There’s just over a week until the second major of the year, the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, which means there’s one final chance for anyone and everyone to test their game against stiff competition – the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. With just a few days left for fine tuning, everyone will have their game faces on at Blythefield Country Club which tends to make for particularly exciting competition.
It’s incredibly hard to successfully defend a title on the increasingly competitive LPGA Tour. In 2023, Jin Young Ko has been the only player to do so with her win at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. This week, Jennifer Kupcho will attempt to join Ko in that exclusive club. Kupcho pulled out three wins in 2022, becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner and capturing her first major at The Chevron Championship. This means Kupcho has multiple chances to become a successful title defender – a rare and exciting opportunity. The 26-year-old wasn’t able to repeat her fairy-tale success at The Chevron Championship, but she’s got another shot this week. Despite her stellar performance last season, Kupcho has had a slow start to 2023, having just found the top 10 for the first time this year at the Mizuho Americas Open. She finished runner up after falling in a playoff battle to amateur sensation Rose Zhang, who was making her professional debut. With some momentum on her side, Kupcho can use this week to steer her season in the right direction and she might even be able to make her Meijer LPGA Classic trophy into a matching set.
Leona Maguire has come oh-so-close to a victory at the Meijer LPGA Classic. For two straight seasons, the Irishwoman has finished runner up, a trophy just out of reach. In 2021, Maguire was unable to overtake Nelly Korda – despite carding a clean 6-under 66 in the final round – and ultimately finished solo second. The next year, Maguire earned a spot in a three-way playoff with Korda and Kupcho but a missed putt on the second playoff hole gave the victory to Kupcho. This year, Maguire just might be able to finally put the trophy in her hands. The 28-year-old has had a strong season, missing just one cut in nine starts, and is riding a hot streak with two back-to-back top-10 results, bringing her 2023 top-10 total to four. Her best finish this season came at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play presented by MGM Rewards where Maguire finished third after falling to Ayaka Furue in the semifinals. She followed that up with a T7 in her last start at the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club. With so many positive experiences in Michigan and a little bit of momentum, Maguire is certain to be in contention. If she can find some luck too, she might just be a winner this weekend.
Tenth Winner on Tour
Ashleigh Buhai checked a big goal off her bucket list last week at the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer: winning an LPGA title in the United States. Sunday morning, Buhai sat three shots back of 36-hole leader Dani Holmqvist and by the afternoon, she hoisted her second LPGA trophy proudly. Buhai shot her second straight 6-under 65 in the final round, with a whopping five birdies on the front nine, for a one-shot victory over Hyo Joo Kim. With the win, Buhai became the 10th different winner on Tour this season and the oldest at 34 years and 11 months. The South African’s first LPGA Tour win and first major victory came at the 2022 AIG Women’s Open after 15 seasons on Tour. With last week’s win, it’s clear that Buhai is just getting started and there’s plenty more the 34-year-old has to offer on the LPGA Tour this season. So, fans should be happy to hear that – even though she’s already playing some of her best golf – Buhai will still be making the trip to Belmont, Michigan ahead of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Best known for snow and ice, Michigan certainly isn’t the first state that comes to mind when you think of golf. Still, there are a few players at the Meijer LPGA Classic with connections to Michigan. Just an hour away from East Lansing, this year’s field boasts two Michigan State University Spartans in the mix. A rookie this year, Valery Plata graduated from Michigan State in 2022. She was a three time All-Big Ten First Team selection and the 2020 Big Ten Player of the Year, finishing T-3 at 2022 LPGA Q-Series to earn membership for 2023. So far, the Colombian has struggled this season, making just one cut at the LOTTE Championship presented by Hoakalei where she finished T48. A rising junior at Michigan State, Brooke Biermann is one of three sponsor invites that will tee it up at Blythefield this week. Just over a month ago, Biermann led the Spartans to their first NCAA Regional Championship title and earned co-medalist honors.
The countdown has begun for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, leaving the Meijer LPGA Classic as the site for last-minute preparations, an event that’s attracted an eclectic field. A whopping 29 of the Tour’s 32 rookies will converge at the Blythefield Country Club this week to play alongside long-time veterans like Buhai. In Gee Chun, the defending champion of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, will attend along with fellow major champions Brooke Henderson and Hyo Joo Kim. Many names that were missing from last week’s pairings, most notably Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 3 Lydia Ko and No. 5 Minjee Lee, have also made the trek to Michigan this week. With so many different faces in the 144-player field, the Meijer LPGA Classic is sure to be intriguing, a perfect taste test for the major drama to come.