The LPGA Tour will remain the Garden State this week for the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer – a quick 54-hole jaunt at Seaview, a Dolce Hotel, in Galloway, N.J. With just three rounds to find victory, this week promises to be an exciting birdie fest, keeping the good vibes going after a historic win last week.
Sunday, Rose Zhang became the first player since Beverly Hanson in 1951 to win in their professional debut on the LPGA Tour. Though no one would have ever guessed she would have such a wildly successful debut, Zhang – also the only female golfer to win back-to-back national titles in NCAA history – was a highly touted amateur. This week, another highly lauded youngster will make her LPGA debut: Chiara Noja. Just 17 years old, Noja first turned heads in the golf world when she became the youngest player to win on the Ladies European Tour at the Aramco Team Series - Jeddah. This season, she’s racked up seven top-10 finishes on the LET, including a runner-up result at her most recent event, the Belgian Ladies Open. The ShopRite LPGA Classic is known for recognizing and inviting some of the best rising talent to their tournament, and while it’s unlikely that Noja will follow in Zhang’s footsteps, she will definitely be someone to keep an eye on this weekend.
A Dangerous and Dedicated Defender
Another one of those talented sponsor invites was Brooke Henderson. In 2015, the Canadian made her first start as a pro at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and has returned to the event every year since, finishing higher and higher on the leaderboard with each iteration. After finishing T2 at the 2021 edition of the tournament, Henderson outlasted Lindsey Weaver-Wright in a playoff to take home the 2022 title. The two-time major champion is set to make her first title defense of the season and it couldn’t come at a better time. Since winning the very first event of the season, the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, Henderson hasn’t broken into the top 10. Considering her prior success at Seaview, this week is rife with opportunities to right the ship and turn the course of her season around. It’s hard to bet against Henderson, as she’s got 13 LPGA trophies sitting on a shelf somewhere.
A Heck of a History
The winningest golfer in Canadian history, Henderson is just the latest in a string of golf superstars that have hoisted the ShopRite LPGA Classic trophy. Celebrating its 35th playing this year, the tournament has a long and illustrious history that dates back to 1986 when Hall of Famer Juli Inkster won the inaugural event. The ShopRite LPGA Classic previous winners list reads like a who’s who of women’s golf – both the best in history and today’s stars from around the world have etched their names in the tournament’s record books. Nancy Lopez, Se Ri Pak, Annika Sorenstam and Ai Miyazato are just a few of the legends who have stood in the winner’s circle in Galloway. Swedish sensation Anna Nordqvist won the event in back-to-back years in 2015 and 2016, Lexi Thompson’s last LPGA Tour win came at Seaview in 2019 and the winningest French player in Tour history, Celine Boutier, took home the title a year before Henderson in 2021. With such a storied history, the ShopRite LPGA Classic trophy is so much more than just a win.
Other Big Names
With the resume the ShopRite LPGA Classic boasts, it easily attracts some of the biggest names in the game who want to stand beside the best in history and test their skills. Headlining this years’ crew at Seaview is Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 6 Atthaya Thitikul, who is looking for her first win of 2023. Since winning the Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown with the Thailand Team, Thitikul has posted two straight top-10 finishes. Major champions Hyo Joo Kim and Georgia Hall will also join Thitikul. Hall is itching for a win, having played her way to two solo runner-up finishes this season, logging three additional top 10s along the way. This will be Kim’s first start on the LPGA Tour since the Hanwha LIFEPLUS International Crown.
Hosted at Seaview, a Dolce Hotel, in Galloway, N.J., the ShopRite LPGA Classic marks the third event of the LPGA Tour’s Jersey slate. The LPGA and PGA of America have dubbed 2023 the “Year of Women’s Golf” in New Jersey with four events held in the state in the span of six weeks. The Garden State schedule began with the Cognizant Founders Cup at the beginning of May which saw Rolex Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko successfully defend her title and earn her second win of the season. With last week’s Mizuho Americas Open and now the ShopRite LPGA Classic, the Tour has spent back-to-back weeks in New Jersey. California and Florida are the only other states that enjoy the privilege of hosting at least two straight LPGA events. At the end of June, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will serve as a fitting finale for the “Year of Women’s Golf” in New Jersey.