Xiyu Lin leads Ascendant LPGA Benefiting Volunteers of America; Atthaya Thitikul, Lizette Salas a shot back

Xiyu Lin eagled the 17th hole late in the day to overtake Atthaya Thitikul and Lizette Salas.

Xiyu Lin eagled the 17th hole to vault into the lead Thursday at the Ascendant LPGA Benefiting Volunteers of America.

Lin had five birdies and a bogey and shot a first-round 65, finishing late in the day to overtake rookie Atthaya Thitikul and veteran Lizette Salas by a shot at Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas.

Thitikul already has two LPGA wins this season and has climbed to No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings.

Lexi Thompson is among those tied for fourth, two shots back. Nelly Korda, who could be in position to reclaim the top spot in the rankings, opened with a 4-over 75. She had six bogeys and just two birdies and sits tied for 91st.

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Top spot in world rankings could change hands at Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America in Texas

The top-ranked player in the LPGA is not playing this week, leaving the door open for Nelly Korda.

Jin Young Ko will not defend her title at the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America but despite the absence of the world’s top-ranked player, the tournament boasts its strongest field ever in its 10-year history.

Ko, who lives in Frisco, about 20 miles away from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, has missed the last month due to injury.

That has opened the door for Nelly Korda to return to the top spot world ranking. It was July of 2021 that Korda took over the title of No. 1 after winning the KPMG Women’s PGA. Six days later, Ko won the Volunteers of America tournament and when she won again in October 2021, she returned to the top of the rankings and has held the spot ever since.

That could change once again. Korda, who has six top-10s in 2022 but has yet to find the winner’s circle this season, could reclaim the top spot with a long overdue win this week.

Last week’s tournament winner, Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand, has two wins this season. She’s the first LPGA rookie to do that in five years. Thitikul is third in the Rolex Rankings after leapfrogging Minjee Lee and Lydia Ko, who is playing this field this week. Lee is not.

It’s also a big week for Stacy Lewis and Texas native Angela Stanford. Lewis, the 2023 Solheim Cup captain, named Stanford her third and final assistant captain on Tuesday.

“I love that we get to play here, and so, yeah, I think it’s going to be another great week,” she said at their Tuesday news conference ahead of the Volunteers of America event. “Like Stacy said, this is the most perfect time to be in Texas. I tell people all the time October is it, and we’re sneaking up on October.

“Just a great time to be here. (The Dallas) Cowboys won last night, so everybody is happy right now.”

After this Texas stop, the LPGA will have five events left, with a visit to California before back-to-back trips overseas to Korea and Japan. The season ends with consecutive tournaments in Florida, including the season finale, the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida.

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Rookie Atthaya Thitikul wins in a playoff for a second time on the LPGA this season, defeating Danielle Kang in Arkansas

It’s the second playoff win for Thitikul this year,

Atthaya Thitikul became the first rookie in five years to win twice in one season after she defeated Danielle Kang in a sudden-death playoff. The 19-year-old Thai player, a former phenom, carded a career-low 61 on Saturday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and then poured in birdies at just the right time on Sunday.

Thitikul becomes the fourth Thai player to win multiple titles on the LPGA, joining Ariya Jutanugarn (12), Moriya Jutanugarn (2) and Jasmine Suwannapura (2). She’s the fourth player to win multiple LPGA titles in 2022, joining Jennifer Kupcho (3), Minjee Lee (2) and Brooke Henderson (2), who all won majors this season.

“I’m in the final group, then just prove myself that, yeah, you can do it,” she said of joining the Jutanugarns on a short list of Thai players who have won more than one title.

“Even you have a pressure on it, you have a pressure on yourself, and I think it’s mean a lot to me and to my team as well because they know that I can do it, like many times.”

Kang, 29, was making her third start since returning to the tour after testing and treatment for a tumor on her spine. While she hasn’t revealed much about that process, Kang was emotional in a post-round interview, saying she wondered, at times, if she’d ever get the chance to compete at again.

“I don’t think I’ve ever cried by losing,” she said, calling them happy tears.

Kang holed out for eagle on the 18th hole in regulation to take the clubhouse lead at 17 under. Thitikul matched her with a birdie on the penultimate hole. They proceeded to a sudden-death playoff, with Thitikul winning on the second hole with birdie. Both of Thitikul’s LPGA titles this season were won in a playoff.

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Asked if it was any easier the second time around, Thitikul, known by friends at “Jeeno,” said absolutely not.

“Not at all,” she said. “I mean, like I just feel like playing golf with Danielle is kind of tough as well because she is pretty great player, win a lot on LPGA Tour already.”

Thitikul, who closed with a 68, earned $345,000 for her victory, giving her $1,881,392 for the season. She extends her lead in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race over South Korea’s Hye-Jin Choi.

