Is there any one hotter on the LPGA scene than Jamie Worsley right now? Our expert golf tipster has picked up back to back winners in Rose Zhang and Ashleigh Buhai! Can he make it three in a row at the Meijer Classic? Here is his hefty preview and five picks…

Meijer LPGA Classic 2023 Tips

  • 2 pts Minjee Lee each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 22/1 
  • 1.5 pts Jennifer Kupcho each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 35/1 
  • 0.75 pts Yu Liu each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 125/1 
  • 0.5 pts Lindsey Weaver-Wright each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 150/1
  • 0.5 pts Emily Kristine Pedersen each way (1/4 – 5 places) – 150/1

What an impressive ten months it has been in the career of last week’s Shoprite Classic winner, Ashleigh Buhai.

Prior to the start of last year, the South African had built a solid career for herself, as a three-time Ladies European Tour winner and earning countless victories back home in South Africa. Though ultimately had struggled to break through at the very top of the game.

That all changed at Muirfield last year, as Buhai won the Women’s Open in a playoff over Korea’s In-Gee Chun; an event in which she entered the final round with a five-stroke advantage. After losing that and falling into the playoff, she showed fabulous mental strength to come through for the greatest win of her career.

Major championships can occasionally throw up surprise results and it wouldn’t have been the biggest shock had Buhai struggled to back up that performance. However, her win in a strong field in the Women’s Australian Open at the end of last year and fourth victory in her national Open at the beginning of this, showed that win was no one-off.

A win stateside in a regular LPGA event was next on the agenda and after multiple runner-up finishes in previous years in the U.S, as well as a strong effort a few weeks ago when 3rd in the Founders Cup, Buhai capped off an incredible stretch of golf last week, by winning her first event on American soil. A fine final-round 65, which included an important birdie at the last saw her to a one-stroke victory over fellow major champion Hyo Joo Kim and provided us with an 18/1 winner in the process; following on from Rose Zhang’s win a week earlier.

We go for the threepeat this week and with a glut of majors fast approaching in the women’s game, starting with the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol next week, followed by the Women’s US Open at Pebble Beach the week after, we first head off to Blythefield Country Club in Michigan for the Meijer LPGA Classic.

Tournament History

The Meijer LPGA Classic debuted on the LPGA in 2014 at Blythefield Country Club – at which it has remained – and taken place every year since, barring 2020 due to the pandemic.

2020 Chevron Championship winner, Mirim Lee won that inaugural edition in 2014, with a playoff victory over fellow Korean, Inbee Park. Lexi Thompson followed with a one-stroke victory the following year, whilst it was another playoff victory for a Korean golfer in 2016, as Sei Young Kim got the better of Carlota Ciganda.

Brooke Henderson won the first of her two titles in 2017, in an event that was weather affected, causing the then par 71 course to be played as a par 69 over the final two rounds; a par 5 converted to a par 3 due to flooding.

Henderson’s second win came in 2019, as she became the first and as yet, only player to win this event twice. A win that followed another victory for Korea in 2018 – the same year they changed the course to a par 72 instead of a par 71 – this time going to So Yeon Ryu.

Nelly Korda broke the scoring record in the event when winning the first post-covid edition in 2021, shooting an incredible 25-under-par. Whilst last year’s event resulted in another playoff, with Jennifer Kupcho denying Korda back-to-back wins in the event, along with Ireland’s Leona Maguire, who also finished tied for the lead and lost in the playoff.

The most notable thing about that list of winners in this event is that each and every one was or has since become a major champion. With a trove of former major winners in attendance this week, no doubt hoping to fine-tune their game in preparation for that second major of the year next week, it may pay to focus on that elite group of players once again.

The Course

Blythefield Country Club is a 6638-yard par 72, designed by the duo of William Langford and Theodore Moreau in 1929. It went through an extensive renovation process at the hands of Chris Wilczynski in 2020, in which the main points of interest were the restoring of green sizes and shapes to their original designs; reshaping and widening the fairways and rebuilding the bunkers to make them more imposing to the eye of the players.

