Our expert tipster Jamie Worsley picked up a 40/1 winner on the LPGA Tour last week in the shape of debutant Rose Zhang. He has his usual hefty preview for the ShopRite LPGA Classic, as well as four selections. 

ShopRite LPGA Classic 2023 Tips

  • 2.5 pts Ashleigh Buhai each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 18/1 
  • 2 pts Anna Nordqvist each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 25/1 
  • 1 pt Andrea Lee each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 60/1 
  • 0.75 pts Arpichaya Yubol each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 200/1

Quite simply, WOW! History was made on the LPGA last week at Liberty National, as star amateur, Rose Zhang – tipped up here at 40/1 – won on her first professional start after turning pro the week prior; becoming the first player to achieve the feat on the LPGA in over seventy years.

Entering the final round with a two-shot lead, Zhang grinded excellently throughout the day to maintain her advantage despite failing to make a single birdie. Holing clutch putt after clutch putt and consistently getting herself out of trouble with little fuss.

However, she finally succumbed to another missed green on 18, failing to get up and down from just short of the green for a par that would’ve seen her take the title; resulting in a playoff with major champion, Jennifer Kupcho.

She was once again left needing to scramble for par on the first playoff hole, as did Kupcho, both duly delivering; Zhang doing so from a greater distance than Kupcho.

Zhang then hit one of, it not THE shot of the tournament on the next playoff hole, knocking a lengthy approach to around 10ft and piling the pressure on Kupcho who couldn’t respond, leaving Zhang with an easy two-putt for the trophy.

The way she showed maturity to grind out that victory in tricky conditions was really quite astounding, despite the clear class of this all-time amateur talent.

It was a win that did little to dampen the expectation on the Californian, with more majors on the horizon that she’s sure to be a serious player in, and with people waiting in droves to remark on the magnitude of her win – including fellow former Stanford alumni Tiger Woods – Zhang looks set to be one of the (more positive) stories of the year in the golfing world.

We move into calmer waters this week and to the Shoprite LPGA Classic at Seaview Resort’s Bay Course in New Jersey. A 54-hole event that starts a day later on Friday.

Tournament History

The Shoprite LPGA Classic started off life as the Atlantic City Classic in 1986, as Juli Inkster won the inaugural title here at Seaview.

The tournament adopted the name of the Shoprite Classic in 1992 and by that point it had switched to Greate Bay Country Club, though switched back to Seaview in 1998 and has stayed there ever since; taking place every year excluding 2007-2009.

Juli Inkster won the title again in 1988, becoming the first two-time winner, though she has been passed by Annika Sorenstam and Betsy King on three wins apiece in the event; whilst Anna Nordqvist and Stacy Lewis have since added their names to the list of multiple winners here.

Both of Nordqvist’s wins came back-to-back in 2015/2016, making her the only player to defend the Shoprite title. In addition, the Swede is also the joint-holder of the lowest winning score in the event of -17, an accolade she shares with fellow Swede Sorenstam; whilst Stacey Lewis’ six-stroke victory in 2014 is the highest winning margin.

It’s typically been an event in which non-Americans have enjoyed success, with only two of the most recent renewals going to someone from the states. Canada’s Brooke Henderson was the latest to carry on this trend, as she won in a playoff last year – the first time the tournament had gone to extra holes since 1992 – and she returns to defend this week.

The Course

Originally designed by the duo of Donald Ross and Hugh Wilson in 1914, then renovated by Bob Cupp in 1998, Seaview’s Bay Course is one of the shortest venues the players will play all year, coming in at a mere 6190 yards and playing to a par 71 (11x Par 4s/4x Par 3s/3x Par 5s).

With the largely exposed nature of the course, it can play pretty tricky if the wind blows, possessing an average winning score of -12.2 over the last ten renewals, though obviously we have to counter in the fact that is only over three rounds. When benign, it’s there for the taking as we’ve seen with those -17s, as well as countless winning at -16 too.

Along with the exposure of the course, the flat, firm and undulating land, on which many of the holes are shaped by mounds and bunkers, give the course a linksy feel. Whilst the majority of the greens are open-fronted and allow for players to play along the ground.

There’s plenty of space here too, particularly when the players advance through the course, with the narrower fairways of the front nine replaced by more generous driving holes on the back.

The bent/poa greens are large, firm and undulating and protected by countless false fronts and run-off areas; with some thickish rough and almost 100 bunkers adding more penalty to the course.

The Stats

Key Stats:

  • SG: Approach
  • Greens-in-Regulation
  • SG: Short-Game

A strong approach game and ability to hit these challenging putting surfaces have proven to be the most important factors needed to succeed around Seaview over the years.

Last year’s winner, Brooke Henderson ranked 5th on the LPGA last season in greens-in-regulation and 13th in approach, whilst 3rd-place finisher, Jodi Ewart Shadoff is also a player at her best in these areas, ranking 3rd for GIR and 22nd in approach in 2022.

Jump back to 2021 to find excellent iron player, Celine Boutier taking home the trophy. She ranked 22nd in GIR on the tour that year and was followed home by a collection of players who are strong in approach. Brooke Henderson was 2nd and was as strong in hitting greens that year, ranking 4th, whilst fellow runners-up, Jin Young Ko and Inbee Park are good in both areas; Ko in particular ranked 2nd in GIR in 2021.

