For the LPGA Stars, it's Nearly Showtime in Los Angeles

For the LPGA Stars, it's Nearly Showtime in Los Angeles

If the DIO Implant LA Open feels like a home game to Andrea Lee and Lizette Salas, well, it should. It is. Each player has strong ties to the Palos Verdes Golf Club in the suburbs of Los Angeles, a golf facility that has been a strong supporter of women’s golf for years.

The event will be staged March 30-April 2, the first of two events in L.A. that will be played in a four-week window on the 2023 LPGA schedule. Included in that mix is the JM Eagle LA Championship presented by Plastpro, to be played April 27-30 at Wilshire Country Club. All are part of an LPGA season that this year will distribute more than $100 million in purses.

The DIO Implant LA Open is in its fifth year, but this will be its first time at Palos Verdes, which has been a host to the LPGA previously. The 2022 DIO Implant LA Open, won by Japan's Nasa Hataoka, was played at Wilshire; Palos Verdes Golf Club was home last year to the Palos Verdes Championship, won by Marina Alex.

Lee played her college golf at Stanford, and Salas at USC, and both players have worked extensively with Jim Go

rmley, who is the longtime director of golf at Palos Verdes. Lee won a college event at Palos Verdes in 2019, the Therese Hession Regional Challenge, a college mainstay that has been played under different titles for 26 years.

Salas also played in the event in her days at USC, where Gormley was (and still as) an assistant coach. She helped USC to the team title at Palos Verdes in 2011.

“The wonderful and crazy thing about PV is you don't know what you're going to get.” Salas said. “It all depends on the weather and how generous or how challenging the pin placements are going to be. So we have a different game plan this year. And considering it's been a really wet, cold winter the golf course is going to play very, very differently.”

Adds Lee, “I'm really looking forward to the LPGA coming back to Palos Verdes. It's such a great track. Lizette and I have both grown up playing on it. I think it's a great course for the LPGA. I've talked to multiple girls out there, and they say that they're really excited to be back.”

Lee is looking at the current LPGA season much differently than a year ago, when she was limited status and entered Monday qualifying for the tournament. She shot 68 in qualifying, which she believed would be good enough to earn a spot, but it wasn’t. Fortunately, the tournament then extended a sponsor’s invitation to her.

“But when I got that sponsor's exemption at PV, I told myself just to make the most of the opportunity because not everybody gets one. So I played really well. I just enjoyed the week so much. I had so much family and I had friends come out and watch me on the weekend and I ended up finishing top 5. And so PV last year was kind of the turnaround for my entire season.”

Lee's big payoff came in September, when she won the AmazingCre Portland Classic in Oregon, the first LPGA triumph for the former World No. 1 amateur. That would take care of Lee’s days as a Monday qualifier.

“For me personally, I guess after my win, it was just such a huge confidence booster for me to know that all the hard work that I put in is finally paying off and now I can call myself a LPGA Tour winner.

“Just that feeling is kind of indescribable. It's just such a special week the weeks that you get to pull it off and hold the trophy on Sunday. But, yeah, I think we do ride off the momentum. I think I played some pretty solid golf towa

rds the end of last year after my win just because I was so confident in my game. I knew what my strengths were, what my weaknesses were, and I just continued to play consistent golf.”

Salas also managed to win in 2022, teaming with Jennifer Kupcho to capture the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a team event in Michigan. It was the second LPGA victory for Salas, a tough competitor who has been deep in the hunt at several majors. 

“I'm going to say the biggest perk of winning is feeling like you're on top of the world and your confidence is at its highest.” Salas said. “You know, everything falls in its place in order for you to win. And Andrea had success, a lot of success, last year, and so she knows what it takes. I think she is still riding the momentum from that win and still playing great golf.”

As strong as the field will be at the DIO Implant LA Open – 15 of the world’s top 20 players are committed, with a strong international flair – there also has been considerable excitement for somebody making a “comeback” of sorts for the event. Judy Rankin, the World Golf Hall of Fame member who has been the voice of golf for years, will return to the booth to fill in for Morgan Pressel in Los Angeles. Pressel has duties with the Augusta National Women's Amateur; Rankin, with ABC and ESPN for years, was in the tower at Golf Channel from 2010 through her retirement in 2022.

“Well, I'm sure everybody could imagine when you've spent so many years with people and so many years hanging around both the PGA TOUR and the LPGA Tour, mostly the LPGA Tour of all the recent years, how I miss everybody and how I miss -- how I just miss being there and being part of it,” said Rankin, who won 26 times as a player on the LPGA.

“It does take you back to your playing days. I sometimes I see a player swing and I see a player hit a shot and I can just absolutely feel it. But I will tell you, I cannot do it any longer, so with age and taking a long break from golf and all that, I now live vicariously through all those wonderful golf games.”

At Palos Verdes, there will be many wonderful games to watch.

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