Focus on big-hitters as US Women's Open golf unwraps
Bianca Pagdanganan gears up for her last practice round at the Jackrabbit course Wednesday.

Focus on big-hitters as US Women's Open golf unwraps

Dante Navarro (Philstar.com) - December 10, 2020 - 5:05pm

MANILA, Philippines – In an enthralling grouping of players with one particular style but with varying characters, one should emerge the longest — but not necessarily the best.

And Mexican Maria Fassi didn’t make any effort to hide her thoughts on her keenly awaited duel with fellow ball-bashers Bianca Pagdanganan and Dutch Anne Van Dam in the opener of the US Women’s Open Thursday in Houston.

It won’t be a driving competition with the world best, headed by No. 1 Jin Young Ko and defending champion Jeongeun Lee6, all ready and raring to showcase their talent and skills, aside from their length, in women’s pro golf premier championship.

“I’m just gonna have to hit a good one on the first three holes to just let them know who the boss is,” said Fassi in an interview with Golfweek, sounding a bit cocky but confident of her driving prowess that, however, stands third best in the current LPGA Tour ranking.

Pagdanganan has lorded it over the elite field off the mound just a number of tournaments into her rookie pro campaign with her 284.655 norm three yards longer than Van Dam’s 281.849.

Fassi has averaged 280.252 yards heading to the $5.5 million event capping the pandemic-shortened LPGA season but is so upbeat of her chances to upstage her rivals in their 12:10 a.m. (eastern time) clash at the backside of the 6558-yard Jackrabbit course of the Champions Golf Club.

Fassi has actually played Van Dam in a number of tournaments this season, thus aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses with the Dutchwoman admitting to relishing the chance to pit talents with those who attack the course in a similar way.

“We don’t have to stay anything,” said Van Dam of her past duels with the Mexican. “You walk past it, if you outdrive her by 10 yards and say ‘Nice drive, Maria,’ and get her fired up on the next hole.”

The ICTSI-backed Pagdanganan has never been paired with Van Dam in her early LPGA campaign but has faced Fassi during the final round of the 2019 NCAA Championship in Arkansas during their senior year.

Fassi took the individual title as a Razorback with Pagdanganan, who helped steer the Arizona Wildcats to the team championship in 2018, finishing third.

But like her rivals, the more subdued Pagdanganan is brimming with confidence in her second Major test, drawing inspiration from her joint ninth place effort in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in Pennsylvania last October that earned her a coveted spot in this week’s blue-ribbon event.

She said she gets to rip her drive pretty much everywhere on both the Cypress and Jackrabbit courses, venues of the first two rounds of the 72-hole championship, although she stressed she won’t be trying to force the issue in engaging her rivals to a driving contest.

“It’s just a label,” said Pagdanganan of being No. 1 in driving distance in the circuit. “It’s not everything, but it’s pretty cool.”

Van Dam, meanwhile, has opted to keep her cool in their upcoming faceoff although the seven-time Ladies European Tour winners also packs an awesome power that even impressed legend Laura Davies, who regards her as the longest player she’d ever played alongside with.

“She has the fastest hip rotation speed that I’ve ever measured on a system,” said van Dam’s instructor David Dickmeiss.

So does Pagdanganan, who draws her power from what her Arizona coach Laura Ianello referred to as an “insanely” fast hips and use of the ground.

The Champions Club roughs aren’t exceptionally tough to deal with in this time of the season with Texan Angela Stanford, who won last week in Dallas, mentioning these are the tightest fairways she’s ever seen, but that hitting in the rough actually isn’t such a bad thing this week.

“I don’t think I’ve ever hit this many drivers on a golf course as a pro,” said a fired-up Fassi, whose swing speed can get up to 113 mph but she has most control at 106 to 108 mph, just like Pagdanganan and Van Dam.

Whatever, the first round duel of big-hitters should provide more than a sidelight to an unfolding US Women’s Open drama,

“It’s going to be fun,” said Van Dam. “Too bad people can’t come out and watch.”

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