SOUTHERN PINES, NORTH CAROLINA | The game needs rivalries. That why we work hard to create them, even if they don’t exist. Scottie Scheffler vs. Cameron Smith is a media and fan creation if there ever was one – two guys whose wives refer to them as “sweet” and whose biggest disagreement might be who can make the best deviled eggs. Tiger vs. Phil was only a rivalry when the two of them went head-to-head, which wasn’t often. And in the women’s game, the Annika Sorenstam vs. Karrie Webb vs. Se Ri Pak trio provided fireworks only until Sorenstam started lapping the field.
The best one in history was The Big Three: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, who swapped Masters green jackets and major championship leads like cards in a game of gin rummy.
Now, however, the women’s game is on the cusp of having a rivalry that’s unparalleled in the modern era. Only ours is a Fearsome Foursome, a quartet of the best and most dramatic players in the history of women’s sports.
You know two of them well. They have swapped the top spot in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings for more than a year. Jin Young Ko, the current No. 1, had another impressive showing at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, shooting 6 under for the week to finish alone in fourth. That was four shots better than Rolex Rankings No. 2, former No.1 and reigning KPMG Women’s PGA Champion Nelly Korda, who impressed everyone by coming back after a dangerous blood clot that required surgery and a 100-day layoff to finish in a tie for eighth.
Ko vs. Korda – Korda vs. Ko. Precision and conservatism vs. dynamism and flair. If there was nothing else in our game, those two would be enough to keep fans glued to women’s golf.
But there is so much more.
As of Monday morning, we are projected to have a new No.3 in the world. Minjee Lee, who lit up Pine Needles like a brushfire, announced her presence at the rivalry table, winning the U.S. Women’s Open by five shots with a ball-striking display that had everyone in the game sitting up and taking notice.
Lee now holds two of the five major championship trophies in women’s golf, having won the 2021 Amundi Evian Championship with a seven-shot Sunday comeback and a birdie on the first playoff hole. This time, she cruised to victory. Entering the final round with a three-shot lead, Lee extended it to five with two straight birdies to open her round. Then she put it on cruise control. No one got closer than four back and Lee was able to walk up 18 with a five-shot cushion. A three-putt on 18 proved meaningless as the hottest player in the women’s game announced her arrival.
“This is the one I've always wanted to win since I was a little kid, so it just feels pretty amazing to be able to get it done today,” Lee said as she stared and smiled at the Semple trophy. “I just can't believe it.”
For those who haven’t followed Lee the last couple of years, she has transformed herself from a player with a beautiful golf swing and a smattering of LPGA Tour wins into one of the longest, straightest and most impressive ball strikers in history. She has gained 20 yards off the tee in the last 24 months, in part because of tightening a golf swing that was the envy of all who saw it, and also by hitting the gym, powerlifting heavy weights to increase speed and control.
She has also become a good putter - not yet great, but certainly trending in the right direction. At the U.S. Women’s Open she ranked fourth in greens hit in regulation and eighth in putting. That combo will put you near the top of every leaderboard in the game.
So, the battle is joined. Ko vs. Korda vs. Minjee. The Great Triumvirate revisited.
Only there’s another player out there who refuses to be forgotten. Former No.1 Lydia Ko - who set almost every “youngest ever” record in the game, including being the youngest player in history, man or woman, to reach the top of the world rankings – fell to 44th in the world during her slump before clawing her way back to No.3 in the world, a spot she will hold until Monday when Minjee moves up.
Lydia refused to go away on Sunday in Southern Pines. At one point deep into the back nine, Ko was tied for second with Mina Harigae.
“I think overall I played solid, maybe not as sharp as the last couple days, and finishing off three bogeys in the last four holes is probably not the best way to finish,” Lydia said. “But other than that, I think in general I played really solid and there was a lot of good golf considering where I was hitting it the second day. I'm happy with a top-10 finish here at the U.S. Women's Open, which I think is only my second time. So I’m looking forward to more of these positions and putting myself more in contention.”
And fans are looking forward to seeing this Fearsome Foursome battle it out in three more major championships this year, as well as the rest of the events on the LPGA Tour calendar.
Ko vs. Korda vs. Minjee vs. Lydia.
It has a nice ring to it.