Everything old is new again. That would be one appropriate theme for this week’s LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship in San Francisco.
The event itself is new to the LPGA schedule, but familiar to the players. For three years from 2014-16, they played an event at Lake Merced Golf Club, the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. That event disappeared from last year’s schedule, but with a final last-minute push, the LPGA was able to firm up the debut for this week’s event for the 2018 schedule.
Another aspect that is both old and new centers on Inbee Park. The hottest player in women’s golf this year officially moved back this week into the No. 1 position in the world Rolex Rankings. It is the fourth time in her career that Park has ascended to the top of the rankings, but the first time she’s been in that spot since the 2015 season. Park comes to San Francisco with top three finishes in her last three starts, including a tie for second at last week’s HUGEL-JTBC LA Open.
One other player hoping the old is new theme holds true is Lydia Ko. During the three years the LPGA previously visited Lake Merced, Ko won two of the titles, coming in back-to-back form in 2014 and ’15. She currently stands at No. 18 in the Rolex Rankings.
Here are additional details to help you enjoy this week’s LPGA action.
Tournament: LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship
Dates: April 26-29, 2018
Where: San Francisco, Calif.
Course: Lake Merced Golf Club
Distance: Par 72, 6,507 yards
Architect: Willie Locke
Format: 72-holes, stroke play, 36-hole cut
Winning Share: $225,000
Defending Champion: New Event
Marquee Players: Haru Nomura, Inbee Park, Shanshan Feng, Lexi Thompson, So Yeon Ryu, Ariya Jutanugarn, I.K. Kim, Christie Kerr, Lydia Ko, Brooke M. Henderson, Moriya Jutanugarn, Paula Creamer
TV AND ONLINE
San Francisco is a favored site for the LPGA, but to this point, the tour has had a hard time establishing a tour stop that will stick. The hope is that the old saying about the third time being a charm fits with this week’s debut of the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship.
This will be the third try to establish a San Francisco-based event since 2006. An event ran from 2006-10 at Blackhawk Country Club, sponsored first by Longs Drugs and then CVS, after it purchased Longs in 2008. After losing that sponsorship, the LPGA returned to the Bay Area in 2014, with the debut of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. After three years of that event at Lake Merced Golf Club, it too fell off the LPGA schedule last year.
So, with an official announcement finalizing sponsorship details announced just eight weeks ago, we now have the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, with the venue once again being Lake Merced.
The course itself has quite a history, having opened as a Willie Locke design in 1923, then been redesigned by the great Alister McKenzie in 1929. Nearby highway construction forced some rerouting of the golf course by Robert Muir Graves in 1960, and then Rees Jones did work on the layout in 1996. One thing that will be different this year from past visits is that the front and back nine will be flipped for the tournament, so the players will finish on the hole they previously knew as No. 9.
Past winners in the three years the event was at Lake Merced included Lydia Ko winning back-to-back in the first two tournaments, followed by a victory in 2016 by Haru Nomura.
The title sponsor, MEDIHEAL, is a Korean-based cosmetics company.
2018: LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship
2014-16: Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic
2009-10: CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge
2006-07: Longs Drugs Challenge
2016: Haru Nomura -9
2015: Lydia Ko -8
2014: Lydia Ko -12
TOURNAMENT SCORING RECORDS
Scoring: 276 (-12) Lydia Ko (2014)
Wins: 2 – Lydia Ko (2014-15)
With no event in 2017 and a changeover in sponsorship, *technically there is no defending champion. But when the LPGA did last visit Lake Merced in 2016, the winner was Japan’s Haru Nomura.
Windy conditions made scoring difficult, but Nomura proved steady, leading at both the 36-hole and 54-hole mileposts. Her lead was three shots going into Sunday, but even while firing a 1-over par 73, Nomura managed to increase her final winning margin to four shots, ending up at 9-under par overall.
With wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour, how tough was it? None of the players who started Sunday in the top 10 on the leaderboard broke par in the final round. Nomura saw her lead dwindle to just one shot at one point on Sunday, but received a tremendous boost when she holed a 70-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole.
Lee-Anne Pace finished in second at 5-under par, while Na Yeon Choi and Gerina Piller tied for third at 4-uner par.
FINAL TOP 5
1 Haru Nomura -9
2 Lee-Anne Pace -5
3 Na Yeon Choi -4
3 Gerina Piller -4
5 So-Yeon Ryu -2
New world No. 1 Inbee Park will be a favorite choice for many to become the inaugural LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship winner. Her return to No. 1 has been built on a return to health and then superb play throughout the 2018 season, with a streak of five straight starts in the top 20, including top three finishes in her last three events. She also won the Bank of Hope Founders Cup just over a month ago.
Park played Lake Merced in the first two of the three Swinging Skirts LPGA Classics, finishing in fourth place in 2014 and a tie for 18th in 2015.
Overall, the LPGA MEDIHEAL event has drawn a very strong field, with 19 of the world’s top 25 players slated to play.
With her record at Lake Merced, No. 18 Lydia Ko will be another player to keep an eye on. She hasn’t had a particularly strong year to this point, with only one top 10 finish, but she has posted top 20 finishes in three of her last six starts.
Another player who will attract some attention is last week’s winner, Moriya Jutanugarn. The win pushed her up six spots in the world rankings to No. 11, and put her in the winner’s circle for the first time in 156 starts on the LPGA Tour.
One player who will certainly be excited to be back in San Francisco is Bay Area-native Paula Creamer. Although currently only 156th in the world rankings, she loves Lake Merced and she could get a boost from being back among family and friends.
Credits: LPGA Tour Media, Getty Images
Photos: Top to Bottom: 1 (Lydia Ko, 2014 Swinging Skirts), 2 (Minjee Lee, 2016 Swinging Skirts), 3 (Haru Nomura, 2016 Swinging Skirts), 4 (Inbee Park, 2018 HUGEL-JTBC LA Open)