Thitikul’s rookie success shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given how early she found the winner’s circle. In 2017, she became the youngest to ever win a professional tournament when she triumphed on home soil at the Ladies European Thailand Championship at 14 years, 4 months, and 19 days.

Last season, she won the Race to Costa del Sol, Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors at age 18, joining Dame Laura Davies, Carlota Ciganda and Esther Henseleit as the only players to win Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season.

“When you get the job done, and then you feel like release and then it’s just like yeah, the whole world that I had carry on my back, it’s like done,” said Thitikul. “They’re gone. And just know that what you have work is right and then, yeah, the hard work pays off as well.”

‘Tears of joy’: Danielle Kang comes up short in playoff not long after returning to LPGA following diagnosis of a tumor on her spine

“I’m just really proud that I’m even here.”

Nearly four months ago, Danielle Kang revealed at the U.S. Women’s Open she had a tumor on her spine. She took time off for testing and returned to action at the CP Women’s Open in late August, telling reporters that she’d rather keep the details of the process and her health within the team.

In only her third start back, Kang found herself in a playoff against hotshot rookie Atthaya Thitikul at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She came up short, with Thitikul making birdie on the second playoff hole to win for a second time this season.

Kang broke down in tears during her interview with Golf Channel.

“I’m just really proud that I’m even here,” she said. “Obviously I wanted to win, but these are like tears of joy.”

Kang, 29, holed out for eagle on the par-5 18th Sunday to take the clubhouse lead at 17 under with a closing 64. Thitikul answered moments later with an birdie on the 17th to pull herself into a tie with Kang. The 19-year-old Thai player couldn’t convert for birdie on the final hole, however, and they headed back to the par-3 15th for a sudden-death playoff.

Both Kang and Thitikul won early on in the 2022 season. Thitikul joins Jennifer Kupcho, Minjee Lee and Brooke Henderson as the only multiple winners on tour this season.

The 29-year-old Kang endured back pain for several months before finding out about the tumor in late April after she withdrew from the Palos Verdes Championship.

Kang said earlier in the week in Arkansas that her return has been more stressful that some might think.

“There are some random shots that just come out that I used to not hit,” she said. “It just really irks me the wrong way. I have to be patient. I threw my club once and there is no reason to throw it. I’m 5-under par. I just never used to do that.”

Ball-striking is something the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion has always taken pride in, but Kang said she returned to action with less swing speed, noting that ball doesn’t stop as quickly as it used to.

She hoped to have some extra patience with herself on Sunday, telling her caddie that her goal was to finish at 17 under.

“Honestly, it’s been hell,” Kang said when it was over.

When asked where Sunday’s finish takes her for the rest of the season, Kang said it’s still going to be a process.

“It’s a struggle almost,” she said, “sometimes in the morning, but I came out here to do something that I love, and I’m just so happy for my team that somehow got me back playing this year.

“I mean, there was part of me that I didn’t think I would ever play again or contend, but here I am. I’m not that far off, and I’m happy about that.”

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One year to Spain: See what the 2023 Solheim Cup teams could look like with several new faces

A handful of rookies could make their event debut at Finca Cortesin.

The 2023 Solheim Cup heads to Spain for the first time Sept. 22-24 and a number of new faces might make their debuts at Finca Cortesin. Much can happen between now and then, of course, but U.S. captain Stacy Lewis and European captain Suzann Pettersen have several impressive rookies already the mix.

The selection criteria is different for the two teams. Team USA takes the top seven players from the Solheim Cup points list (points are doubled next year), plus the next two highest-ranked players off the Rolex Rankings. Lewis gets three captain’s picks.

Team Europe takes only the top two players off its points list plus six LET members off the Rolex Rankings not already qualified. Pettersen will receive four captain’s picks.

Right now, Carlota Ciganda seems to be the only Spanish native with a chance to make the team, though Azahara Munoz recently returned from maternity leave and could make a run. Munoz is a veteran of five Solheim Cups and most recently competed in 2019.

Other players not listed below but worth keeping an eye on include: Hawaii’s Allisen Corpuz, California’s Alison Lee, Yealimi Noh, and Mina Harigae, Johanna Gustavsson of Sweden and Germany’s Leonie Harm.

Lilia Vu, searching for first LPGA victory, in striking distance at Walmart NW Arkansas Championship heading to final round

A year ago, Lilia Vu was playing on the other side of Arkansas.

A year ago, Lilia Vu was playing on the other side of Arkansas.

Then a member of the Epson Tour, she tied for second at the 2021 El Dorado Shootout, which included a final-round 4-under 68 to finish at 3 under for the week.

