There are certain players who seem to thrive in major championships. Whether it’s their short game prowess, their distance off the tee or their mental strength, the best players rise to the challenge presented by a major test. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship has taken that challenge to another level by hosting their championship at the best venues in the game. That winning combination has led to thrilling finishes and successfully identified the best players in the women’s game. Here are a few of those major champions who are likely to contend at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
While the Korean may be a rookie this season on the LPGA Tour, Jeongeun Lee6 already has the resume of a tried and true veteran including a victory at the 2019 U.S. Women's Open. Lee6 is the fifth player on the Korean LPGA Tour to have the same name, and in order to distinguish between them, added the number six next to her name. The priceless experience of playing under pressure on the biggest stages in the women’s game will serve her well at Hazeltine, where she’ll make just her second appearance at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Korea’s Jin Young Ko is already a world beater. Since turning professional in 2013, Ko amassed 10 victories on the KLPGA and four on the LPGA Tour including this year's ANA Inspiration. Heading into Hazeltine, she’ll be looking to replicate that major success. At the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship she was T11 for the week, which was her best major finish outside of her victory.
The defending champion of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Sung Hyun Park, won with a flare at Kemper Lakes Golf Club. During Sunday’s final round, Park’s ability to get up and down from the water at the 16th hole kept her championship hopes alive and would ultimately get her into a playoff. The dramatic shot was reminiscent of another Korean, Se Ri Pak, who once hit an iconic shot from the water in a major championship that inspired a nation. Park undoubtedly inspired those watching, but the ability to pull off that shot had the most profound effect on her. The 2017 U.S. Women’s Open champion doubted her ability to add another major to her resume, and the resilience she showed to win that second major title, reignited her own self-belief. The outpouring of emotion she showed after her victory revealed the burden she had been carrying. With a renewed confidence, Park has quickly amassed more than half a dozen wins on the LPGA Tour, climbed to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings and finished inside the top 10 in 42 percent of the majors she’s competed. There is no question Park will put up a strong fight in hopes of successfully defending her title at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Ariya Jutanugarn’s game was built for major championships. A long hitter with an incredible short game, Jutanugarn’s early struggles in major championships were rooted more in the mental challenges she faced than the physical. In 2016, she collapsed down the final stretch of the ANA Inspiration and settled for fourth. But like so many young players on Tour, it was a process for Jutanugarn to learn how to win on the biggest stage in the game. Three months later, she had it figured out. Through her work with mental coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of VISION54, Jutanugarn captured her first major victory at the 2016 AIG Women’s British Open and added a second major title to her resume in 2018 at the U.S. Women’s Open, where she again showed her mental strength by bouncing back from a Sunday collapse to outlast a playoff with Hyo Joo Kim to win her second major title. In her short career, Jutanugarn has finished inside the top 10 in 40 percent of the majors in which she has competed. She’ll be looking to add a third leg to her major resume at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club, where she’s making just her fifth appearance in the event.
It’s impossible to look at the field at a major championship and not consider the likelihood Inbee Park will be a factor come Sunday. The 7-time major champion, including three-time winner of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, has been a consistent presence in majors for the better part of a decade. Park made history in her run at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, joining Annika Sorenstam as the only two players to win the event three consecutive years. In a further testament to her talent, Park won those three titles between 2013 and 2015 on three different venues. Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2007, Park has finished inside the top 10 in 57 percent of the major championships in which she’s competed, making her a likely contender at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
If the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship had to select one player who best represents the type of champion it’s trying to identify, it would have to be Brooke Henderson. In her four appearances, she’s always finished inside the top 10. In 2015, the Canadian finished T5 in her first appearance at Westchester Country Club. In 2016, she took down the world No. 1 at the time, Lydia Ko, in a playoff to win her first major championship at Sahalee Golf Club. In 2017, she settled for a runner-up finish after an eagle effort on the 72nd hole came up one-inch shy of forcing a playoff at Olympia Fields Country Club. And in 2018, Henderson held a share of the 36-hole lead before a 74 on Sunday dropped her back to T6 at Kemper Lakes Golf Club. Whether it’s the elite venues that bring out Henderson’s best game or the ability to rise to the challenge of a major test, Henderson will be one to watch at Hazeltine National Golf Club in her quest for a second major title.
A consistent presence in major championships early in her career, Lydia Ko is looking to return to the major winner’s circle in 2019. Ko is a two-time major champion, having captured the 2015 Evian Championship and 2016 ANA Inspiration. Since those victories, Ko made a series of changes to her team, her equipment, and her game in an effort to keep pace with the growing competition she’s faced. As those changes have paid off for the Kiwi, she’s bounced back to the top of the women’s game and will be a likely contender at Hazeltine. Ko has consistently played well at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, where she has twice finished inside the top 5.