The players of the LPGA and LET head to Northern Ireland this week for the ISPS HANDA World Invitational, bringing to an end the four-week European Swing of events – including two majors – co-sanctioned between the two tours.
As with the men, the ladies have been playing in this unique tournament since 2019, where home favourite, Stephanie Meadow claimed a memorable victory with a one-stroke win over Charley Hull. Both the LPGA and LET then stepped in to co-sanction the event alongside the DP World Tour when it returned in 2021.
The format sees a full field of players – split fairly evenly between the two tours – alternate between the two courses (Galgorm Castle GC & Castlerock GC) over the first two days before the typical halfway cut, after which the rest of the event will be played solely at Galgorm. The field is then reduced further after round three as the top 35 and ties battle it out on Sunday for the title.
Thailand’s Pajaree Anannarukarn won the event in 2021 in a playoff over Emma Talley and was followed by a win for Swedish star, Maja Stark last year, who produced a fine performance to see off this year’s US Women’s Open champion, Allisen Corpuz by five shots.
Unfortunately neither of those two most recent winners return to the event this year, though Stephanie Meadow is in attendance at the scene of her 2019 win in a field that though lacking in star names from the LPGA, will be packed full of eager LET players looking to make their way to the biggest stage of all with a win.
The women play the same two courses as the men, as they have done every year since the tournament’s inception. With three rounds played at Galgorm Castle and one at the links layout, Castlerock GC, which replaces Massereene GC for this year’s renewal.
The two courses will play relatively short this week. Galgorm Castle will be a par 72 and measures 6486 yards and Castlerock a 6231-yard par 73.
There are a few more scoring opportunities in these setups, with nine par 5s stretched across the two courses and a number of shorter, very attackable par 4s if getting your ball in a good position off the tee.
Having said that, Galgorm still possesses the same dangers, with its narrow, doglegging fairways, small greens, imposing bunkers and water in-play on over half the holes. When combined with the likely adverse weather conditions this week, it should be a pretty stern test.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- SG: Putting
- Par 5 Scoring
Strong iron play was the key asset among top challengers in this event last year. Winner, Maja Stark ranked 2nd in approach, with Georgia Hall in 3rd leading the field with her irons. Hall also ranked top 10 in greens-in-regulation, an area that 2nd-place finisher, Allisen Corpuz ranked 2nd; as well as being 22nd in approach.
Stark’s dominant five-shot win was engineered by a strong all-round ball-striking display, as she ranked 4th off-the-tee. The necessity for a quality driving performance was further evidenced by Corpuz, who ranked 5th.
All of that top 3 putted well, ranking no worse than 31st; Stark the best of them in 9th. Corpuz and Hall also scrambled well, ranking 26th and 14th respectively. With tough conditions likely, that need for scrambling skills should be even more significant.
Lastly, it will be important to make the most of the scoring opportunities on the vast number of par 5s that are placed across the two courses.
Correlating events to this week is a little tricky, as we have a field consisting of players from two separate tours and with just two years into this co-sanctioned event, form-ties aren’t overly abundant.
There are a few similar courses that spring to mind for the LPGA players: LA Open host, Palos Verdes Golf Club, the Dana Open at Highland Meadows Golf Club and Columbia Edgewater Country Club, which hosts the Portland Classic. All are tree-lined courses with relatively tight, doglegging fairways and small greens.
Though the course will be receptive, with rain set to fall before and during the event, strong winds -forecast to reach highs of 60kmh – could make this a pretty treacherous challenge if materialising.
This is the weakest field we’ve had in the event since it’s upgraded status. Though that is disappointing, it is understandable that many top players have chosen to give it a miss after a particularly hectic and compacted recent major schedule. The plus with this is that the event will be a little more open and gives an opportunity to less well known players to earn a career-changing win.
World #14 Leona Maguire and #16 Georgia Hall are the top-ranked players in the field and the only ones from inside the top 50. With just a further five from inside the top 100, including 2019 Galgorm winner, Stephanie Meadow.
That elite duo of Leona Maguire and Georgia Hall head the betting at 5/1 and 6/1 respectively. As their world rankings suggest, they will both take all the beating this week but they don’t appeal to me at the prices. There’s enough upside in a number of players behind them in the betting to make me look elsewhere and try to get them beat.
