28 January 2022: Aditi Ashok rested as much as possible after the 2021 season, putting down the clubs for what her father and caddie said felt like two months. As she embarked on preparing for 2022, her luggage and golf bag were delayed to Fort Lauderdale from India, but Ashok didn’t let a last-minute inconvenience stop her in the first full-field event of 2022. Ashok came out of the gate firing with a first-round 66 in the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio with just one bogey on No. 18 after hitting 17-straight greens in regulation.
“I was playing good to the end of last year but then with couple months off, I didn’t know where my game was at, so it was good to kind of pick up where I left off with a lot of good shots,” said Ashok. “Seventeen greens in a row was really good for me. I couldn’t reach 18 actually, but I’m still happy with the way I hit it today. I putted really well, but could have hit it a lot better and maybe given myself a few more birdie chances. But 66 is a great day for me.”
Ashok said she added a new club to the bag, a Callaway 5-hybrid, and is feeling more comfortable within her game. “Just trying to work on being better with the longer clubs,” said Ashok. “I’ve added a hybrid in my bag. I used to have just two hybrids, now three hybrids and I think that’s helping longer approaches.”
Though she finished in a tie for 48th for Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club a year ago, Ashok missed the cut in Boca Raton in 2020. But she’s coming off one of the best seasons of her career, which included a career awakening at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics last August that inspired a nation with a fourth-place finish. She’s using those experiences of being in contention to grow even more this year.
“Obviously the goal for me is to get in those positions much more often because I haven’t actually been in that position a lot,” said Ashok. “After the Olympics, I had like three top 10s, so it has been a goal and I’m hoping for more of that this year.”
Thursday marked the LPGA Tour return to Boca Rio Golf Club for the Gainbridge LPGA and Lydia Ko gave the Boca Raton, Fla. crowd something to cheer about. The 16-time Tour winner fired a 9-under par 63. Her bogey-free effort, the 15th unblemished round for Ko in the last two seasons (three more than any other player in that span) opened a two-shot cushion over Danielle Kang through 18 holes and ties Ko’s lowest opening round of her LPGA career, most recently recorded at the 2013 Australian Open.
In 2021, the Gainbridge LPGA was hosted by Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando.
“I didn’t have a great time on the putting green last week [at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions], so to kind of see putts going in was good imagery, and I tried to feed off that for the rest of the round,” said Ko, who made five putts in eight attempts from 15-20 feet on Thursday. “I hit a string of birdies on my front nine [after starting on No. 10]. Overall, I didn’t get into much trouble, was putting myself in play. When I had opportunity for birdie, for the most part I was able to hole it, which is nice.”
Kang picked up right where she left off four days ago when she hoisted the first trophy of the season at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. The six-time LPGA champion carded eight birdies this afternoon to shoot a 7-under 65. Kang is now 36-under across her last nine competitive rounds going back to the 2021 CME Group Tour Championship.
This was the fifth time since the start of 2020 that Kang opened 7-under par or better, and the previous three times she either won or finished runner-up.
“I don’t really try and focus on momentum, whether you have to create it, or it’s not there or there,” Kang said. “I played well last week. It’s a new week. I still have things to work on. I still have things I need to focus on.
“Every golf shot is difficult. Golf is hard. My whole thing is to be mentally present and constantly work on the things that I need to work on without being so focused on the result, while knowing what I need to do and want to do but being able to prioritize what my values are right now.”
Three shots back of the lead is Aditi Ashok, who signed for a 6-under 66. The Tokyo Olympics star hit 17 consecutive greens in regulation before the par-4 18th halted her streak. Ashok added a new Callaway 5-hybrid into the bag to start the season and it paid dividends on the “really long” track.
“Last time [here at Boca Rio] I missed the cut, but I remember it being really long. This time I was kind of focused on playing the long holes good and worked on my hybrids a lot the last three, four days,” Ashok said. “That helped because I know I’m going to get at least five or six hybrids, maybe more, into greens. Being able to hit those close and make birdies with hybrids was good for me.
“I actually made, I think three or four birdies today with a 5-hybrid [approach], which is great for me. Wish I would’ve added it sooner in my career, but better late than never.”
Seven players sit in a tie for fourth after opening round 67s including 2021 U.S. Women’s Open champ Yuka Saso and 2021 Epson Tour graduate Maude-Aimee Leblanc. Meanwhile, 14 individuals shot -4 to share 11th, led by Rolex Rankings No. 1 and defending Gainbridge LPGA champion Nelly Korda. Palm Beach County native Jaye Marie Green and Delray Beach resident Lexi Thompson each shot 2-under.