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'Patient' Gaby Lopez plays way into early contention at KPMG Women's PGA

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NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – With an eye roll and an exclamation of, “Oh, Lord,” Gaby Lopez expressed what we all feel: January seems like a lifetime ago.

It was at the beginning of the year, the start of the LPGA season, in fact, that Lopez won the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. She did so in freezing Central Florida weather, over the course of five days and 79 holes.

It was chilly Thursday morning at Aronimink Golf Club, site of this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, but not as cold as Lopez expected – or had previously encountered –when teeing off at 7:32 a.m. ET. The front nine was a bit bumpy, with an opening bogey, three birdies and two more dropped shots.

But Lopez had a strategy: Be patient. And so she picked smaller targets on the spacious greens, took advantage of those times she hit it close and played a flawless back nine for a 2-under 68, tied for the lowest score among the morning groups.

“Yeah, happy with the result,” she said.

KPMG Women’s PGA Championship: Full-field scores | Full coverage

“Championship golf courses are designed to not have super low scores. I guess the biggest challenge is just being mentally prepared, patient, being calm. The wind got a little strong out there, so hitting it to the right places, being smart. We'll see [how] tomorrow ends up and the rest of the week.”

Lopez, 26, competed in only two events before the tour went on a 5 ½-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She used that time to rehab a neck injury, which occurred late last year, but her anticipated return suffered further delay when she became the first LPGA player to be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.

“Testing positive was really surprising after six months of taking care of myself,” she said, adding that she felt mild symptoms, like dry throat and fatigue, for a couple of days, before regaining her strength.

Lopez shares details of her experience with COVID-19

Lopez shares details of her experience with COVID-19

After seven months on the sidelines, Lopez has competed in five events since the restart but has yet to record a top-25 finish. She attributes that to “pushing it too hard.”

Thursday, she was patient. And it paid off with a share of the early lead in a major championship. She was even able to feed off some positive memories of that cold week outside of Orlando, way, way back in January.

“Oh, Lord. I mean, it feels like last year already. But it's good that kind of those memories come back at some point, being able to, I don't know, hit solid shots when you have to,” she said. “It's tough out there. It's windy. It's long. I think the more determined you are with your shots the better it is. Whether it falls in or not, if you stay patient, that's probably key out here.”