Highlights and Tidbits from the Player Press Conferences on Tuesday and Wednesday
The following are some highlights from some of the players attending the player press conferences at Aronimink. With the exception of a few reporters in attendance, the press conference was largely carried out online.
Lydia is coming into the KPMG Women's PGA Championship with a different mindset and physical approach. During the Covid suspension, she worked extensively with her new coach, Sean Foley.
Some of Lydia's focus included her physical fitness along with her mental approach to the game. Of her work with Foley, she commented, "... I think obviously it's been a few months working with Sean, and I think we've kept it really simple, not overcomplicating anything. Anytime I see him for a lesson or talk to him over the phone, I think we're covering all the same things, and it's great working with my trainers, as well. We're kind of on the same page and making sure that we're looking in the right direction. But it's been good. I think he's really been able to help me not only in the technique standpoint but also trying to clear out some of the questions in my head, and I think sometimes those are more important than the technical parts."
When asked about her training during the break and carrying it over into the playing season, Lydia mentioned that she has remained focused, "Yeah, obviously with COVID you do have to be a little bit more, I guess, careful when you're on the road, and I've been trying to do a lot of in-room exercises and being careful to not do too loud like jumps in the room, especially when I'm not on the ground floor. But yeah, it's a little hard, but I've been keeping in good contact with my trainers to make sure I'm doing the right things, and they have an app that I'm able to go straight on and see some of the exercises I can do with the bands or a few equipment that I have. It's definitely difficult, so I think in the off weeks I've been trying to do more strength and more weight work then and then do more conditioning and body weight stuff on the road.
The smooth swinging Australian player has a reputation for her consistent play, sneaking into top-10 finishes and was asked at the outset as to what it was about her game and mental approach that translated so well to golf and the LPGA.
In her typical unassuming way, Minjee responded, " I think I'm really motivated to play well. Obviously this year we haven't been able to play too much, and just with the events that are happening, we're just really grateful for the opportunity to be able to play. I think I just got a little bit of extra motivation there, and I think when I'm a little bit behind after making the cut, then I just try to have a good score on the weekend just to maybe try and get into the top 10 and stuff like that. I think just being consistent I think is the main thing."
Minjee also shared her thoughts about the golf course and how it might play for the tournament, ". . . the course is in amazing condition. Before I came here I heard such great things about this place. I played nine holes this morning, and it was quite wet, and it was cold, as well, so I felt like my ball wasn't going in where. But yeah, it's such a lovely track. Wide fairways, probably not that much rough. The greens are big, as well. I think it'll definitely benefit the long hitters, but I think getting the speed right on the greens I think will be the main key here, and obviously chipping around the greens if you do miss."
Canadian favourite, Brooke Henderson is a past champion at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, having captured her major title at Sahalee C.C. in 2016. She is also a favourite with much of the media contingent, fielding the most questions on day one, including a question on what it is like for her to play without the "Brooke's Brigade" in attendance to cheer her on.
"Yeah, it's definitely very strange playing without fans. They definitely play a huge role in golf. It's always fun to connect with the fans after good rounds or you hit a good shot and hear them clap, it's always really fun, and you can kind of feed off their energy, where this year that's missing, but at the same time I think it was the correct call under the circumstances in a world pandemic. It's just definitely the right decision.
"I think over the last few weeks I've kind of gotten more comfortable with it. I feel like the biggest challenge is when you hit a good shot but you can't see the green, normally you can just depend on the crowd to know if it's a good shot or if it's over the back, and I'm with Brit and we're walking really fast up to the green to try to check it out."
Henderson was then asked about any momentum gained from her recent form of good play and if she can carry it over into this week, "Yeah, I think it's slowly building. I didn't really get off to the start I wanted to in August, but I've kind of regained where I was, and I've seen my World Ranking go up, as well, to No. 4, which is really exciting. I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel like I have good vibes from this tournament and the last few tournaments I've played in. I think being here at Aronimink it's just so beautiful and the course is in such amazing shape, it's definitely going to be a challenging week, very difficult golf course, but hopefully I can hit it well and just put myself in contention."
The top ranked American player in the field this week is World No.2 Nelly Korda. She has been enjoying some really good form the past 6 - weeks or so, losing the ANA Inspiration in a playoff to Mirim Lee to finishing solo 5th last week at the Shoprite Classic.
Given Korda's distance off of the tee when hitting her driver, it was only natural that several questions focused on her thoughts about the course and whether Korda's length will be a benefit to her.
"[ It ] Definitely will. Even I have like 7-irons and 6-irons into the greens, but it's playing soft right now. I heard they've gotten a little bit of rain over the past few weeks, or a lot of rain, so it's definitely soft out there, so I'm pretty sure -- I don't think there's going to be any rain throughout the week, so it's going to firm up, and I think we'll have some shorter clubs in maybe."
