A Review of the First Major Championship of Women’s Golf in 2020
On the eve of the AIG Women’s Open ( formerly known as the Women’s British Open ), we prepared this list of “who to watch” for this week. But, first a few qualifications before we review the list. With the weather forecast calling for strong wind gusts, some rain, and periods of sunshine, it makes picking a list of players to watch a bit of a “hit and miss” proposition at the best of times. Also, if a player is on the wrong side of the draw, then it can have a significant impact of the outcome. Being on the "wrong side of the draw" means that the player was assigned a tee time that was less advantageous to them, for example, tee times when the worst of the weather occurs such as rain of heavy winds.
So, without further ado, here is our list:
The defending champion from Woburn G.C.&C., Shibuno enters this year’s event as a Cinderella again. Her most recent results have not been strong as she missed the cut last week in North Berwick for the Scottish Women’s Open and prior to that, in June, she had a missed cut at the “Earth Mandamine Cup” in her home country of Japan.
Her victory at Woburn was on a course that played more like the courses found in Japan or the United States – a parkland style of course, rather than the traditional, links style of golf associated with Scotland. Last week’s event held on the East Coast of Scotland provided a different test for Shibuno and it proved to be a challenging experience.
Nonetheless, she is the defending champion, she defied the skeptics last year in winning on her debut at the Women’s British Open, and she is a strong enough player to learn and adapt. So, perhaps she will rise to the occasion and challenge for the trophy again.
The current World No.2, Kang is the “it” player in women’s golf right now. She is just coming off of a T5 finish (tied for 5th), at the Scottish Ladies Open, and as impressive as a T5 finish is, it is even more impressive that she was the winner of the two events immediately prior. She won the LPGA’s inaugural “Drive On Championship” hosted at Inverness, marking the LPGA's resumption of play after Covid19 layoff. She followed it up with another victory the following week at the Marathon Classic, having outlasted Lydia Ko on the 72nd hole.
Kang is finally showing the mental toughness and form that she had when winning two consecutive US Women’s Amateur Championships – the last player to accomplish that feat.
Along the way, she received some encouraging words from Annika Sorenstam regarding strategy for a 54 hole event, rather than the traditional 72 hole event. Regarding the advice from Sorenstam, Randall Mell, reporter with the Golf Channel wrote:
“Sorenstam told Kang that a 54-hole event like the Drive On Championship requires a
more aggressive mindset, right from the start. Kang took the advice, stepping on the gas
early with a 66 in the first round.”
While a T5 finish at last week’s event in North Berwick was not a victory, it most likely served as a learning experience and confidence boost for Kang, stating in an interview with LPGA Communications, that her goal going in was to get some practice on Scottish links, “(with) Links golf, people know that it's just going to be a little bit slower greens, subtle breaks and accepting missed putts were a bit harder for me than normal,” said Kang. “Greens, I'm used to just kind of putting the way I do and if you miss 2-, 3-footers here and there, you freeze over them and that's what was tough for me last week. Other than that, I think I hit the ball quite well and went around the golf course pretty well. I'm really proud of how I took on links golf in general because my results in links golf hasn't been great, so a fifth finish is my highest finish."
The 2018 Women’s British Open champion is another player to watch. The first British player to win the event since 2004 ( Karen Stupples ), Hall is a player noted for her skill on links style golf courses. She put her skill to the test in 2018 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes – a links style course near the resort town of Blackpool on England’s West Coast, where she emerged victoriously.
The start to her 2020 season however, was a bit erratic, finishing T15 in Boca Raton, Florida for the Gainbridge event before posting a T25 in Australia at the Australian Women’s Open. Hall also played last week in North Berwick, and despite finishing with a T51, she has been playing with some good form.
In order to keep herself competitive, she recently competed in the “Rose Ladies Series” a mini tour of events in the UK, sponsored by PGA & European player Justin Rose and his spouse Kate. Having won two consecutive times on the series, Hall finished runner up to compatriot, Charley Hull in the race for the overall Merit of Order standings. In speaking with a knowledgeable source for LPGA news, it appears that Hall is a favourite to place the highest amongst the British playing contingent.
