The ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by ACER is one of the most popular LPGA events in the Northeast is also one of its longest-lasting tournaments. Historically, the Donald Ross designed Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club has been one of the tougher tracks the LPGA plays all season with fescue-lined fairways and speedy greens that form a difficult mix with the beach breeze coming in off of the bay. With sunny skies and temperatures hovering in the mid-60s through Sunday, players will find a welcome relief from the heat and humidity of Mobile Bay but will also be challenged by changed playing conditions. I’m looking for some fine golf and a tightly contested tournament.
The Shoprite, held from 1986-2006 and returned to the Tour’s lineup in 2010, boasts some luminary past champions: Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, Betsy King, Se R Pak, and Nancy Lopez. Another Hall of Famer, Karrie Webb, is the defending champion after finishing at 4-under-par, the first ShopRite winner not in double digits since 1995.
The Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club’s Bay Course, a par-71, 6,155-yard track, is the site for this year’s event, and players will be chomping at the bit to take on the challenging course. The 54-hole tournament features a $1.5 million purse and will have a talented, hard-hitting field.
There’s no doubt that the American Tour players have resurged and are dominating the Tour at this point in the season. Last Sunday’s win by Jessica Korda at the Airbus Classic Presented by JTBC, her second this season, marked the third straight week a different American player has won and there have been five different American winners in the last six events. Currently, eight American players rank in the top 17 in the world. South Korea is the next closest country with three.
American Players to Watch
In addition to Korda, Lexi Thompson, Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis, Lizette Salas and Paula Creamer are in the field and looking for their second wins of the season to continue the American dominance. They’re all playing hot right now.
Lexi Thompson, playing her 2nd year on the Tour, is Rolex Ranked number 5. The six-footer’s long off the tee and her win at the Tour’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, has infused her with self-confidence. With 6 top-10s and her first major, 2014 is shaping up to be a memorable year for the 19-year Floridian. Thompson’s ranked 2nd on the Tour in driving distance, rounds in the 60s and sub-par holes, 3rd in scoring average and carding sub-par rounds, and 4th in hitting greens in regulation. Thompson’s weakness is her putting average and it’s here she’ll win or lose the rounds.
Michelle Wie vaulted another two spots in the Rolex Rankings this week up to No. 10 after a tied for third finish at the Airbus LPGA Classic Presented by JTBC and may have been playing the best golf on tour over her last five tournaments. Each of her last five starts has resulted in a top-10 finish – the worst being a tie for ninth at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.
Four of those finishes were tied for third or better with a win at the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf and a second-place finish at the Kraft Nabisco. Her seven top-10s this year are now just one short of her career year (2009) with over half the season left to play, and she sits No. 2 in the Race to the CME Globe.
Stacy Lewis will be a formidable challenger. Number 2 in the world rankings, leading in the Race to the CME Globe by a substantial 386 points over Michelle Wie, her closest competitor, Lewis has a singular goal: win tournaments. With 9 top-10 finishes this year, 3 of them runner-up finishes (at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, the JTBC Founders Cup, and the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic) and no missed cuts, Lewis is coming into the Shoprite fully prepared and able to outplay the field. She’s top-ranked on the Tour in putts per GIR, scoring average, birdies, rounds in the 60s, and sub-par holes.
Lizette Salas, who nailed her first career victory at the Kingsmill Championship Presented by JTBC, is have a superb season. Rolex Ranked number 12, playing her 3rd year on the Tour, Salas has 11 career top-10 finishes, three of them this year. Her game is maturing and I look for Salas to start consistently charging the top of the board.
Paula Creamer’s playing her 10th year on the Tour. Rolex Ranked no. 11, Creamer has put 10 victories and 93 top-10 finishes on her resume. She’s a seasoned, focused, quintessential pro who’s coming into the Shoprite with 3 top-10s this year that includes her win at the HSBC Women’s Champions with that 75-foot putt seen round the world!
Challenges to American Dominance
The Americans will face some serious competition. Two-time 2014 winners, Australia’s Karrie Webb and Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, are both in the field.
Defending champ Webb, a 20-year tour veteran and seven-time major winner, has already collected two victories this season, at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the JTBC Founder’s Cup. She’s looking to become the first person ever to repeat at this event. (The only multiple winners at the ShopRite Classic Presented by Acer are a trio of Hall of Famers – Betsy King, Juli Inkster and Annika Sorenstam.) Webb, who has the veteran’s ability to perfectly balance her technical game and mental acuity, to step up to the first tee with a number in mind and a concrete plan to achieve that number, could easily make history at the Shoprite.
Nordqvist is playing exceptionally hot golf right now. With wins at the Honda LPGA Thailand and the Kia Classic and her runner-up finish last week at the Airbus LPGA Classic, Nordqvist has built up a momentum that could be hard to beat. She’s climbed up the Rolex Rankings to 9th place and her stats don’t tell the whole story because they don’t capture the mental boost that Nordqvist received from her recent successes. She’s primed now to have a stunning season. The Shoprite could be the next event on her resume.
New Zealand rookie Lydia Ko, always a force to be reckoned with, is coming in rested and ready to challenge Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park, and Shanshan Feng, at No. 7 in the Rolex Rankings, will be looking for revenge this week. Entering last year’s final round, she held a five-shot lead but quickly doubled two holes on her opening nine and then lost the lead with bogeys on the 11th and 13th. A birdie on the 16th got her back within a shot of Webb heading into the 17th but a bogey derailed any chance she had of a comeback. Her final round 4-over 75 left her in second place and two shots back of Webb.
Wide open would be a good way to describe this week’s 144-player field that’s jammed with talent.
The first round of play, Friday, May 30, begins at 7:10am ET and the final groups will tee off at 2pm ET. Golf Channel will provide partial coverage of the first round, from noon-2pm ET.
Saturday, May 31 and Sunday, June 1, Golf Channel coverage of the rounds in progress will run 2-5pm ET, and I’ll provide wrap-ups of the rounds as well.