It's the first full field event of the LPGA season, the LPGA Drive On Championship moves to Bradenton Country Club in Florida where Celine Boutier is back to defend her title
This week the LPGA tour remains in Florida moving from Orlando to the west coast and Bradenton Country Club for the LPGA Drive On Championship. This is the sixth time this championship has been contested but the first time it has been held at Bradenton.
The first full field event of the season will have 120 players who will compete over the usual 72-hole stroke play format where the field is cut to the top 65 and ties after 36 holes. The course is a 6,557 yards, Par 71 but the set up may vary daily.
Bradenton Country Club celebrates its centennial in 2024, and for its 100th anniversary, the course will host the LPGA Drive On Championship for the first time. The Donald Ross design course opened in 1924 and underwent its most recent renovation at the hands two-time Major champion Tony Jacklin in 2018.
Boutier back to defend
Celine Boutier heads up the field as the defending champion and will be competing for the first prize of $262,500 from the $1.75 million prize fund.
Boutier's win last year kicked started a strong year for the Frenchwoman, who won four times on tour, including her first Major Championship at the Amundi Evian Championship.
Ahead of her defence, the 30-year-old was asked how the win last year set her up for all the success that she had throughout the season:
"I think it just give me a little bit of relief and confidence. I feel like it had been two years before that week that I hadn't won, and I came a lot of times in the top 10 and in contention and wasn't able to do it in 2022. To be able to do it that early in the season in 2023 was good for confidence.
"And also, being able to win in the play-off is never easy. There are a lot of nerves and you have to handle yourself a lot better. The fact that I was able to pull it off was very definitely good for my confidence. I think also gave me more confidence in the few tournaments after that I was in contention or even in the play-off in Malaysia. I just feel a little bit more comfortable."
In her win at the 2023 LPGA Drive On Championship, Boutier shot all four rounds in the 60s and defeated Georgia Hall on the first play-off hole:
"I just remember that it was unfortunately play-off against Georgia, which was a little bit tough because I'm pretty good friends with her. I just remember I played really solid golf and that the greens were so firm. Yeah, I think it was a very good tournament, good memories."
How will Boutier be approaching 2024 after such a successful season?
"It's definitely a bit challenging because of the expectations of other people, but also of yourself. I definitely feel like I'm trying to just keep it very much in the present. I feel like the one season to another is whole different game, so I know that it's not going to be the same. I'm just going to try to put myself in the position as much as I can and try not to have too many expectations."
The rest of the field
Also teeing it up this week is 2022 champion Leona Maguire, who is looking to draw on her performance two years ago:
"It's been pretty clear from the get-go this week that hitting greens is going to be really paramount this week. Chipping is really tricky with the bermuda grass around the greens and things like that. Going to be windy I think, a little bit gusty, a lot like the conditions in Fort Myers actually. I managed it pretty well
two years ago, so hopefully can emulate that again."
It will also be interesting to watch how Lydia Ko tackles this week after winning her 20th LPGA Tour event at the season opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions last week.
This first full field event of the season also gives us the opportunity to see some of the 2024 rookies. There will be 15 teeing off this week with Gabriela Ruffels being one of the rookies to watch this season after her standout performance on the Epson Tour in 2023, where she won three times and earned Player of the Year honours along with her LPGA Tour card.
Isabella Fierro, Minji Kang and Auston Kim also earned status via the Epson Tour’s Race for the Card. Whilst others gained cards via LPGA Q-Series last December, including former Clemson University Tiger Savannah Grewal, Republic of Korea native Yu Jin Sung and former University of Southern California Trojan Malia Nam.
Watch the LPGA Drive On Championship on Sky Sport Golf and Sky Sports Mix, starting 5:00pm GMT on Thursday January 25.
View the full leaderboard via the LPGA website.