Winning is always hard. Winning for the first time, whether you’re a teenager who has just qualified for the tour or a seven-year veteran who has represented your country in international competition, coming down the stretch on a Sunday with a trophy on the line always puts a lump in your throat and a hitch in your heartbeat.
Several players learned that lesson at the Dana Open near Toledo, Ohio, one of the longest-running and best attended events on the LPGA Tour. Megan Khang, who has been on the LPGA Tour since 2016 and earned enough high finishes to qualify for two U.S. Solheim Cup teams without ever winning an event, lit up the front nine at Highland Meadows Golf Club on Sunday, shooting a 29 to take the lead. Khang has the game to be a multiple-time winner. That she hasn’t broken through surprises most insiders. And as each opportunity passes, the pressure mounts.
This time, Khang’s birdie barrage came to a screeching halt after 11. Despite soft conditions, she couldn’t manage another birdie until the last, a par-5 where she got up and down from a greenside bunker to shoot 7-under par 64 and finish the week at 17 under.
That was better than second- and third-round leader Lucy Li, who came into the final round with a one-shot lead over a couple of veterans. Li, who has been in the news since she was an 11-year-old qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, won twice on the Epson Tour this year to lock up her LPGA Tour membership for 2023. A top-10 finish in the CP Women’s Open two weeks ago got the now 19-year-old into the Dana Open field. But wet weather hurt her on Sunday. Li is still shorter than average by LPGA Tour standards. She has to putt like a demon to get it done, and that didn’t happen on Sunday.
Li, Khang, Caroline Masson, and two other winless players, Sarah Schmelzel and rookie Ruoning Yin, found themselves congratulating 28-year-old Gaby Lopez, who birdied her final three holes Sunday for the second day in a row. The best birdie came at the last, a 12-footer after finding the greenside bunker with her second on the par-5. When that putt went in, Lopez yelled and punched the air, realizing what it meant.
Lopez shot 63 on Sunday to finish 18-under, one better than Khang.
It was her third career victory and first in more than 2½ years.
“Today felt more like a Friday round,” Lopez said. “It was about creating a quiet space before hitting the golf ball and doing that over every single shot. If you keep in the present on every single shot, magical things happen. Keeping that quiet space was the key.”