1.75 pts Emily Kristine Pedersen each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 25/1
First up this week is Emile Kristine Pedersen, who is enjoying a consistent year on the LPGA and with her game looking a decent fit for this test – as shown by her 4th here on debut last year – she can turn that consistency into a win this week.
Pedersen got her season off to a positive start in Saudi Arabia, with a 6th-place finish in the Saudi International; then kicking off her LPGA season with consecutive top 25s in the Honda LPGA Thailand and Drive On Championship.
Her results stuttered a little following that but she returned to some form with a 17th in the Mizuho Americas Open eight starts ago and has only missed one cut since; coming into this week after a promising 30th in last week’s Women’s Open.
The Dane’s ball-striking has looked in good shape this year, ranking 7th off-the-tee and 8th in greens-in-regulation. She also enters this week after her best approach performance of the season at Walton Heath, where she ranked 4th and is well equipped to take it to those par 5s, ranking 9th in par 5 scoring.
Pedersen is a five-time LET champion and looks in a strong place to record a first LPGA-sanctioned victory this week.
1.5 pts Esther Henseleit each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 28/1
Germany’s Esther Henseleit has been in good form of late and as one of the strongest approach players on the LPGA – and possessing correlating form as encouraging as most – she looks a strong contender this week.
Henseleit has recorded seven top 20 finishes in eighteen starts worldwide this year, three of which have come over her last four starts in strong company.
She first finished 16th in the Dana Open four starts ago and followed with a 14th in the Evian Championship, which was her best ever performance in a major. She was then 20th in the Scottish Open and though missing the cut in last week’s Women’s Open, she wasn’t all that far away, missing by just two strokes after opening with a solid enough 72.
Henseleit’s strength lies in her iron play, ranking 11th in approach and 32nd in GIR on the LPGA this season. She’s solid enough with the driver too, ranking 54th OTT and ranks above average in par 5 scoring.
She skipped this event last year after finishing a respectable 34th in 2021 on debut. I believe she’s capable of going much better, not just because of that high-class approach play but with finishes of 3rd and 5th in the Portland Classic and 4th in the Dana Open, she has proven an ability to go well on comparable courses.
1 pt Su Oh each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 50/1
Australian, Su Oh has been sporadic in her appearances this season. However, she produced her best LPGA finish since 2021 when 6th in the Shoprite Classic four starts ago and with an 11th-place finish to her name at this course, she looks a lively contender to win a first LPGA title in this weak field.
Oh looked good at the start of the year back home in Australia, recording finishes of 6th and 2nd in her first two starts of 2023. She continued to impress when heading to the U.S, finishing 5th in the Copper Rock Championship on the Epson Tour and has made three of her five cuts when teeing it up on the LPGA, including that 6th in the Shoprite.
She is at her best with the short game, as she showed at the Shoprite, ranking 2nd around-the-greens and 11th in putting. Which should serve her well if the conditions deteriorate this week.
Oh was in no kind of form when missing the cut here last year and instead I’d like to focus on her 11th in 2021, where she shot -10 to finish six behind winner, Anannarukarn. Her strong record at the Portland Classic, where she finished 2nd two years ago offers added encouragement and if she can find a little more with the long game, to match that quality she’s shown with the short game, she will be in the mix.
0.5 pt Olivia Mehaffey each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 300/1
I’m going to finish by taking a chance on Northern Ireland’s own and former star amateur, Olivia Mehaffey. She endured a difficult time on and off the course in the previous couple of years but has started to show some positive signs on the LET in recent months and can shine in front of home fans this week.
Following a run of six straight missed cuts, Mehaffey produced her best finish in over a year when 12th at the German Masters four starts ago. A 50th in the Czech Masters came after but in the following event, she found the best result of her pro career, finishing 3rd in the Ladies Open at Pickala.
Mehaffey is at her best on the greens, ranking 16th on the LET this season and is also a strong driver. An ability that enables her to score well on the par 5s.
She finished 17th here on debut in 2021 and is more than forgiven a missed cut last year, when in poor form.
Mehaffey’s stellar amateur career saw her reach as high as 3rd in the rankings and included wins in the Irish Amateur and prestigious PAC-12 Championship in the US. She regularly mixed it with recent major champions such as last week’s Women’s Open winner Lilia Vu and Allisen Corpuz over that period and with more sure to come after the positivity of recent results, she’s more than worth chancing at the price.