The GAME Bianca Pagdanganan 2024 Feature

Chasing Par: Bianca Pagdanganan Is Driving Her Game Further

Filipina golfer Bianca Pagdanganan looks back at how she made her dreams of becoming a professional and an Olympian come true.

When The GAME asked Bianca Pagdanganan how she decided to pursue a career in the highly competitive field of professional golf, a cheeky smile spread across her face as she replied, “It’s kind of a funny story.”

Looking back, Bianca explained that as a junior golfer, she saw herself as an average player. She wasn’t exactly dominating her age brackets in tournaments and wasn’t winning a whole lot yet. “I was kind of just in the middle of the pack, and of course, that doesn’t necessarily help with your confidence,” she shared. “Growing up, [becoming a professional] had always just been a dream because there were only so many Filipinas I could look up to — maybe just two players. So it seemed impossible.

“But the turning point was actually when I was in college.”

In her sophomore year as a college student at Gonzaga University, one of the requirements for her course was to undertake an internship. Thus, she decided to fulfill this while she was home in the Philippines for the summer.

“I was working in the conference room, I was on my laptop from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM, and I kept standing up. I was walking around the room and I kept looking outside the window, and I said to myself, I need to be outside. I don’t think I’m fit for a desk job. And so when I went home, I told my parents — I can’t do it. I can’t sit in front of a computer and that’s when I knew that I wanted to become a professional golfer. It’s what I want to do.”

Bianca immediately took this feeling and ran with it. She enrolled in a new university with a more conducive environment for competitive golf, thinking to herself, “I’m gonna drop everything and I’m gonna focus on my career. It was a no-brainer for me…So that was my turning point. It was an internship.”

From then on, the Filipina did not look back.

Unforgettable firsts

Not long after that restless morning at her internship that altered the course of her future, Bianca’s decision to pursue a career as a professional golfer paid off. In 2019, she earned her LPGA Tour card after her top-45 performance in the LPGA Q-Series, and in 2020, she made her professional debut. But, much like her unconventional career path, her first year as a pro was also out of the ordinary.

“It was an interesting set-up,” she explained. “Due to the pandemic, they didn’t require all members to play the events, so basically, it didn’t really count for much.”

Twenty-twenty was indeed an unusual year for sports. In the LPGA Tour scene, 17 events were canceled and several players opted out of tournaments for health reasons, and because of this, Bianca refers to it as her “Unofficial rookie year.” Yet, even though it wasn’t the most ideal set-up, the Filipina decided to make the most out of it anyway.

“I was just trying to get used to that lifestyle. I learned so much that year and I feel like I played well because my expectations were low. Obviously, I’m a newbie and I’m going up against people I looked up to, so I just want to know where my game was at that point. I wasn’t thinking too much about getting points.”

(Photo credit: Bianca Pagdanganan on Instagram)

That year, she competed in 10 events and recorded two top-10 finishes, including an impressive third-place finish in the LPGA Drive On Championship. “I think having no expectations and then just enjoying what is going on really helped me play well,” she said.

With no expectations, she allowed herself to immerse herself in her new life as a professional athlete and take in as much as she possibly could. And with this mindset, she didn’t even think about the possibility of qualifying for the Olympics — and yet, come 2021, Bianca could already be called an Olympian.

“I didn’t even think I was going to qualify…I was a rookie and my ranking was so far down, so I didn’t even know if I would have a chance in Tokyo.

“But in 2021, basically what was my rookie year, I finished third and then I had a top-ten finish in a major which really bumped up my rankings. I think I jumped 300 spots. I remember it was a pretty huge jump and it made me eligible to qualify for the Olympics. And then when I found out I got in I thought, how am I qualifying after my first year on tour? It’s surreal because as cheesy as It sounds, when your dreams come true, it’s something really boosts your confidence. If you really put your mind to it, these things are possible.”

With an Olympic qualification, Bianca flew to Tokyo in 2021, carrying the Philippine flag in the individual women’s tournament, an entirely different experience from playing on the professional tour.

“Playing in the Olympics, you’re representing your country, you represent the Philippines and that’s something I really take pride in. Of course, on the LPGA, the Philippine flag is there. But the Olympics — it’s like you really earned that spot to carry the flag. You play for something bigger than yourself and it’s a big responsibility, but it’s also a huge blessing.”

After finishing her first two years as a professional, and having competed in the Olympics, Bianca already had more than a handful of experiences to learn from. But this was truly just the beginning of her journey.

Breaking through

Despite a promising start to her career, Bianca Pagdanganan faced several speedbumps in the last couple of years. In 2022, she struggled to crack into a top-ten finish, her best result being a T19. With this, she concluded the year 324th on the Women’s World Golf Rankings, and in 2023, she started off on conditional status and again, struggled to get the results she wanted in the first few months.