2020 is a hard year to judge due to covid and it was also the only renewal of the event in recent years to be played over four rounds instead of three. Nonetheless, winner, Mel Reid and runner-up Jennifer Kupcho both ranked top 20 in GIR that year. The theme continuing a year further back, as winner Lexi Thompson and runner-up Jeongeun Lee6 ranked 4th and 8th respectively that year.

In addition to this, the greens and their surrounds are challenging, therefore we’ll weight in combined short-game ability, with players who have gone well on courses with bent/poa mixed greens making extra appeal.

Correlating Events (Courses)

Women’s Open & Scottish Women’s Open

Much like last week, the linksy setup has me leaning on those with good links form, though whilst last week including plenty of guesswork, this week we at least have concrete proof that players with excellent links records have gone well here.

Stacey Lewis, Anna Nordqvist and In-Kyung Kim are all past champions of the Shoprite Classic and have also tasted success in the Women’s Open; Lewis additionally with a win in the Scottish Open to her name.

Last year’s Women’s Open winner, Ashleigh Buhai has recorded finishes of 6th and 7th at Seaview; 2021 Shoprite winner Celine Boutier has twice finished top 7 in the Women’s Open, as well as 2nd in the Scottish Open; Jodi Ewart Shadoff has finished runner-up in the Women’s Open to go with a 3rd here and Jenny Shin has top 10s across both events.

Portland Classic (Columbia Edgewater CC)

Of the regular season events, none threw up more form-ties than Columbia Edgewater and the Portland Classic. The Course is a little more densely tree-lined than Seaview, though is exposed in places; with fast and similarly sized poa greens and fairways which are of a comparable width, you can see why players go well across the two courses.

Over recent years we’ve seen Brooke Henderson and Stacey Lewis win across the two courses, whilst Marina Alex – who has recorded finishes of 3rd, 6th, 8th and 19th at Seaview in recent years – is another past champion.

Ashleigh Buhai and Su Oh strengthen the form-ties, with multiple top 10s at both events.

Mizuho Americas Open (Liberty National Golf Club)

Finally, last week’s Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National can offer additional clues. Though much longer, the links-like setup suits player who excel on such courses and though we only have one year to try and find correlations, last week’s event did throw up a couple; in the shape of runner-up Jennifer Kupcho, who has also finished 2nd here at Seaview and Ashleigh Buhai also cracked the top 10 there as she has done here multiple times before.

The Weather

We’re set for a breezy week in New Jersey, with wind speeds of a constant 15-20kmh throughout the week which could make things a little testy on this exposed course. Outside of that, barring a spot of rain on Friday conditions look comfortable and warm, which should set us up for a good week of golf.

The Field

The field is headed by world #6 Atthaya Thitikul, with three further players from inside the top 10 consisting of Korea’s Hyo Joo Kim, who returns following a six-week absence, England’s Georgia Hall and reigning champion Brooke Henderson.

Henderson is one of six former champions, joined by Mel Reid (2020), Annie Park (2018), In-Kyung Kim (2017), Anna Nordqvist (2016 & 2015) and Stacey Lewis (2014 & 2012).

Finally, there’s a similarly exciting young entrant following Rose Zhang’s incredible win last week, as 17-year-old, Chiara Noja tees it up for the very first time on the LPGA. Already sat inside the world’s top 100 thanks to two wins last year (one on the LET and one on the LET Access Series), the big-hitting German is destined to be a huge star of the game and will be hoping to produce her own historic moment this week.

Selections

Atthaya Thitikul leads the way at the top of the betting at 6/1, followed by the returning Hyo Joo Kim at 11/1 and the duo of Georgia Hall and Hae Ran Ryu at 12s.

Thitikul was in the final pairing with Zhang last week, though disappointingly went backwards on Sunday, finishing in 10th. She could easily bounce back here but is not worth chancing at the price.

Whilst Hall has a solid enough record here, and Ryu continues to impress in her rookie season, it was HJ Kim who appealed most of this leading quartet, with her iron play some of the best on tour this season; however, I found her short enough at 11/1 following the six-week break.

I don’t stray too far from the top of the betting for my first selection and to a player who ticks virtually every box here at Seaview this week, South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai.

2.5 pts Ashleigh Buhai each way (1/5 – 6 places)

After getting without question the biggest win of her career last year in the Women’s Open, Buhai has carried that positivity over into the new season with a string of impressive performances.

She hit a bit of a lull following her Open win, but she actually showed a return to form right at the end of last year, winning the Australian Open in a field which included home favourites, Minjee Lee and Hannah Green in behind.

Buhai kicked off 2023 with a top 10 in the Tournament of Champions, before a solid top 25 in a star-studded Saudi International. A further two top 10s on the LPGA followed in Thailand and Singapore, before she won her national title for the second time on her next start on the LET, running out a comfortable four-stroke winner.

