The U.S. Women’s Open kicks off this week at Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club in Shoal Creek, Ala., as the best players in the world battle for a $900,000 first-place check out of the $5 million purse.
Sung Hyun Park is back to defend her title, but the women’s game is as competitive as ever right now. Here are seven names to watch when the tournament begins on Thursday.
The list of Thai golfers, male or female, to win a major starts and ends with Jutanugarn, whose victory at the 2016 Women’s British Open, though pioneering, hardly came as a surprise. A precocious talent, she’d announced herself to the world by capturing the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior title. The U.S. Women’s Open has been less kind to Jutanugarn; her best finish is a T17. But she comes into Shoal Creek in good form, with a win in last week’s Kingsmills Championship in Virginia.
Country: New Zealand
With Tiger Woods busy playing Lazarus this season, it was easy to forget that another big-time comeback was underway. Having become the youngest woman ever to win a major championship, at the 2015 Evian Championship, Ko spent 130 weeks atop the Rolex Rankings before losing her mojo. It looked like she would never be the same. But aided by a new coach, a new caddie and new equipment, Ko broke a nearly two-year title drought with a playoff victory at the Mediheal Championship in April. She called it a “huge relief,” which could portend huge headaches for the rest of the field.
Nordqvist didn’t come within a whisker of winning the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle. She came within a grain of sand. The penalty she suffered — for ever-so-barely grounding her club in a bunker during a three-hole playoff against Brittany Lang — all but ended her chances in the event. Nordqvist, though, is nothing if not resilient, a trait she demonstrated in an epic singles match against Lexi Thompson in the 2017 Solheim Cup. As for major chops, she’s got those, too, with two victories to her name: the 2009 Women’s PGA Championship, and the 2017 Evian Championship.
Sung Hyun Park
The defending champ has been feast or famine over the last few months. In her last six starts she’s missed the cut three times and finished T61, T9 and won. Her Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic victory earlier this month was followed by a missed cut in her next start. She hits the ball a long way (274.9 yards) and ranks 3rd on Tour in driving distance, but just 104th in driving accuracy. Her putting has also held her back, but don’t count out the reigning LPGA rookie and player of the year.
So Yeon Ryu
If you’re looking for a good track record in the U.S. Women’s Open, look no further than Ryu, who finished T14 or better in her last six starts in the event. One of those finishes was a win in 2011, when she topped fellow Korean Hee Kyung Seo in a three-hole playoff at the Broadmoor.
After a scintillating 2017 (two victories, six runner-ups and the Vare Trophy for low-scoring average), Thompson has yet to snag a win this year. But she remains the No. 2-ranked player in the Rolex Women’s Golf Rankings and the top-ranked American woman in the game. Speaking of Americans, Thompson will be paired the first two days with Michelle Wie and Jessica Korda, making a marquee three-ball of red-white-and-blue.
Oh, how a victory can lift the weight of a slump off one’s shoulders. Wie triumphed at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March to end a four-year winless drought, and while she hasn’t built a ton of momentum off her big victory, her form has been consistent. She hasn’t missed a cut in her seven starts since her win, and she’s finished T32 or better in five of them. She’s already lifted one U.S. Women’s Open trophy, when it was at Pinehurst in 2014.