With Aronimink being a Donald Ross design, several questions arose throughout the day as to how the players would approach the greens and how they would handle their putting. Korda was asked about the greens in addition to whether she was going to maintain her style of putting with her left hand low.
"Yeah, left hand low is definitely the go. I've played a bunch of Donald Ross style golf courses. I mean, I have two in my area, Sara Bay and Bradenton Country Club, so they're a little smaller greens. These are definitely bigger, a lot more undulation in them, so yeah, I mean, I played 18 yesterday. I wanted to play 18. I'm just going to play -- I played nine today and I'm going to play nine tomorrow, so definitely a lot of work around the greens. It's a lot about like placement, as well. You've got to place yourself on the greens."
Of all the competitors in this week's field, there is only one player who has won more than one KPMG Women's PGA Championship and that would be Hall of Fame player, Inbee Park. Park won this major championship an astounding three years in a row, joining another Hall of Fame player, Annika Sorenstam, as the only players to win this major for three consecutive years.
Naturally, being a multiple winner of the event, Inbee was asked for her thoughts on how the course was playing and Park did not disappoint, providing a very thoughtful response.
"Well, I've played this golf course now twice on the front nine, once on the back nine. It is a tough golf course, but it is just really long. I'm sure everybody has been really saying that because I think this tournament was expected to play in summer, which the greens and the fairways would have been a little more harder, but being in the fall it's colder, ball is not going anywhere, fairways are really soft, greens are soft. So the ball is not going anywhere. I'm hitting a lot of 5-woods and 3-woods into this green, and the greens are big, fairways are big, so I hate to say it, but it is a really big advantage for the long hitters.
"I never really used pitching wedge, too maybe 8-iron, 7-iron; everything is above 6-iron and plus. It is just really the long game on this golf course, and the greens are really tough, but these greens are huge, so it's not a problem getting on the green, but it's just you've got to be able to make some great two-putts from the lengthy distances, and obviously being in the cold weather, playing in the morning three times for the week is going to be a little bit challenging because morning temperatures are just a lot colder, so the ball is not going anywhere.
"I think it's just fighting with the long clubs, especially for me it's 3-woods and 5-woods, and yeah, try to make some long putts, I guess.
"The scoring I don't think is going to be very low unless they move a lot of tees up on the tournament days, which I think they might do. I think maybe every day 2-under par is a really good score."
Currently number 3 on the Rolex World Rankings, Danielle Kang comes into this major as a past champion, having won in 2017 at Olympia Fields, where she sank a birdie putt on 18 to edge the defending Champion, Brooke Henderson.
Kang looks to put in a good showing with the goal of being in contention come Sunday. When asked as to what her thoughts are on Aronimink and whether it is long and hard out there, Kang summed up her thoughts, "Yeah, the golf course is monstrous, actually. I'm thinking about taking one of my wedges out and putting in another hybrid and woods. But we never know. I don't know how it's going to play tomorrow. That's the beauty of a major. Every day is different, depending on weather conditions.
"It also depends on course setup, how the LPGA and the PGA of America decides to set the golf course up. But I think it's going to be fun if they play it the way we're practicing it. I might not be able to reach a par-4 if I mis-hit a tee shot or mis-hit my second shot even with a wood. But I think that's the fun of it. Depends what kind of scores they want for the week, and whatever it is, it's not really up to the players. Whatever comes our way, we're going to have to go with it."
Danielle was asked what she thought her keys might be to playing well this week, "Trying not to have any weaknesses from tee to green and around the greens. Honestly, fairways are quite wide, so missing a fairway will be pretty crucial, but just because you hit the fairway doesn't mean you're going to hit the greens. Around the greens are really soft bent. There's a lot of chunks that are playable, so you can chunk it pretty easily around the greens, and all of a sudden if you're in the rough, it's Kentucky bluegrass that has a really thick root that just pops out in your face. Not only that, you hit it to about five feet and the green breaks about 5 percent slope.
"Honestly, I think you're just going to have to trust your game, all the work that you've done and just not have any weaknesses in any aspect of your shots. I don't really think there's one thing you have to do really well to perform out here. The golf course is really, really tough."
Perhaps the most interesting points to come out of the Player Press Conferences is the enormous respect that the players have for their competitors, the course and the challenge that it poses. There is also a healthy respect or perhaps confidence is the better word, for their own abilities to navigate around the course and to master the shots that they need to execute for success on Sunday.
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Gallery of Practice Rounds at the 2020 KPMG Women's PGA Championship (Aronimink C.C.)
From Left to Right: Brooke Henderson, Cheyenne Knight, Lauren Stephenson, Sophia Popov, and Cheyenne Knight