joined the LPGA Tour schedule in 2021 as the first match-play event since the Lorena Ochoa Match Play 2017. Other official LPGA Tour match-play competitions include the 2010-2012 Sybase LPGA Match Play Championship and the 2005-2007 HSBC Women’s World Championship, as well as the 1950-1954 Women’s Western Open, then a major championship.
Shadow Creek, built in 1989 by renowned golf course architect Tom Fazio, is considered one of the best golf destinations in the world. In 2018, the course hosted The Match: Tiger vs. Phil, which saw Phil Mickelson beat Tiger Woods in a match that spanned 22 holes. In October 2020, Shadow Creek hosted the PGA Tour’s CJ CUP, won by Jason Kokrak. MGM Resorts has also supported the women’s game for many years through its Golf Ambassador program, led by popular Tour players. Nathalie Gulbis, Danielle Kang, Cristie Kerr, Alison Lee, Anna Nordqvist and Michelle Wie West.
HISTORY OF THE LPGA TOUR IN LAS VEGAS
- The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was held at Stardust CC in Las Vegas from 1961 to 1966, with champions like Mickey Wright (1961, 1963) and Sandra Haynie (1965)
- The Desert Inn Classic was held at the Desert Inn CC from 1971 to 1974, with winners such as Sandra Palmer (1971) and JoAnne Carner (1974)
- The J&B Scotch Pro-Am was held at various Las Vegas clubs from 1979 to 1985, with winners including Nancy Lopez (1979, 1982, 1983), Donna Caponi (1980, 1981) and Patty Sheehan (1985)
- The LPGA of Las Vegas was held at various Las Vegas clubs from 1990 to 1993, with winners including Trish Johnson (1993)
- The ITT LPGA Tour Championship (eventually called the LPGA Playoffs at the ADT) was held at the Desert Inn CC from 1996 to 1999, with winners Karrie Webb (1996), Annika Sorenstam (1997), Laura Davies (1998) and Se Ri Pak (1999)
- The LPGA Takefuji Classic was held at Las Vegas CC from 2003 to 2006, with winners like Cristie Kerr (2004) and Lorena Ochoa (2006)
- The Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge (an unofficial event with the LPGA Tour, PGA Tour, and PGA Tour Champions) was held at various Las Vegas clubs from 1992 to 2013
TRENDING UP, SOPHIA POPOV IS READY FOR PLAY SHADOW CREEK
It was not the season Sophie Popov sought. After her under-4 first round at the 2022 Cognizant Founders Cup, the grand champion said, “It’s been a minute” as she entered the interview tent. After another sub-70 round the next day to make his first four-event cut, Popov believes his game, while far from perfect, is finally on the rise.
“I think this week has been really nice for me from a momentum standpoint,” Popov said this week in Las Vegas. “I finally played better golf. I had moments here and there where I birdied a lot. I also made some higher numbers, which I’m working on to eliminate doubles and triples.
There’s no better place for Popov to continue this trend than at this week’s Bank of Hope LPGA match-play presented by MGM Rewards. Popov finished second at last year’s inaugural event and was later invited to become an MGM ambassador. A year later, the partnership allowed Popov to make Vegas “like a second home” and gave him the opportunity to play the exclusive Shadow Creek course more than once. The match-play format is also a familiar favorite of the German golfer, who uses it to bring out his competitive advantage.
“For me, match play has always been something in Europe that we grew up with. We have the European Tag Team Championships and British Am,” Popov said. I like to have my opponent right in front of me and then try to improve the girl I’m playing against.
The opponent in front of her when the match starts on Wednesday is a resident of Las Vegas jenny shinwho qualified for the round of 16 in 2021. Also in Popov’s playing group are Haeji Kang and Hannah Green, whom she will face on Thursday and Friday respectively. No matter the opponent, Popov is ready for a highly competitive game.
“Jenny is very solid, so I’m definitely going to have to bring my best game,” she said. “But that’s the case for everyone here this week. It doesn’t matter who I’m playing against, I’m going to have to play my best golf.
DANIELLE KANG FIGHTS BACK INJURY TO PLAY AT BELOVED VEGAS EVENT
This week’s de facto host is a grand champion Danielle Kang, a Las Vegas resident and longtime MGM ambassador who lives at Shadow Creek Golf Course when not on the road competing. Kang happily shared his Vegas expertise with LPGA Tour players and staff, making recommendations for food and nightlife in his adopted hometown. But any tips for playing Shadow Creek, considered one of America’s most difficult tracks? Do not even think about it.
“I know I have the golf course on my side because I know where to miss it and where to play,” said Kang, who won the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January. “The green reading is really tough here, and I’ve played here so many times, and this is the one, it might give me a 2% advantage, but it’s an advantage I need. When girls ask me how to play #17, par3, I’m just saying, you gotta figure it out.
Having Kang here is a testament to his love for this match-based tournament and the support of his longtime sponsor. Kang has been forced to withdraw from two of her last three events due to a lingering back injury and says she has visited many specialists over the past month to help her get in shape. Kang, who is never one to sit still when she can be on a golf course, even admitted to indulging in a few experiences in Las Vegas that she had never considered before.
“I’m not a brunch person, but I definitely had brunch. I didn’t realize that people were just hanging out at 10:30 in the morning just to eat for like two hours. I lived that. It was fun,” she said with a laugh. “Hanging out by the pool. I never tan; quite tanned. Things like that. I just try to find the right things and make time to hang out with my friends.
Kang says this week’s match-play format works to his advantage, as Shadow Creek’s long walk is mitigated by not playing every hole or even playing every hole. A mistake can be quickly erased. So Wednesday’s game against Kelly Tan is certain to bring out the ultimate competitor who lives in Kang, back injury or not.
“I may not have my game completely where I want it, but the rankings, the round robin, that will help me a bit. You make a mistake and it’s washed away. If I do a lot of bogeys, it’s fine,” Kang said. “It’s not like we’re at the US Open yet where it’s going to be expensive. So I have a better idea of why I’m playing this week. Sometimes we don’t even have to play the 18 holes You have to look at a lot of positive things.