LPGA Tour’s Palos Verdes Championship brings former UCLA, USC golfers back to LA

PALOS VERDES ESTATES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 01: Annie Park celebrates birdie on the eighth green during the final round of the Palos Verdes Championship Presented by Bank of America at Palos Verdes Golf Club on May 01, 2022 in Palos Verdes Estates, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
stuff in la happy face smile

May 1, 2022

By Dustin Watanabe

PALOS VERDES, CALIF. The LPGA Tour’s two-week-long Los Angeles swing came to a close this weekend with the completion of the inaugural Palos Verdes Championship presented by Bank of America. While last weekend’s DIO Implant LA Open at Wilshire Country Club had players smack-dab in the hustle and bustle of the City and in full view of the iconic Hollywood Sign, this week’s Palos Verdes Championship was held at none other than Palos Verdes Golf Club, nestled near the base of the Malaga Hills in the Palos Verdes Peninsula, with idyllic, rolling landscapes framing broad views of the Pacific Ocean—a wonderful contrast of venues that exemplifies the ever-plentiful range of experiences that the City of Angels has to offer.

Palos Verdes Golf Club has been the long-time host of the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, an elite invitational event for the top NCAA women’s golf teams in the country, so it comes as no surprise that its first ever LPGA Tour event was received by resounding crowds and widespread acclaim—save for maybe a few stray comments from the gallery about the heavily-undulating terrain that sometimes felt more like a hike through Runyon Canyon than a stroll along fairways and teeboxes.

The topography, however, did not deter the loyal LPGA fans, who came out in droves to support everyone in the tournament field, from established veterans like Jin Young Ko and Inbee Park to up-and-comers like 16-year-old amateur Anna Davis.

While the Palos Verdes Championship may be a new tournament for the LPGA’s schedule, for several players in the field, the tournament constituted more of a return to their old stomping grounds. In total, 14 of the competitors this week were alums of either the University of Southern California or UCLA, and many were previous competitors in the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge ‒ some even former champions of the event.

Take, for example, Bronte Law, the English-born UCLA alum who won the 2015 Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge while competing for the Bruins. While she wasn’t able this week to replicate her victorious result from 7 years ago, Law remains hopeful that her course experience will pay dividends in the coming years.

“I have a lot of good knowledge from playing here, a lot more than a lot of the other players, so hopefully one day in the future that’ll pay off,” she said. Law’s 3rd round score of 66 matched the low round of the day for the entire field, so there may be reason to believe that her history of winning may repeat itself sometime soon. After all, Law is no stranger to the winner’s circle on the professional circuit, having both an LPGA Tour victory and a Ladies European Tour victory under her belt.

Another local hero very well-acquainted with winning at Palos Verdes Golf Course is former USC phenom Annie Park, who won the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge in 2014⁠—the year right before Bronte Law’s victory. Park felt right at home this week playing her alma mater’s home course and commanded a loyal Trojan following outside the ropes. “My last college win was at this course,” she said after her Sunday round. “I have a lot of great memories here, and it’s great to have the Trojan fans come out here.”

Park led the Trojans to their 2013 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship, where she won the individual title by six shots. With her Top-5 finish this week at Palos Verdes, even the most die-hard fans of the rival UCLA Bruins would have to agree that she gave a spectacular showing.

Perhaps the biggest local name headlining the tournament field this week was Patty Tavatanakit, the Bangkok-born UCLA alum who has already established herself as a juggernaut on the Tour. Continuing to ride the wave of her rookie 2021 season, Tavatanakit’s major victory at the 2021 Chevron Championship (formerly the ANA Inspiration) catapulted her into the spotlight and solidified her as the 2021 Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 21: Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand tees off the fifth hole during the first round of the DIO Implant LA Open at Wilshire Country Club on April 21, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Although she fought through putting woes throughout this week at the Palos Verdes Championship, Tavatanakit remained in good spirits in her return to the Los Angeles area. “It’s been nice to stay here with familiar faces—I actually stayed in Westwood just yesterday, so it feels like home and comfortable here,” she said. “I love coming back here.”

This sentiment was echoed by former USC standout Jennifer Chang, who clearly felt right at home as soon as she stepped foot on the grounds. She fired a brilliant round of 65 on Thursday, which put her tied for third at the time, just 2 strokes behind first-round leader Minjee Lee. “I’m very familiar with the course and the area in general, so it feels like home here,” she said, smiling.

PALOS VERDES ESTATES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 29: Jennifer Chang hits driver on the ninth tee during the second round of the Palos Verdes Championship Presented by Bank of America at Palos Verdes Golf Club on April 29, 2022 in Palos Verdes Estates, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

While Chang has had to battle through adversity in transitioning from amateur to professional right in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, her unwavering mental fortitude and revitalized perspective on her golf game have led her to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Is it any coincidence that the phoenix is always depicted in the Trojan colors of red and gold?

The impact of the LPGA Tour now having such a firm stronghold in the LA area will be felt for generations to come, especially when it comes to growing the game. Although only one name will be etched into the Palos Verdes Championship trophy this week, the entire tournament field has been collectively etched into the minds of the many spectators that walked the grounds and were able to be up-close and personal with the best women golfers in the world, several of them being locals with strong ties to Los Angeles and its institutions.

Bronte Law is one of those looking forward to the LPGA Tour continuing to have this back-to-back LA stretch, saying “I hope we’ll continue to have this LA swing and get more UCLA fans and LA natives to come out and watch.” Law’s fond memories of her college days and her lasting Bruin pride are still strong to this day. “Being part of the athlete community [at UCLA] was really special; everything around you is excellence,” she said. “Every time I see someone’s car plate with ‘UCLA” on it, it’s nice to feel like you’re part of that.”

The two-week LA swing has also given Los Angeles youth a unique opportunity to see their role models and heroes display their excellence. The feeling of excitement was mutual, as many players expressed their joy in being able to interact with their youngest fans.

Count Patty Tavatanakit as one who remembers well being on the other side of the ropes at Tour events. “I was once in that position, so it means a lot to see all these kids come out,” she reminisced. “I always love seeing kids and saying ‘hi’ to them because I feel like they’re really pure and they’re just out here supporting us.”

Even the littlest of fans can channel big energy to the players, as Jennifer Chang attested to after her round on Sunday. “It’s so nice to have them,” she said. “Despite having a bad round, just to see them out here, it makes you feel a lot better to know that they look up to you.”

Some of those young followers could very well be out on the course playing on the LPGA Tour in the future, and Annie Park looks forward to it. “Hopefully we can see them out here one day,” she said.

With role models like herself and all the other players in the tournament field, we’ve no doubt that some of them will be inside the ropes very soon and vying for a trophy—be careful what you wish for, Annie!

stuff in la happy face smile

Additional reporting by Tremaine Eto.