SOUTHERN PINES, NC – The US Women’s Open returns to the Sandhills of North Carolina this week. Pine Needles – a Donald Ross design by Kyle Franz – will play host for a record fourth time as the top ladies in the world arrive at perhaps the most iconic region in American golf.
The confines may be friendly to the golfers involved under the red, white and blue, but recent history has not been so kind. It’s been six years since the American last won the national pool, and only four winners from the US.
Here are a few homegrown ladies who could afford the best international contenders in golf.
Best USWO finish: T-10 (2018)
Why she’s a threat: Nelly Korda’s stock skyrocketed in 2021 with a run for the ages. Her year included four LPGA wins, her first major title and a gold medal to boot. It was as impressive as anything we’ve seen in recent memory, and, if there are any players who can challenge her.
Best USWO finish: T-2 (2019)
Why she’s a threat: Lexi Thompson had one on the USWO trophy last summer at Olympic Club before the historic back-nine collapse dashed her chances. Close calls have been a theme of Thompson’s career, but her firepower can put her in the mix every week. A T-4 finish at the Ky first major shows she still got what it takes to be a factor, scar tissue be damned.
Best USWO finish: T-21 (2017)
Why she’s a threat: The former ANWA winner finally broke through at The Dinah Shore for her first LPGA (and major) win, and she did it in dominant fashion. Now that first-win monkey is off her back, more wins are sure to come. Can she make it two majors in a row?
Best USWO finish: 4th (2018)
Why she’s a threat: Danielle Kang doesn’t quite have the big-championship resume you expect from a player of her caliber (just five top-10s in 53 starts), but a win at the PGA Women’s in 2017 shows she has what it takes to close . The question is, can she bring her A-game when it matters most? Anything less, and Kang’s major total will remain at one.
Jin Young Ko
Best USWO finish: T-2 (2020)
Why she’s a threat: The World No. 1 is a threat to win every week she tees it up. Her recent résumé includes a gaudy streak of 34 straight rounds and six wins (and counting) since the middle of last summer. Ross’ tricky putting surfaces.
Best USWO finish: DNP
Why she’s a threat: No one has experienced a faster rise – or been more consistent – over the past year than Atthaya Thitikul. The LPGA rookie has already notched its first victory this season and has ascended into the top five in the world in the process. While she’s never played in the USWO, the 19-year-old has the talent to compete with the best in the world.
Best USWO finish: 2nd (2021)
Why she’s a threat: Nasa Hataoka narrowly missed out on winning the championship in 2021 as she appeared in a playoff at Olympic Club. This year, she’s back as a more refined player. She’s picked up three wins since the close call at Olympic, and she should be a favorite to break through at Pine Needles.
Best USWO finish: Win (2021)
Why she’s a threat: It’s hard to leave the defending champ off this list. Saso have not won since coming last at Olympic Club last June, but her ability should not be doubted. This 20-year-old is one of the top talents in the world.
Best USWO finish: Win (1995, 1996, 2006)
Why she’s a threat: Courtesy of her US Senior Women’s Open victory last summer, Annika Sorenstam is back in the USWO field for the first time since 2008. Luckily, she knows her way around Pine Needles pretty well. She won her second major title on the grounds in 1996, and she’s never missed a cut on property.
Michelle Wie West
Best USWO finish: Win (2014)
Why she’s a threat: Michelle Wie West announced last week that she would be stepping away from the LPGA after this event. And there’s no better place down the road from where he claimed her lone major championship victory. Her game may not be in the form of contending for the title, as she admitted early this week, but she’ll be a player to keep an eye on non-showing.
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