“With where I was in the ranks, I was really just eyeing around five LPGA events last year and of course, you really want to maintain your status or improve your status by playing events, and I didn’t have the luxury of doing so earlier in 2023,” she shared.

“It was a struggle both mentally and physically. I felt like I was working so hard but it’s tough when you don’t see the results that you want. It’s like, why am I spending so much time doing this? I don’t see anything.”

But, midway through 2023, Bianca started to get the ball rolling a little bit more.

In the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, the Filipina finally managed to secure a top-ten finish — her first since her debut year — a signal that her uphill climb was finally starting to produce a worthwhile view. With this, she was beginning to realize that one of the major factors in improving her game was actually rediscovering her life outside of the sport.

“Personally speaking, I can’t make golf my whole world, because when it’s good, it’s good, but when it’s bad, you’re gonna have such a hard time trying to get yourself back in a good position. So I tried to find other hobbies and that helped me clear my mind. I think that’s what helped me play better towards the middle of the year. My game started to feel good. I was enjoying playing again because there was a time when I was really dreading it.”

With this shift, Bianca really found her groove again, and with it, a breakthrough. It started when she was invited to play in Korea last year. Although it wasn’t an LPGA event, this was one of the first tournaments of the year where she finally felt confident in her game.

(Photo credit: Bianca Pagdanganan on Instagram)

“Something switched [in Korea], and the week after, I was gonna head out to Arkansas,” she recalled. “I was physically very tired because the turnaround was quick. I landed in Arkansas at 3:00 PM on a Sunday and I needed to practice so I went straight to the golf course and I played nine holes. I was really exhausted and I thought, I really hope this week is a good week. And sure enough, I finished third.”

With her first top-three finish since 2020, Bianca’s only goal after Arkansas was to keep the momentum going, which she more than did. In her next tournament, she took it a step further, recording a career-high second-place finish. And thanks to these back-to-back top-three finishes, she made a huge jump in the rankings — from World No. 314, she moved up to No. 160.

“It was really a roller coaster of a year, and mentally and physically, it was really a struggle,” she admitted. “But when you’re able to exceed your own expectations, it’s so rewarding and it feels so good because it’s like you don’t really see the bigger picture everything happens.

“This is where all the time that I put in went. It’s finally showing and it was just a relief when I ended the year.”

A big year ahead

Despite reaching career milestones that she could only dream of once upon a time, Bianca’s mindset remains similar to that of her “unofficial rookie year.” And yet, her growth as a player over the last four years has been remarkable, though it wasn’t an easy journey.

Her first couple of years as a professional were reminiscent of her life as a college player — dropping everything to pursue her dream. Over time, however, she slowly started to realize that this mindset wasn’t working for her, and yet, this realization was not easy for her to accept.

“I was trying to tell myself, this is not your whole world, there’s so much more to life than golf, but at the same time, I was also like, you can’t tell me that, I worked so hard for this,” she recalled. “I think it was more of a tough pill to swallow because when I found hobbies or I gave myself a break, it would make me feel guilty because I felt like I should be working hard.”

But once she accepted that rest and recovery are just as important as hard work, she found clarity, not just in her mindset, but in her performances too.

“Comparing who I was in my first year — practicing so hard and not listening to my own body — I’m just so glad that I’ve grown so much. My health really is my wealth and I can’t compete if I’m not in a good state of mind. It’s just really being more mindful and conscious of everything that I do. I think that’s the difference that I’ve seen from who I was as a rookie to who I am now, and I’m still looking forward to learning a lot more things.

“I thought I knew everything, but apparently, you never really do.”

(Photo credit: Bianca Pagdanganan on Instagram)

Now, following her breakthrough performances and her immense growth in 2023 that allowed her to regain her full LPGA Tour status, 2024 is set to be another big one for Bianca because not only is she going to be competing at some of the top events in the world, but she is also eyeing another Olympic berth.

“It’s definitely still a goal of mine, to maintain my status and get one of the qualifying spots for the Olympics…Fingers crossed, looking forward to the next one.”

Although she emphasizes that all she hopes for is to play good golf this year and that she is managing her expectations, Bianca still knows, perhaps better than most people, that you should never underestimate the power of a dream.

Looking back at her first Olympics, she revealed, “It’s funny because I was going through the archive of my Instagram stories, and I had actually played a tournament in Japan when I was in college. And I remember when I got to the airport, there were banners all over the airport for Tokyo 2020, and I took a picture of it and my caption was something like, ‘The dream.’

“It’s pretty crazy,” she recalled with a smile on her face. “If I could go back and tell my college self that I made it, she wouldn’t believe me.”

Images from Bianca Pagdanganan on Instagram.

‘I Believed In Myself’: How Bianca Pagdanganan Made A Career-Lifting Comeback in 2023

This is How Much Bianca Pagdanganan Has Earned From Her Career-Best Finishes

5 Highly-Rated Watches That Might Just Up Your Golf Game