Danielle Kang rates the pick of the favourites in the Women's PGA Championship according to Matt Cooper, who is also rolling the dice with a 500/1 fancy.
A giddy Colin Welland cried “The British are coming!” as he collected the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1982. The film he had penned, Chariots of Fire, would win another three categories as it stormed the 54th Academy Awards and I suspect that the proud and earthy sports fan Welland would not mind having his words pinched and used to celebrate the success of his nation’s female golfers on the LPGA Tour of late.
Two weeks ago Georgia Hall claimed her first win in America, the 24-year-old adding the Portland Classic to her triumph in the 2018 Women’s Open, then last week 33-year-old Mel Reid became a first-time LPGA winner with success in the ShopRite Classic, and whilst their stories may not quite be in the cinematic league of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, they aren’t far off.
Hall might take the Abrahams role, less because she’s faced the specific prejudice he did (although by dint of being a woman she’ll have dealt with plenty), more because she’s remained driven and ambitious through adversity. A good example is when she had to turn down opportunities to play major championships as an amateur because her family couldn’t afford the vast expenses which came with such invitations. Instead, she stored the frustration away and used it as motivation for future success.
Reid’s tale has unlikely parallels with Liddell’s, comprising inner conflict, multiple tests of belief and the need to travel across the world to find fulfilment. It was religion which caused Liddell anguish, often fretting that he should be in China conducting missionary work rather than running in circles for fun and, what’s more, he refused to do that on Sundays, causing problems with authority. Reid has dealt with the turmoil of losing her mother, admitted to partying too much in response, but has ultimately remained steadfast through her trials, moving to Florida to overcome the difficulty she’s had performing on the LPGA and then standing firm when proudly coming out.
Unquestionably there is plenty for Britain to be proud of with these two golfers and with their peers too, because Charley Hull and Bronte Law both have American wins and fiery back stories of their own to tell. Can we expect more success for the Brits at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship? Or, like my movie metaphor, has the run come to an end? Reid’s price has plummeted and Law is in a terrible run of form. I admire Hall’s ability to construct a major championship gameplan and stick to it, but her price, also, is a touch low. The test might suit Hull, but poor form and a recent encounter with Covid-19 add doubt. The Brits have arrived, then, but the picks are coming from elsewhere this week.
That said, first pick DANIELLE KANG has Englishman Olly Lewis on the bag, a combination that’s been working well for some time now. The 27-year-old Californian made her major championship breakthrough in this event in 2017, claiming victory at Olympia Fields and it was quite a shock, being her 32nd major start and first top-10 finish. Since then she’s continued to find the two European majors something of a mystery, but has added four finishes of T11th or better in seven majors in America.
The fact her win in this event came out of nowhere is something of a modern trend. She was preceded as champion by Brooke Henderson in 2016 and in the last two years Sung-Hyun Park and Hannah Green have lifted the trophy. All four had failed to finish in the top 40 in their previous start on tour and the quartet had also ended the week outside the top 30 in their previous major start.
If Kang wins this week, she’ll buck those patterns because she was T12th last time out in the Portland Classic and T11th a week before that in the ANA Inspiration. Multiple winners of the PGA are not uncommon however. In the 18 renewals before those last four Se Ri Pak, Annika Sorenstam and Inbee Park mopped up three apiece and Yani Tseng two.
Moreover the track might well suit Kang. Aronimink is a Donald Ross design and one he was rather proud of, stating with no apparent lack of humility: “I intended to make this my masterpiece, but not until today did I realise that I built it better than I knew.” It’s seen a lot of PGA Tour action in the last decade – the 2018 BMW Championship plus the 2010 and 2011 AT&T National. In all three of those tournaments a hot putter was essential. For example, Keegan Bradley won in 2018 and hit 75% of the greens, good enough to only rank 50th in the field, but he was first for Putting Average, Putts per Round, and in strokes-gained terms. Excellent numbers on the greens were pencilled in by the top five that year and also in the two AT&Ts.
In that regard Kang has no worries. Over the last year she ranks fifth in the field for Putting Average and led the field in that category last time out in Oregon (with 1.50). She also opened the post-lockdown period with a win at the Inverness Club in Ohio – another Ross design and one that has hosted majors. She looks pick of the favourites.
31-year-old Korean AMY YANG has never quite hit the heights of many of her compatriots, but in a decade and a half among the professional ranks she has landed three titles on the LET and four on the LPGA. Between 2009 and 2017 she was also a relentless compiler of top ten finishes in the major championships, amassing 17 of them in 37 starts.
Whilst she hasn’t landed one since she was T11th in this event two years ago, she only fell out the top ten in the final round last year and she also finished fast for T15th in the ANA Inspiration last month. She maintained that form to grab T12th a week later in Portland and if that suggests a flicker of form, the Ross design might be what it takes to ignite the flame.
She didn’t play Ross’s Seaview last week, but her record there is solid with no missed cuts and four top 20s in six starts. Ross major championship tests, however, are something she really seems to thrive on. She was tied tenth in 2011 at Broadmoor, fourth three years later at Pinehurst and second 12 months on at Lancaster, all of them in the US Open. It seals the deal on pick number two.
I’m keen on Japan’s Nasa Hataoka this week, but less keen on the price given she is still chasing a first major win. Instead I’m going to take a chance on her compatriot HINAKO SHIBUNO, the 2019 Women’s Open champion, whose form this year has contributed to her being rated a three-figure outsider.
A two-time winner in Japan ahead of that astonishing victory at Woburn last year, she made it four wins on home soil by year’s end, but missed the cut in her one start o the JLPGA this year and played only 36 holes in the Scottish Open and on defence of her title.
Since then, however, she has made the cut in the ANA Inspiration, added T24th in Portland and T27th last week at Seaview. I’d argue the middle of those efforts is the nearest golf she has played in America to the golf she regularly plays back home and that this week is even more like it. She’s also an exceptional putter, ranking second in this field over the last year. If the course fits her eye, she could give us a great run for our money at a big price.
Final selection is a punt at the third major of this LPGA season making it a hat-trick for outsiders following the staggering successes of Sophia Popov and Mirim Lee because at first glance Thailand’s PATTY TAVATANAKIT has little going for her, but actually there are threads from all the angles covered so far.
The 20-year-old graduated from the Symetra Tour last year and in doing so she claimed three wins. Two of those successes came back-to-back in July at French Link and Brook Lea, both of which are Donald Ross designs, and she reiterated a fondness for his tests when posting a round one 66 last week at Seaview which had her tied sixth.
Unfortunately, she then added a 77 in round two and with it missed the cut, but we’ve established that form has not been a pre-requisite in this tournament. Putting, on the other hand, might be and Tavatanakit ranks 18th for Putting Average this season so it’s definitely her strong suit.
Moreover she’s not without decent experience in the majors because she landed tied fifth in the 2018 US Open and since then she’s played three majors in America and made the cut every time. The recommendation is to split the stake as a small each-way in the outright and first round leader markets.
Posted at 0955 BST on 06/10/20
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133, or visit begambleaware.org.