The 2023 LPGA Tour season begins this week in Orlando with the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, the first of 35 events in which a record $101.4 million will be on the line. It’s been a couple months since we last saw the tour in action at the CME Group Tour Championship, where Lydia Ko won the massive $2 million winner’s check, grabbed LPGA player-of-the-year honors and secured the World No. 1 ranking for the first time in half a decade.
As we gear up for the new season, here are some stories to keep an eye on:
It’s a Solheim Cup year
Team Europe enjoyed an upset road win durign the 2021 Solheim Cup at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
Few events inject energy into women’s golf like the Solheim Cup. In 2023, the matches take place for the first time in Spain at Finca Cortesin Resort (Sept. 22-24) and will do so with a new generation of leaders overseeing both squads. Team Europe will be led by Norway’s Suzann Pettersen who compiled an 18-12-6 overall record during the nine times she competed in the event. The Americans will rely on Stacy Lewis, a four-time participant, who at age 38 will be the youngest American captain in the 33-year history of the event.
Seven of the 12 spots on Team USA will be determined off a year-long points list, with qualifying ending Aug. 27 after the CP Women’s Open. Two more players come from the Rolex World Rankings list, with Lewis selecting the final three players. Team Europe, meanwhile, takes the top two players from its Solheim Cup points list, then the top six ranked players on Rolex World Rankings, with four picks made by Pettersen.
Suffice it to say, the Americans have a lot of potential firepower looking to compete: The Korda sisters (Jessica and Nelly), Lexi Thompson, Jennifer Kupcho and Danielle Kang are all currently ranked in the top 20 in the world. Team Europe has just two players, Celine Boutier and Charley Hull, in the top 20. Of course, that doesn’t always matter when it comes to team play. In 2021 at Inverness Club in Ohio, Team USA had five players ranked in the top 17 in the world while Europe had only one, yet the visitors pulled off a stunning 15-13 upset to win the Cup for a second straight playing.
Among those who witnessed the surprise finish first hand was Lewis, who was serving as an assistant U.S. captain. From her vantage point, Team Europe’s putters were the difference-maker. “It's probably one of the best European teams I think I've seen,” Lewis said at the time. “They're just really, really a lot of great putters—not good putters, great putters—and when it's tight like that, it's a putt or two here and there.”
If Team Europe putts the way they did at Inverness, the Americans will face a tough challenge in September.
Big changes to the first major of the year
2022 Chevron Championship winner Jennifer Kupcho enjoys the last leap into Poppie's Pond as LPGA's first major moves from California to Texas in 2023.
For long-time LPGA fans, the first major of the year will forever be known as “The Dinah”—despite the different names it’s gone by since its inception in 1972, the latest change came a year ago when the event became the Chevron Championship. But 2023 marks the first time the tournament will be played at a different course: The Club at Carlton Woods outside Houston is its new home.
Moving away from Mission Hills in the California desert to Texas prompted some tour veterans to lament the tradition the championship would be losing. But history isn’t the only thing to consider. Yes, we’ll miss seeing the winner jump into Poppie’s Pond, but the move allowed for the championship to enjoy a significant increase in the prize money payout: In 2021, the purse was $3.1 million. This year, it’s up to $5.1 million.
The event has also moved to a later date (April 20-23); instead of being the week before the Masters, and overlapping with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, the Chevron will have its own spot on the calendar to help celebrate its top players and kick off the LPGA major season without sharing the spotlight.
Where will the momentum of 2022 take Lydia Ko?
Lydia Ko claimed all the significant LPGA hardware in 2022. Can she keep up the good play and earn her way into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 2023?
There’s no cheering in the press box, of course, but we can’t deny how fun it is to watch Ko, a three-time winner a year ago, when everything is working for her. In 2022, the 25-year-old New Zealander displayed a rejuvenated game, pulling off her first multiple-win season since 2016 and harkening back to her days as a teen phenom. Ko’s impressive play included leading the tour in strokes gained/total and strokes gained/putting. She also had the lowest scoring average for a second straight season. Mind you, the highlight of the year likely came in December when she married Jun Chung (their honeymoon in part causing Ko to miss this week’s LPGA opener).
But what’s next for Ko? Her 2022 season was incredible, but there are some things she didn't accomplish. Watch the majors especially closely this season, as she hasn’t won one since 2016. Another motivation this year is the chance to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Ko has earned 25 of the 27 points needed to become its 35th member. A tour title is worth one point, while majors are worth two.
The International Crown makes a comeback
It's been five years since South Korea won the last edition of the International Crown. The team event returns in May at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
The International Crown returns to the LPGA calendar for the first time since 2018, with Hanwah coming in as a new title sponsor. The event, set for May 4-7 at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, features eight four-player teams, each representing an individual country. The nations that qualified for the event based off the Rolex World Ranking last November are the United States, South Korea (defending champions), Japan, Sweden, England, Thailand, Australia and China.
“We are very happy to bring the International Crown back to our schedule and are incredibly thankful to our partners at Hanwha, TPC Harding Park and the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department for their shared vision and dedication to providing our players and our fans with a world-class experience,” LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said in a press release.
Specifically who will represent their country in the 32-woman field will be determined by the Rolex World Rankings in April. As things stand now, there is close competition for the fourth spot on both top teams. Currently, Team USA would feature Nelly Korda, Lexi Thompson, Jennifer Kupcho and Danielle Kang. Kang is ranked No. 16 in the world and just two spots behind her is Jessica Korda. As for the South Korean team, Min Ji Park holds the fourth position, with Hye Jin Choi and Sei Young Kim five and nine world ranking spots behind her, respectively. Needless to say, there is plenty of time for things to get interesting.
Is this the season Lexi Thompson wins again?
Lexi Thompson had four runners-up finishes in 2022 but is still looking to claim her first LPGA title since 2019.
Take a look at the field for the Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona this week and you’ll notice Thompson is missing. That’s not because the soon-to-be 28-year-old is skipping the event. Rather, it’s because to get into the field, a player must have won on the LPGA Tour in the previous two seasons. And, surprisingly, Thompson hasn’t won since 2019.
In some respects, it feels like the 10-year LPGA veteran is at a career crossroads. She has 11 career victories, but when in contention the past few years she’s struggled to grab win No. 12 (she had four runner-up showings in 2022). That’s not to say she doesn’t still have the skills to be a winner once more. Last year, she finished the season No. 6 in strokes gained/total. That’s better than a lot of players, including Minjee Lee who won twice in 2022, including the U.S. Women’s Open.
Interestingly, Thompson also finished 10th in strokes gained/putting, which has historically been a sore spot in her game. The data says her game is still elite. We’re going to go out on a limb and say a Thompson victory feels imminent in 2023.