LPGA Tour

Keeping up with Caitlyn: LPGA and ANA fans rally around Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner at ANA Inspiration
Caitlyn Jenner at ANA Inspiration ( Beth Ann Nichols )

Thursday, March 31, 2016

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Caitlyn Jenner holed out for eagle Wednesday on the first hole of the ANA Inspiration Pro-Am. Playing alongside soccer star Abby Wambach and LPGA pro Marina Alex, the Olympic superstar formerly known as Bruce Jenner made her first appearance in a tournament pro-am as Caitlyn. Tournament officials fielded more media requests for Jenner than World No. 1 Lydia Ko at the first major of the year.

Jenner, a single-digit player, came to the desert to compete alongside LPGA pro Danielle Kang, a friend from Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., whom Jenner played with on the back nine. (Two LPGA pros split the pro-am.)

“Next week we have a ladies tournament, and all the ladies want me to play,” Jenner said. “Of course they’re all asking me for the member-member to go with them.”

Jenner, who did not play from the women's tees at Mission Hills Country Club's Dinah Shore Tournament Course, attended the Tuesday night pro-am party at the ANA. Kang said that when she used to go places with Bruce, strangers would mostly stare and comment that he was “weird.” She was surprised then in Rancho Mirage to find a much different reaction to Caitlyn in their first time out together in public. (Kang since has moved to Nevada.)

“People were like swarming her,” said Kang. “ ‘Oh, my God, Caitlyn. You’re a hero. Caitlyn we love you.’ ”

Kang has known Jenner for six years and didn’t like what she’d often read in the media about her friend. Even TMZ called Kang looking for info on his sexual identity, her mother Grace Lee said.

“So I confronted him,” Kang said of a conversation that she said took place four years ago. “ ‘What’s the deal here?’ “ she said she asked him. "He sat me down at lunch at Sherwood and explained his whole deal. I said, 'OK, let’s go play golf.’ ”

Lee said that Jenner was like a father figure to Kang, constantly coaching and mentoring the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. Any time Kang calls, Jenner picks up the phone.

Not everyone, however, approved of Kang befriending Jenner, Lee said, but that never stopped the strong-willed teen. Even this week, a top player on tour expressed a desire not to play with Jenner in the pro-am.

“She’s the same person to me,” Kang said. “Exactly the same.”

Alex took out her phone to get Jenner’s number on the 10th tee before passing off her pro-am group to Kang. English pro Melissa Reid came over to snap a photo.

It was a lively group, with the vocal Wambach jazzing up the crowd and then making a post-round leap into Poppie’s Pond.

Jenner, 66, a gold-medal-winning decathlete in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, said her golf game has improved since transitioning to a woman. Kang explained further, saying Jenner thinks she putts better because her enlarged chest serves as an anchor.

“She told me I should get a boob job,” Kang said, laughing.

Jaye Marie Green took a selfie with Jenner at the pro-am party and posted it on her Instagram account. A couple of her fans took offense, saying they’d have to unfollow her now, and wished her luck in her career.

Green, an upbeat and friendly person, deleted the comments. She considered deleting the photo, but changed her mind, saying it made her realize what Jenner goes through every day.

“I took a picture with a human being,” Green said. “If someone is mad about that ...”

That’s their problem.

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