LPGA returns from virus shutdown with confidence, hope

England's Bronte Law is confident in LPGA safety measures for the tour's return to competition Friday at Toledo, Ohio (AFP Photo/Mike Ehrmann)
England's Bronte Law is confident in LPGA safety measures for the tour's return to competition Friday at Toledo, Ohio (AFP Photo/Mike Ehrmann)

Miami (AFP) - Five months after COVID-19 halted the 2020 season after only four events, the LPGA Tour returns to competition confident in safety measures and hopeful of finishing the campaign.

The inaugural Drive On Championship will be played starting Friday at Iverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, the site of the 2021 Solheim Cup matches between Europe and the United States.

A field of 144 will end a 166-day layoff in the tour's 70th season.

The Marathon Classic will be staged next week at nearby Sylvania, Ohio, so players can have a bubble of sorts before heading to Scotland for next month's Scottish Open and Women's British Open, the first major in a schedule rearranged by the pandemic.

"Being here, it feels even more real and hopefully we have a prolonged stretch of golf coming up and we can play the rest of the season," England's Bronte Law said Wednesday.

"The LPGA is doing everything they can to provide an environment that's safe for us and the community around us. I hope we can put on a show we haven't been able to for a while and maintain the health, on the tour and wherever we go."

The 54-hole tournament and the Marathon Classic, both to be played without spectators, follow two Florida events last January and two Australian tournaments in February that were played before the COVID-19 shutdown.

"If you test positive that's an issue and you can't play," Law said. "If I do have it, I want to make sure I don't give it to someone else. There's a bigger picture here than golf.

"Hopefully that's taken care of and there's not too much worry of me getting it and passing it on."

Swiss rookie Albane Valenzuela, a New York-born daughter of a French mother and Mexican father, spent the past six months in the Bahamas and graduated virtually from Stanford University before returning to Florida, spending two weeks in quarantine and resuming her career in Toledo.

"It's definitely scary," she said of the virus. "We can't be cautious enough being back on tour. I'm pretty confident the LPGA knows what they are doing. I feel pretty safe being in this bubble.

But it's far from normal worrying about masks and hand sanitizer and staying socially distant.

"It's definitely weird seeing all your friends and not hugging them," Valenzuela said. "I'm a hugger."

Law, who helped Europe win last year's Solheim Cup, looks forward to seeing what Inverness has to offer this week and next year.

"I think it's going to be a fabulous course for the Solheim Cup," Law said. "This will be a really good test. It gets a little windy out there and there are some elevation changes. You have to be smart. You have to keep your head out there."

That makes it a fine, if difficult, place to restart the campaign.

"After not playing for a while, being thrown in at the deep end will certainly be a challenge but one everybody is certainly ready for," Law said.

"Everyone will be embracing the fact we're back. Hopefully if you start difficult, the events after won't seem as difficult."

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