Golf fans never quite know what they are going to get when it comes to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
You sometimes get a surprise winner, like defending champ Danielle Kang, who was winless on Tour and ranked 43rd in the world prior to scoring what remains her only LPGA victory last year.
Sometimes you see a young player announcing they’ve arrived, such as 2016 champ Brooke M. Henderson, who was No. 27 in the world at the time and became the second-youngest player ever to win a women’s major, and since has gone on to add four more titles in LPGA events.
And sometimes greatness triumphs, such as the run of three straight titles won by Inbee Park from 2013 through 2015, when she was clearly the No. 1 player in women’s golf, a perch she has reclaimed in 2018.
In fact, out of all the many scenarios that could develop this week, a showdown between the current top two players in the world, Park and Ariya Jutanugarn, would bring some definite sizzle to this year’s event.
In the year’s first two majors, Park lost in a playoff at the ANA Inspiration and placed ninth at the U.S. Women’s Open, while Jutanugarn tied for fourth at the ANA Inspiration and won her second career major when she claimed this year’s U.S. Women’s Open.
Park may have the bib as the current top-ranked player in the world, but Jutanugarn has clearly been the best women’s player in 2018, leading the LPGA in every major statistical category and currently tracking on pace to become the first women’s player to earn more than $3 million in a single year.
There could be plenty of other contenders — for the third straight year, the KPMG Women’s PGA has drawn a field which includes all of the players in the top 100 on this year’s LPGA money list.
With the Kemper Lakes course promising to be a lengthy test at 6,741 yards, those who can crank it off the tee should be at some advantage. Jutanugarn drives it more than 20 yards farther than Park, on average, and ranks 12th on Tour in average driving distance at 269.017 yards. Two players who are even longer, Lexi Thompson and Brooke M. Henderson, should also feel good about their chances.
Thompson is No. 3 on tour in driving distance at 275.244 yards and, while still looking for her first victory of 2018, she is playing her best golf of the year, with three straight top 10 finishes, including a tie for fifth at the U.S. Women’s Open. Henderson ranks seventh on tour, driving it on average 271.220 yards, and in her three previous KPMG Women’s PGA appearances, she has a peerless record — a tie for fifth as a rookie in 2015, victory in 2016 at Sahalee Country Club in Seattle, and solo second by a single stroke in last year’s championship.
Henderson, who won the LOTTE Championship presented by Hershey earlier in the season, is one of 16 winners from this season in the field, meaning every event winner will be playing this week. The field also includes nine former winners of this event, and 29 players in all who have won at least one major in their career.
It’s a bit obvious to say look for fireworks on the weekend just before the Fourth of July, but with the depth of field assembled, extra firepower they might happen upon would be welcomed by any player in the field.
Tournament: KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
Dates: June 28-July 1, 2018
Where: Kildeer, Ill.
Course: Kemper Lakes Golf Club
Distance: Par 72, 6,741 yards
Architect: Ken Killian and Dick Nugent
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $547,500
Defending Champion: Danielle Kang
Marquee Players: Kang, Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn, Lexi Thompson, Shanshan Feng, So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park, I.K. Kim, Minjee Lee, Moriya Jutanugarn, Jessica Korda, Cristie Kerr, Anna Nordqvist, Lydia Ko, In Gee Chun, Jin-Young Ko, Michelle Wie, Brooke M. Henderson, Pernilla Lundberg
TV AND ONLINE
The third major of the LPGA season is also one of the Tour’s major mainstays, ranking second in longevity after first being staged in 1955.
Current title sponsor KPMG came on board in 2015 with a vision for taking the event to some of the nation’s most proven championship venues. Kemper Lakes, which opened in 1979 and hosted the 1989 PGA Championship, keeps the event in the Chicago metro area for the second straight year.
Last year’s championship was held at Olympia Fields, while Westchester Country Club in New York and Sahalee Country Club outside of Seattle have also been hosts in the KPMG era. KPMG agree last year to extend its run as title sponsor through at least 2023.
Much of Mickey Wright’s legacy as one of the LPGA’s all-time great champions is tied to the Women’s PGA (known as the LPGA Championship from its founding up until 2014.) Wright won the title four times — 1958, 1960 and ’61 and then again in 1963. Five more of the all-time greats each won the title three times: Nancy Lopez, Se Ri Pak, Annika Sorenstam, Kathy Whitworth and, most recently, Inbee Park. Park and Sorenstam are the only two to have done it in three consecutive years.
Other heralded names who have won the title include Betsy Rawls, Beth Daniel, Betsy King, Juli Inkster, Laura Davies and Cristie Kerr.
With the ANA Inspiration and the U.S. Women’s Open already in the books for 2018, the two remaining majors after this week are the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the Evian Championship.
HISTORY: TOURNAMENT NAMES
2015-18: KPMG Women’s PGA Championship
2011-14: Wegmans LPGA Championship
2010-10: LPGA Championship presented by Wegmans
2004-09: McDonald’s LPGA Championship presented by Coca-Cola
2001-03: McDonald’s LPGA Championship presented by AIG
1994-00: McDonald’s LPGA Championship
1987-93: Mazda LPGA Championship
1973-86: LPGA Championship
1971-72: Eve-LPGA Championship
1955-70: LPGA Championship
HISTORY: RECENT WINNERS
2017: Danielle Kang (-13)
2016: Brooke Henderson (-6)
2015: Inbee Park (-19)
2014: Inbee Park (-11)
2013: Inbee Park (-5)
2012: Shanshan Feng (-6)
2011: Yani Tseng (-19)
HISTORY: TOURNAMENT RECORDS
4 – Mickey Wright (1958, 1960-61, 1963)
3 – Kathy Whitworth (1967, 1971, 1975)
3 – Nancy Lopez (1978, 1985, 1989)
3 – Se Ri Pak (1998, 2002, 2006)
3 – Annika Sorenstam (2003, 2004, 2005)
3 – Inbee Park (2013, 2014, 2015)
267 – Betsy King (1992)
-19 – Inbee Park (2015)
-19 – Yani Tseng (2011)
-19 – Cristie Kerr (2010)
On Saturday, Danielle Kang birdied the 18th hole at Olympia Fields to take a share of the 54-hole lead at the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. And on Sunday she did it again. The second occurrence allowed her to capture not just her first career LPGA Tour win, but a coveted major championship.
