With just one final stop before the 18th edition of the Solheim Cup in Spain in two weeks’ time, the LPGA heads to Ohio for the second staging of the Kroger Queen City Championship at Kenwood Country Club this week.
The event debuted on the LPGA last year and saw Ally Ewing claim a third LPGA title in under two years; as she fired a closing 6-under 66 to see off China’s Xiyu Lin by one stroke with a winning score of -22.
Ewing is back to defend this week and is one of many Solheim Cup participants in action; all who should find a slightly different Kenwood Country Club than they experienced last year.
Kenwood Country Club is home to two courses designed by William Diddel and it is the Kendale Course that the players will once again tackle this week. Designed in 1930 by Diddel, the course went through an extensive renovation project under Jason Straka in 2020, which included the removal of overgrown trees, widening of fairways and the refurbishment of bunkers.
It is a par 72 course and measures in at just 6515 yards, with ten par 4s (310-426 yards), four par 5s (520-575 yards) and four par 3s (118-184 yards).
Scoring was pretty good here last year, with that leading duo both exceeding 20-under-par. However, the course was extremely wet, as a large amount of rain fell before and during the event; resulting in lift, clean and place being in-play throughout. With a drier buildup this year, a firmer course should provide more of a challenge.
Bunkers are the most prominent design feature at the course and standout on most holes. They’re placed strategically to add some protection to the gently undulating fairways and are even more protective of the greens; as large, deep and penal sand-traps litter the surrounds of the putting surfaces.
Said fairways are in need of protection as they are generally very wide and though the course is tree-lined, there is lots of space out there. There is further danger in the lush rough, which should be more punishing this year when approaching into the likely firmer greens.
The poa/bentgrass mixed greens are above average in size and will be set up to play firm and fast. They are well protected, not only from the aforementioned bunkers but many are fronted by steep false fronts and run-offs over the back. Distance control with your irons is important and made even more challenging, with subtle elevation changes on approaches into various greens.
The par 4s offer the best scoring opportunities at the course, with several very short and will leave some of the longer hitters with a mere flick of a wedge into the green. Conversely, the course has as long a collection of par 5s you’ll find at any event, with yardages measuring 520, 537, 560 and 575 yards; meaning a layup will be necessary for many and again bringing in the need for strong wedge play.
Par 4 Scoring
I’ve mentioned a few times how important it is to have quality in approach around Kenwood and this certainly proved to be the case last year. Winner, Ally Ewing was the leading player in the field in approach and also ranked 1st in greens hit.
Runner-up, Xiyu Lin ranked 3rd in approach and 2nd in GIR, whilst 3rd and 4th-place finishers, Maria Fassi and Jeongeun Lee6, ranked 6th and 5th in approach respectively.
Though the course is by no means long overall, I do think length off-the-tee will be a big asset this week. It not only allows you to take on those par 4s and leave yourself very short approaches into the greens but those longer hitters are likely to be the only ones capable of reaching most of these par 5s in two.
With the addition of the wide fairways, it’s a course which should play into their hands and each of last year’s top 3 are players who don’t lack for power.
Greens should be tougher to find this year if the course conditions are indeed firmer; with the amount of defence around the perimeter of the greens, a good scrambling ability will need to be displayed. Each of last year’s top 4 ranked 17th or better in scrambling.
Finally, and rather unusually on a course with four par 5s, I think it’s the scoring on the par 4s that will be more decisive this week.
Though we’ve only had one recent event here at Kenwood, there were a few events/courses that stood out to me as potential comps this week.
Portland Classic (Columbia Edgewater Country Club)
Columbia Edgewater is a tree-lined course with generous fairways, firm, similarly sized poa annua greens and strong bunkering.
Both Andrea Lee and Marina Alex finished 5th here in Ohio last year and are past winners in Portland. Xiyu Lin has a runner-up finish there and Jeongeun Lee6 has a top 10.
Shoprite LPGA Classic (Seaview Golf Club’s Bay Course)
The Bay Course at Seaview is considerably shorter though has plenty of other similarities with this week’s course. Greens are a comparable size and use a bent/poa mix; whilst there are plenty generous driving holes at both and each course is well bunkered.
Ally Ewing has finished 3rd there, Maria Fassi 5th and Jeongeun Lee6 2nd. Marina Alex ties the form together again with multiple top 10s in the Shoprite, including a 3rd-place finish.
Arkansas Championship (Pinnacle Country Club)
Lastly, the Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club can offer up further clues. It provides a closely matched ball-striking test, with generous tree-lined fairways and almost identical in size, speedy greens.
Ally Ewing has finished 3rd there, whilst Jeongeun Lee6 and Marina Alex have each recorded top 10s. Additionally, Atthaya Thitikul won there last year and was 9th here at Kenwood.
Conditions are set to be warm and humid this week and though there is the potential for a few thunderstorms and spots of rain, it’s nothing like the torrential downpours they had prior to the event last year.
Wind shouldn’t be too much of a factor, with a mild 7mph breeze throughout the week and gusts of around 13mph.
This week’s field isn’t quite packed with the quality of previous weeks but there is plenty of star power here nonetheless; including two of this year’s major champions.
One of these is new world #2 Ruoning Yin, who won the Women’s PGA Championship earlier this year. The Chinese star is one of four players from the world’s top 10 in attendance, the others being: #7 Lydia Ko, #8 Allisen Corpuz and #9 Charley Hull.
Ally Ewing is back to defend and is joined by each of last year’s top 8, which includes China’s Xiyu Lin, who comes into this in good form after finishing 2nd in Portland last week.
Speaking of Portland, Thailand’s Chanettee Wannasaen is back in action following her record-breaking triumph there, as she became just the third player to win on the LPGA as a Monday qualifier.
