Top players share desire to play tough, challenging courses
As the best players in women’s golf converge in Atlanta for the third major championship of the year, many of the top players are looking at competing for victory this week, at the home club of golf legend, Bobby Jones Jr. Today's media day had several players share their thoughts about the course, the evolution of this particular event and their initial impressions of how to tackle the challenge that the Highland Course presents.
Jin Young Ko
The current World Number One ranked player from South Korea met with reporters on Tuesday to discuss this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship as well as the Tokyo Olympics. In comparing the challenges presented at a major championship to those that frequently fill up the LPGA tour schedule, Ko said that she finds the majors to be much tougher and that it tends to separate the better players from the remainder of the field compared to many on the tour calendar.
“Majors are always tough conditions on the course, so everyone needs to be patient and like be calm and everything. But I like majors, so I can't wait to play . . . because I like tough conditions. I don't like easy ones. Everyone gets birdies so easy, or even last week, everyone makes birdies or eagles every hole, so my play wasn't good last week. This week is a new week, so well (crossing fingers) I hope to do better.”
As for the state of her game coming into the Atlanta Athletic Club, Ko felt comfortable with her game noting that she had some good results this year, but she just had not been able to convert them into wins, before noting that it is generally small things that are the difference between winning and not winning.
“Not bad. I finished seventh in the two majors earlier this year. I don't know, like my conditioning and everything is good, but I need to win. So, I can wait. I want to win really soon. . . I don't know what it is, but I think small things is a little different than two years ago and right now. Hopefully better.”
Sei Young Kim
Winning the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Aronimink last year was the first major championship victory for this 12-time LPGA winner, so returning as a defending champion of a major is a new experience for her. And the defending champion is excited to defend her title this week, noting that it was a new experience for her when she first entered the Atlanta Athletic Club.
“I feel so excited to be the first defending champion of a major tournament. I checked out the course already, but the course is really amazing. The, Yeah, I like this course. When I came here, first off, I saw the picture in the entry (of herself as champion), so I was like ooh. . . . I took a photo, and I sent it to my family and my friends. They said, wow, awesome.”
As for her preparations and the current state of her game, she was very upbeat. She noted the differences between Aronimink, where she won, and the Atlanta Athletic Club, primarily in the length and bunkering between them. She also noted that her game was in a good place and that she wasn’t working on any particular aspect of her swing or short game, but rather her mental preparedness.
“Aronimink golf course is a little long length overall, but this course (Highland Course at Atlanta Athletic Club) has more bunkers on the golf course. The course got a lot of rain, so it feels like a longer length than last year, especially today. Yeah, I look forward to this week. Overall, it's fine (the state of her game). I just try to focus mentally and stay calm, hit the right course tracking. Yeah, I think overall it's pretty solid right now.”
Another past champion of this major, Brooke Henderson comes into this week with some uncertainty that neither she is accustomed to, nor are the reporters who have followed her over the past few years. She withdrew from the Mediheal Championship event in San Francisco because of illness and she was still recovering last week when she missed the cut by a single stroke at the Meijer Classic, despite posting a second-round score of 67 (-5 under).
As for her preparations, Henderson noted that the two nines of the course play differently and that it will require good strategy on her part to be successful. She also noted that she has been working on her ball striking to keep it sharp but has also been putting in extra work with her putter.
“The two nines play very differently, actually. Off the tee, it's two very different styles of play. That will definitely be interesting and hopefully get a good strategy together to play it well. I'm excited that it's playing long. Hopefully, the length comes in as a bit of an advantage for me. I feel like my ball striking is trending in the right direction right now, and that's always very key to give yourself lots of good birdie looks, especially on a hard golf course.
“The better you hit the ball, a little easier you put it on yourself, so hopefully that will be the case. As you know, I've been trending well with my putting over the last few months, doing some extra work on that. That always needs to show up on Sunday of a major championship, so hopefully it does.”
As for the course and her strategy, she is putting extra emphasis on finding the right lines to take off the tee box so that she can set up her second shots from the prime spots to approach the greens. Despite the fairways being a little wider and the rough a little tamer than Olympic Club, scoring will still be at a premium and players will still need to hit good shots to make par. Bad shots should result in bogeys.
“With any major championship, you hit a tough shot, you're going to be in a tough position, and you're going to struggle to make par. . . you've got to hit it well to succeed, but here if you get short-sided, if you try to cut corners, it could end badly. You have to stick to the high side and the correct sides of each fairway and greens as well.”
As for her prospects this week, Henderson knows herself and what she needs to do to give herself the best chance at winning.
“It always comes down to short game on the weekend, but to put myself in good positions, it will be ball striking. That's definitely my strength, so I'd like to take advantage of that. Put in a little bit of work this afternoon on the range and again tomorrow. Hopefully, my ball striking is right where it needs to be, where I can hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens, and when the birdie putts are there, hopefully I can capitalize.”
The older sister of last week’s winner at the Meijer Classic, Jessica Korda is playing in her 11th KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, with her best finish, a fourth, coming in 2018. Being a veteran player, she has witnessed the evolution of this tournament and how KPMG and the PGA of America have helped elevate the status of this major.
“Obviously, the way they set up the golf course, obviously, the history of the course is so important. I think it's one thing I really like is the equal respect we're getting. They're putting us on major venues, like they do the men. That's one thing I appreciate so much, being able to play the same level like we saw at U.S. Open at Olympic Club, which I thought was really, really cool. KPMG has been raising the bar since they kind of took over, and we appreciate it a lot.”
Korda also noted how much she appreciates the way more of the major championships are being set up to be tough, but fair, challenging the best women in the world.
“I love difficult golf courses. Not that the greens here are small, but I love like the small green type fairways. Like I said, playing at Olympic was one of the toughest golfing experiences I think I've ever had, but it was fun. It wasn't like I came out of there saying it wasn't fair. It was fair, but it was hard, and I love playing golf like that. This week I'm really excited to actually go see the golf course.”
As for her preparations and the status of her game heading into this week, Korda was generally satisfied with her play and is bringing a little more confidence into this event. However, she also noted that to win a major will require not only a solid game, but also some good fortune along the way.
“I've been playing pretty consistently, which is what I'm after, and putting myself in the right positions. I'm excited to get this week going. . . . It's so hard to win out here. You look at it week to week, the scores are so low. The battles, there's battles, it's not like it's a clear win ever. You've got to make the key putts, and obviously a sprinkle of luck always helps.”
Tomorrow is another practice round for the players before the tournament kicks off Thursday morning.