England’s Charley Hull is among a wave of international players looking to slow American momentum with a victory this weekend at the Airbus LPGA Classic in Mobile, Ala.
Hull, who charmed American audiences last year while helping Europe win the Solheim Cup for the first time on U.S. soil, enters the weekend poised to give the LPGA yet another dynamic winner in a season of star-quality victors. She’s just 18.
Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, the Ricoh Women’s British Open winner in ’09, overtook Hull as the leader early Friday evening with birdies at two of the last three holes to shoot 5-under-par 67. At 13 under overall, Matthew is a shot ahead of Hull (67) and three ahead of Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist (66), South Korea’s Hee Young Park (66) and American Jessica Korda (67).
The Americans are off to their best start in 17 years. They have won the last two LPGA events, four of the last five and six of the 11 staged this year. That’s the most victories USA players have claimed this fast since 1997.
The LPGA’s on a roll with a run of victors that include Americans Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Korda, Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer and Lizette Salas. Count New Zealand’s 17-year-old Lydia Ko among the cast of compelling winners with Australia’s Karrie Webb and Sweden’s Nordqvist the only two-time winners so far this season.
This weekend features yet another big-name leaderboard at the Magnolia Grove Crossings Course on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.
Thompson, winner of the year’s first major, shot 65 Friday and is only four off the lead.
Rolex world No. 2 Lewis (70), with a chance to overtake Inbee Park at No. 1, is just five shots back. With Park missing the cut, her first missed cut in an LPGA event in a year, Lewis can add to American momentum. Lewis can seize the top ranking from Park with a first-, second- or third-place finish this weekend.
World No. 4 Suzann Pettersen (70), Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak (69) and resurgent Christina Kim (66) are also five back.
Wie (66) is only six behind.
Hull is seeking her first LPGA title, and her second title worldwide this year. She broke through to win her first Ladies European Tour title in March, claiming the Lalla Meryem Cup.
There’s more for Hull to win in Mobile than an LPGA title. She is not an LPGA member and is playing the Airbus LPGA Classic on a sponsor’s exemption. If Hull wins, she will have the option of claiming LPGA membership for the rest of this year and next year.
Though Hull has plans to play LPGA Q-School in the fall, that might not be necessary for her to gain tour membership, even if she doesn’t win this week.
Hull can also claim LPGA membership through non-member equivalent earnings. If by season’s end she earns money in official events with a cut that is equal to or better than the LPGA member who finishes 40th on the money list, Hull will gain tour membership for next year.
Hull is playing her fifth LPGA event this year, her third on a sponsor’s exemption. She has three more sponsor invites to use, but based on her LET eligibility Hull will also get LPGA starts at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and Evian Championship.
In her four LPGA starts this year, Hull has won $66,523. That would rank 67th on the current LPGA money list. She qualified to play the Kraft Nabisco Championship as a member of European Solheim Cup team. She also played the Women’s Australian Open through her LET membership.