There is no better barometer of the LPGA Tour than its major championships. And going into this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at historic Olympic Club in San Francisco that indicator says this: There has been a major surge of talent in women’s golf as more players with more ability arrive from more places than ever before.
When there have been dominant players on Tour, the majors revealed that. From 1998 through 2003, four future Hall of Famers won 18 of the 24 majors: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster and Se Ri Pak. From 2001 through 2006, Sorenstam alone won eight of the 24 majors.
But this is an era of parity with an abundance of players battling to wear the cherished label “major champion.” When Patty Tavatanakit, a powerful new talent from Thailand, took this year’s ANA Inspiration, she was the sixth consecutive first-time major winner and 12th in the last 15 Grand Slam events.
And if there is no better showcase for the LPGA Tour than the majors, there is no better stage for that drama to play out than The Olympic Club. Its Lake Couse has been the site of the U.S. Open five times, three U.S. Amateur championships, the PGA Tour Championship twice, one U.S Junior Amateur and it will host the 2028 PGA Championship and 2033 Ryder Cup.
In addition to the talent explosion, Tavatanakit also reflects the international growth that began in earnest when Pak won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open. The 12 first-time major winners in the last 15 majors come from eight countries: Thailand, South Korea, Germany, Japan, Australia, England, Sweden and the United States.
When Sorenstam, Webb, Inkster and Pak were dominating, they were also reflecting the early growth of the LPGA into golf’s global tour, hailing from four countries: Sweden, Australia, the United States and South Korea.
This U.S. Women’s Open also marks the beginning of the post-pandemic major championship era. The victory by Tavatanakit at the ANA in April was the second in that championship in seven months, with Mirim Lee of South Korea taking the COVID-delayed title in September.
Now, someone has a chance to become the second U.S. Women’s Open champion in six months, joining A Lim Kim, who won at Champions in Houston in December. Last October, Sei Young Kim had her major breakthrough at the KPMG Women’s PGA and In August, Sophia Popov of Germany won the AIG Women’s Open, her first major and first LPGA Tour victory.
The last major of 2019 – the AIG Women’s Open – was won by Hinako Shibuno of Japan, also a first timer, after Hannah Green of Australia took the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA and Jin Young Ko of South Korea captured the 2019 ANA Inspiration. Ko also won the Evian in 2019.
The other first-timers in the recent run include Angela Stanford of the U.S. at the 2018 Evian Championship; Georgia Hall of England at the 2018 AIG Women’s Open; Jeongeun Lee6 of South Korea in the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open and Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden in the 2018 ANA Inspiration.
Another indicator of the global talent explosion is the Rolex Rankings. The week before the U.S. Women’s Open, five countries were represented in the top 10 and nine in the top 25. Winning a major, however, lasts forever. It is the way those champions will always be introduced.
“It's an honor to have that title after my name, a major champion,” Tavatanakit said after winning the ANA Inspiration. “A lot of people strive and dream of that, and I feel like it is a dream come true to be one.”
All players, no matter where they come from, look to those before them for inspiration. For Tavatanakit, it was Airya Jutanugarn, who won the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2016 AIG Women’s Open, when she became the first major winner from Thailand.
For the Korean players, there is Inbee Park with her seven majors, but it all started with Se Ri Pak, whose five majors include the U.S Women’s Open and KPMG Women’s PGA in 1998.
“I dreamed of winning a major championship after seeing Se Ri Pak winning the first one for our country,” said Sei Young Kim, who took 10 LPGA Tour titles before claiming her first major at the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA. “To be honest with you, I didn't know it was going to take this long,” she said.
A Lim Kim, who defends her U.S, Women’s Open title at The Olympic Club, was 10 years old when Pak won the last of her five majors in 2006. “Se Ri Pak for me is the history that she's written in the LPGA Tour and golf history, here and in Korea, as well,” Kim said.
More history will be written this week at The Olympic Club. Whether the 76th U.S. Women’s Open is won by someone who already has a major title or identifies yet another breakthrough star, the championship will once again showcase the talent of the LPGA Tour from every corner of the globe – with no end in sight.