Minjee Lee during practice in Houston on Monday – USGA Simon Bruty
Although few would have thought such would be the case when the 2020 golfing year began, it has taken until the second week of December for the final major championship of either gender to be decided.
That contest begins on Thursday when the US Women’s Open is played at the Champions Golf Club in Houston.
Three of the now traditional five major championships in the female game have been played in 2020, the fifth, the Evian Championship, the only victim of Covid 19 amongst the elite events in women’s golf.
This week’s US Women’s Open will, for the first occasion, be played over two courses, the move deemed necessary to ensure the full field of 156 will complete the opening 36 holes within the hours of light, those hours reduced due to the event being played in the first week of winter in the US.
The courses being used are both part of the Champions Golf Club in Houston, the Cypress Creek and Jackrabbit layouts utilised on the opening two days before the event reverts to the course originally selected to host the event before Covid 19 took its toll, Cypress Creek, to settle the outcome over the weekend.
The Cypress Creek course has previously held the Ryder Cup, the US Open, the US Amateur and five PGA Tour Championships amongst others, was opened in 1957 followed not too long after by the Jackrabbit layout.
Australia has won this event on two occasions, the first when Jan Stephenson won the first of her two major titles in 1983 and again in 2000 and 2001 when Karrie Webb won consecutive titles.
In 2020 Australia will field six competitors and they will be joined by two New Zealanders, one of the stronger representations from down under numerically for some time.
Perth’s, Minjee Lee, is a player good enough to win a major title but in six attempts at the US Open she has yet to record a top ten, her best coming when 11th in 2017.
Lee has been in solid if unspectacular form of late although a win in a Ladies European Tour event in Dubai a month ago provides a level of confidence to tackle this significantly stronger field.
Lee’s fellow West Australian, Hannah Green, is Australia’s only major winner in the field but she has yet to record a top ten in 2020 and on that basis it is hard to believe she could repeat the heroics of her win at the Women’s KPMG PGA Championship 18 months ago.
This will be just the second US Women’s Open for Green having finished tied for 34th last year.
Queensland’s, Katherine Kirk, will play her 16th US Women’s Open and as such is by far the most experienced Australian in the field. In all those starts however she has a best of 25th and although she has impressed with some good tournaments in the latter half of 2020, her chances of contending appear slim.
Victorian, Su Oh, plays her 6th US Women’s Open, 17th at Shoal Creek in 2018 her best finish. Oh has been in a horror run of form in 2020 but in recent starts things appear to be improving with an 11th place at the recent Volunteers event a significant improvement for the still only 24 year old.
Su Hyun Oh – practising on Monday – photo USGA Robert Beck
Queensland’s Sarah Jane Smith has struggled since her return from the birth of her first child although her two most recent tournaments have shown improvement. This will be the 36 year old’s 8th US Open, perhaps boxing above her weight when 5th in 2018.
Smith is no doubt being back playing the game she loves after the early stages of motherhood but it is hard to see her reaching the heights of two years ago.
Australia’s final entrant is the outstanding Gabi Ruffels who has yet to turn professional and is a attending the University of Southern California. Ruffels gained her start courtesy of her runner-up finish at this year’s US Women’s Amateur when defending her 2019 victory in the same event.
The 20 year old Ruffels played with distinction at the recent ANA Inspiration when 15th against a field not a lot weaker then this and she is considered by many to be a future star of the game.
above – Gabi Julius on course on Monday – photo USGA
Two New Zealanders take their place in the field, headed of course by the amazing Lydia Ko who gets to play her 9th US Women’s Open.
Surprisingly for a player of her standing and record, a 3rd place finish in 2016 is her only top ten result in those eight previous attempts. Ko is, however, playing well at present with top tens in her last three starts and is slowly returning to somewhere near the sort of form which saw her dominate the game three years ago and there is every reason to believe she can be in contention come Sunday.
Christchurch golfer, Amelia Garvey, gets her chance to play in a major for the first occasion, her world ranking in the amateur ranks securing her place in the field.
Garvey attends the University of Southern California where she has performed with distinction, her record in the amateur ranks including a runner-up finish at the British Amateur in 2019
Garvey was the runner-up to Emily Toy in that Women’s Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A, at Royal Country Down. She also represented New Zealand in the 2018 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship.
Understandably Minjee Lee and Lydia Ko are the standouts as far as the Australasian challenge is concerned although they will be hard pressed to handle the likes of inform world number one, Jin Young Ko, and her fellow Koreans, Inbee Park and Sei Young Kim, Kim winning her last two events.
World Number One Jin Young Ko – photo USGA Simon Bruty