JOHNS CREEK, Go. My pick to win the KPMG Womens PGA Championship is Jennifer Kupcho from America, and until you prove me absolutely, completely wrong, I’ll keep insisting it’s a bull’s eye. Why do I choose Kupcho? There are a few good reasons, such as the fact that she is the number 24 golfer in the world, finishing second in an LPGA Tour event earlier this season, and going into this week on the heels of a Top-10 finish at the Meijer LPGA Classic. That said, her 2021 form wasn’t sparkling outside of those events, and I have to admit I don’t rely entirely on science and logic to make my choice.
In fact, an element of mathematical mysticism is at work here. Women’s golf is rife with the first big winners at this exact moment, and we’re currently on a run of seven first in a row. Study the history, and that is unprecedented, never before has there been such a long series.
For seven of the most recent winners since 2019, Patty Tavatanakit, Yuka Saso, A Lim Kim, Hannah Green, Jeong-eun Lee, Hinako Shibuno and Sophia Popovit were their first US LPGA Tour wins. In these results we see an emphatic absence of pattern, and in this emphatic absence of pattern we can detect … that’s right, a pattern!
That sent me to the world rankings. Who was the best player, I wondered, who had never won a major or even an American LPGA event, and who played at the Atlanta Athletic Club this week?
Nelly Korda is the non-major winner who seems to be in the best shape but I outright disqualified her as she won twice this year on the LPGA Tour. Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, ranked 11th, was the best without a major or an LPGA Tour win in 2021, but that honestly wasn’t good enough as she has won before. I had to go all the way to No. 24 and Kupcho to find my sure winner, no majors, no career LPGA wins. From what I see online, you can now get 60-1 on her, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you empty the savings account to make your fortune. It’s a lock.
Okay…let’s come back to Earth for a moment and get serious. (Although if Kupcho is doing win, I’ll always insist those first paragraphs were legit.) Even if we take the recent batch of new winners in context, it’s still a small sample size, and COVID has a way of skewing everything we see is remarkable. Why is it happening? If you believe Mariah Stackhouse, the Atlanta native who plays in her hometown and one of the players hoping to become the latest winner, it’s a situation that will grow on its own.
“The tour gets deeper and deeper every year,” she said. “I think that shows that the depth of the tour is increasing, and right now it doesn’t really matter where someone is in the rankings. You know every player here has the capacity to be at the right time, at the right time. So I think you see us all appearing every week with the understanding that this could be my week… the more you see those first winners, the more each of us believes it.”
Green, who captured the 2019 PGA Championship to join the first-timers club, argued that a certain level of inexperience has an advantage.
“I think because it’s the first time you’re in that position, you don’t really know what you’ve got to lose,” she said. “I think that probably helped me. … I think they’re just young and free and no real bad memories.”
Green said that when she competed in the HSBC Women’s World Championship last May, she was even more nervous and there were no spectators around. (Green finished second.) She also echoed Stackhouse’s point about depth.
“I don’t know if we will see many players who have the record that” [seven-time major winner] Inbee Park did,” she said. “I played with her recently and when she was announced on the tee it was 21 wins. I was like, ‘Wow.’ That makes me want to smile. I don’t know if we’ll see anyone do that.”
“I mean, you see it in college,” said Ally Ewing, a two-time LPGA Tour winner who was looking for her first major. “I consider myself a late developer, bloomer, as far as the golf world. I wasn’t very recruited, but I managed to play great golf in the state of Mississippi because I was surrounded by great people…by the time you to the LPGA Tour, I think you’re a little bit better prepared.”
These are all viable reasons why first-time winners are so common, and it begs the question of whether we’ve entered a new era in women’s golf where a career like Inbee Park’s, complete with seven majors, will be harder to achieve than ever before. .
“I think it will be a while before you see someone do what Inbee did,” said Stacy Lewis, a two-time major winner. “I just think the level of talent right now is too good to let anyone really dominate… it’s just so hard to win now. I look back 10 years ago, you probably had a handful of players, 30 players, who could probably win that week, and now you could probably go to 70 or 80.”
All of this means that predicting what will happen in Atlanta this week is a fool’s errand. And until the next superstar emerges, or even the next multiple big winner, you might as well try to pick patterns out of the chaos. If all else fails, go with Jennifer Kupcho. My guess is as good as yours, and why not in this age of unpredictability?
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