New Faces and Seasoned Players: Women Golfers Make First Starts at Palos Verdes

New Faces and Seasoned Players: Women Golfers Make First Starts at Palos Verdes

By: Emily Cho


PALOS VERDES ESTATES, Calif.– It’s a week full of firsts for women golf players. First LPGA appearances, first tournament of the season, and… first time getting stranded without a car in California? 


Hannah Darling, a junior at University of South Carolina, will be making her LPGA debut this week at Palos Verdes. Her arrival in Southern California hasn't exactly been smooth--with her dad's UK license rejected as he tried to rent a car, then having a credit card denied. They ended up taking an Uber to the house where they are staying.  All in all, Darling has had little time to adjust and make the transition from college to professional life. "


“I have to say the last few days have been a little bit overwhelming trying to get used to things and learn the ropes,” Darling said. “I'm the new kid on the block so everyone is kind of looking at me like, who are you?”


Darling has dreamed about this moment for a long time. But what’s different about this week is she is not placing any expectations on herself. It’s all about having fun.


“Having the opportunity to play here this week and learn when it doesn't really matter, because…I'm obviously trying to play well, but the main thing for me is to have some fun.”


Darling said while she misses her college teammates, she is not looking back. Instead, she focuses on all the good that she knows will come out of this week.


“It's going to be a great learning opportunity to do this now under these situations rather than in a few years when I'm trying to get a paycheck to make a living.”


But that’s the goal: to one day be paid while doing this, like American golfer Lizette Salas.


Salas will also be making her first start of the 2024 season after she suffered a back injury during  the 2023 U.S. Women’s Open in July. Salas was diagnosed with disc issues and was using crutches for a while; she said she struggled with both her physical and mental health.


“My body just decided to shut down. It was pretty scary…It's not only a physical pain but a mental pain…you go through this process, like what did I do wrong, what could I have done better.”


But Salas said she knew she would have to figure out how to overcome the pain in order to return to the sport she loves. 


“Probably been through…some of the toughest challenges physically and mentally of my entire career. Learned a lot about myself, my body, and I learned a new level of fighting just to get back out here.”


And although the “R word” was mentioned  for Salas– retirement wasn’t even in the picture for her.


“I told myself I was going to be committed 110% to give myself a fighting chance, especially to play here at PV in front of my family, friends, coach, who has been so patient.”


Salas said she frequently reminds herself of the reasons she continues to compete, and won’t let herself quit until she decides she is finished.


“What I learned is that we forget how to enjoy the process and how to love this fight, that grind. So I'm in that process right now.” 


That process is one that many players know, but in many different ways. Many of the players know the challenge of returning to the tour after starting a family.


Sophia Popov and Caroline Masson both are back on the tour as new moms, and on a mission to balance their family life with their golf life. Popov found traveling with her daughter Maya  makes everything a little more exciting. Masson said she is figuring out a new schedule with her son, Benton, and has developed a bigger respect for all the moms on the tour.


“You're not only getting adjusted to having a baby and managing life just with a baby, but to come back on tour and put in all that work.”


And although it was difficult to get back into the swing of things, both women said golfing has never been more fun after returning with a child.


“It's a different perspective,” Popov said. “I come off the golf course and will always have fun because I'm always hanging out with her. I won't like go back and be like, what happened on 13? I just won't care anymore.”


Masson and Popov both said they understood there was a possibility that after starting a family they might not play again professionally. But for Popov–becoming a mom was too important. 


“I didn't want to wait so long personally because I don't know, just having a family was always a dream of mine and just I've always want that, too,” Popov said. “So to be able to do both now is obviously a blessing.” 


Whether it is a player’s first ever LPGA tournament, or the return of players coming back from a break, the pressure is on this week at Palos Verdes. And regardless of  the circumstances that led them here, each player is ready.


March 20, 2024
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