The Arizona women’s golf team is heating up at just the right time. And nobody’s shining brighter than Bianca Pagdanganan.
The senior’s consistent play has paved the way for Arizona to win three of its last five competitions dating back to November’s Pac-12 Preview.
Pagdanganan, a native of the Philippines, has finished in the top 5 three consecutive times. Her most recent, an outright solo victory at the El Tigre Invitational in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was probably her sweetest.
Pagdanganan defeated the field by six shots, saving her best scoring round (67) for the final day. Her performance may have been overshadowed by her team’s successful title defense, but Pagdanganan couldn’t help but feel a little bit relieved.
This time last year she was feeling anything but that.
“I was devastated,” Pagdanganan said.
That’s because she learned a valuable lesson the hard way. Pagdanganan was ultimately disqualified from last year’s event because she wrote down contrasting marks on her score card after the second round of competition. She didn’t learn about her mistake until her former teammate, Gigi Stoll, burst into her room late at night.
“She was like, ‘B, I think there’s something wrong with your scorecard,’” Pagdanganan said. Immediately, she became worried, but had to accept the fact that the situation was out of her control.
“Once that happens, you know it’ll never happen again because you’re going to be extra careful,” she said.
Pagdanganan’s laser focus helped her redeem herself.
“My mindset was just to stay consistent the whole round, not to be too aggressive ... but safely aggressive,” Pagdanganan said. “I wanted to stick to my game plan and minimize the errors throughout the whole round.”
The results speak for themsevles. Pagdanganan finished the tournament nine shots under par — six strokes better than her teammates Yu-Sang Hou and Ya Chun Chang, who placed second and third, respectively.
“It was great redemption for last year,” she said.
Pagdanganan isn’t a stranger to huge moments. In two seasons at Gonzaga, Pagdanganan advanced to the NCAA Championships twice as an individual. She transferred to Arizona as a junior because she wanted to strengthen her prospects of turning pro after graduation.
At last year’s NCAA Championships, she stole the show by nailing a 30-foot putt that advanced Arizona into match play. The Wildcats went on to win their first national title since 2000. Earlier in the week, Pagdanganan shocked herself by finishing tied for second place in individual competition — she said her primary focus was helping her teammates reach the finals.
Fellow senior Haley Moore garnered the headlines with her championship-sealing putt on a sudden-death hole, but it was Pagdanganan who positioned her team for success in the first place.
Pagdanganan managed to outdo her 30-foot putt by stunning the crowd with an eagle on hole 11.
At first, she was worried that her shot, which landed directly atop a hill, would bounce back and roll the opposite direction of the green.
“I let go of my club and I was pissed, I was like ‘why did I land it there?’”
Instead, the ball kept spinning and rolled over the top of the hill, and out of Pagdanganan’s sight.
“There were a bunch of people by the green and they just started yelling,” Pagdanganan said.
By then, she knew — it was a hole-in-one.
Surrounded by greatness
Pagdanganan didn’t need much convincing to transfer to Arizona. She knew the weather made for suitable playing conditions year-round, and she instantly gravitated towards the coaching staff.
The competition, even in practice, made her better. Hou and Moore are ranked 40th and 44th, respectively, in Golfstat’s most recent NCAA women’s player rankings. Pagdanganan is 51st.
Add the freshman Chang and two more experienced upperclassmen to the mix, and it’s no wonder why Arizona has a chance to repeat as national champions.
“We know more people are trying to beat us,” Pagdanganan said. “Rather than talking about it, we show it to each other at practice.”
Pagdanganan thinks she’s learned something from every one of her teammates.
“Everyone has their own strengths,” she said. “I just try to learn from that. All of us are competitive in our own ways.”
That competitive nature has helped Pagdanganan hone her skills and evolve, both on and off the golf course.
“If you think you’re working hard, and then you see your teammates working just as hard, you feel like you need to work twice as hard,” Pagdanganan said. “It pushes you to become a better player, and I think that’s what you need to become one of the top golfers.”
Pagdanganan is well on her way to joining the professional ranks — and the atmosphere she’s surrounded by at Arizona has played a crucial part in the process.
“Growing up, golf was such an individual sport,” Pagdanganan said.
That’s different here though because she’s constantly gaining feedback from her coaches. Pagdanganan says she’s learned the most from her head coach.
Coach Ianello is constantly reminding the women about approaching each shot with the correct mindset. Golf, after all, is predominantly a mental game.
“That’s what I keep in mind: commitment, focus and having no fear on every shot,” Pagdanganan said.
Confidence is key
Pagdanganan’s soaring confidence could help the Wildcats down the stretch. The senior said she doesn’t feel any different than she did last fall, and admits that there are things — “chipping and pitching, and hitting certain distances,” she said — that need to improve.
It’s about more than just ball-striking, though. Pagdanganan’s confidence at the tee and on the green have just as much of an impact.
“When I overthink shots, that’s when I get into trouble because I’m really not that type of player,” she said. “Most of the time, I play my best when I don’t really think about it.”
That’s a difficult dilemma, especially for an athlete dependent on her mindset. How can someone control their action when they don’t want to think much about it beforehand
“Being confident and patient is what I really focus on during tournaments,” she said. “If I play well, good. If I don’t, it’s fine.
“There was a time when I was doubtful after some shots.”
Now, Pagdanganan places an emphasis on short-term memory. She employs a “feel” swing, and it’s served her well.
“I’m like ‘just get to the ball and hit it’ and I think that’s what works best for me,” she said.