The second major championship of the LPGA Tour season is the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and over the past couple of years, this event has raised its reputation in venue and victor. The most recent past champions are a who’s who of women’s professional golf while the host venues have been equally strong. The 2023 edition of this incredible event might be the best one yet as this venue has hosted 11 other professional major championships.
Nestled in suburban Springfield, N.J., Baltusrol Golf Club is home to two amazing AW Tillinghast designed golf courses (1918). The Upper Course is a member friendly walking course traversing the side of a hill overlooking the second and Lower Course. Renovated in 2021 by Gil Hanse, the championship Lower is a big, brawny par-71 test stretching 6,621 yards.
Major in every sense of the word, the Lower Course consists of three par 5s, four par 3s, and 11 par 4s. Having competed on the Lower Course several times, I can explain from experience exactly what kind of skill set it requires to be successful. This killer course wears you down with every type of challenge a player can face across 18 holes of Parkland golf.
Power is priority one, two, three and four this week. Contenders will need to be long and accurate as the average par 4 at Baltusrol is approximately 400 yards. Most of the Lower Course sits in the valley of the bottom of the hillside, and covered in 122 bunkers, players will often be pressed to carry these penalty areas.
The best ball strikers will love this Gil-Hanse-restored, Tillinghast test. Take for example those who lead the LPGA in strokes gained tee to green ahead of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Hyo Joo Kim, Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings No. 1 Jin Young Ko, Minjee Lee, Nelly Korda and Nasa Hataoka strike it solid, an important trait when you consider how much danger lurks for on a Parkland design. Their ability to flush it will offer opportunities to challenge the corners and increase their chances for a shorter approach.
With over 120 bunkers, we must consider sand skill as part of our assessment of the contenders in the field. Lydia Ko leads the way along with Xiyu Lin, Cheyenne Knight, Ashleigh Buhai and Brooke Henderson. Henderson won the 2016 KPMG Women’s PGA at Sahalee Country Club and her combination of skills from that week would also serve her well on the Lower Course.
Baltusrol has a brutal collection of par 4s. One after another they test each player’s power and grace, and it should come as no surprise the LPGA’s best are also elite par-4 scorers. Your leaders in this field are Atthaya Thitikul and Jin Young Ko. Next is Korda followed by Knight, Kim, Chevron Championship winner Lilia Vu and Ayaka Furue.
A big part of the Baltusrol challenge will be to make birdies. Avoiding bogeys is one thing, but sub-par holes are what will lead you to the winner’s circle. Korda averages 4.8 sub-par holes per round while Kim, Thitikul, Jin Young Ko and Buhai all average over 4.4 per round. The best will avoid the rough and hit the green. Converting birdies will be the one key left to solve on these incredible green complexes.
Baltusrol is a big test of power golf and mental strength. Last week, we saw Leona Maguire close the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give with four birdies and an eagle on the last six holes. This test is sure to come down to the final stretch as well as the Lower Course is unique and closes with back-to-back par 5s, a 1,000-yard stage that will conclude the next chapter in the history of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at one golf’s most prestigious venues.
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.