U.S. Women’s Open contenders: 10 golfers who could win at Pine Needles

Lexi Thompson returns to the U.S. Women's Open one year after heartbreak at Olympic Club.

USGA

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. — The U.S. Women’s Open returns to the Sandhills of North Carolina this week. Pine Needles — a Donald Ross design with a fresh face-lift courtesy of Kyle Franz — will play host for a record fourth time as the top ladies in the world arrive at perhaps the most iconic region in American golf. 

Lydia Ko takes a swing.
U.S Women’s Open picks to win, sleepers to watch at Pine Needles
By: GOLF Editors

The confines may be friendly for the golfers competing under the red, white and blue, but recent history has not been so kind. It’s been six years since an American last won her national open, and just four of the last 17 winners hailed from the U.S. The talent pool is deep for the Americans, but the rest of the world has some serious talent of its own. 

Here are a few homegrown ladies who could buck the trend as well as the international contenders in position to continue foreign dominance at the biggest event in women’s golf.

The Americans

Nelly Korda 

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Best USWO finish: T-10 (2018) 

Why she’s a threat: Nelly Korda’s stock skyrocketed in 2021 with a run for the ages. Her year included four LPGA wins, her first major title and a gold medal to boot. It was as impressive as anything we’ve seen in recent memory, and, if she can regain that form, there are few players who can challenge her.

Lexi Thompson 

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Best USWO finish: T-2 (2019) 

Why she’s a threat: Lexi Thompson had one hand on the USWO trophy last summer at Olympic Club before an historic back-nine collapse dashed her chances. Close calls have been a theme of Thompson’s career, but her firepower can put her in the mix every week. A T-4 finish at the year’s first major shows she’s still got what it takes to be a factor, scar tissue be damned.

Jennifer Kupcho

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Best USWO finish: T-21 (2017) 

Why she’s a threat: The former ANWA winner finally broke through at The Dinah Shore for her first LPGA (and major) win, and she did it in dominant fashion. Now that the first-win monkey is off her back, more wins are sure to come. Can she make it two majors in a row?

Danielle Kang

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Best USWO finish: 4th (2018)

Why she’s a threat: Danielle Kang doesn’t quite have the major-championship resume you’d expect from a player of her caliber (just five top-10s in 53 starts), but a win at the Women’s PGA in 2017 shows she has what it takes to close. The question is, can she bring her A-game when it matters most? Anything less, and Kang’s major total will remain at one.

The world-beaters

Jin Young Ko

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Best USWO finish: T-2 (2020) 

Why she’s a threat: The World No. 1 is a threat to win every week she tees it up. Her recent résumé includes a gaudy streak of 34 straight rounds under par and six wins (and counting) since the middle of last summer. There’s no one in the game with a more polished iron game, and that strength will serve her well approaching Ross’ tricky putting surfaces.

Atthaya Thitikul 

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Best USWO finish: DNP 

Why she’s a threat: No one has experienced a faster rise — nor been more consistent — over the past year than Atthaya Thitikul. The LPGA rookie has already notched her first victory this season and has ascended into the top five in the world in the process. While she’s never played in the USWO, the 19-year-old has the talent to compete with the best in the world.

Nasa Hataoka 

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Best USWO finish: 2nd (2021) 

Why she’s a threat: Nasa Hataoka narrowly missed out on winning the championship in 2021 as she fell in a playoff at Olympic Club. This year, she’s back as a more refined player. She’s picked up three wins since the close call at Olympic, and she should be a favorite to break through at Pine Needles.

Yuka Saso 

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Best USWO finish: Win (2021) 

Why she’s a threat: It’s hard to leave the defending champ off this list. Saso has not won since her come-from-behind victory at Olympic Club last June, but her ability shouldn’t be doubted. This 20-year-old is one of the top talents in the world.

The legends

Annika Sorenstam 

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Best USWO finish: Win (1995, 1996, 2006) 

Why she’s a threat: Courtesy of her U.S. Senior Women’s Open victory last summer, Annika Sorenstam is back in the USWO field for the first time since 2008. Luckily, she knows her way around Pine Needles pretty well. She won her second major title on the grounds in 1996, and she’s never missed a cut on property.

Michelle Wie West

USGA

Best USWO finish: Win (2014)

Why she’s a threat: This week is a bit of a swan song for the 2014 champ as Michelle Wie West announced last week she would be stepping away from the LPGA after this event. And there’s no better place than down the road from where she claimed her lone major championship victory. Her game might not be in form to contend for the title, as she admitted early this week, but she will be a player to keep an eye on nonetheless.


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Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF.com, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf.