Imagine playing an LPGA Tour event alongside DP World Tour competitors. A tournament with multiple cuts, two completely different venues and against players from two of the premiere women’s professional tours. Welcome to the third year of the ISPS HANDA World Invitational.
Before we can start to handicap this vanguard event, we must understand the format. A field of 144 LPGA and Ladies European Tour (LET) members will compete in a 72-hole stroke-play tournament on two very different golf courses. The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties after 36 holes. After 54 holes, the field is reduced again to the top 35 and ties. The remaining players for Sunday will compete alongside the men of the DP World Tour.
This is a joint event combining the LPGA, LET and DP World Tour. The $3 million purse is split evenly between the men and women as both play for a $1.5 million purse with $225,000 going to each winner. The constant thought of a cut looming really heightens the excitement for the fans and pressure for the players.
Rounds one and two are split over two courses. New to the rotation is Castlerock Golf Club on the upper coast of Northern Ireland. A coastline venue, the par-73 layout measures 6,231 yards but do not be thrown off by the length. The wind off of the Northern Atlantic controls play on these links and therefore tournament officials cannot go overboard stretching the scorecard.
The primary venue is Galgorm Castle Golf Club, which is 30 miles away and inland. Located west of Belfast, this parkland course could be the exact opposite of Castlerock’s setting. Galgorm plays to a par of 72 and is 6,527 yards in length. Winding through waterways, the wet stuff comes into play on 14 holes and the course has 58 bunkers. The competitors will play here in one of the first two rounds and over the weekend. This is significant because the weather looks very entertaining for the viewers, but terrifying for the players as strong winds and rain are predicted.
The temperatures will reside in the high 60s inland and will be lower along the shore at Castlerock. Twenty-two mile per hour winds are predicted for Galgorm. Imagine those conditions alongside the harsh northern sea. Predicting who will win a combined LET-LPGA event in challenging conditions is going to be very difficult so limit your choices to just a couple of selections. In simple terms, don’t go betting a bunch of favorites.
Finding one player to support and increase your weekend entertainment is fun. Discovering those best suited to winning in Northern Ireland comes down to a couple key factors. The LPGA has been competing with the elite LET players for about a month. Comparing recent form, keep your eye on Olivia Cowan, Esther Henseleit and Emily Kristine Pederson. Pederson and Cowan finished in the top 11 here last year and Henseleit has three top-20 finishes in her last four starts.
Maja Stark won the ISPS Handa World Invitational a year ago, and her scoring was powered by her par-5 performance. That skill will be even more important this week as Castlerock has five par 5s. In the combined field watch for Georgia Hall, Ryann O’Toole and Pederson. All three average under 4.65 strokes for the season on the par 5s.
Considering the conditions, change in venues and overall uncertainty, contenders must hit greens. Leona Maguire, Cowan, Lee-Anne Pace and Henseleit all hit over 70% of their greens in regulation. To succeed on Sunday, a player will need to create birdie chances from all sorts of situations. But once they are on the green it is time to get the ball in the hole. The winner should average under 30 putts in all four rounds. Maguire and Hall use their flatstick well and so do Mina Harigae and Stephanie Meadow. Their chances of winning increase as you don’t want to waste any strokes putting.
There’s a great deal of excitement surrounding this innovative event. Remember to keep those betting accounts in check, maintain a budget and enjoy the fun on television. Castlerock Golf Club is an awesome addition. Wait until you see the views from this setting. It will make you appreciate golf and how well these players can adapt to changing conditions.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.