The top 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings are about to take on Walton Heath Golf Club for the fifth and final major of the 2023 LPGA Tour season. The AIG Women’s Open started in 1976, and 46 editions later, we find ourselves on the southwest side of London. The host is a famous heathland layout with a beautiful aesthetic as heather frames the fairways, providing an amazing backdrop for one of the world’s finest championships.
The transition from Muirfield alongside the Firth of Forth to this venue could not be more dramatic. Hillsides of heather line the fairways and will try to distract the 144-player field as they look to capture another one of golf’s most coveted crowns. All of the four 2023 major winners are first-time major champions, a trend on the LPGA Tour that really defines how deep the talent levels are.
From 1999 to 2003, 17 of the 20 majors were won by four women – Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster and Se Ri Pak. In the last five years, 16 of the 23 majors played have been won by first-timers, a significant paradigm shift in 20 years. From 2013 to 2018, only 30% of major titles went to first-time major winners, a friendly trend for those trying to break through.
Many believe it will be another favorite, but you know that’s not a given if you have watched this season unfold. The “Annika generation” is all grown up and they know how to win so as they approach this historic venue, one can see how the modern game can really help a player contend around one of England’s traditional landscapes. At 6,881 yards the championship composite course is big.
Tournament officials removed a couple of holes from Walton Heath’s Old Course and replaced them with two difficult par 4s from the New Course. The par-72 scorecard boasts an impressive set of par 4s with the length of all 12 averaging 404 yards. Scoring on these holes in particular will be the best way to separate yourself from the field. Looking down the list, watch Jin Young Ko, Atthaya Thitikul, Hyo Joo Kim, Rose Zhang, and Ayaka Furue when it comes to the par 4s.
Part of scoring on the par 4s comes down to keeping the ball in play. Performance off the tee, approach accuracy and short game skill add up to strokes gained tee to green. It’s no surprise who leads the tour as Ruoning Yin, Minjee Lee, Kim, Megan Khang and Ko tend to keep the ball safe. Khang, Zhang and Furue have yet to win a major but will need to keep up with the scoring this week to do so.
Major championships tend to see players make plenty of bogeys so making birdies becomes vital to keeping pace with the leaders. Nelly Korda leads the tour in birdie or better percentage, followed closely by Ko, Yuka Saso, Ashleigh Buhai and Kim. Buhai won the AIG Women’s Open last year, and Kim was runner-up last week in Scotland. This type of venue really opens the conversation for a plethora of possible winners.
The combination of Linn Grant’s length and scoring ability could be potent this week. Leona Maguire also jumps into the conversation with her fantastic work around the greens. But in the end, the putter usually pushes one player over the edge to victory. Georgia Hall and Charley Hull can roll the rock, but can they handle the expectations that come with playing the AIG Women’s Open in their home country?
With so many flowers on the property, why not another Rose to stand out at Walton Heath? She can strike her golf ball and score under difficult conditions, and as a rookie, she falls into place as another first-time major winner. Imagine a major season with five new winners. It isn’t hard to picture when you consider all the talent the LPGA has to offer.
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.