The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As Americans take aim at Women’s PGA, players embrace a game going global

Nelly Korda is the highest ranked U.S. women's golfer in the world at No. 2. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

When it comes to historical supremacy at the highest levels of women’s professional golf, no country has thrived more than the United States. Among the 13 players with at least a half-dozen major titles, for instance, 10 are American.

The top three all-time are U.S. born, including Patty Berg with 15 and Mickey Wright with 13. Louise Suggs has 11, one more than the first non-American on the list, Annika Sorenstam.

Yet at the two most recent women’s majors — the U.S. Open this month and the Chevron Championship that wrapped up in April — players from outside the United States dominated the top of the leader board.

The world golf rankings also reflect the sport’s international reach, with 10 countries other than the United States represented among the top 25, although three Americans reside in the top 10, led by No. 2 Nelly Korda and No. 6 Lexi Thompson.

This all has the rapt attention of Stacy Lewis on the eve of the Women’s PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club. The state of the American women’s game matters more to her than most these days given the two-time major winner also happens to be captain of Team USA at next year’s Solheim Cup.

“The way the [LPGA] Tour is, I don’t see any country dominating,” said Lewis, 37, one of only two Americans to have won a second major championship within the past decade. “You see that in our leader boards and world rankings. The Americans themselves, we are trending in a great direction.”

Lexi Thompson tucks grief away, remains fan favorite at Women’s PGA

Lewis’s optimism stems in large part from youthful reinforcements. Korda is 23 and has won seven times on the LPGA Tour, including her first major at last year’s Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.

She’s also the betting favorite, along with world No. 1 Jin Young Ko of South Korea, to win this week’s Women’s PGA, which is being contested for the first time at storied Congressional on the renovated Blue Course.

Thompson, 27, has 11 LPGA Tour wins highlighted by the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship, since renamed the Chevron Championship, for her lone major title. She has contended at a handful of others, including a tie for second at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2019 and solo third at the 2015 Women’s PGA.

Surging world No. 9 Jennifer Kupcho, 25, has two victories this season, the first at Chevron and the latest coming last weekend at the Meijer LPGA Classic, outlasting Korda and Ireland’s Leona Maguire in a three-way playoff.

“American golf is in a good spot,” Lewis said. “It’s just different faces than everybody is used to, and that’s just the natural progression of it. There’s always going to be changes. The new guard coming up is really good. Got some new names for people to learn.”

The only other American, however, ranked among the top 68 in the world and with a major championship is No. 13 Danielle Kang, 29, who won the 2017 Women’s PGA at Olympia Fields outside of Chicago. The next-highest-ranked U.S. player with a major is Lewis (No. 69).

Lewis, the youngest U.S. captain in Solheim Cup history, also is the last American to win player of the year, that coming in 2014. The closest U.S. player since has been Korda with runner-up finishes last year and in 2019. Kang was third in 2020 and Thompson the same in 2018.

Virginia’s Lauren Coughlin takes her shot at Women’s PGA Championship

American Kathy Whitworth (six majors) won player of the year seven times from 1966 through ’73. Nancy Lopez (three majors), born in California, claimed the award four times over 11 years.

“I wouldn’t say it’s something that really goes through my mind when I’m playing individually,” Kupcho said of restoring American preeminence. “It’s more of as a team, but obviously it’s always an honor to be out there representing the U.S. There’s a lot of great players from everywhere around the world.”

The sentiment among some of the more high-profile Americans on the LPGA Tour echoes that of Kupcho, ranked second in the race for 2022 player of the year and five points behind first-place Thompson in the U.S. Solheim Cup points standings.

Korda, for one, has been among the most vocal advocates for international players, influenced at an early age, along with older sister Jessica (world No. 14), by growing up with parents who were former tennis professionals.

“I feel like out here you don’t really look at countries and flags,” Nelly Korda said. “We’re all like a family out here. You have 144, 156 girls every week, and we’re all playing for something. We’re all playing for a title. Every year the girls are getting better. It’s harder to win.

“With all the technology that’s coming out, people are getting better. It’s great to see the diversity out on the leader board. That’s what our tour has always been about. But I do see that American golf is hopefully trending in the right direction. You hope so, as well, to inspire the next generation. It doesn’t matter where you’re from."