U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Five Insights on the Cusp of Olympic Test
June 1, 2021 | San Francisco, Calif.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
Gleaning some tidbits and key trends to watch for as we await the start on Thursday of the 76th U.S. Women’s Open, the first women’s major championship contested on the Lake Course at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. Information was provided by Justin Ray of Twenty First Group (formerly 15th Club):
Anatomy of a U.S. Women’s Open champion
The past 15 Women’s Open champions have – no surprise – shown well-rounded games en route to victory, but they have shone most brightly around the green. While they ranked 20th in the field on average in driving distance (249.6 yards) and about 25th in fairways hit (average rank of 24.6, at 73.4 percent), they truly separated themselves by hitting 69.1 percent of the greens in regulation (an average field rank of 9.1). They were on average third in the field with 3.96 birdies/eagles per round and had 29.3 putts per round, an average rank of 10.4.
Hanging around the leader board
In the past three Women’s Opens, of the 59 players who played at least eight rounds, just five have cumulative scores under par. Ariya Jutanugarn, the 2018 champion, leads that list at a combined 6 under par, while 2019 champion Jeongeun Lee6 is next at 3 under. You might also watch for the next three players on the list to contend this week. Although Carlota Ciganda of Spain (2 under) missed the cut in 2020 at Champions Golf Club, she finished third in 2018 and tied for fifth in 2017. Jin Young Ko (T2 in 2020) and Lexi Thompson (T2 in 2019) are each a cumulative 1 under the past three years.
Korean scoring dominance
Of all the players who have completed at least 12 rounds in the Women’s Open over the past 10 years, the top five scoring averages belong to players from the Republic of Korea, who not coincidentally, have won seven of the last 10 titles. The group is led by Lee6 with a 70.94 stroke average. So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 champion who has an additional five top-five finishes since her victory, is next at 71.23, followed by 2020 co-runner-up Ko (71.31), 2017 winner Sung Hyun Park (71.56) and two-time champion Inbee Park (also at 71.56).
Time for a turnaround?
Since she logged back-to-back finishes in the top 10 in 2014 and 2015, Brooke Henderson of Canada has struggled in the Women’s Open. Henderson’s best finish since then is a tie for 13th in 2017, with ties for 39th and 44th and a 64th-place finish as well. Not surprisingly, her stroke average has ballooned from 70.25 in 2014-15 to 72.94 in the succeeding years. However, in late April she posted her first LPGA Tour victory in nearly two years, capturing the Hugel Air Premia LA Open by one stroke over Jessica Korda. The fifth-ranked player in the Rolex World Rankings may be primed for a rebound in this championship as well.
A Lim Kim’s Historic Final Round
Everyone remembers the three closing birdies by A Lim Kim in her victory last December at Champions Golf Club, but her final round of 4-under 67 ranks fourth in strokes gained by any player in the closing rounf of a Women’s Open since 1992. Her 7.79 strokes-gained total is behind only Song Hee Kim (8.74 in 2010, when she shot a closing 65 at Oakmont to move up 24 places and finish T-13), Meg Mallon (7.88 in 2004, when she rallied to win her second title), and Grace Park (7.85 in 2003, when she finished T-10).
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.