As if the first dozen LPGA tournaments weren’t exciting enough, serving up 11 different winners, things really get serious now. Four of the next 10 events are major championships, beginning with this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston. And that also means there are a ton of Solheim Cup points on the line. Buckle up, we are entering an intense stretch of golf.
The enormous explosion of talent in the women’s game has created a period of parity populated by a slew of great players. On any given week, there are a couple of handfuls of competitors who are capable of being the best in the world if on her game.
Think about this: The last eight majors have had eight different winners and the last 10 Women’s Opens have had 10 different winners. Since Karrie Webb became the seventh to win the Open in back-to-back years in 2001, only Inbee Park in 2008 and 2013 has won that championship twice.
The run of winners since the Evian Championship became the fifth major in 2013 is reminiscent of the first seven years after the ANA Inspiration became the fourth major in 1983. The major winners in that stretch included Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, Laura Davies, Betsy King, Juli Inkster, Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan, Hollis Stacy and Jan Stephenson. All are in the LPGA Hall of Fame, the World Golf Hall of Fame or both.
That makes you look at the current crop of champions and wonder how many among them will fashion Hall of Fame careers. The first three years of the Evian Era were dominated by Inbee Park, who won six majors from 2013 through 2015 and is already in the LPGA Hall of Fame.
Since 2013, In Gee Chun, Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn and Sung Hyun Park have two majors each while 17 others have one of the 31 majors played. This run started with In-Kyung Kim at the 2017 AIG Women’s British Open and goes through Jin Young Ko in this year’s ANA.
In between are Anna Nordqvist, Pernilla Lindberg, Ariya Jutanugarn, Sung Hyun Park, Georgia Hall and Angela Stanford. Jutanugarn will be trying to be the first since Webb to win consecutive Women’s Opens.
“The U.S. Open is one of the hardest tournaments and it’s always on the toughest golf courses,” Jutanugarn said. “Winning last year meant so much to me. It was one of my dreams when I was young.” She says with wide fairways and big greens, “the greens are going to be the key. You have to be putting well.”
There are almost too many contenders this year to mention. Among the top-five in either or all of the top categories – Race to the CME Globe points, Money List, Vare Trophy, Rolex Player of the Year and Top-10 finishes – are Jin Young Ko, Minjee Lee, Eun-Hee Ji, Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson Hyo-Joo Kim and Danielle Kang. Leading for Rolex Rookie of the Year is Jeongeun Lee6 chased by Kristen Gillman.
Inbee Park is always a factor in the Women’s Open, where she has six other top-10 finishes in addition to her two victories. Sung Hyun Park, the 2017 Women’s Open winner, is a puzzler. She won this year’s HSBC and was T-2 at the Kia Classic but then was T-52 at the ANA and missed the cut at the HUGEL-Air Primia LA Open. Park had three wins last year, including the KPMG, but missed seven cuts.
Nasa Hataoka, who lost to Sung Hyun Park in a playoff with So Yeon Ryu at the 2018 KPMG, is looking for her first major, as are Sei Young Kim, Nelly Korda, Jessica Korda, Minjee Lee and Carlota Ciganda.
As for the Solheim Cup, qualifying points and Rolex Rankings points are amped up in the majors. Team USA qualifies eight off points joined by the two highest in the Rolex Rankings not already on the team. Juli Inkster then gets two captain’s picks when her team is finalized after the AIG Women’s British Open on Aug. 4.
Europe qualifies three off the Ladies European Tour points list and five from the Rolex Rankings. Catriona Matthew has four captain’s picks when her team is set after the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open on Aug. 11. These next 10 events are crucial for Solheim hopefuls.
And what should be expected from the Country Club of Charleston? There is no one better to ask than LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member Beth Daniel, who grew up playing the Seth Raynor design in a town where records say the first golf clubs arrived from Scotland in 1739.
“The greens can get firm and fast and that will be a good protector,” Daniel said. “I’m also hoping the wind blows a little bit. That’s part of playing here. I hope the players get a few of those conditions. If it’s soft and not playing firm and fast, I think the scores might be low.”
The U.S. Women’s Open, first played in 1946 when LPGA founder Patty Berg was the winner, is always an intense test. This year, it also launches a crucial stretch that could determine a lot of awards and the Solheim Cup teams. On Thursday it all begins. Buckle up.