LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Somewhere, Pat Hurst is smiling.
Seven Americans finished inside the top 10 on Day 1 of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at Tranquilo Golf Course. Hurst will captain the U.S. Solheim Cup team in September, and if Thursday’s leaderboard is any indicator of what she can expect from her squad, she has reason to be pleased.
Danielle Kang, who leads the U.S. Solheim Cup point standings, carded a bogey-free, 7-under 64 to also lead in the season-opening event. She is a fiery and feisty competitor who relishes music being played on the first tee at the Solheim Cup, much like the atmosphere at this week’s event, where a DJ provides entertainment on the 18th tee.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has tempered Kang’s expectations for this year’s Solheim Cup. The Ryder Cup was originally scheduled to be played in September 2020 but was postponed a year at the prospect of being held without fans. Kang hopes the same fate doesn’t befall the Solheim Cup, which is scheduled for Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio.
“I don't know what it would be like without fans. I've never felt anything like it when I played my first Solheim Cup in Des Moines [in 2017],” the two-time member of Team USA said Thursday. “Fans kind of make the tournament for me. I'm not sure. Hopefully there will be.”
Potential teammate Jessica Korda carded a 65 on Thursday to sit one back of Kang. A two-time Solheim Cup participant as well, Korda sits at No. 10 in the current point standings. The top eight will automatically qualify for the team with the next two spots being filled via the Rolex Rankings. The final two players will be selected by Captain Hurst. Like Kang, Korda is struggling to look more than a few weeks ahead, because of the pandemic.
“It’s so far out we have no idea what’s happening,” Korda told GolfChannel.com. “A Solheim Cup with no fans? What does that look like? It’d be like a Ryder Cup with no fans. No idea.”
Event or no event, fans or no fans, Stacy Lewis thinks about the Solheim Cup every day. Thursday, Lewis opened with a 5-under 65.
“It really is for me the goal of this year. I want to be on that team,” said Lewis, currently 12th in the Solheim standings. “I want to play in Toledo more than anything, where Marathon has stepped up to sponsor it. All my family is there. I mean, it's No. 1 for me.”
Jessica’s sister, Nelly, shaeres second place with her at the Diamond Resorts. Nelly is also second of the U.S. points list. Brittany Lincicome, Lexi Thompson and Angela Stanford are within three strokes of the lead at the season opener.
Lincicome, No. 20 in the point standings, will have some ground to make up in order to qualify or earn one of Hurst’s coveted picks. But, a victory on Sunday would go a long way towards moving her up the standings and closer to her seventh Solheim Cup appearance.
“To be back in the States, there’s nothing better than playing on home soil with all the fans. Assuming we can have fans.” Lincicome told GolfChanel.com. “Just to have them rooting for you and cheering for you and wearing those red white and blue colors and playing with the team would be awesome.”