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HARD WORK DEFINES EARLY WINNERS ON THE LPGA TOUR

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Amy Rogers is an award winning multimedia journalist and freelance writer who has covered professional golf since 2007. She is a contributor to LPGA.com in addition to the Golf Channel and BBC’s coverage of the LPGA Tour.

There’s a reason Danielle Kang, Lydia Ko and Leona Maguire were the first three winners of the LPGA Tour season.

They spent the off-season working on their games. A lot.

At the end of the 2021 season, Kang, Ko and Maguire weren’t satisfied with their performances. While others took the Tour’s year-end hiatus to put their clubs away for weeks at a time, Kang, Ko and Maguire took to heart what Ben Hogan once said: “If you can’t outplay them, outwork them.”

Kang took a holistic approach to improving her nutrition, her mental game and her swing. Ko skipped her annual trip home to Korea and remained in the United States to put in time with her coach, Sean Foley. And Maguire? She dug into her statistics to figure out where she needed to improve.

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Lydia Ko

Kang focused on her nutrition, gained a few pounds and picked up seven miles of an hour of clubhead speed. She practiced more often in cold climates in an effort to improve her all-around game. The extra work paid off as she returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since 2019 with her win at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in unseasonably frigid Florida conditions. Kang backed up that victory with a second place finish the next week at the Gainbridge LPGA.

Through the first three events of the season, Kang leads the Tour in Strokes Gained at 4.01, well ahead of her closest competitors Charley Hull and Lexi Thompson at 2.98.

“I think I was more aware of where I was, things that I wanted to work on, the things that I wanted to execute,” Kang said after her season-opening victory. “I’m actually proud of myself for the work that I’ve done to feel the way I have today.”

Like Kang, Ko went to work on her game during the off-season. Despite leading the Tour in Scoring Average in 2021, Ko took a look at the KPMG Performance Insights. The new statistical database launched last season gives players, for the first time, a closer look at where their game stacks up against their competitors and highlights areas in need of improvement. Ko sought to improve her Greens in Regulation and Driving Accuracy. In 2021, Ko ranked 34th on Tour in GIR at 73.06 percent. But her real needs came in fairways hit. Ko ranked in the bottom third on Tour at just 65.52 percent in Driving Accuracy.

“I feel like if those parts are better, the scores are going to kind of come with that,” Ko said about improving her statistics. “I think that puts a lot less stress on the short game.”

Ko has made measured improvement in both GIR and Driving Accuracy to start 2022, improving her greens hit to 73.61 percent and fairways hit to 67.86 percent. In just her second start of the season, Ko held off Kang to win the Gainbridge LPGA.

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Like Ko, Maguire took the off season to take a deep dive into the KPMG Performance Insights.

While Maguire was coming off her best season to date in 2021, she set out to improve her GIR. She ranked outside the top 20 on Tour, a far cry from Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda, who she sought to emulate.

In 2021, both Ko and Korda ranked inside the top-5 on Tour in GIR, hitting 77.2 and 78.8 percent of greens, respectively. Maguire spent her off season working on dialing in her short irons and wedges and earned her breakthrough win at the 54-hole LPGA Drive On Championship. While Maguire was pleased to have captured her maiden win, she remains anxious to see where her re-engineered game stacks up against the best in the world with some of the top-ranked players absent during the week she won.

“We still have a few things to work on. It’s by no means perfect. Just keep trying to improve all the time,” Maguire said after her victory. “Jin Young and Lydia and Danielle weren’t here this week, so just keep trying to raise my game and work my way up and try to put myself in this position as many more times as I can.”

Through the first three events of 2022, Charley Hull leads the Tour in GIR at 81 percent, Marissa Steen leads in Driving Accuracy at 92.9 percent of fairways hit, and Bianca Pagdananan tops the Tour in Driving Distance at an average of 284 yards.

Hogan saw the value in outworking his competition. It earned him nine major championships, a berth to the World Golf Hall of Fame and one of the most emulated golf swings in the history of the game. Using Hogan as a model, Kang, Ko and Maguire outworked their competition and earned victories early in this season.

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As they push the bar higher, they push their competition, too. With the deep talent that has come to define the LPGA Tour, there’s only one way for players to distinguish themselves as the Tour resumes in March. With work. Hard work. And a lot of it.