One indisputable fact about The Year of the Global Pandemic is that normalcy was redefined. For women’s golf, that means for the first time the Olympics and the Solheim Cup are in the same year. That’s because, despite retaining the title Tokyo 2020, the Games were delayed a year. Beginning with this week’s LOTTE Championship, each LPGA Tour stop for the next few months will have an intense game within the game as players try to earn their way to Tokyo and Toledo.
After a week to catch its breath following Patty Tavatanakit’s masterful effort holding off Lydia Ko in the ANA Inspiration, the Tour returns at Kapolei Golf Club in Hawaii. And it’s a safe bet that many in the field of 144 will be checking the Rolex Rankings to see if they will be fitted for a team uniform.
The 60-woman field for the Olympics Aug. 4-7 will include two players per country, unless a player is within the top-15 of the Rolex Rankings, in which case four players will be allowed for that country. Currently, the only two countries qualifying four players are South Korea and the United States.
Following the ANA Inspiration, the top three in the Rolex Rankings were from South Korea – No. 1 Jin Young Ko, No. 2 Inbee Park and No. 3 Sei Young Kim. The next three were from the United States – No. 4 Nelly Korda, No. 5 Danielle Kang and No. 6 Lexi Thompson. South Korea doesn’t have to go far to find its fourth player – No. 8 Hoo-joo Kim – while the USA fills out its squad with No. 12 Jennifer Kupcho.
South Korea, in fact, has two more players within the top 15 and both of them are major championship winners – No. 14 Sung Hyun Park and No. 15 Jeongeun Lee6. The Americans have Austin Ernst sitting at No. 16 and Jessica Korda at No. 20.
With two more majors before qualify ends – the U.S. Women’s Open June 3-6 and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which ends Olympic Qualifying on June 27, opportunities abound to make a move. South Korea has So Yeon Ryu, Hae Ran Ryu, Ha Na Jang and Mirim Lee all within the top 30 while Americans Amy Olson, Ally Ewing, Stacy Lewis and Lizette Salas are among the top 42.
As of now, the three 2016 medal winners are qualified for the 2021 Olympics – Inbee Park of South Korea, who won the gold; silver medal-winner Lydia Ko of New Zealand and bronze medalist Shanshan Feng of China.
Because of COVID-19 disruptions, qualifying for the Solheim Cup was altered slightly. The United States qualifies seven players off the Solheim Cup points list; two off the Rolex Rankings and Pat Hurst will be allowed three Captain’s Picks.
For Europe, the top two off the Ladies European Tour points list qualify, as do the next four highest in the Rolex Rankings and then Catriona Matthew gets six Captain’s Picks. A spot in the Solheim Cup is always highly coveted, but with the memory of Europe’s 14½ to 13½ come-from-behind 2019 victory at Gleneagles in Scotland still fresh, Toledo will have a special intensity Sept. 4-6.
As things stand now, Emily Kristine Pedersen and Nanna Koerstz Madsen qualify off the LET points list with Carlota Ciganda, Sophia Popov, Charley Hull and Mel Reid earning spots from the Rolex Rankings. Among those who could be Captain’s Picks are Georgia Hall, Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Masson, Celine Boutier, Madelene Sagstrom, Bronte Law, Azahara Munoz and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
For the Americans, the top-seven on points are: Danielle Kang, Nelly Korda, Lexi Thompson, Austin Ernst, Ally Ewing, Jessica Korda and Megan Khang. They are trailed closely by Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford, Amy Olson, Brittany Altomare, Marina Alex, Jennifer Kupcho, Cheyenne Knight and Jennifer Song.
The two who qualify off the Rolex Rankings are No. 12 Kupcho and No. 26 Olson. They are followed by No. 33 Lewis, No. 42 Salas, No. 45 Alex and No. 50 Altomare, giving Hurst plenty of options for her three Captain’s Picks.
The LOTTE Championship, which was a victim of COVID-19 in 2020, will have no spectators on site but all four rounds will be on Golf Channel from 7-11 p.m. ET, Wednesday through Saturday. Brooke Henderson is the two-time defending champion – winning in 2018 and 2019 – but was unable to defend her crown last year. But now golf is back in Hawaii.
“We are excited to return to Hawaii and play the 2021 LOTTE Championship at the beautiful Kapolei Golf Club,” said Sean Pyun, the LPGA’s Chief Business Officer in Asia. “This event has been circled on the calendar for many after cancelling in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. We want to thank our partner LOTTE and Kapolei Golf Club for hosting us, as we look forward to showcasing the very best of the LPGA Tour on their beautiful golf course.”
The LPGA Tour is back in Hawaii from which players can see Toledo and Tokyo. A year after the world began to shut down, golf fans are yearning for the Solheim Cup and the Olympics. The next step toward those events is taken this week at the LOTTE Championship.