KILDEER, Ill. – Ariya Jutanugarn looks primed to make a run at winning back-to-back majors. Danielle Kang could get in her way in a bid to win back-to-back KPMG Women’s PGA Championships.
Lydia Ko’s evolving game continues to trend up.
Those were some of the opinions voiced by Karen Stupples, Paige Mackenzie, Jerry Foltz and Kay Cockerill in a Golf Channel media teleconference in advance of this week’s major at Kemper Lakes Golf Club.
Here are some of the highlights:
On Ariya Jutanugarn as the favorite this week …
Stupples: “If Ariya is healthy, I think she’s going to be tough because she doesn’t even need to hit driver. She can just take a 3 wood or a 2 iron and plunk it into position. She’s very creative around the greens, very underrated. She’s ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in putting, 1.71 putts per green in regulation. That’s just ridiculous for somebody with her kind of power. It’s just so rare to see that.”
Foltz: “Course totally favors Ariya. I think the power off the tee is one thing, but the ability to really spin the approach shots is going to be paramount [if conditions get firm].
“I think someone like Lexi Thompson, someone like Ariya, they’re going to have a huge advantage based on the ability to get the tee ball down there farther than most and have a shorter club in.”
On Kang’s title defense …
Mackenzie: “She’s one of the few players that I played with that I actually remember watching … I remember playing a round with Danielle and being completely captivated by her ball-striking. I don’t think there’s a physical missing link with Danielle Kang, and if you look at her success as an amateur in match play events and the U.S. Amateur, you have to believe that there’s a light switch that she hasn’t just quite figured out how to turn on when she needs to in stroke play competition. I’m very bullish on her, but I think there’s still some emotional and mental maturity that has kind of been holding her back.”
Cockerill: “She is completely at home on the big stage. She thrives in that atmosphere. She does not back down. She’s not fearful. She becomes a better, stronger competitor, the bigger the stage, the bigger the spotlight. She’s an extrovert. She loves attention. Her issue, I think, is consistency and getting through Thursday and Friday, sort of the doldrums of Thursday and Friday, to get herself in position to be in the limelight on the weekend. It’s sort of like she can check out, or I think she gets bored, or she just maybe doesn’t have that mental tenacity to fight through the little details to get her consistently on the big stage.”
On Ko’s readiness to win a third major …
Stupples: “Somebody who has been rounding into a little bit of form is Lydia Ko. She has gained a little bit of distance off the tee. She’s 3 miles per hour quicker, club speed, than she was over last year. So she’s gained about nine yards worth of carry, and that’s going to help her in order to get some shorter shots into the greens. She does need to keep it a little tighter in play. But everything has kind of shown solid improvement for her.”