Why this Women’s PGA Championship is a major major

Sei Young Kim

Sei Young Kim hits a tee shot on the 16th hole at Aronimink Golf Club on Friday.

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NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. — This is major, people: The women are at a big-time course (Aronimink), playing for a big-time title (the PGA Championship), and the board is loaded with big-name talent. Danielle Kang! Jennifer Kupcho! Carlota Ciganda! Anna Nordqvist!

That fab foursome is all at 3-under through two rounds, looking up at Sei Young Kim, who finished in the deepest part of dusk on Friday night, making a birdie on her final hole for a 5-under 65 and a one-shot lead. Kim, the 27-year-old international star with 10 LPGA wins and five in Korea, shot 29 on her second nine. Yep. In the cool of the evening, with everything getting kind of groovy.

Saturday is going to be fast and sunny, Sunday looks like it will be slow and wet, and NBC Sports has got the action live all through this football-saturated weekend.

These are not the best of times, but golf is making the best of them. The LPGA, working with the PGA of America (at an appropriate distance), is putting on a spectacular show here, at the tail end of a year where the normal rhythms are all out whack.

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It was mildly depressing, to see brown leaves floating in dark puddles on the tarp covering the pool here. It was weird, to see the best players in the world hole putts on the enormous Donald Ross greens here and be greeted by nothing louder than the wind. It was odd, to see the women walking to their rental cars at the end of their workdays, masks on, bags sometimes on their backs, knowing that their next meaningful social event will be the arrival of room service. There is no bag storage here this week — and caddies are not required, either — in deference to the CDC/LPGA playbook.

Kupcho’s Friday — 65, 13 pars, five birdies — was out of the Ben Hogan playbook. She drove it in play; she went for the pin when she could; she hit something on the green and lagged it up close when she couldn’t. Stroke-play golf. The professional game.

But even casual golf fans know Kupcho’s name from one particular day in her shiny amateur career: April 6, 2019, the day she shot a 67 at Augusta National on the Sunday before Masters Sunday. She was a senior at Wake Forest, and she was playing in the last twosome of the inaugural (and to date only) Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. She won, finishing four shots ahead of her playing partner, Maria Fassi of Mexico. That 67 was so beautifully played that it made Tiger Woods and millions of other golf-heads do a little dance in front of our TVs, or something along those lines.

So Kupcho has two majors. That is, amateur majors. (Kupcho also won the 2018 NCAA individual title.) Now she is looking for her first win in a professional major. She tied for second at the Evian last year. She has a new caddie and old irons this week, returning to the Ping i210s she used as an amateur.

Fassi, you may be interested to know, will also be playing at Aronimink this weekend. With rounds of 73 and 72, she made the cut by a shot. Both Fassi and Kupcho made their pro debuts at last year’s U.S. Open. They will be linked forever by virtue of what they did on that Sunday at Augusta. They both played superb golf on an historic occasion and on a celebrated course.

This Aronimink course, where Gary Player won the 1962 PGA Championship, is celebrated, too.

“It’s really great for women’s golf,” Kupcho said, talking about the women playing at Aronimink. “It’s a great test of golf, very challenging, and I think it’s great that people are watching just because they want to see the golf courses that we get to play and how we play them.”

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Those words explain why this weekend will be so meaningful, and why April 6, 2019, is meaningful to golf fans far and wide.

One of the most astounding things about this tournament, at its halfway point, is that Laura Davies, at age 57, is still playing in it. She’s a two-time winner of this event and she’s played in the tournament every year since 1988, but, prior to this year, she hadn’t made a cut in it since 2015. Davies is three times older than two of the players, Yealimi Noh, who turned 19 on July 26, and Julia Engstrom, who turned 19 on March 27.

Davies, in her inimitable style, entertained reporters with memories of PGA Championships gone by. She won this event, in 1994 and ’96, when it was known as the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, played at the nearby DuPont Country Club.

“I nearly killed someone on the ninth one year,” Davies recalled. “Hit a snap-hook 2-iron, my second shot into nine, and sent someone to hospital.”

That won’t happen this year. Not because Laura Davies doesn’t carry a 2-iron anymore. She actually does. But there’s no one around this year for an errant shot to nearly kill, save the stray PGA of America official or tournament volunteer.

Still, a major weekend of golf is right on deck, here at Aronimink, where Justin Rose has won and Tiger Woods has not. Here comes Jennifer. Here comes Sei Young. Here comes Anna. Cool things are happening here, and we’re only at the half. Check your local listings. 

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael_Bamberger@Golf.com

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.