LPGA Picks: Veteran caddie tells you all you need to know for LPGA’s inaugural, two-player, team event

Nelly Korda
Nelly Korda (pictured) will team up with sister Jessica this week in the LPGA’s first ever, two-player team event. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Periodically throughout the 2019 LPGA season, a veteran caddie will be weighing in to catch us up to speed on what’s going on out on that Tour. This week, the caddie tells us all we need to know about this week’s inaugural LPGA Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a two-person team event, similar to the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans — an event that still comes with plenty of perks for a win.

MIDLAND, Mich. — Welcome to Midland, Michigan and the inaugural LPGA Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a two-person team event, similar to the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

Format

It’s the first edition of a team event in LPGA history, featuring best ball (four ball) and alternate shot (foursomes). The first and third rounds will be alternate shot, while second and fourth rounds will be best ball. It’s not a match play event, so all players will have to play out the hole and have a counting score.

By the Numbers

6,168: The yardage at Midland Country Club

71: Number of two-woman teams forming the field

35: The number of teams and ties that will make the cut

Purse: $2 million. The first-place team will split $485,000 and receive the standard two-year winner’s exemption on the priority list as well as a one-year exemption into three majors: ANA Inspiration, KPMG Women’s PGA and the Evian Championship. The money and Race to the CME Globe points will be official. But no points will be allotted toward the Rolex Rankings, Solheim, Rolex Player of the Year or Rookie of the Year standings, as well as due to the varying formats, scoring stats this week will not count towards the season totals.

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Intriguing Teams

World Class: Jin Young Ko/Minjee Lee (highest-ranked team in the Rolex World Rankings coming in at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively)

Sister Acts: Jessica/Nelly Korda (while the sisters will pair up for the first time in a team event, they presumably will partner for this year’s Solheim Cup, captained for the third time by Hall of Famer Julie Inkster, who will be an interested spectator this week); Moriya/Ariya Jutanugarn (and UL International Crown teammates and partners).

New Moms: Stacey Lewis/Gerina Piller (also Solheim Cup & UL International Crown teammates & partners)

Solheim Cup Captains: Catriona Matthew, European Solheim Cup captain, and assistant captain Suzann Pettersen, will play together in what will be Petersen’s  first LPGA event since the 2017 season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Pettersen gave birth to son Herman Alexander last August.

Solheim Cup Teammates & Partners: Lexi Thompson/Cristie Kerr (also played and partnered on three UL International Crown teams together); Paula Creamer/Morgan Pressel (played on a combined 12 U.S. Solheim Cup teams, going 2-2-1 when paired together); Danielle Kang/Lizette Salas (won foursomes together at the 2017 Solheim Cup).

Enemies: Bronte Law/Austin Ernst (while they may be friends and teammates this week, they could be squaring off against each other at Gleneagles later this year for the Solheim Cup).

Teams Last Names So Long:Thailand’s Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras/Pajaree Anannarukarn

While the field does have its share of star power, as detailed above, for a first-year event, it is also lacking many of the LPGA’s top players, as the field is not even full (71 of possible 72 teams entered).

So, the story is not just about who is playing, but who is not here.

Players skipping the Dow include World No. 1 Sung Hyun Park, Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Jeongeun Lee6, Sei Young Kim, Hannah Green, Shanshan Feng and several top-ranked European Solheim Cup players in Carlota Ciganda, Charley Hull, Georgia Hall, Azahara Munoz and Caroline Masson.

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I know the next two events are the season’s final two majors — Evian and AIG Women’s British Open– and this is the ninth of 12 consecutive weeks of tournaments on the schedule, but with a Saturday finish helping travel to France for Evian (the same course has been used on the LPGA since 2000 so, players are already familiar with it); a relaxed, fun format, where if you play all four rounds it’s really only three rounds because of two days of alternate shot; and the fact that the LPGA is still trying to gain popularity in U.S. markets, it’s sad that a first-year event cannot be supported more by the top players and showcase a better/stronger field, as the field includes some players who do not even play full-time on the LPGA anymore, which is not a good look for a tour trying to gain respect and viewership.

But of the players here, who do I fancy?

On a course that is shorter than average in length (6,177 is the shortest at ShopRite in Atlantic City) the premium is getting the ball in play off the tee, as this old-school course presents some doglegs, both ways off the tee, is tree-lined, with semi-thick rough and small/soft greens, that are sneaky fast, so the more fairways teams can hit, the more birdie opportunities. I suspect the women will go low again this week because of the amount of wedges, short irons and less than drivers off a variety of tees (so length isn’t much of an advantage this week).

Favorites: Jin Young Ko/Minjee Lee

I know I’m going out on a limb with this one by picking the betting favorites and the highest-ranked team, but it’s hard to pick against them with stats such as this:

  • Greens In Regulation Ranking: Ko 1 (79%); Lee 4 (75.8%)
  • Driving Accuracy: Ko 10 (80.2%); 113 (68%)
  • Driving Distance: Lee 33 (268); Ko 65 (261)
  • Putts Per Greens in Regulation: Ko 5 (1.753); Lee 13 (1.771)
  • Total Birdies: Lee 1 (253); Ko 12 (212)
  • Holes Under Par: Lee 1 (259); Ko 12 (217)
  • Scoring Average: Ko 1 (69.255); Lee 5 (69.742)

Now, I know none of the highest-ranked teams have won on the PGA Tour, but it’s hard to argue against Ko/Lee because their games and stats seem to indicate that they will be good fits for the course at hand, as well as the format.

Sleepers: Koreans Eun-Hee Ji/Hyo Joo Kim

No team is better at putting the ball in play off the tee than Ji/Kim, who rank fourth (82%) and ninth (81%), respectively, on tour in driving accuracy. Additionally, Ji is ninth on tour in GIR (75.1%) and Kim leads the tour in putts per round (27.81), putts per greens in regulation (1.718) and Top 10 finishes percentage (70%, 7/10), a lethal combination for best ball and alternate shot.

Don’t Bet on: Law/Ernst

After losing in a playoff at the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship and then earning her first win at the Pure Silk Championship, Law has missed the cut in three of her last four starts, including two majors (U.S. Open & KPMG). So I don’t know where her head and game is coming into this week, as she hasn’t played since missing the cut three weeks ago at WalMart.

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And Ernst hasn’t exactly had a banner season either, with only one Top 10 (her first event of the year in Thailand, back in February) as well as a missed cut, two T35s and a T18 in her last four starts.

While England’s Law became the second player in Curtis Cup history to go 5-0 in 2016, I’m not sure how that will resonate this week, being that you aren’t trying to beat the team you’re paired with but the entire field.

So, while this team looks like a sneaky pick on paper, I’m shying away from them simply based on current form coming into this event.

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