The LPGA heads east after an epic national championship. Led by U.S. Women’s Open winner Allisen Corpuz, 12 of the top 40 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings will compete in the Dana Open just outside Toledo, Ohio. Highland Meadows Golf Club has been the host venue for the last 33 years so unlike the Monterrey Peninsula, we have some history available to determine who will stand tall in Toledo.
In contrast to the conditions of a USGA championship, the last ten winners of the Dana Open have averaged 17-under. If we only go back five years, that average jumps up to 18-under and the 2021 edition of the Dana Open is our best example of what it takes to win this week. Nasa Hataoka flew past the field by six strokes and won with a total of 19-under, right around the average, except for one detail, the tournament was only 54 holes that year!
Highland Meadows is a beautiful Parkland-style layout where scoring is needed on all 18 holes. The scorecard says the venue is a par 71, but don’t be fooled. The last ten winners of the Dana Open have only recorded five scores of 70 or higher in 39 total rounds. Nineteen of those 39 rounds were scores of 66 or lower. After two weeks of brutal conditions at Baltusrol Golf Club for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and Pebble Beach Golf Links for the U.S. Women’s Open, it is time to take the governor off and make birdies rather than try to avoid bogeys.
The scoring leaders to watch are Jin Young Ko, Xiyu Lin, Minjee Lee, Carlota Ciganda and Linn Grant. Ko might just have an edge on the rest of the field. Not because she is the number one ranked player in the world, but rather because she is rested. Missing the cut by one stroke at Pebble, she saved herself from a grueling weekend of golf alongside the Pacific coast.
Highland Meadows has three par 5s and six par 4s that play under 400 yards. Those nine holes present solid birdie chances for the best ball strikers. Strokes gained tee-to-green is a great measure of who can keep the ball in play off the tee and get it on the green. Be watching Rose Zhang, Minjee Lee, Ko, Hae Ran Ryu and Lauren Coughlin, who currently lead that particular category.
The field of 144 players in pursuit of a $1.75 million dollar purse will be faced with 68 bunkers and tree-lined fairways on a large majority of holes. If they pass the test off the tee, the iron game gets interesting. One third of the approaches the players will face come in from over 150 yards and another third from under 100 yards. This mixture of yardages favors the skill set of Ko, Lee, Coughlin, In Gee Chun, and Ryu. This collection of competitors leads the field in approach acumen. The four par 3s average 170 yards. Most LPGA stars can score with a wedge, but hitting 33% of targets with a mid-iron will separate the contenders from the pretenders.
Lee has yet to win in 2023, coming up just short in a playoff at the Cognizant Founders Cup, but she has been playing well, finishing in the top 20 or better in each of her last five starts. Lee finished in a tie for 13th at Pebble Beach and possesses the perfect skill set for success at Highland Meadows. In 2020, she finished fourth at the Dana Open and sits just outside the list of favorites this week. Losing her U.S. Women’s Open title on Sunday, Lee is sure to be extra motivated going forward and that added motivation might just be the edge she needs to get her first win of the year in Ohio.
Keith Stewart is an award-winning PGA Professional. He covers the LPGA and PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, LPGA, and PGA TOUR. If you are looking to raise your golf acumen and love inside information about the game, check out his weekly newsletter called Read The Line.