Bianca Pagdanganan had no trouble finding the driving range at Ventana Canyon on Friday afternoon, even though she had only been there once before.
The University of Arizona women’s golf team was getting in one last practice before their next competition at the Golfweek Conference Challenge in Wolcott, Colorado, which begins Monday.
UA’s home course, Sewailo Golf Club, was being worked on, so they headed to the foothills to get in a little more practice.
It also took Pagdanganan, a junior transfer from Gonzaga, very little time to select UA as her new home over USC, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas.
“Over the summer I decided I wanted to turn pro after college,” Pagdanganan said. “I had no time to waste on these last crucial two years. The weather is great here. I can play year-round. The facilities are great and the coaches want the best for you. I always wanted to play for a competitive team.
“In the Philippines all my life I played outdoors. I love being out here and really get to work on my game. I am excited to be here.”
It also took much less those 10 minutes on that cart ride to the range for a casual observer to realize how quickly this newbie felt at home in Tucson and with her teammates.
She has been on the UA campus less than a month and already has a nickname (“B”), is laughing at fellow junior Haley Moore’s jokes and being driven to practice by her, and has won a tournament.
Yes, she is most definitely fitting in.
“We knew she was going to make a big impact,” Moore said. “We saw how she went to the NCAA Championships with a good score and we know with four or five good players we can make it back and compete for the national championship.”
Pagdanganan is ranked No. 136 on the World Amateur List and No. 81 on Golfweek’s collegiate ranking.
Last season she finished first team all-West Coast Conference and was the conference golfer of the month in March. She won the Pizza Hut Thunderbird Invitational by shooting a tourney, course, school, and WCC record 61 in the second round. That 61 tied her for the NCAA’s lowest women’s single round.
She played in the NCAA championships in both her freshman and sophomore seasons.
On the amateur side of things, she’s also experienced much success, winning the 2014 Philippine Jr. Amateur Open, the 2013 Amateur Division of the Philippine Ladies Open and was in the training pool for the Philippine National Golf Team in 2015.
Pagdanganan joins a strong Wildcat team with Moore and senior Krystal Quihuis, a Salpointe Catholic High grad, leading the way. Moore finished last season ranked as Golfweek’s No. 13 individual golfer in the nation, and No. 15 in the women’s amateur rankings.
This summer, Quihuis won the Trans National Golf Championship in Southern Pines, North Carolina, with a 281 — 10 strokes better than all but one other golfer.
“‘B’ can play at the highest level in the Pac-12,” UA women’s golf coach Laura Ianello said.
“She can play with Haley and Krystal and others who want to go pro. We actually have a team to win the national championship. Last season Krystal and Haley fought for No. 1 golfer each week and now we have three who can do that. We have the depth, we are stronger; we have three legit No. 1 players.”
On Sept. 12, Pagdanganan won the first event she competed in as a Wildcat — the Dick McGuire Invitational in Albuquerque. She jumped out to a six-shot lead after two rounds of 67 (-10).
“I didn’t really expect anything; that’s usually my mindset,” she said. “It’s stick to your game plan and everything will turn out fine. I was shocked especially this being my first tournament.”
Then her nerves caught up to her at the end of her final round. She went bogey, double-bogey, double-bogey on 15, 16, and 17.
“On 16, the par 3, I was unlucky, into the bunker on the right,” Pagdanganan said. “It was like a fried egg. I could hardly get it out and I missed the putt. I made a clubbing mistake — chose the wrong club on the next hole. Then, I told myself ‘it’s not over yet.’ I had to make the best of that last hole. I had to remind myself to take it shot-by-shot and focus on what I was doing now.
“Growing up, my dad taught me it’s you and the course. The course is trying to trick you into hitting to certain places, but stick to what you know; stick to your game plan.”
And it worked. She birdied the 18th to finish with a 208 (-8) and a tie with Andrea Lee of Stanford.
“She is calm on the course and has the ability to manage her emotions,” Ianello said. “She was not frantic on 18 and almost eagled. This is what champions have — the ability to calm themselves down.”