Vu is back in the Natural State this week, but she’s far from the place she was last year. Although the El Dorado Shootout is going on this weekend, Vu is in Rogers at Pinnacle Country Club, where she leads the 2022 Walmart NW Arkansas Championship with 18 holes to play looking for her first victory.

“It was never a matter of my game or skills that were lacking, I just wasn’t looking at golf in a healthy or positive way,” Vu said of the changes the past year. “Every shot was life or death. I feel like I figured it out last year, like I’m just going to go out there and have fun. I know how good I am.”

Vu, 24, considered giving up the game in 2019 after missing all but one cut on the LPGA and earning just over $3,000. Heading into Sunday’s final round, she’s playing arguably the best golf of her career and is again within striking distance.

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She fired consecutive rounds of 6-under 65 and sits at 12-under 130. Yet she and the field are chasing Attaya Thitikul, who had a round to remember on Saturday during the second round of the 54-hole event.

Thitikul recorded eight birdies, one eagle and no bogeys en route to a 10-under round of 61. She sits at 14 under and Yuka Saso by one and Lilia Vu by two. Saso also shot 6-under 65 and is at 13 under for the tournament.

The 10-under round for Thitikul ties the tournament record for lowest 18-hole score.

Vu is in the middle of stretch where she has improved her finish in four straight events. Two weeks ago in Portland, she finished tied for third at the AmazingCre Portland Classic. She was also tied for the lead with 18 holes left that week.

“I had a lot of fun today,” Vu said, “And I’m excited for tomorrow, too.”

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After a month off, Ryann O’Toole contending again, this time at Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

After opening with a 7-under 64, Ryann O’Toole sits tied atop a crowded leaderboard.

Ryann O’Toole had a solo ninth-place finish in Portland a week ago. It was just her third top 10 this LPGA season. It was also the first tournament she played in a month.

A week later, after opening with a 7-under 64, O’Toole sits tied atop a crowded leaderboard at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

It sounds like the four weeks away from competition made for a nice reset.

“It just depends on where you are in life. Sometimes you’re just at a point where, ‘Hey, I got some personal stuff going on. I need to take some me time. Need to sort the brain out,'” she said.

“It’s hard to come out here and perform, especially if your mind is elsewhere. I was curious how that was going to be. I don’t like to usually take that many tournaments off, but sometimes it’s good. I guess it is showing itself now that it’s important.”

O’Toole is among six golfers tied for the lead after shooting 7-under rounds of 64, including Megan Khang, Yuka Saso, Lauren Coughlin from the early wave and later, Jeongeun Lee5 and Sei Young Kim, at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. O’Toole was the only one of the six to par the par-5 18th hole; Coughlin was the only one to eagle it. The others all birdied it.

O’Toole did have six straight birdies on her front nine starting at No. 2 and had eight in all with just one bogey. Yet, after he round, she talked like she could’ve had more circles on her card.

“I definitely felt like I left a lot out there still,” she said after 18 holes of a 54-hole tournament. “Eight birdies, but I still felt like there was a ton left out there, especially on the back side.”

O’Toole, who hit all 18 greens, was among those in the early wave and she had a few ideas on how to fill the time Friday afternoon.

“Just going to do a cool-down practice, couple putts, hit some balls, and probably go check out Bentonville, get a tea somewhere, walk around. There is a lot to do here. Rogers, Arkansas is pretty fun. I do like coming here,” she said.

ESPN+ streaming coverage

Friday’s first round of TV coverage was tape-delayed on Golf Channel but the network will carry the second and final rounds.

In addition, for a second straight week, ESPN+ will have a “featured groups” coverage during both the morning and afternoon waves on all three tournament days.

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Michelle Wie West set to host new LPGA event at Liberty National in 2023 with unique junior element

The new Mizuho Americas Open will take June 1-4 in Jersey City, New Jersey.

There’s never been an LPGA event quite like this before. With an AJGA Invitational being held concurrently at Liberty National, 24 of the top junior girls in the country will compete alongside the best pros in the world with the glimmering New York City skyline as a backdrop.

The new Mizuho Americas Open will take place June 1-4 in Jersey City, New Jersey, and feature a field of 120 players vying for a purse of $2.75 million, one of the largest among non-major events. Michelle Wie West, an ambassador of Mizuho, will be tournament host.

“I’m super excited for the junior component,” said Wie West. “It’s everything that I’ve wanted to do.”

A view of the gallery around the 13th green is seen during the final round of The Barclays on August 30, 2009, at Liberty National in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Mizuho Americas, headquartered in New York City, is the fastest-growing region within Mizuho Financial Group, with 55,000 employees and $2 trillion in assets.

“They’re one of the top 15 banks in the world,” said LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan, “and we’re thrilled to be their first entrée into the sports marketing space.”

