Pagdanganan powers up Olympic drive

Pagdanganan powers up Olympic drive
Bianca Pagdanganan is all set to rip it off all the way to Tokyo.

MANILA, Philippines – Throughout her journey in pursuit of golfing excellence, Bianca Pagdanganan never stops chasing every athlete’s dream.

“Playing in the Olympics is the greatest (golf) opportunity,” said Pagdanganan, who left for the US Sunday night and will undergo quarantine protocols before resuming her LPGA Tour campaign in Florida in two weeks time. “If I get to play (in the Olympics), it’s a goal of mine.”

It has always been that way for consummate athletes, who live and train like warriors, developing and sharpening their talent and skills through a series of rigid drills and top-notch battles, gaining the needed experience and raising the level of their respective games in time for the once-in-four-years major global event.

Had the quadrennial meet been held as scheduled in 2020, the University of Arizona product wouldn’t have made it to the roster, even by a long shot. Moved a year later due to the global health crisis, the Tokyo Games now beckons for the 23-year-old former Philippine Open Ladies champion, who surged to No. 41 in the current (Olympic) ranking owing to her fine rookie showing on the LPGA Tour last year.

“It was always her goal to play in the Olympics,” said three-time Junior World champion and coach Carito Villaroman, who handled Pagdanganan since she was 11. “All the things that she has been working on is in preparation for her campaign in the upcoming Tokyo Games.”

As a seven-year-old who picked up a set of plastic clubs out of curiosity about her dad’s sport and started hitting things, not just balls, inside their home — to her mom’s consternation, little did Pagdanganan know that someday she would be picking not just trophies and honors but also a card every female golfer would ever dream of.

“It was surreal,” she then said after making the LPGA grade in her very first try in late 2019.

With a clear shot in the Tokyo Games, it would even look odd for the ICTSI-backed ace to be tracking down the road less travelled by ordinary athletes — a stab at Olympic glory 16 years later.

But for many, she deserved every bit of a crack at it.

LPGA.com even labeled her as the “future and a revolutionary figure of women’s pro golf,” not just because of her immense power (she leads the Tour with a 288-yard norm), but also because of her character and the promise that she brings to the sport.

“She’s got the personality,” said 2004 British Women’s Open champion Karen Stupples of the Filipina ace who finished joint ninth in her major debut and posted a third place finish in a regular LPGA event. “But she is also the only woman in the game with that kind of power who isn’t afraid to use it.”

The Englishwoman said while other players do hit it as far as she does, they’re afraid to do it, stressing: “They’ve been told that they need to pull back and keep it in play or hit it to a number. Bianca doesn’t care about any of that. She picks a line and rips at it.”

“I’m the last mechanical and technical person you’ve ever seen. People talk to me about clubs and how the swing works and I’m like, ‘Oh, interesting.’ I just love to grip it and rip it,” Pagdanganan would always say when asked how and where she draws her power.

She could be that good but her game is still far from being perfect with Villaroman and Pagdanganan focusing on her ball control and short game during the six-week LPGA break. It would also be too early to say that she’s the kind of player who might change the norms of the sport someday although it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.

Less than five months before the close of the Olympic qualifier, her camp expects her to reach peak form and further improve on her ranking with strong finishes in the LPGA.

“I want to represent the Philippines again,” said Pagdanganan, who also wants to inspire the next generation of Pinay golfers, in a recent post.

The last time she played for the country, she raked in two gold medals, romping off with the individual gold, over an equally talented Thai ace, and leading the Philippines to the team championship in the 2019 SEA Games.

Pagdanganan, who also bagged the bronze while helping Team Philippines win the gold in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, is looking to nail the last of two slots allotted for the Philippines, the first virtually secured by LPGA of Japan Tour-based Yuka Saso, who is at No. 21.

“I really want to play in the Olympics. That’s a big goal and I want to achieve it. I want to represent the country on a bigger stage. Oh my God, it would be a big accomplishment, such a big honor,” she said.

The Top 60 by the International Golf Federation in its Olympic ranking will get to play in the Tokyo Games with the Top 15 gaining outright berths. The qualification period will run until June 28 with women’s golf slated August 4-7 at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama.

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