Bianca Pagdanganan (USGA photo)
KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. (Aug. 8, 2018) – A calendar year of firsts is about to come to an end for Bianca Pagdanganan. The 20-year-old from the Philippines transferred to Arizona for the start of her junior season in college, played in the NCAA Women’s Championship with her team for the first time, won said NCAA Championship with that team, played in her first LPGA event and now is making her U.S. Golf Association debut.
The experiences shaped her in a way that has her playing better than ever. Pagdanganan bounced around the top of the leaderboard in U.S. Women’s Amateur stroke play and eventually finished T-8 on Tuesday with a 4-under total at the Golf Club of Tennessee. She drew a first-round match with last year’s Women’s Amateur runner-up, Albane Valenzuela, and won on the 18th hole. Both players are gamers, leaders for their college teams and have no shortage of passion for this game.
“I’ve always wanted to play a USGA event,” said Pagdanganan, who seems very much in her element at arguably the most competitive women’s amateur event on the schedule. “So far my experience has been really amazing.”
Pagdanganan had only ever tried to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, but when visiting family in New Jersey earlier this summer, decided to tee it up at a Women’s Amateur qualifier on a whim. There happened to be a site nearby.v
She got in with 5-under 67, and there isn’t a player who belongs more. College golf fans will remember Pagdanganan as the player who drained a 30-foot eagle putt that kick-started Arizona’s run through the match-play bracket to an NCAA title in May.
Even a year after arriving at the University of Arizona, Pagdanganan can remember having that new-kid feeling in Tucson. Last fall, it took a couple of weeks to feel comfortable on a new campus surrounded by new people. One thing that never felt foreign was the team.
“Just transferring to a new school, that’s probably the most nerve-wracking part to me,” Pagdanganan said. “When I’m on the golf course, I’m in my element.”
Pagdanganan had played two years for Gonzaga before transferring to a more southern location to take her game to the next level. She qualified for the NCAA postseason as an individual each of her first two years. She ended her freshman college season ranked No. 98 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. She rose to No. 81 as a sophomore.
Pagdanganan tied for first in her first start with Arizona (the Branch Law/Dick McGuire Invitational) and added four more top 10s during her junior season. One of those was a T-2 at the NCAA Championship. She finished the season ranked No. 42 by Golfweek.
“Now compared to where I was last year, I’m more motivated to become a better player,” Pagdanganan said. “So much can change in one year.”
The Women’s Amateur is the biggest amateur event Pagdanganan has ever played. She compares it to the Philippine Ladies Open, where she won the amateur division in 2013. She’s been playing that event since she was 12.
Last month, Pagdanganan played the LPGA’s Marathon Classic on a sponsor exemption given to one member of the NCAA title-winning team. Head coach Laura Ianello chose Pagdanganan. She made good use of the opportunity, making the cut and tieing for 67th.
“If there was one way to describe it, it was definitely amazing,” said Pagdanganan. It inspired her to work even harder, and as many players say after they dip their toe into professional golf, it showed how strong her short game must be to get to the next level.
For now, it’s one match at a time. For a player without much experience with match play, the task seems easy – and fun – enough.
“If there’s one thing I learned about match play, especially during nationals, there’s nothing really wrong with being aggressive,” she said.