Jerry Rizzieri, president and CEO of Mizuho Securities USA, told Golfweek that while they did look at several PGA Tour options, which would’ve been more advantageous in terms of viewership numbers, that’s not what drove the mission. Mizuho views this as a purpose-driven sponsorship.

“Our organization I feel has done a good job at creating opportunities for women,” said Rizzieri. “Two of our three largest divisions are actually headed by women. In general, I feel like women are very underrepresented, certainly in our industry, and certainly at the very senior levels. But also I believe that the athletes themselves, whether it be the WNBA or the LPGA, are very much under-appreciated. Not only for their skill, but their dedication.

“When I think about the progress that has been made over the years, it’s certainly commendable, but still there’s a long way to go.”

While major championship purses have seen sizable increases in recent years, week-to-week purses on the LPGA still lag behind. Marcoux Samaan said going forward, new tournaments on the schedule will start with a minimum $2 million purse. Though Mizuho pushed that higher with the hope of making an impact and creating a premiere, destination event.

This marks the first time the LPGA has come to Liberty National, host of the 2017 Presidents Cup as well as several PGA Tour events. Marcoux Samaan said the event, owned and operated by Excel Sports Management, ticks all the boxes the tour is looking for in a new partner.

The unique element of linking the past and present, with future LPGA stars playing alongside current ones, lines up with Wie West’s mission. She’s been thrilled to hear the support of her peers, who look forward to paying it forward inside the ropes.

For some junior players, this could be a life-changing event, cementing a dream to compete at the highest level.

“I’m hoping a lot of friendships will be made and a lot a lot mentorships will be formed,” said Wie West, who stepped away from competition earlier this year. The 32-year-old mom will take part in junior clinics at Liberty National and spend time in the broadcast booth.

Michelle Wie poses with the trophy after winning the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational at Guadalajara Country Club in Guadalajara, Mexico. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In 2023, Wie West will be joined by Annika Sorenstam as an LPGA tournament host as The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican takes place in November in Belleair, Florida.

The first tournament Wie West won on the LPGA was the 2009 Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico. Winning Ochoa’s event was extra special, Wie West said, not only because she looked up the LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, but because she was able to see the impact Ochoa had in her home country.

“I never thought it would happen this fast and at Liberty National,” Wie West said of hosting an LPGA event. “It’s been the biggest honor.”

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Opening hole at the Solheim Cup in Spain will be a risky drivable par 4

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a first hole like this in the Solheim Cup.”

The first hole at the 2023 Solheim Cup will be unlike anything else in event history. That’s because organizers at Finca Cortesin in Spain have created a drivable par-4 opening hole to crank up the challenge and suspense. The new 280-yard par 4 has a large lake on the left side that reaches to the front of a sizable green.

“It is a good decision to have made this change,” said Finca Cortesin managing director Vicente Rubio in a release. “The characteristics of the new hole one will allow us to accommodate more than 1,000 people over the tee, which will make for a great atmosphere. I think it’s the perfect hole to start a Solheim Cup.

“This hole is, as they say, a risk and reward hole. Players can either try to reach the green with one shot or play more conservatively. The design of the hole and the great difference in height between the tee and the green will make it a spectacle, and I have no doubt that it will be a success.”

The event will be held in Spain for the first time one year from now, September 22-24. Suzann Pettersen will lead Europe, which has won the last two contests, and Stacy Lewis will captain Team USA.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a first hole like this in the Solheim Cup,” said Lewis. “You can reach the green, but the water comes into play quite a lot…It’s like an amphitheater. The stands are going to be high up, practically above you, which will make the public feel very close. It’s definitely a great hole for the Solheim Cup.”

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Want a better contest? Here’s what Presidents Cup teams could look like if LPGA stars were added

There’s an awful lot of talk about growing the game. Slogans are created and commercials are made. But here’s a no-brainer.

There’s an awful lot of talk about growing the game. Slogans are created and commercials are made. And yet, for all those good wishes, there seems to be a rather obvious way to move the needle in a way that would benefit the game as a whole – add women to the Presidents Cup.

Not just for the good of the game. Do it for the good of the event, which has never been more lopsided. The International team has won only one time since the inaugural event in 1994. There have been a number of blowouts, and all signs point to a massive one taking place this week at Quail Hollow Club, especially after several strong players went to the LIV Golf Series.

Kevin Kisner is the lowest-ranked player on Team USA at No. 25, which is better than all but three players on the International squad.

What would happen if the PGA Tour opened this up to the LPGA?

Six of the top eight players in the Rolex Rankings would be on an International team of 12 that featured six men and six women. Additionally, as it currently stands, the six women on the International team would have 10 majors between them.

Here’s what this week could look like if some forward-thinking officials wanted to give fans a real treat (listed in order by world ranking):