Inbee Park’s warming up for a title defense at the Wegman’s LPGA Championship and another shot at a second 2014 victory, and Mirim Lee’s probably still pinching herself after her 74th hole playoff victory over Park at the Meijer LPGA Classic! It’s the tournament they’re facing, however, rather than the one they just completed that has the attention of Park, Lee, and a full field of world-class golfers. The LPGA Championship, the 4th Major on the Tour’s schedule and a favorite of the players, is the one to win.
A Special Event and A Special Year
The LPGA Championship has a rich and storied history that dates back to 1963, and its roster of winners is a Who’s Who of women’s golf. Karrie Webb won the event in 2001, and fellow Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam(2003-05), Juli Inkster (1999-2000), Patty Sheehan (1983-84, 1993), Betsy King (1992), Beth Daniel(1990), Nancy Lopez (1978, 1985, 1989), Pat Bradley (1986), Donna Caponi (1979, 1981), Kathy Whitworth (1967, 1971, 1975), Betsy Rawls (1969) and Mickey Wright (1963) all have their names on the coveted championship trophy.
This will, however, be the final year for the tournament in the Rochester area and for Wegmans as the title sponsor, as the LPGA and the PGA of America have partnered to change the tournament to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Beginning in 2015, the tournament will rotate throughout the country like the U.S. Women’s Open on an annual basis.
Returning Champions in the Field
In addition to defending champ Inbee Park, six previous winners of the LPGA Championship are in the field: Hall of Famers Karrie Webb (2001) and Juli Inkster (1999-2000), as well as Suzann Pettersen (2007), Anna Nordqvist (2009), Yani Tseng (2011), and Shanshan Feng (2012).
Although Tseng’s game hasn’t been as sharp as she’d like this year, Nordqvist and Webb have already notched two victories each, Nordqvist at the Honda LPGA Thailand and the Kia Classic and Webb at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the JTBC Founders Cup.
Although 4th ranked Pettersen and 7th ranked Feng are both hunting a 2014 win, they’re playing at the top of the board and it’s just a matter of time before they join the 2014 LPGA champion’s circle. Feng’s coming into the week with six top-10 finishes including a T2 at the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July.
Despite a slowdown from a back injury, Pettersen’s recorded seven top-10s, including a T2 at the Women’s British Open, alongside Feng, and a solo 3rd last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic. The LPGA Championship could turn into a grudge match for Pettersen and Feng. This pair is on my watch list.
A Quartet of Rookies
Lydia Ko, Line Vedel, and Mirim Lee are all playing consistently outstanding golf and Stephanie Meadow exploded onto the stage at the US Women’s Open, leaving me wanting to see more of her. This week we’ll have the opportunity to see them all in action simultaneously!
Ko, who’s world ranked 2nd and has a lock on the LPGA Rookie of the Year award, isn’t finished with 2014 yet. Her victories at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and the Marathon Classic, along with six additional top-10 finishes, are only the beginning for this extraordinarily talented young athlete. I can easily envision a battle on Sunday between Feng, Pettersen and Ko.
Mirim Lee has been peeking at the top of the leaderboard all season and I wasn’t surprised to see her successfully out-duel Inbee Park in last Sunday’s playoff, a demonstration of skill she later described as “very fun!” Lee rocketed 42 spots up in the rankings as a result of that fun and is going into the LPGA Championship world ranked 29th, buoyed by the knowledge that she can beat the women who has been her role model and idol.
I’m not deceived by Line Vedel’s 77th ranking. She has a game in her bag and she knows how to use her sticks to good advantage. She has an average drive that’s fairly accurate but it’s her short game that’s going to move her up the board. She’s ranked 6th on the Tour in putts per GIR, and that’s a wonderful performance stat to have in your hip pocket. I think Vedel’s just getting warmed up.
Stephanie Meadow’s following Lexi Thompson’s early strategy and playing both LET and LPGA events on sponsor’s invites and Monday qualifiers while she works out some of the details of her career. She failed to qualify last week for the Meijer Classic, so she’ll be coming in fresh and eager to show her stuff at the Championship. Let’s see if she can repeat her solo 3rd US Women’s Open performance this week.
A Full Field
There’s no shortage of hot competition this week. With the exception of Michelle Wie, who’s sidelined with a hand injury, all the top-ranked golfers and 2014 winners are in the LPGA Championship field, intent on grabbing the winner’s share of the $2.25 million purse and the 625 Race to the CME Globe purse.
I’m looking for some world-class golf to be played and will be watching the early rounds to see who emerges as the weekend favorite.
Golf Channel will provide full coverage of all four rounds of the LPGA Championship: Thursday, August 14 & Friday, August 15, 12:30-3pm and Saturday, August 16 & Sunday, August 17, 3-6pm, all times ET. My colleagues and I at ProGolfNow will also provide ongoing commentary and updates.
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