For the first time since Lorena Ochoa, Mexico has an LPGA champion: Gaby Lopez. And she did it in gutsy fashion. Lopez held off the top two players in the world to win the Blue Bay LPGA Championship in China.
Paired in the final round with Ariya Jutanugarn, who has already wrapped up LPGA Player of the Year honours, and Sung Hyun Park, Lopez shot a one-over 73. It was just enough. She finished the tournament at eight-under, with Jutanugarn one shot behind her at seven-under, also posting a final-round 73.
“You know, probably this was the biggest challenge that I’ve ever faced on the golf course, being in the same group as world No.1 and world No.2,” said Lopez, who was ranked 136th entering this event. “I was just very fortunate and very lucky to have that challenge, to face it, knowing I had to play my best game because they were going to play good. I knew they were going to hit some great shots, and I had to keep up with them. At the same time, it just tells me that I could be in the same level. I’m working, I’m practising and doing lots of hard stuff to one day be up there in the world rankings with them.”
Saturday’s final round was not without its ups and downs. Lopez made a bogey on the fourth hole to fall back into a tie with Jutanugarn at eight-under. But her rival bogeyed four of her final five holes on the front side to give Lopez a four-stroke cushion heading to the back nine. (Park bogeyed her first two holes and couldn’t climb backing, shooting a 74.)
Lopez took advantage to her wiggle room, making four birdies and two bogeys from holes 10 to 16 and continued to lead by four with two holes remaining. This meant she could afford her two nervous bogeys on the final two holes (and a birdie by Jutanugarn on the 18th) and still walk away with the win.
During her press conference, Lopez, who turned 25 and made a hole-in-one on Friday, admitted she didn’t believe her first victory on tour would come for a while. It’s understandable: for one, Lopez is relatively new to the tour. She joined in 2016, the season after finishing runner-up in the NCAA Championship, where she was playing for the University of Arkansas. Secondly, she had only one other top 10 this season, a 10th-place finish at the LPGA Volvik Championship. But the tour in 2018 has proven a place where past results don’t exclude players from being champions. Lopez is the 10th woman to grab her first LPGA title this season. With so many new winners, the LPGA Tour is proving that the talent pool is deep – potentially as deep as it’s ever been.
After the win, Lopez spoke about what an influence Lorena Ochoa has been to her career. By winning in China, Lopez has secured the first LPGA win for Mexico since Ochoa’s last win in 2009.
“Lorena has been my mentor every since I turned pro,” Lopez said. “You know, she’s been my inspiration for my whole life. I’m just very, very happy that I’m getting another win for Mexico. That’s why I wear green, white, and red on Sundays, because I’ve been dreaming of this moment my whole life.”