After a tumultuous start of the week at the 2023 opener, LPGA players and officials had to be pleased when the news on Thursday finally turned to the competition rather than the lack of player amenities at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
Two of the tour’s biggest stars, Brooke Henderson and Nelly Korda, sit at the top of the leaderboard after the first round at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.
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As the LPGA started its 74th season in Orlando, the initial conversation centred on the those not in attendance rather than the 29 players in the field. Six of the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings are missing. (Lexi Thompson is ranked No. 6 but did not qualify because she hasn’t won since 2019). Most notably absent is 2022 player of the year and World No. 1 Lydia Ko, who got married last month and had planned to start her season a little later. But Rookie of the Year Atthaya Thitikul didn’t enter either. Nor did two major winners from a year ago, Minjee Lee and In Gee Chun.
Then matters deteriorated more when Golfweek reported on Tuesday that lockers were not available for players anywhere this week on site, as was also the case last year. The men’s locker room at Lake Nona had to remain open to the public because of restrooms, according to Golfweek. Players were able to use bathrooms and showers in the designated women’s area but there a not a place for them for store any of their belongings or have their own private space.
“I don’t know why [the LPGA] cancelled the lockers,” Aaron Stewart VP of sports marketing at Hilton Grand Vacations, told Golfweek.
On Wednesday afternoon, 36 lockers were delivered to Lake Nona and set up in the women’s locker-room area. It was an improvement, but still they were in a part of the clubhouse that was not private and was shared with tournament hospitality and VIPs.
“We are always open to player feedback and work with our tournament partners to allocate finite space,” an LPGA statement said.
“It’s unfortunate that that story is kind of being discussed,” said Annika Sorenstam, a 72-time LPGA winner and a member at Lake Nona who is competing in the celebrity portion of the event. “I just want to focus on the game, and hopefully they can sort all the logistics out and we can focus on what’s important.”
Said Korda: “To me this event is so unique in the sense where that stuff doesn’t really bother me. You’re out here competing with different celebrities, former athletes, current athletes.”
True to her word, not much seemed to bother Korda on Thursday as she birdied three of her last eight holes to turn a mediocre round into a four-under 68 and hold second position on the leaderboard. The World No. 2 is looking for vindication after shooting a final-round 75 at Lake Nona a year ago, which dropped her into a tie for fourth place.
Henderson, ranked seventh in the Rolex Rankings, birdied three of her first eight holes and added two more at Nos. 10 and 14 before recording her only hiccup on the afternoon with a bogey at the par-3 17th hole. But she rebounded with birdie on the par-4 18th to claim the lead at five-under 67.
“Yeah, it does feel really good, and to get off to a hot start, that’s always a great feeling,” Henderson said. “Hopefully I can continue it the next three days, a lot of momentum, and lots of birdies. You really need to go low here if the conditions are going to stay as nice as they are.”
Gemma Dryburgh, Charley Hull, Ashleigh Buhai and Wei-Ling Hsu are tied for third place at 69.