As yet, the course changes don’t appear to have affected the way the course plays a great deal, with the latest winning score of -18 in-keeping with what we have seen in the event previous – possessing an average winning of -19.1 over the renewals excluding the weather-affected 2017 renewal – with as yet, Nelly Korda’s -25 in 2021 looking somewhat of an anomaly.

This tree-lined course is unique in its structure, with five par 5s – three of which come up on the back 9 – five par 3s and just the eight par 4s. All of which offer a good variety of scoring opportunities and more challenging holes.

The impression I get of the course is that it is fair but easy to get into trouble. The greens are predominantly generous, though there are a couple with tighter driving lines. Not just that but they are well protected by strategically placed fairway bunkers and thick 4-inch Kentucky bluegrass rough; whilst there are a number of doglegging holes that require you to hit the correct side of the fairway to avoid line-of-sight issues.

Having said that, the biggest danger around this course appears to be the small (4,500 sq. ft.) poa annua/bentgrass mix greens, many of which are elevated and protected by a plethora of bunkers and run-off areas; often sending your ball off into that thick rough that features at the course.

Don’t let some of the lower scoring recently con you into feeling this is an easy course. The good scoring is more to do with the additional par 5 and there is a reason strong ball-striking/tee-to-green players have thrived here.

The Stats

Key Stats:

  • SG: Off-the-Tee
  • Driving Distance
  • Greens-in-Regulation
  • SG: Around-the-Greens
  • Par 5 Scoring
  • Par 3 Scoring

As mentioned, the very best ball-strikers have thrived here, particularly those who possess quality and power off-the-tee.

Last year’s winner, Jennifer Kupcho very much matches that description, as a player who ranked 14th OTT and 28th in driving distance on the LPGA last year; with Nelly Korda in 2nd the best driver on tour in 2022 and 10th in driving distance.

Korda put that driving game to even better use a year earlier in 2021, with a win; whilst 2019 champion, Brooke Henderson has long been one of the best – and longest – drivers on tour.

2018 is a bit of an outlier, with the top three more adept in other areas, though the 2017 edition was power heavy. Brooke Henderson won her first title there and was followed home by Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie; all 28th or higher in driving distance that year.

Each of the first three winners of the event provide further evidence of the benefit of strong, long driving; with Sei Young Kim (2016), Lexi Thompson (2015) and Mirim Lee (2014) ranking 4th, 4th and 12th in driving distance respectively.

With such small, well-protected greens, there’s little surprise in seeing those who hit plenty of greens also going well in the Meijer Classic. Each of the six winners of the event have ranked no worse than 30th in greens-in-regulation the year they won; whilst in the last four years since the course changed to a par 72, just two of the fifteen players to finish 3rd or better were not inside the top 40 for GIR on tour.

There could be an added dimension to the event this week, in that the area has been going through record drought and heat during the spring, which could firm this course up and mean we see plenty of these small greens missed, calling the short-game into action.

Having said that, those who have quality around-the-greens have enjoyed success here regardless. Three of last year’s top 4 ranked top 25 ATG, two of whom were Nelly Korda and Leona Maguire; both finished 1st and 2nd the year previous, with In-gee Chun and Brittany Altomare in 3rd also top 20 ATG players.

Brooke Henderson and So Yeon Ryu, who won every event between 2017-19 are both solid ATG, whilst 2016 champion Sei Young Kim is another with a very sharp short game.

Finally, with that unusually high volume of par 5s/par 3s, I’m going to favour players who excel on those holes this week.

Correlating Events (Courses)

Dana Open (Highland Meadows Golf Club)

Highland Meadows looks an excellent comp for this week’s challenge. It is a tree-lined course of similar length and fairway width, with small poa/bent greens; protected by a comparable level of bunkering and thickish Kentucky bluegrass rough.

Sei Young Kim has won both events, Nasa Hataoka has finished 2nd here and has won there; whilst Lydia Ko has multiple top 5s here and has won there twice.

Past Meijer Classic winners: Jennifer Kupcho, Brooke Henderson, Lexi Thompson and Mirim Lee have each finished top 5 there; Nelly Korda top 8; whilst 2018 Meijer runner-up Caroline Masson has two top 5s in the Dana Open.