The AIG Women’s Open marks Brooke Henderson’s return to competitive play following the extended layoff. She has taken an uncharacteristically long layoff to prepare for this event. The World No.7 player is accustomed to playing regularly, so taking the last three events off, represents a significant departure for her.
However, it could prove to be the catalyst for victory this week as she has spent a couple of weeks in Britain preparing for this event. She will have taken this time off to reconnoitre the course and community, she will have had ample time to familiarize herself with the greens, the course layout and perhaps most importantly, coping with the weather that can and usually does influence play at Royal Troon.
The competitive Henderson has learned to play well in windy conditions before, proving fruitful as she captured back to back wins at the Lotte Championship in breezy Hawaii. One of the questions for this week will be whether Henderson can bring her skill of navigating the Western Pacific winds to bear on the winds of the Firth of Clyde.
In Gee Chun
It is a bit hard to believe that a two time Major champion can be an underdog pick, but In Gee Chun is one of our picks for this year. We considered Chun an underdog because despite her record of having two major championships under her belt, a 2015 win at the US Women’s Open and a record setting victory at the Evian in 2016, Chun’s play has dipped over the past 18 -24 months.
Regardless, her play is improving and she seems to have reclaimed her smooth swing from years past. This season, she finished T67 at Inverness (Drive On Championship), improving to a T59 at the Marathon Classic, before finishing T5 at the Scottish Ladies Open last week.
While the rudimentary statistics kept by the LPGA do not bear it out, Chun appears to be playing a little better this season. Her putting average, scoring average along with her driving distance is roughly the same as years past, she seems to be able to grind out a little better than before. That, combined with her previous experience of playing and succeeding in similar conditions at the 2016 Evian Championship and her T5 finish last week, could very well be enough a confidence boost for Chun to surprise the field this week.
Hall of Fame player, Olympic Gold Medalist and only one of 6 players to have won a tournament this season, Inbee Park is quietly playing under the radar. Her season started off with a few bumps, after her T2 finish at the season opening Diamond Resorts event, she missed the cut at the Gainbridge event in Boca Raton and followed that up with a DNF – Did Not Finish at the Vic Open in Australia.
Yet, the following week, she was victorious at the Women’s Australian Open event.
With 20 LPGA wins to her credit, including 7 major championships, Park won’t be intimidated. Instead, her smooth swing, above average putting and her 7th lowest scoring average this season may prove to be the ideal combination for Park to add to her silverware collection. Her smooth swing should produce shots that are low spinning when she needs them to be, reducing the effect of the wind, and given that Inbee is great with the putter in her hands, she could easily get on a roll and walk off the victor on Sunday.
At 23 years of age, it is hard to fathom that Lydia Ko is in her 7th year as an LPGA professional. The former World No.1 player, Ko is showing signs of recapturing her form from years prior. She has been in a bit of a “funk” over the past few seasons, but she is showing signs of improved play, finishing T28 at Inverness (Drive On Championship), a T2 finish at the Marathon Classic where she was leading the tournament after 71 holes of play, and last week’s T12 finish in North Berwick.
Despite an uncharacteristic double bogey on the 72nd hole at the Marathon Classic that cost her the tournament, Ko is taking some satisfaction that it represents a renewed competitiveness and confidence that she can play at the level that she was at previously. Her smooth swing and terrific short game, paired with her renewed confidence can make Lydia a factor in this event as she chases down another major championship.
Other players to keep on your “watch list” . . .
In conversation with our LPGA insider, another name surfaced as a possible “underdog” contender and that is Gemma Dryburgh. The native Scot grew up playing links style courses and should be rather comfortable with the playing conditions that can arise.
Further, she has been a player in good form over the past few months, having captured consecutive wins in the “Rose Ladies Series”. She had a T6 finish at the Drive On Championship, before missing the cut at the Marathon Classic. Last week, she finished in 69th spot at North Berwick. Being one of the Scottish players, she will have some support, even if there are no spectators. Should she get on a roll early, she could very well surprise.
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