After a 2-year hiatus, one of the biggest events on the LPGA calendar returns
The last time that Canada’s preeminent Women’s championship was played, the United States was preparing for primary season for the 2020 Presidential Election, the Toronto Raptors had recently won the NBA title, and the Game of Thrones was in its final season. The 2019 CP Canadian Women’s Open was contested in Aurora, Ontario and Jin Young Ko walked off as the champion, having dethroned 2018 Champion, Canada’s Brooke Henderson, who finished in 3rd place alongside Lizette Salas. Nicole Broch Larsen finished in solo second place.
The world has changed fundamentally since then, with the world learning what SARS-CoV2 (Covid-19) was and then spending the next 2½ years battling the virus outbreak – and it is still with us today. But that has not been the only fundamental change. In the world of women’s professional golf, the landscape has been permanently altered as well.
How Women’s Golf Changed
It started with the USGA (United States Golf Association) and its decision to up the prize fund for the 2021 US Women’s Open (USWO) in San Francisco. Then came the decision by the R&A (Royal & Ancient) to restructure their prize fund for the AIG Women’s Open, resulting in $5.8 million for 2021 and then this year’s $7.3 million amount. Not to be outdone, the USGA also introduced a presenting sponsor for the USWO, ProMedica, to take their annual prize fund to $10 Million in this year’s event at Congressional. The $10.0 million prize fund is easily the largest prize fund in women’s golf.
This flurry of activity from the USGA and the R&A precipitated several other tournaments to re-examine their commitment to women’s professional golf, leading to additional prize increases in many of those events.
With a prize fund of $2.25 million in 2019, the CP Canadian Women’s Open was the second largest non-major tournament on the LPGA, behind only the season ending CME event. The CP Women’s Open returns this season with a prize fund of $2.35 million, up slightly from the 2019 amount. However, instead of being the second largest non-major tournament, it has been eclipsed by 3-other events — the Cognizant Founders Cup ($3.0 million), Meijer Classic ($2.5 million), and the Dow Great Lakes Classic ($2.5 million). Not only that, but other events have closed the gap on the prestigious Canadian event as there are now an additional 6 – events with prize funds at $2.0 million or greater. The closest being the Walmart event with a prize fund that has climbed to $2.3 million this season.
Hopefully, as organizers of the CP Canadian Women’s Open, Golf Canada will continue reviewing its flagship event for Canadian women’s golf with the goal of increasing the prize fund sufficiently to restore the event to its rightful standing in golf.
Players & Storylines
As we prepare for the start of this year’s event from the Ottawa Hunt & Golf Club, there will be many players and storylines to watch for. Some of the ones that we will be keeping a close watch include World No. 1 player, Jin Young Ko, who enters this week as the defending champion of this event. Another of course is Brooke Henderson who would love nothing more than to claim a win in front of her hometown fans, having grown up in the nearby community of Smith Falls, Ontario.
Jin Young Ko – World No.1
The reigning CP Women’s Open champion, Jin Young Ko, enters this week in a rut – at least by her lofty standards. Ko has been the second longest player to hold the World No.1 position, second only to Lorena Ochoa, but despite claiming a victory in March at the HSBC Women’s Championship in Singapore, Ko’s season has failed to ignite in comparison to previous seasons. Most players would be satisfied with a single victory on the most difficult tour in women’s golf, but Jin Young Ko is not most players. Last season alone, she won 5 – times, including the season ending CME Tour Championship and the $1.5 million prize money for the winner.
The problem though is that when a player has such fantastic seasons, it can start to feel like a “bad season” any time they do not match their past success. While Jin Young Ko has been very pleasant and upbeat in her media conferences at tournaments this season, there must come a point where the frustration becomes too much at times. Earlier this year, she shared with reporters that she was working on eliminating a little glitch in her backswing. It is something that she has been working on with her new coach and it may have not yet been resolved. But, with the time off between the AIG Women’s Open and the CP Women’s Open, she will have had plenty of time to work on it – as she has demonstrated in the past. If she starts feeling comfortable with her swing this week, makes some good shots, and converts her scoring opportunities, then she is capable of defending her title.
From this point onwards to the end of the season, a main story line will be Jin Young Ko and whether she can regain the form that made her the World No.1 player.
Brooke Henderson – World No.5
The other significant story line this week will be that of Brooke Henderson and whether she can add another win to her season total so far. There is no such thing as a “home game” in individual sports like golf, but this week at the Ottawa Hunt & Golf Club, will undoubtedly be the closest thing to a home game in golf. Henderson’s hometown of Smith Falls is less than 60 minutes away from Ottawa, and she is sure to have plenty of support in the gallery. The uptick in her performance could not have come at a better time as she looks to add a third win to a very solid season.
Struggling with the interruptions brought about by the pandemic, she experienced has worst “slump” since becoming a professional player, going winless in 2020. And while she won again the following season at the 2021 Hugel Air LA Open, she failed to register another win, leading to her second consecutive season without multiple wins. While her ball striking has always been one of the tops in the women’s game, Henderson’s putting has been her weak link, and it was through that difficult period where her putting fell off.
Yet, coming into this season, one of the questions over Brooke’s game would remain her putting and whether she managed to work on it enough to improve her performance on the greens. She started the year off well, with a solo second place finish at the Hilton Tournament of Champions. She followed it up with 4 x Top 10s and 2 x Top 15 finishes. Then at the Lotte championship in Hawaii, that was when things turned sour for her, forcing her to withdraw with illness. The disruption to her routine, surely contributed to her missing the cut in the next two events, and just like that, fresh doubts were cast on her season.
With the entire month of May off, Henderson was afforded the opportunity to properly recover from illness and any lingering effects, allowing her to refocus on her game and in particular her putting. She adopted the left hand low grip with the putter and it seemed to be the spark she needed as she finished T15th at the US Women’s Open before she won the ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey. She followed it up with another Top-10 at the Meijer Classic, a Top-20 at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and then a month later, she captured her second win of the season – the Amundi Evian Championship, adding her second major title to her resume.
With a solid performance at Muirfield for the AIG Women’s Open, finishing with a share of 7th place, and it seems that Henderson’s confidence on the greens had been restored or revived. She enters this week as the overwhelming fan favourite as Canada’s winningest professional golfer of all time, surpassing Sandra Post and Mike Wier. And with the gallery being heavily behind Henderson, it could be an intimidating place for others in her group. If she can win this week, Henderson will put herself in the upper level of contenders for the Player of the Year honours and the season long CME Race to the Globe competition.