2018-21 Mediheal Championship/2014-16 Swinging Skirts Classic (Lake Merced Golf Club)

Lake Merced was replaced as host of the Mediheal Championship last year but before that developed strong form-ties with Blythefield due to its similar length and generous tree-lined fairways. Whilst the small, well-bunkered poa greens too provide further comparison with this week.

Sei Young Kim has again won at both courses and Lydia Ko has again recorded multiple wins there to go with her excellent record at Blythefield.

Brooke Henderson, Lexi Thompson and So Yeon Ryu have each finished top 5 there, as has Amy Yang, who has also finished 5th here; Caroline Masson, Nasa Hataoka and Leona Maguire all with top 10s.

Portland Classic (Columbia Edgewater Country Club)

Columbia Edgewater is another well bunkered tree-lined course, that has small poa greens, generous fairways and thick rough. Resulting in developing some nice form-ties to this week’s venue.

Brooke Henderson matches her two wins in this event with two in Portland; Jennifer Kupcho, Lexi Thompson and Mirim Lee all with top 10s.

In-gee Chun has finished 2nd there and twice finished 3rd here, Brittany Altomare possesses multiple top 3s at both courses and Su Oh has finished 2nd at both. Nasa Hataoka and Caroline Masson have each finished top 5 there, as has Carlota Ciganda, who was 2nd here in 2016.

2021 LOTTE Championship (Kapolei Golf Club)

Kapolei Golf Club only hosted one edition of the LOTTE Championship in 2021, though showed such strong form-ties that I felt the need to include it this week.

Lydia Ko won that tournament and was followed by two former Meijer Classic winners in 2nd, Nelly Korda and Sei Young Kim, whilst fellow 2nd place finishers, Inbee Park and Leona Maguire have both finished 2nd here. Making that each of the top 5 in just that one event with a 3rd or better at Blythefield.

The Weather

There are a few small spots of rain predicted before the event and on the Thursday. Though besides that conditions are forecast to be warm and sunny, with little wind currently on show.

The Field

We have a strong field teeing it up in Michigan this week as players search for some positivity heading into the Women’s PGA next week.

World #3 Lydia Ko leads a strong group of players from inside the world’s top 10; joined by #5 Minjee Lee, #7 Hyo Joo Kim, #8 Lexi Thompson and #10, two-time winner, Brooke Henderson.

The field is given more depth, with the inclusion of a further ten from inside the top 25, including reigning champion Jennifer Kupcho; who is one of four former champions in attendance with Thompson, Henderson and So Yeon Ryu.

In-gee Chun makes her first start in eight weeks since finishing 18th in the Chevron Championship; Hannah Green returns from a four-week break, whilst there’s just a second LPGA start for current #5 amateur, Rachel Kuehn.

Selections

Lydia Ko and Hyo Joo Kim head the market this week at 12/1; with the Japanese duo of Ayaka Furue and Nasa Hataoka next at 16s.

I’m keen to lean on that strong record major winners have in this event, so will take two from the top who match that criteria and look good value compared to some other players in this area of the betting. Starting with Minjee Lee.

Minjee had really been struggling for form following her 4th in the Women’s Open last year; at which point she was the second-best player in the world following her US Women’s Open win a couple of months earlier.

She missed three of her next seven cuts, finishing no better than 33rd during that time, though did show positive signs when 5th in the Australian Open on her last start of 2022.

This year started slowly, with finishes of 67th in Thailand and 52nd in Singapore but she has gradually been improving and looked back to something closer to her best two starts ago when 2nd in the Founders Cup. Before finishing 13th two-weeks ago in the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National on her latest start.

The short-game areas are what have been causing her problems, as she’s been hitting the ball well so far this year, ranking 8th in greens-in-regulation and 8th off-the-tee. In addition, she’s typically strong around-the-greens, ranking 14th last season and as someone who usually eats up the par 5s – holes on which she was the 10th best scorer on tour in 2022 – her profile fits this test.

After finishing 69th on debut here in 2015, Lee has gone on to amass a solid record at Blythefield, following with three top 25s in a row since. A runner-up finish in the Mediheal Championship points further to her ability to perform here, as do 4th place finishes in the Dana Open and Portland Classic. If recent form does indeed point to a return to form for the Australian, she should go close this week.

