LPGA/PGA Professionals Fare Well, But Fall Shy of Weekend at Congressional
By Jeff Babineau
PGA and LPGA Professionals gather for a photo around the KPMG trophy this includes (from L-R); Jennifer Borocz, Ashley Tait Wengert, Alisa Rodriguez, Sandra Changkija, Stephanie Connelly-Eiswerth, Alisa Rodriguez, Ashley Grier, Meaghan Francella and Jenny Suh Thompson during a practice round for the 2022 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club on June 22, 2022 in Bethesda, Maryland. Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America via Getty Images
As a group, the nine LPGA, PGA and LPGA/PGA Professionals in the field for Friday’s second round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship performed far better than they had on opening day.
Sandra Changkija shot 1-under 71 and made a run at playing on the weekend. Meaghan Francella, a former LPGA tournament champion who now works as the LPGA Teaching Professional at Philadelphia Cricket Club, shot 72. Alisa Rodriguez was steadier in her play, following up a first-round 76 with a round of 74.
As a whole, the players seemed a whole lot more comfortable than the players had been a day earlier, when Congressional Country Club presented a far more menacing test. A rough opening nine holes to the tournament on Thursday kept players such as Francella and Ashley Tait-Wengert (75) from potentially getting to the weekend.
“I hit the ball really well the last 27 holes that I played. I wish I could get that first nine holes back,” said Francella, who defeated Annika Sorenstam in a four-hole playoff to win the 2007 MasterCard Classic in Mexico.
Francella turned 40 in May, and is happy to leave the travel of tournament life behind to coach full-time. She had her own spirited gallery at Congressional that included her mother and two groups from the LPGA Amateurs group that arrived from Arkansas and Canada – or, as they call it, “Arkanada.” A day earlier, she tripled her opening hole and shot 43 on the front nine; from that point on, she was level par. Friday, she made four birdies, four bogeys.
“I’m kicking myself a little bit,” she said. “I feel great. It was good. You get the competitive juices flowing again. It was fun to see everybody, fun to hit the shots again in competition.
“It’s not easy to come out and play competitive golf after being away for so long ... I’m glad that I don’t do this full-time anymore – I definitely am glad about that.”
Changkija is a PGA/LPGA Assistant Professional at ChampionsGate Golf Resort in Davenport, Fla., a 36-hole facility just south of Orlando. This was the seventh time she has played the KPMG. The 2021 champion of the Women’s Stroke Play Championship, she has played LPGA events since her rookie season a decade ago, and owns four career top-10 finishes.
She had four 6s on her card in her opening 78, including a double bogey on the difficult par-4 fourth; on Friday, she went out and played much better. After turning in 1-over, she shot 2-under over her final nine, making three birdies to shoot 71. Changkija was a four-time Div. II All-American at Nova Southeastern. She finished her two rounds at 5-over 149.
One shot behind her was Rodriguez, a PGA Associate Teaching Professional at Balcones Country Club in Austin, Texas. She has been playing on the Epson Tour, and came into this KPMG feeling much more competitively sharp than she felt a year ago at Atlanta Athletic Club. She bogeyed her final hole – the rugged par-4 18th midday Friday and knew it cost her any shot of making the cut. Two holes earlier, at the par-5 16th, she hit a 54-degree wedge to 8 feet and made birdie to give her hope.
Rodriguez had a couple of highlights in her week. One of her PGA Junior League players was there to watch her play on Friday, which was nice; and earlier in the week, she had played a practice round with 13-time LPGA winner Stacy Lewis, the current U.S. Solheim Cup captain.
“That was super cool. It’ll give me a little more confidence going into Epson in a couple of weeks,” Rodriguez said. “That was just huge. The biggest thing is to know that I can play out here. There’s no reason why I can’t. Moving forward to Epson, I’ve been so concerned trying to just make the cut. I competed out here; there’s no reason why I can’t compete on the Epson.”
Ashley Tait-Wengert, 35, an LPGA coach at Baltimore Country Club, was competing not only in her first LPGA event this week, but her first major championship. On her very first hole, the par-3 10th, she stuck a 9-iron to 15 feet and ran in the birdie putt. Her brothers were here, her mother was here, and her father, Patrick, a retired 35-year PGA Professional, was on the bag. A couple of holes later, a family friend took a picture of the leaderboard, showing Tait-Wengert up there at 1-under.
Tait-Wengert was proud of the way she held things together during a tough opening round, and feels she’ll be far more prepared for her next major championship. The former Epson Tour player (she still has limited status) is determined to keep working on her game.
Her opening birdie on Thursday at the 10th, an incredibly picturesque hole, was part of Golf Channel’s Thursday coverage. Friday afternoon, after she shot 75, Tait-Wengert asked a PGA of America official if there was any way she could get a copy of the footage.
Video or not, that shot is destined to play over and over in her head for years.