LPGA season preview
Lydia, Lexi, Rose, Brooke and the Solheim Cup: 5 bold predictions for the LPGA season
Rose Zhang and Lydia Ko talk as they walk the 14th hole during the first round of the 2023 U.S. Women's Open at Pebble Beach.
The LPGA's offseason certainly didn't feel long. This week's Tournament of Champions starts the 2024 campaign only a month after finishing the Grant Thornton Invitational and marks the beginning of a 33-event season. Ahead of a consequential year—with not only the five majors but another Solheim Cup and the Olympics on tap—here are five bold predictions for the season.
Lydia Ko wins twice, plays way into LPGA Hall of Fame
This would not have been a bold prediction last year. After a dominant three-win 2022 season, Ko seemed poised to reach the difficult qualifications for the tour's Hall of Fame in 2023. She even began the year with a victory at the Ladies European Tour's Saudi Ladies Invitational. Instead, her LPGA campaign was mostly one to forget, as she fought to make the cut more often than finish in the top 10 and failed to qualify for the CME Group Tour Championship.
Yet the Kiwi found momentum toward the end of last season, starting with the BMW Ladies Championship, when Ko changed her swing coach to Si Woo Lee. Working with Lee, who is Jin Young Ko's longtime coach, helped her end the year on a high note when Ko delivered a third-place finish at the BMW and a victory at the Grant Thornton Invitational over her final four starts. If the upswing continues, Ko will get the two points needed to earn her way into the Hall of Fame.
Rose Zhang represents U.S. in the Olympics
Yong Teck Lim
It'd be a fitting stage for one of the LPGA's breakout stars to play in Paris this year. But with Zhang only signed up for this week's Tournament of Champions between now and mid-March, it may not be easy to pull accomplish. To qualify for the Olympics, a player must be one of the top two in the Rolex Women's World Rankings from her country, or one of the top four if she is 15th or better in the rankings. Zhang is currently 25th, 11 spots behind Megan Khang, who holds the final American spot.
While that rise may not seem outlandish, given the amateur phenom's surge up the rankings after turning pro last year, she'll only have three months to play her way in after completing her winter quarter at Stanford when the field is finalized on June 24. During that time away, her world ranking will likely slowly drop while missing four tournaments, including three limited-field events. That'll disadvantage Zhang amongst a close group competing for the final spot, including Alison Lee (19), Angel Yin (21), Ally Ewing (33) and Lexi Thompson (35).
However, Zhang has one advantage that her competitors don't, which gives her more control over her fate—the low number of tournaments played leading to each tournament she is in having more of an impact on her world ranking. When Zhang returns, a strong run of play could quickly move her into Olympic position.
Brooke Henderson wins third major by defending at Sahalee
Douglas P. DeFelice
The 2016 KPMG Women's PGA Championship featured the emergence of Brooke Henderson, who took down then-No. 1 Lydia Ko at Sahalee to earn the then-18-year-old her first major title. With the LPGA returning to the Seattle course for the same major eight years later, Henderson's victory there again will cement the Canadian as one of the modern greats.
Why pick Henderson to defend? Because she has a penchant for playing well at venues where she has won before. Henderson won three tournaments held at the same course twice: the Cambia Portland Classic (2015, 2016), Lotte Championship (2018, 2019), and the Meijer LPGA Classic (2017, 2019). That's nearly half of her 13 career victories.
Henderson winning her third major title would also be a substantial separator from her peers. The modern LPGA era features a logjam of top-tier players with only two majors: Lilia Vu, Jin Young Ko, Lydia Ko, Minjee Lee, Ariya Jutanugarn, Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu. In Gee Chun and Anna Nordqvist have three majors.
Europe keeps Solheim Cup 4 consecutive times
With the Solheim Cup in Spain ending in a tie, Europe has held the Cup three straight times. While last year was not a true three-peat (contrary to celebrations), Europe is in a solid position to make history by keeping the Cup four straight times, which hasn’t happened since the Solheim Cup began in 1990. After all, the best player, Leona Maguire, tops its roster. European captain Suzann Pettersen probably penciled the Irishwoman in for five matches as soon as she left the victory(*) party last September. Swedish star Linn Grant was the best-performing rookie in Spain, earning three points in her five-session debut.
With a likely lack of major roster shakeup from 2023, the Europeans continue carrying a substantial experience advantage, helping keep them poised and winning in the U.S. again to earn another victory.
Lexi Thompson wins on LPGA for first time in 5 years
Most of 2023 was a struggle on the course for Thompson. Early on, she spent more time away from the LPGA than competing, finding more time for herself as the 28-year-old navigated her 12th year on tour. Through the end of August, Thompson only made two cuts over her first 10 starts. Instead of discussions on how she would be one of the Americans' best players at the Solheim, there was more chatter on how U.S. captain Stacy Lewis would manage the struggling star throughout the week.
However, playing in the Cup galvanized Thompson, where she went 3-1-0. She took the momentum for the rest of the year, ending her LPGA season with four straight top-10s and rediscovering the talent that has turned her into a longtime LPGA superstar.
Thompson has consistently stated throughout her career that nothing beats representing the United States in competition, and this year brings multiple opportunities to do so. Beyond the Solheim, she also remains in contention for the Olympics. Expect Thompson's biggest motivation to help drive her to her 12th LPGA victory, which would be her first since the 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic.