How’s this for a confidence boost? Gaby Lopez won her first LPGA title playing alongside the top two players in the world.
Lopez edged out No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn by a single stroke at the Blue Bay LPGA to become the second Mexican player to win on tour, joining World Golf Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa, who has mentored Lopez since she turned professional. Ochoa retired in 2010 with 27 LPGA victories, including two majors.
“You know, she’s been my inspiration for my whole life,” said Lopez of Ochoa. “I’m just very, very happy that I’m getting another win for Mexico. That’s why I wear green, white, and red on Sundays, because I’ve been dreaming of this moment my whole life.”
Lopez’s victory hinged largely on a spectacular 25th birthday celebration on Hainan Island. On Friday, Lopez aced the par-3 17th at Jian Lake Blue Bay Golf Club with a 7-iron. She’d go on to birdie the last hole to shoot 66 and earn a spot in the final pairing alongside Jutanugarn and Sung Hyun Park.
The final round was more about survival than anything else, with Lopez dropping two shots on the last two holes. Both Lopez and Jutanugarn carded closing 73s, allowing Lopez to maintain her one-stroke advantage. The former Arkansas standout finished at 8-under 280. Park dipped to a share of seventh after a 74.
Lopez wasn’t the only one who enjoyed a birthday boost. Celine Boutier celebrated her 25th birthday in style on Saturday, closing the tournament with a 66 to vault into third. Boutier won her first Ladies European Tour title last year on Hainan at the Sanya Ladies Open.
“I think it was like half an hour away from here last year,” said Boutier, a former Duke Blue Devil. “Unfortunately, (the LET) canceled the tournament this year so I’m not able to defend my title.”
Jutanugarn heads to the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship leading nearly every statistical category. She has already locked up the Rolex Player of the Year honors and leads the Vare Trophy race with a 69.40 scoring average. She’ll arrive in Naples, Fla., where she won last year, with $1 million on her mind.
“Feel OK,” said Jutanguarn, “… but I still know I still have a lot of things to improve, especially the last two days that I know what I should work on next week.”
Lopez became the 10th first-time winner of 2018, joining Jin Young Ko, Pernilla Lindberg, Moriya Jutanugarn, Annie Park, Nasa Hataoka, Thidapa Suwannapura, Georgia Hall, Marina Alex and Nelly Korda.
Prior to Saturday, Lopez’s best finish on the LPGA was a tie for seventh at the 2017 ShopRite LPGA Classic. With only one top-10 finish in 2018, her dream week in China wasn’t exactly predictable.
“For sure it’s been a tough year, firstly because I got an injury at the beginning of the year that took me out of play for about six weeks,” said Lopez.
“It wasn’t fun. I thought that this day actually was going to come a long time from now. It’s been so great. So special to the course with No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world. I think I’m speechless.”
It was a particularly emotional and sentimental victory for Lopez given that her grandfather died only a few weeks ago. It was Jose Lopez who got the family into golf, and with Gaby being his first grandchild they had a particularly special bond. Golf was Jose’s biggest passion, and Gaby wanted nothing more than to share this moment with him.
“I always told him that I was going to give him my first trophy,” she said. “Sadly I didn’t, but he was with me all week long, and I couldn’t be more lucky, more fortunate to have him still alive in me.”