NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – The usual suspects are here, save for world No. 1 Jin Young Ko. Ko hasn’t played this year on the LPGA, instead choosing to compete in her native South Korea, out of safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the notable absence, there is no real void at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The other nine among the world’s top 10 are at Aronimink Golf Club, all the one-name wonders, including Nelly and Brooke and Lexi and Inbee. Danielle Kang and a host of others on the cusp of that Cher notoriety are also in the field.
The big names figure to be big factors on a big course (6,577 yards, par 70), but this has been a most unusual season. There have been two majors contested since the LPGA returned in late July from its COVID-19 hiatus. In fact, if you remove Ko, a two-time 2019 major winner, from the equation – and it’s fair to do so since she’s competing in South Korea and not Pennsylvania this week – there has been surprise after surprise in the majors.
2019 U.S. Women’s Open: Jeongeun Lee6. She was 17th in the world, but playing in just her 17th career LPGA event. It was her first tour title.
2019 KPMG Women’s PGA: Hannah Green. The Aussie was ranked 114th in the world and managed to win wire-to-wire for her first LPGA title.
2019 Women’s Open: Hinako Shibuno. Competing in her first event outside of her South Korean homeland, Shibuno, then 47th in the world, birdied the 72nd hole for the win.
2020 Women’s Open: Sophia Popov. She was ranked 304th in the world and shot 67-68 over the weekend to win at Royal Troon.
2020 ANA Inspiration: Mirim Lee: Then 94th in the world, Lee won her first major by beating then-No. 3 Nelly Korda and then-No. 9 Brooke Henderson in a playoff.
So, given the consistency of inconsistency let’s look at a few possible surprises (from minor to major) that could occur this week.
UNDER THE RADAR: Sei Young Kim
Kim is a 10-time tour winner and currently ranked seventh in the world. Doesn’t seem like much of a surprise pick. However, she’s the winningest active player on tour without a major victory. In fact, she’s the only active LPGA player with more than five tour titles, none of them majors.
Why Kim this week? She’s a statistical marvel: 12th in driving distance this season, second in greens hit in regulation, fifth in putts per GIR and first in scoring average.
SURPRISING, BUT NOT OVERLY SURPRISING: Jennifer Kupcho
She was runner-up last week at the ShopRite. Given her track record as an amateur – NCAA champion, Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner – it wouldn’t be shocking if the second-year pro earned her first LPGA title at a major.
WOULD BE OVERLY SURPRISING: Angel Yin
She hits it far and putts well. Not accurate off the tee, but the fairways are mostly generous at Aronimink (just stay out of the 176 bunkers on the course). The 22-year-old hasn’t missed a cut in nearly 15 months, but she only has one top-10 during that span. She tied for fourth at this event two years ago; different venue, but possibly good vibes.
WOULD BE (ALMOST) POPOV SURPRISING: Julia Engstrom.
Did you know that Philadelphia was first settled by Swedes in the 1640s? That’s the detailed information the Golf Channel Research Unit provides. That doesn’t really help 19-year-old Swede Engstrom, but she’s regained her form at a great time.
Engstrom, a former Women’s Amateur champion, won on the Ladies European Tour before the pandemic break. She returned with three missed cuts, before a T-18 and a win in France. In the field as a sponsor's invite, the world No. 167 is a longshot, but it’s been that kind of major season(s). She also averages 273 yards off the tee on the LET, which, with no rain expected this week, thus creating firmer fairways, will be key to success.