Given the strict restrictions in place in New Jersey and canceled pro-am rounds (yes, rounds), there was reason to be concerned that this year’s ShopRite LPGA Classic might not happen.
To the delight of fans and players alike, the longstanding LPGA event at the Bay Course at Seaview Golf Club has become a fall classic in 2020, an ideal run-up to next week’s major at Aronimink Golf Club outside of Philadelphia.
But first, the skinny on this week.
The best of the best win here
This marks the 32nd playing of the ShopRite LPGA Classic on the Jersey Shore and the winner’s list reads like a who’s who in women’s golf.
Juli Inkster won the first showing back in 1986. Inkster ultimately won it twice, and Betsy King won it three times, as did Annika Sorenstam.
Add in Nancy Lopez, Dottie Pepper, Se Ri Pak along with current players and major champions Stacy Lewis (2012, 2014), Brittany Lincicome (2011), Anna Nordqvist (2015, 2016), Cristie Kerr (2004) and Angela Stanford (2003) and all bets should point toward a marquee winner this week.
“It’s a thinking person’s golf course,” said Cristie Kerr. “You know, it’s a great short game and wedge playing golf course, so I think that’s why you see a lot of the great players that have won here have had very good careers. That’s where you make your money in golf, is chipping putting.”
New month, different course
The tournament has been held at Seaview since 1998 (in addition to the first two years of the event). Typically held in June, this year’s October dates will present a new challenge on an old-school track.
Stacy Lewis, who made a double-bogey every day in 2014 and still won by six, noted that the greens are actually better now than they are in the summer. It’s not playing as hard and fast as usual, which means length might be more of an advantage. The intricacies of the greens and the subtle breaks, however, remain the same.
“If you get on the wrong side of the hole putts can be really fast,” said Lewis. “This week especially it’s going to be dealing with spin and how much the ball is not releasing and controlling wedges.
“And the fescue is down, too, so who knows what that year is going to bring.”
Past champion Annie Park, who grew up 80 miles from the Seaview, described the wind on Wednesday as monstrous, telling Megan Khang it felt like they were back in Scotland.
“I love fall in New York and New Jersey,” said Park. “I love sweater weather.”
There’s an extra round
For the first time since 1990, and only the second time in event history, the ShopRite will be a 72-hole hole competition. Christa Johnson won 30 years ago at Greate Bay Country Club, finishing 5 under for the event.
The ShopRite typically hosts pro-ams on Wednesday and Thursday but due to COVID-19, both were canceled. Players have gotten used to not having fans at tournaments, but the lack of pro-ams and early-week bustle takes getting used to as well.
The mentality of needing to floor the gas pedal changes a bit too at a 72-hole event. Lincicome welcomes the change.
“If I’m going to win an LPGA event,” said Lincicome, “I always want it to be a four-day event against the top players in the world, hardest fields, just so when you win it’s kind of justified. You played four rounds against the best players.”
One group, five wins
One of Thursday afternoon’s must-see groups goes off at 1:06 p.m. ET, just in time for Golf Channel’s three-hour broadcast (1-4 p.m. ET).
Past champions Stacy Lewis, Anna Nordqvist and Lexi Thompson, who have five titles at ShopRite between them, will try to feed off each other’s good vibes during the first two rounds.
“What’ll be interesting is that you’ll see three different ways probably of playing the golf course,” said Lewis. “You’ll have Lexi who will bomb it; Anna and I are probably going to hit it pretty straight and hit it good.
So it’ll be three different ways you can win, and be fun playing with people that are obviously comfortable on the golf course. Hopefully see a lot of the putts go in.”
Four players received sponsor invites into this week’s field: Natalie Gulbis, Hinako Shibuno, Brynn Walker and Megha Ganne.
Walker, a senior at North Carolina, has competed in ShopRite’s Monday qualifier six times dating back to her senior year at Radnor High School outside of Philadelphia, advancing twice.
Ganne, the reigning New Jersey Junior Girls champion, competed in the 2019 U.S. Women’s Open, the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship and the 2019 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National.
While Gulbis has been a staple at Seaview for two decades, Shibuno is new to American golf. The 2019 AIG Women’s British Open champion turned down LPGA membership last season but now hopes to play her way onto the tour. Shibuno had hoped to participate in LPGA Q-School this season, but it was canceled due to the pandemic. She plans to try next year if she doesn’t play her way onto the tour before that.
“When I played with So Yeon Ryu and Nasa Hataoka at Japan Women’s Open Championship last October, I realized that they were on totally different levels with me,” she said with the help of an interpreter. “That incident made me want to go to the U.S. and compete in more high-level tournaments.”