Kang, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur Champion, finished at 13-under par, one better than defending champion Brooke Henderson (66), who made a Sunday charge to finish at 12-under par.
Henderson, who was playing one group ahead of Kang, made three birdies over the first seven holes to take a share of the lead at 10-under par.
A Kang bogey on the par-4 10th hole dropped her to 9-under, and out of the lead. But the former Pepperdine star came roaring back with four straight birdies to take the outright lead at 13-under, three shots up on Henderson.
“The three-putt on No. 10 was the turning point for me,” Kang said in a press conference. “I said I’m going to learn from that and then I made four birdies in a row.”
After a bogey on 17, coupled with a Henderson birdie on 18, Kang teed off on the final hole all tied up with Henderson at 12-under par.
Kang played the 18th on Sunday at Olympia Fields like she did on Saturday — textbook perfect. She reached the green in two, and two-putted. But this time for the win.
“That was the hardest two-footer I’ve ever had to putt. I had to tell myself, “Danielle, you don’t miss 2-footers, so just putt it. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but I just did it,” Kang said, describing the final putt.
Chella Choi, the co-leader with Kang after 54 holes, shot an even-par final round to finish at 10-under, good for solo third.
1. Danielle Kang -13
2. Brooke Henderson -12
3. Chella Choi -10
4. Mi Hyang Lee -9
4. Sei Young Kim -9
4. Amy Yang -9
7. Inbee Park -7
7. Lexi Thompson -7
9. Kelly Shon -6
9. Stacy Lewis -6
THE FIELD: ANALYSIS
Almost everyone is accounted for. As mentioned, all the members of the current top 100 on this year’s LPGA money list are playing. Out of the current top 40 players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, 37 are in the field. (The only two players from the top 20 not playing are the LPGA of Korea Tour’s Hye Jin Choi, ranked No. 7, and the Japan LPGA Tour’s Ai Suzuki, ranked No. 20.)
You will find few willing to argue that Ariya Jutanugarn ought to carry the mantle of favorite for this week. The 2016 LPGA Player of the Year has already been No. 1 in the world once, and a victory this week would likely put her in that position again. With 19 rounds at- or under-par in her last 20 rounds on Tour, she is in rarified air at just 22 years of age.
Inbee Park is having a strong year, but has been just a bit off of late from her best form earlier in the year. She comes in off a tie for 27th at last week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G. But she didn’t get to be a seven-time major champion by accident, and three victories in this event shows it would unwise to count her out. Last year, she finished in a tie for seventh, despite opening with a round of 73.
Defending champion Danielle Kang has posted a mixed bag of results this season, including most recently a missed cut last weekend in Arkansas. If she’s looking for positives to rally around, though, she can draw from the fact that two of her best performances have been in premier events — she finished tied for second in the HSBC Women’s World Championship in February and took solo fourth at the U.S. Women’s Open last month. The world’s 22nd-ranked player’s strengths this year have been her putting and her short game, which could be important skill sets on a long track like Kemper Lakes.
Brooke M. Henderson has struggled of late, which is not a total surprise, as the 20-year-old copes with the passing last month of her grandfather. She had to withdraw from the Women’s U.S. Open, and hasn’t contended in the two tournaments she’s played since.
But it could be that the arrival of the KPMG Women’s PGA is just what she needs to find her focus. Nothing breeds confidence like success, and the current 18th-ranked player in the world has had nothing but success each of the three times she’s teed it up previously in this event, never finishing lower than fifth.
Lexi Thompson remains lurking as the world’s No. 3-ranked player, and the long bomber comes in playing her best golf of the year. She got it going with a tie for fifth at the U.S. Women’s Open, followed by a tie for ninth at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give and then last week’s tie for third at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.
That was Thompson’s best showing since February. She also posted a top 10 in last year’s KPMG Women’s PGA, finishing tied for seventh.
Three international players who come into this event with momentum are world No. 9 Minjee Lee of Australia, world No. 10 Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand and world No. 19 Nasa Hataoka of Japan.
Lee won a month ago at the LPGA Volvik Championship, and rounds of 64 and 65 had her positioned as co-leader going into Sunday last week at the Walmart event. A final day showing of 71 left her in a tie for third. Moriya Jutanugarn, older sister to Ariya, won her first LPGA title in six years on tour in April at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open, and it seems to have carryover effect into her results since. She’s posted top 10 finishes in three of her five starts since the middle of last month.
Hataoka, in only her second year on tour and just 19 years old, set a new scoring record in winning the Walmart title last week. In the process, she also moved into the top five on the money list for the season. She could be this year’s fast riser that surprises by winning this event. In eight starts since April, she’s finished outside of the top 20 only one time, and comes in on a real roll with not just her first victory, but top 10 finishes in five of her last six starts.
THE FIELD: ODDS TO WIN
Credits: LPGA Tour Media, Getty Images