Seven Australians will tee it up in the third major championship of the LPGA Tour season this week, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in Minnesota at the storied Hazeltine National Golf Club, with Perth’s Minjee Lee having the most to gain.
Lee, 23, has been eyeing off the world No. 1 ranking for a month since she won in Los Angeles, but dipped from No. 2 to No. 3 on this week’s rankings behind Jin Young Ko and Lexi Thompson.
A win would surely lift Australia’s top player and the reigning Greg Norman medallist into the top ranking that she has craved since she was a small girl finding her way at Royal Fremantle Golf Club.
A $US3.85 million purse is on offer at the busiest time for female professionals; the Women’s British Open and the Evian Championship, also big-purse events and majors, are only a month away.
The seven Australians are Lee, veteran Karrie Webb (who has duties outside of the tournament this week), Katherine Kirk, Su Oh, Wendy Doolan, Sarah Kemp and Hannah Green. The in-form players include Lee, who finished just outside the top 15 on tour last week, and 23-year-old Oh, who equalled her best performance on the LPGA Tour with a T2 effort, just a shot behind Canada’s Brooke Henderson in Michigan.
Webb, now a part-time traveller on tour, won this title in 2001 when it was known as the LPGA Championship, one of her seven official majors. She is hosting the two holders of the Karrie Webb Scholarship this week – Queensland’s Becky Kay and Grace Kim from New South Wales – as part of that mentoring arrangement.
Kay is in her third year and Kim her second as scholarship-holders. They get to view up-close the major championship preparation and methodology of both Webb and other Australian players this week, an invaluable experience.
Kim, 18, a member at Avondale in Sydney, enjoyed a great season, winning twice on the KW Series schedule at Federal and Dunes on her way to third place overall, and winning a gold medal at the Youth Olympics in Argentina. Kay, 19, also a Youth Olympian, plays out of the Coolangatta-Tweed Heads club on the Gold Coast.
Hazeltine, just outside Minneapolis, has previously hosted a string of big golf tournaments including two US Women’s Opens and the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Korean Sung Hyun Park is the defending champion and there are nine winners in the field — Laura Davies (1994, 1996), Shanshan Feng (2012), Brooke Henderson (2016), Danielle Kang (2017), Cristie Kerr (2010), Inbee Park (2013, 2014, 2015), Sung Hyun Park (2018), Anna Nordqvist (2009) and Karrie Webb (2001).
The KPMG PGA Championship was rebadged five years ago and moved under the guidance of the PGA of America, with its first female president, Suzy Whaley, and it has thrived.
“You know, I think all of us dreamt of that,’’ said Whaley today. “I think we all wanted to showcase the best females athletes in the world in a way that they deserve on network television, on championship venues that typically only hosted male championships.
“We wanted to deliver an experience to them that was tremendous but also … to showcase women's golf in a way that compelled others to play the game. We wanted to invite others to play the game and do it through watching role models, amazing worldly role models that are on the LPGA Tour and we're thrilled to be part of that.
“When I lift that trophy on Sunday in honour of the 2019 champion, it's really an honor of all the women that play on this tour that represent the game of golf in such an incredible way.”
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TEE TIMES (AEST):
11:02pm: Su Oh, Sarah Kemp, Haeji Kang
11:24pm: Katherine Kirk, Sei Young Kim, Bronte Law
12:19am: Minjee Lee, Lydia Ko, Michelle Wie
4:49am: Karrie Webb, Angela Stanford, Carlota Ciganda
4:16am: Wendy Doolan, Lee-Anne Pace, Daniela Darquea
5:00am: Hannah Green, Jennifer Song, Lindsey Weaver