The Filipino star shares her experience of making the move to the LPGA
Bianca Pagdanganan has quickly become one of the hottest players on the LPGA Tour. The star player from the Philippines recently shared her experience with our editor on our podcast show. Listen to it here – “We’re Talking Golf”.
Known for her incredible length off the tee, Bianca Pagdanganan was top rookie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Growing up in the Philippines, Pagdanganan credits her father, who enrolled her at a summer youth camp in 2005at the age of seven, as her primary influence growing up.
There were not a lot of junior golfers in the Philippines when Pagdanganan was growing up, but she feels there are more opportunities as the number of junior tournaments in the country have increased. In fact, the Southeast Asian Games were held in the Philippines last year. Pagdanganan competed with a tremendous Philippines team against the top amateurs in Asia culminating in her winning the individual gold medal to wrap up her amateur career.
After joining the University of Arizona on transfer from Gonzaga, Pagdanganan participated in the NCAA Playoffs against top teams in UCLA, Stanford, and Alabama. She recalled how mentally draining the experience was, but knew those type of pressure-packed situations would help prepare her for those that would come on the bigger stage. Gaining momentum throughout the week, Pagdanganan and her teammates won the national championship, capping off a memorable week of golf.
LPGA & Turning Pro
Pagdanganan earned her LPGA tour card, grueling through Q school in November 2019, which she admits was mentally stressful and physically exhausting. Emerging from Q-School with a lower priority status than she had hoped, Pagdanganan entered 2020 with her mindset on entering Monday qualifiers to play more events. Then COVID struck shutting things down and interfering with travel plans to return home in the summer, so Pagdanganan remained in San Diego, practicing hitting drives into a net in her backyard. While not the same as spending four hours on the range or course practicing, Pagdanganan made sure to keep her focus through the monotonous practice sessions.
Returning to the tour after the break in July, Pagdanganan initially teed it up at The Drive-On event at Inverness (host of this season’s Solheim Cup). For Pagdanganan, the hardest part about returning was simply the fact of being away from the course. “You know, when you're playing regularly, you don't really think about playing three days straight. But when you're stuck at home for how many months without doing anything besides working out . . . But, at the same time, it's still different when you're out there walking 18 holes … every day, every other day. So, it's quite the adjustment, especially knowing that my last competitive round is probably I think it was like November . . . it's not just the physical but the mental (aspect) and just trying to tell yourself to be prepared.”
Despite the challenging course and the increased challenge of playing her first LPGA Tour event after a long layoff, Pagdanganan made the cut. “…with Inverness being my first event, it was pretty challenging. Inverness wasn't really the easiest course … it was like the hilliest flattest golf course – I’d say and it was like a links course and . . . rained a little bit. But it was still a lot of fun. You know, your first event is probably something you're always going to remember. And the fact that I made the cut, I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I made the cut on my first event’. So, that's something that you know, kind of motivates you.”
KPMG Women's PGA Championship
In October, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was an experience for Pagdanganan at a different level. It was her first major and despite being nervous, she had the mindset of treating it like any other tournament. After an opening round score of 77 (+7 over par), she felt like she was overthinking things during the first round. Right afterwards, she talked to her dad Sam in the parking lot, telling him about all of the things that she was thinking about on the course. “I saw my dad, and he just looked at me and says, ‘Why are you thinking like this, this is not your game? Like, just look at your target and hit it’ . . . And I felt a lot more calm on the second round. And I shot five under.”
Sam’s advice worked, as she recorded back-to-back rounds of 65. On explaining her improvement from Day One to Day Two, Pagdanganan said, “You know, when you think about it, like why do you make it seem so easy? I don't know, when you're just calm and relaxed. You're having fun, like everything seems to go smoothly, like you just enjoy you have fun. And you don't even notice what's going on. So, like after the round. I'd look at my scorecard. I'm like, No, bogey. Yeah, yeah. And I was able to put my put myself in a good position. And yeah, it was a great first major.”
Despite a final round of a three-over 73, she tied for ninth at even par in her first major. Learning how to control her nerves was a big thing that Pagdanganan took from the experience. Don’t try to force things to happen, just trust your game. Her strong play continued at the LPGA Drive On Championship, finishing third at –14.
As is the case with many rookies, there are significant ups and downs. Pagdanganan struggled to 76th place with a score of +21 at the Volunteers of America Classic. It was not the kind of performance she wanted heading into the U.S. Women’s Open. The struggles continued with a missed cut after rounds of 72 and 75.
Despite the struggles, Pagdanganan keeps her approach the same from week to week, whether it’s a major or a regular LPGA Tour event. Every tournament is important. Heading into a major, she may look at an event as an opportunity to sharpen her game. Her idea is if she treats a non-major as lesser event, then she may not prepare as well, lose her focus, and perform shy of her capabilities. Her mindset is to stay focused and put 100% effort into every shot. If a shot is bad, she would have previously gotten frustrated over that. But she’s learned through hard work to get past that and move forward.
Bianca Pagdanganan completed her rookie year with a tie for 68th at the CME Group Tour Championship. The 23-year-old earned just over $200,000 and is 150th in the Rolex World Golf Rankings. Moving forward, she knows that she needs to work on her short game and her overall ball striking in terms of dialing in her distances.
The 2021 LPGA Tour season continues this week at the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando, Florida. On the Reserve List in 23rd spot, Pagdanganan probably will not be teeing it up in Florida, but hopefully with a full season, she will have plenty of opportunities to show all the hard work she’s put in, as she rises, not only as a top golfer on the LPGA Tour, but also globally.