Other entrants of interest include Lexi Thompson, who continues her search for positivity heading into the Solheim Cup; whilst three-time 2023 Epson Tour winner Gabriela Ruffels makes another LPGA appearance after finishing 19th in Canada two weeks ago.
Linn Grant and Xiyu Lin share joint favouritism at 11/1; followed by Ruoning Yin at 14/1 and Nasa Hataoka at 16s.
Lin looks too short for me. For all she’s in great form and went well here last year, she’s much shorter than many proven winners at this level in the betting. And whilst I wouldn’t rule out Hataoka with any confidence, she doesn’t quite fit the mould of the type of player I’m looking at this week.
Grant and Yin should be very well suited for the test but this is an open looking contest on what is still a new course – even more so if the conditions make it play differently to last year. With that, I’m going to look a little further afield from that very top of the market and at a few spots below them in the betting, it’s Japan’s Yuka Saso who gets the nod as this week’s top selection.
2.25 pts Yuka Saso each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 22/1
Saso arrives here after a strong run of form over recent months, amassing four top 10s in her last seven starts and with the power she possesses off-the-tee – combined with recent improvements in approach – she looks a strong contender for success at Kenwood.
Among those recent top 10s were two excellent major performances, as she finished 2nd in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and 3rd in the Evian Championship.
She followed that 3rd in France with a missed cut in the Women’s Open but responded well with an 8th in Canada before finishing 59th in last week’s Portland Classic.
Those efforts in France and Canada were particularly eye-catching as Saso produced her second and third best approach performances of the year in the respective tournaments; an area she had largely struggled in this year.
When added to her power off-the-tee, where she ranks 6th; her quality on the par 4s, ranking 10th and solid green-hitting ability, ranking 31st in GIR; this evolution into some more precise iron play makes her a standout candidate this week.
She finished 33rd here last year when in much worse form, though it was encouraging to see she got better over the course of the week, eventually signing off the tournament with a 3-under 69 in round 4; her best round of the four days.
A 4th-place finish in Arkansas is another positive when looking at her chances this week and if able to continue that improved approach play, she should be well in the frame come Sunday evening.
1.75 pts A Lim Kim each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 28/1
A Lim Kim put her power to use when 5th here last year. Coming into this week with two top 4 finishes over her last four starts, the Korean looks in a good place for another strong performance in Ohio.
Kim’s 3rd-place finish in the Evian Championship four starts ago was her best major finish since she won the 2020 US Women’s Open and bettered her equally impressive 4th in the Chevron Championship earlier in the year.
She followed that with a 4th in the Women’s Scottish Open, 40th in the Women’s Open and was a solid 15th when hopping back over to the KLPGA two weeks ago.
Kim is a power-packed ball-striker, ranking 13th on the LPGA this year in driving distance, 14th in GIR and 36th in approach. Additionally, her short game looked as good as it has all season over those recent top 4s and as someone who ranks 14th on the par 4s, she looks an ideal statistical match for this challenge.
She confirmed her suitability to the test when 5th here last year; a performance made all the more impressive when we counter in the fact she produced her second-worst approach performance of the year that week.
It was a positive to see her putt these greens well, ranking 2nd and if able to match that with the type of approach performance we’re more accustomed to seeing from Kim, I see no reason to not expect her to go even better at Kenwood CC this time around.
1 pt Jeonguen Lee6 each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 90/1
Jeongeun Lee6 couldn’t quite get involved for us last week but coming to a place where she finished 4th last year, I’m happy to give her another chance at a good price in this weaker field.
Lee finished 41st in Portland and unfortunately didn’t replicate the improvements she’d made in her ball-striking over previous starts.
As mentioned last week, in her prior finishes of 28th in Scotland, 16th in the Women’s Open and 22nd in the CPKC Women’s Open, Lee produced her three best approach displays of the year and two of her best driving performances. A level of form I’m confident she can rediscover this week.
This confidence comes from the fact she finished 4th here last year and led after 36 holes; with her 9-under 63 in round two the best round from anybody that week. She particularly shone in approach and on the greens there, ranking 5th and 18th respectively.
Lee’s 2nd-place finish in the Shoprite Classic, along with top 10s in Arkansas and Portland showcase an attractive book of correlating course form. If last week was simply a small bump in the road, she has much in her favour for a competitive showing this week.
1 pt Linnea Strom each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 150/1
I’m going to sign off with a punt on Sweden’s Linnea Strom. This strong ball-striking type has enjoyed a consistent run of form over the last couple of months and with some of her better long-game performances coming over recent starts, she has the arsenal to attack this setup.
After an underwhelming start to the year on the Ladies European Tour, Strom sprung into life on the LPGA, finishing an excellent 4th in the LOTTE Championship back in April. Though not managing another top 10 yet, she’s added a further three top 25s, two top 20s and missed just four cuts in fourteen starts.
The Swede is a strong iron player, ranking 34th and has been in particularly good form in this area recently, with four of her five best approach performances of the year coming over her last six starts; including leading the field when 42nd in the Evian Championship.
The driver has been in good form too and she isn’t lacking in power, ranking 35th in driving distance. Strong scrambling skills, where she ranks 15th on tour and a good scoring ability on the par 4s, ranking 35th, shows a player who has the right skillset for this week’s challenge.
Though she didn’t play here last year, she does have a 9th-place finish in the Arkansas Championship to her name; adding to the confidence I feel that she can go well here.
Strom was a highly rated amateur before turning pro in 2017, reaching as high as #3 in the WAGR. With two wins on the Epson Tour to her name, she has demonstrated an ability to get the job done in the pro ranks and this looks as suitable a spot as any for her to transfer that winning habit to the LPGA.