She missed her first two cuts of the year as the LPGA returned to the states but has responded well over her next four starts. Buhai finished 18th in the first major of the year in the Chevron Championship, then following a 33rd in the LA Championship with finishes of 3rd in the Founders Cup and was 7th last week at Liberty National on her most recent start.

Buhai’s approach play has been excellent this season, an area in which she ranks 5th on tour, whilst is also 28th in greens-in-regulation. Complimenting this with some solid enough short-game performances.

Her course form has been much improved over recent years, recording finishes of 6th and 7th over the course of the last five renewals.

Correlating form stands up too, not just from that Open win last year but in addition to that she’s finished 2nd in Portland and with that 7th at Liberty National last week a further positive in relation to this week, she looks primed for a first win in the U.S.

2 pts Anna Nordqvist each way (1/5 – 7 places)

Anna Nordqvist is a two-time winner of this event and continued her solid form this year with a 17th place finish in the Mizuho Americas Open last week. With her irons once again looking good, she can join Annika Sorenstam and Betsy King in becoming the third three-time winner of the Shoprite Classic.

Nordqvist’s finish last week was her fifth top 20 in eight starts in 2023, though with a best (in a stroke-play event) of 10th in the Honda LPGA Thailand, she’d have hoped to have turned one or two of those into stronger contending performances. Something I’m expecting her to do this week.

Her game looks in fine shape currently, as she leads the tour in GIR, whilst also ranks 22nd in approach. Meanwhile, despite an off week on the greens last week, she’s largely putted well this year, ranking 24th.

Nordqvist has successfully transferred that skillset to Seaview, with her back-to-back wins in 2015/2016 not the only times she’s gone well; a 2nd and 4th amongst a raft of other top-class performances.

She was one of the players who franked that links form correlation at the venue with her win in the Women’s Open in 2021 and after backing her on her last two starts, I’m hoping it’s a case of third time lucky with Nordqvist this week.

1 pt Andrea Lee each way (1/5 – 7 places)

Former leading amateur, Andrea Lee was one of the form players on the LPGA towards the end of last year. Though she hasn’t quite got going in 2023, signs on her last two starts have been positive and I’m taking her to continue that improvement on a setup that should play to her strengths this week.

Lee won her first pro title on the Epson Tour at the start of last year and brought that same level of form when she stepped back up to the LPGA, also securing her first LPGA win in the correlating Portland Classic; a win amongst a bundle of other quality results, including a 2nd in the BMW Ladies Championship.

Something was amiss at the start of 2023, as she finished 27th in the limited-field Tournament of Champions and prior to the Bank of Hope Match-Play, had failed to finish higher than 51st on her previous eight starts, missing four cuts.

There were indications that she may have turned a corner at the Match-Play, as despite exiting in the group stages she only lost one of her three matches, winning and halving the other two.

She stepped up on this with her best performance of the year at Liberty National, finishing 21st and signed off the week with a 3-under 69, her best round of the tournament.

Though struggling for form, her approach play – an area in which she ranked 3rd on the LPGA last season – has remained strong, ranking 17th in 2023 so far. She continues to hit it perfectly straight off-the-tee too, with the short-game areas of most concern, as she has gone from a top 50 putter last year to one of the worst putters so far this season.

That is something I’m hoping she can rectify here, at a place where she finished 14th in 2021 and with that Portland Classic win, as well as a solid Women’s Open record – which saw her finish 7th in 2020 – some handy bits of correlating form, this looks as good a place as any for her to produce her first title challenge of 2023.

0.75 pts Arpichaya Yubol each way (1/5 – 7 places)

Young, Thai golfer Arpichaya Yubol is still largely unexposed as a pro golfer and with most of her appearances littered with quality results, the 21-year-old really could be absolutely anything yet and looks nicely priced in an open looking contest.

Yubol has been a known talent in Thailand since 2018, when she won five times on the Thai LPGA when still an amateur. Since turning pro in 2019, she has played most of her golf at home, recording a further four wins – including one this year in the Singha Pattaya Ladies Open.

Outside of the Thai LPGA wins, Yubol has continued to stack up victories wherever she goes. She won on the Taiwan LPGA in 2019 in the Manila Masters six weeks after turning pro – an event in which 2021 US Open winner, Yuka Saso was 2nd.

She has also recorded two victories in the Thailand Mixed Series, events which see both men and women compete with each other on the same leaderboard and last year, she won on the LET Access Series in Scotland.

Other performances of note outside of her wins include quality efforts in the LET/Asian Tour co-sanctioned events last year: the Asian Mixed Cup and Asian Mixed Stableford, finishing as the 2nd and 8th-best female players in those respective events.

Yubol has continued to look good in 2023 as she’s started to play more golf in the states. She finished 31st in the LOTTE Championship on the LPGA three starts ago, her first ever full-field LPGA start and when we last saw her, she finished 7th on the LPGA’s feeder tour, the Epson Tour; also her first start on that tour.

Though still largely an unknown to mainstream golf, Yubol looks to have more than a bit about her. With strong performances from Natthakritta Vongtaveelap on tour this season showing us how we shouldn’t underestimate these young players when they step out of the shadows, she looks well worth the risk at a tasty three-figure price this week.

 

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