The United States Women’s Open is the most significant event on the women’s golf calendar. It’s also the oldest women’s professional tournament in existence; the championship was first contested in 1946, four years before the LPGA was founded.
The 73rd edition of the championship kicks off Thursday at Shoal Creek in Shoal Creek, Alabama with 156 players on hand.
Sung Hyun Park arrives as the defending champion after overtaking Shanshan Feng last year at Trump National Bedminster (NJ). Amateur Hye-Jin Choi wound up in second place a year ago two shots back.
Park will be trying to become the first Women’s Open champion to successfully defend her title since Karrie Webb in 2001. Webb, who is in the process of reducing on her tournament schedule, will be in the field on a special USGA exemption.
There is no shortage of legitimate contenders in this year’s Women’s Open field. World-number one Inbee Park won this championship a decade ago. She was a few weeks short of 20 years old at the time and she remains the youngest Women’s Open champion in history.
Park has one victory already this year, at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and three other top-three finishes, including a runner-up finish at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship. She also may be the most dangerous golfer in the world with a putter in her hand.
Ariya Jutanugarn emerged victorious recently at the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg. She also has seven other top-10 finishes this season and sits atop the LPGA’s Official Money. She is second on the Tour in putting average and fourth in driving distance.
In Gee Chun is also a past Women’s Open champion, having won at Lancaster (PA) Country Club three years ago. She comes into the championship having lost a three-way playoff at Kingsmill. Chun has had something of an up-and-down year but she certainly cannot be overlooked.
Our choice for Top American Contender is Jessica Korda, who won in Thailand in February in her first start after jaw surgery in December. She’s recorded three to-10 finished since then. Korda has never really been a force in major championships; but there are signs she’s on the verge of breaking through.
One other player to watch is Henderson, who won in Hawaii in April of this year. She has a major title on her resume (the Women’s PGA Championship in 2016) and six other top-10 finishes in majors. And remember, Henderson is just 20 years old.
It promises to be a very competitive and entertaining championship, one that will boost the image of women’s golf among those who don’t follow the sport regularly. Our pick to win is Jutanugarn, who demonstrated sustained excellence all season long.
Shoal Creek promises to be a demanding championship test. Officially, it will play to 6,693 yards for the championship with a par of 72 although in practice, it likely will never play to the maximum yardage on any one day. Shoal Creek, which was designed by Jack Nicklaus, opened for play in November of 1977. The club has hosted the PGA Championship twice, the U.S. Amateur once and the U.S. Junior Amateur once.