Congratulations to Hae Ran Ryu for becoming a Rolex First-Time Winner on Sunday! She was one of the featured players in last week’s LPGA preview. Diving deeper into the storylines surrounding the LPGA is not only interesting, but it can be financially beneficial as well. Her incredible iron play led to 19 total birdies and an eagle in just three rounds, and she birdied five par 3s en route to her three-shot victory.
It's time to turn the page and begin our coverage of The Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America. The LPGA’s Texas tournament began back in 2013 at Las Colinas Country Club. In 2018, the event moved to Old American Golf Club alongside Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. With an immaculate setting, this event is one of the toughest non-major tests on the LPGA Tour.
The par-71 layout covers 6,475 yards. Bordered by water on 10 holes, the scorecard once again has five par 3s so, just like last week in Arkansas, approach play will be featured throughout this preview. Five past champions are in the field, and they know ball striking and putting are what counts at Old American. Since 2018, the average winning score is 14-under. In comparison, Ryu won last week in Rogers with a three-day total of 19-under.
Scrambling and bogey avoidance are the first skills we will take a look at. Old American Golf Club has 122 bunkers across 18 holes and tournament coverage will surely show a collection of short-game shots to save par. Amundi Evian Championship winner Celine Boutier is the best scrambling player in the field, followed closely by Hyo Joo Kim, Charley Hull, Leona Maguire and In Gee Chun, and these players should have an advantage over the field.
Those five par 3s will again play a pivotal role. Chun leads this field in par-3 scoring along with Ryu, Jodi Ewart Shadoff, Kim and the tournament favorite Atthaya Thitikul. Twenty-eight percent of the holes the 132-player field will play over four rounds will be par 3s. The top 10 from 2022 had a par-3 scoring average of 2.99. Surviving these one-shot tests is imperative to contending again this week.
With over 120 bunkers, wind off the water and smaller-than-average-sized greens (5,500 sq/ft) tee-to-green play will also determine who puts themselves in contention on Sunday afternoon. Not surprisingly, Hyo Joo Kim is the field leader in strokes gained tee to green, but I would also favor A Lim Kim, Ally Ewing, Alexa Pano and Chun. These women can control the ball better than most. Once again looking at 2022, the top-10 finishers averaged almost six strokes (5.8) over the field with their ball striking. On approach, they gained an average of 4.5 strokes.
Analytics can sometimes make our heads spin. In summary, the top 10 were 4+ strokes better than the field with their iron shots into the green. Those players hit an average of 69.7% of their greens in regulation. Old American is tough and if you can keep the ball out of trouble, chances are you will have an opportunity to win on those last nine holes Sunday.
The largest gain of the 2022 top 10 was with the putter. Those players gained on average over seven strokes against the field with their flatstick. The best four putters in this field are Thitikul, Jeongeun Lee6, Hull and Boutier. These four can roll the rock and that definitely gives them an edge.
When those statistics add up, we see a couple of names that really stand out. Atthaya Thitikul has the lowest odds on the board, but with no wins this year and a T48 last week in her title defense, let’s consider In Gee Chun instead. At three times the winning odds of Thitikul, she again gives us a much better betting opportunity.
Chun makes great sense and so does A Lim Kim. Kim’s won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open in Texas and starts with similar odds to Chun. Each has the skill set we are looking for. The weather looks a little wet for Thursday, but Friday through Sunday should see things clear up in the Dallas region. The best ball strikers will then have soft targets to aim at.
Take those listed and begin to build your weekend wagers. With a win last week at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, there’s no doubt trends are our friend at The Ascendant LPGA.
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.