Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play
Chasing distance isn’t just a PGA Tour thing. And this LPGA major champ is seeing it pay off
Hitting the ball 20 yards longer in 2021 compared to 2020, Australia's Hannah Green had played some of the consistently best golf of her young LPGA career.
LAS VEGAS — It’s been a season of assorted firsts for Hannah Green. It was the first time the 24-year-old Australian played in the LPGA’s Southeast Asian swing, the first time she had strung five top-15 finishes in a row and the first time averaging more than 270 yards off the tee.
A more distressing first, however, emerged last Friday. That’s when Green, the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA championm first experienced neck pain as she prepared for this week’s Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play at Shadow Creek and next week’s U.S. Women’s Open, tournaments where she hoped the outcome could elevate a good season into a career year.
Green was in Orlando practicing when she noticed the issue. She was treated by a massage therapist last Friday and laid off the clubs Saturday before traveling 13 hours Sunday through multiple delays from Florida to Las Vegas.
“I’ve been popping a lot more pills than I normally do. I’ve never had to take any sort of Advil or anything for any other reason. I’m hoping this clears itself up somehow,” said Green, who got more treatment from a physio on Monday at Shadow Creek Golf Club before working on the putting green.
Thankfully, the No. 13 player in the world said she felt better on Tuesday and was optimistic about the big two weeks ahead given the fact she is in the midst of the most consistent season of the four-year veteran’s LPGA Tour career. She tees off in the first match of the first round-robin day of play at Shadow Creek on Wednesday against Gerina Pillar, with Mel Reid and Azhara Munoz the other two members of Group 9.
Green laid the groundwork for success in 2021 with the start of her three-month offseason. She didn’t touch her clubs in January, focusing on regaining strength by hitting the gym. Green got into lifting six years ago and lifted as heavy as she ever had.
The Aussie then added new Srixon clubs to her bag when she began preparing for the season. Her drives popped off the face of her fresh ZX7 driver. She also added an inch to her driver’s shaft for further distance.
The work lets Green rip it 20 more yards off the tee from 2021 compared to 2020, vaulting her from 54th in average driving distance on the LPGA to 11th this season as she averages 277.8 yards.
Green knew all about her distance gains heading into her first practice round at the Kia Classic in March. She just didn’t bother to tell her caddie, Nate Blasko, who was on the bag for her two career LPGA wins.
“I gave her a line off of the tee on 10 and went into a bunker I didn’t think she could run out,” Blasko texted to Golf Digest. “And then on 13 the same thing. After the drive on 13, I was like, are you hitting it way further or is it just me."
Green laughed when recalling the moment. “It was quite nice for him to be quite surprised,” Green said.
She is still dealing with surprises from the almost 10-percent distance gain at courses she’s played before. At the Kia, on the 10th at Aviara Golf Club, she found the right rough over and over. She struggled to commit to a new target over the water because of previous sightlines. It’s a small price to pay for the positives to her game.
“It’s a lot easier to have 9-irons [into the green] instead of 7-irons,” Green said. “To be able to have a short shot in and control the ball a little bit better, it’s very helpful.”
That control is leading her to more scoring opportunities. Green leads the LPGA in birdies per round with 4.9, making 1½ more from last season to this year. Her scoring drives her run of three straight top-10s and five top-15s heading into this week, featuring a runner-up at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore.
Green’s strong play presents a chance to pass Minjee Lee to become the top Australian in the world. Green trails Lee by two Rolex ranking spots after opening the year ten positions behind. If she surpasses Lee, it’ll be the first time the top Australian in the world spot changed hands since Lee passed Hall of Famer Karrie Webb in June 2015.
The two-time winner was unaware of the chance until her coach, Ritchie Smith, who also coaches Lee, texted her about it.
“It’s something I want to be. I want to be World No. 1, so that would make me the leading Australian,” Green said.
She needs to solve her neck pain before accomplishing that step to her ultimate long-term goal. Green is skilled at problem-solving, as she enjoys puzzles in her downtime. She completed her first 2,000-piece puzzle last week. Green’s approach to finishing puzzles is her best teacher for dealing with her neck.
“Once I do a puzzle, I need to finish it. I can’t do 10 pieces a day, I need to do it as soon as possible,” she said. “It’s just my mentality.”