I was quite pleased with reigning champion, Jennifer Kupcho’s price this week. She’d actually been playing solidly all year – recording four top 30 finishes – before culminating in her 2nd-place finish and playoff loss to Rose Zhang at Liberty National on her last start.

Kupcho has been hitting the ball well, ranking 3rd in GIR and is typically strong with driver, ranking 14th on tour last season. Though only 51st so far OTT this season she looked good with the club at Liberty National and will hopefully keep that improvement moving in the right direction this week.

In addition to the attractive ball-striking, Kupcho has been one of the best combined par 5/par 3 scorers on tour this season, ranking 11th in the former and 28th in the latter. Assets she used to win here last year.

That win didn’t come out of the blue, as Kupcho had been trended nicely towards a win in the Meijer Classic, with finishes of 23rd and 10th on her first two starts in the event. Top 10s in the Dana Open and Portland Classic give us further clues as to why she’s able to perform here.

The 2022 Chevron Championship winner can once again prepare for next week’s major in the perfect way, by becoming the first back-to-back winner of the Meijer LPGA Classic this week.

Two proven winners from the top will be followed by a trio of big-priced plays who can make some noise at the top of the leaderboard this week. Starting with China’s Yu Liu.

Liu’s form has been solid on tour this season, missing just four of eleven cuts and recording her joint-best finish on the LPGA to date, when 2nd in the LOTTE Championship nine-weeks ago – her second runner-up finish after the 2019 Founders Cup.

The solid look of her results has transferred into her stats, where despite not spiking in any particular area, she is gaining strokes in each tee-to-green area, ranking 34th overall; whilst she is top 50 in both par 5 and par 3 scoring.

In three previous appearances in this event, Liu has recorded finishes of 27th, MC and 49th. A decent enough series of results but I’m sure she’s capable of better, especially with the 5th place finish in the Dana Open and 8th in the Mediheal Championship she possesses; whilst she also went well in that one-and-only visit the tour made to Kapolei in the LOTTE Championship in 2021, finishing 17th.

Liu has not recorded a win since 2017 on the Epson Tour. Though that 2nd in Hawaii earlier in the year offers promise she can get it done at this level and with some of the top players this week potentially fixing their concentration on the coming weeks, she could capitalise on that to record her first LPGA victory.

Once highly-ranked amateur, Lindsey Weaver-Wright has been in good form over recent weeks on the LPGA and can earn a long-awaited first LPGA win this week.

After missing her first two cuts of the year, Weaver-Wright has gone on to finish inside the top 30 on each of her last five starts. Her best performance was a quarter-final exit in the Bank of Hope Match-Play, and she finished 22nd last week in the Shoprite, closing with a round of 67 – her best round of the week.

She’s driving the ball well this season, ranking 27th and has been tidy around-the-greens, ranking 46th. In addition to this her statistical suitability to this challenge is enhanced by rankings of 15th in par 5 scoring and 28th on the par 3s.

Her record here is underwhelming, with two missed cuts and a 40th place finish in three starts, though a top 10 in the Dana Open gives confidence she can produce a much better performance here. Especially if able to keep up that quality with the driver and strong scoring on the par 5s.

I’m going to sign of with big-hitting Dane, Emily Kristine Pedersen. Though not possessing anything in the way of course or correlating form, her strong ball-striking game fits the general profile of previous winners here and with her proficiency in scoring on the par 5s, she should be able to make a mark of her first visit to Blythefield Country Club this week.

Her form has been a little inconsistent this year though there have been some bright spots. She kicked off the year with a 6th place finish in the deep Saudi International field and has recorded further top 20s on the LPGA, when 16th in the LPGA Drive On Championship and 17th in the Mizuho Americas Open.

She has been hitting the ball excellently this season, ranking 5th OTT and 20th in GIR, whilst she’s also one of the biggest hitters in the women’s game, ranking 2nd in driving distance. Her ability on the par 5s is shown by a ranking of 17th in par 5 scoring.

Pedersen is another with a great amateur pedigree as she reached #6 in the rankings before turning pro in 2015. Though she has yet to transfer it stateside, her winning ability is well on show with five wins on the LET and if this course fits her game as much as I believe it should, she can go close to that breakthrough U.S win this week.

 

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