We say hello quite often in women’s major championship golf. Especially of late.
Comb through the past 22 women's major championships (a span that goes back to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2019) and you’ll see 21 different winners and a staggering 17 first-time major winners.
That’s a lot of hellos.
Only Minjee Lee has won multiple majors in this timeframe. And this theme of new champions rings especially true at the Women’s Open, which hasn’t seen a two-time champion in over a decade, since Jiyai Shin won her second Women’s Open in 2012 at Royal Liverpool.
Fittingly, for the first time, Walton Heath will host a Women’s Open. With a lot of newer faces looming at the top of recent LPGA leaderboards, it provides one last chance for a player to break through in a major way during the 2023 season.
But only a handful of names truly stand out – and with most of them under the age of 25, it feels like the top of women’s golf has a youth uprising on its hands. The door is wide open for these five “rising stars,” any of whom could very easily establish another profound introduction to the golf world this week.
Rose Zhang’s professional career is all of two months old, and already she’s shown she is a dynamic, magnetic presence. When you combine the historic finish to her amateur career with a red-hot start to her professional one, she’s been the talk of the town this season. A superb run in the majors has been an enormous part of it: T8, T9, T9.
That’s not been without some growing pains along the way, but Zhang finished her third major of the season with a balanced perspective. “I feel like I'm on the right track in my mental space and navigating the entire tour life,” she said after her final round in the Evian Championship. “I still feel like I have so much more improvement ahead of me which makes me excited for the learning curve and the growth development I'll have later on.”
For a player who is accustomed to coming out on top more often than not, the adjustment in competition has been particularly steady. Her third start at the Women’s Open (one made cut, T28 and Low Am last year at Muirfield) should show it. But the Women’s Open hasn’t been kind to Americans of late. The last time an American won was 2014, when Mo Martin captured the title at Royal Birkdale.
We’ve seen one former top-ranked amateur take her first major title this season in Celine Boutier – will Maguire become the next? There have been a few close calls in her career, but Maguire has often struggled to convert in big moments. Her most recent attempt at the Women’s Open in 2022 included a last-minute charge, where a final round 66 merited her a T4 finish.
Recency doesn’t entirely favor Maguire’s major championship record, but her overall consistency throughout the 2023 season shows a ton of promise — five top 10s including a win under her belt at the Meijer LPGA Classic. Something has to give eventually – and it starts with putting together four big rounds of golf. She came close at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship before a disappointing 74 on Sunday. This title, especially, would mean a ton to Leona and the whole country of Ireland.
International success on the pro circuit has come to Linn Grant easily – and she took little time to do the same in the United States. In only her third pro start stateside, she assembled a dominant win at the Dana Open and hasn’t missed a cut all year in any event she’s played.
“I'd been playing just in Europe for the past two years or so, I felt that I had the game to win on the LPGA, but it's always that you have to get over this stem of actually doing it,” she said. Grant has proved she can hang with the best, and with the bulk of her professional success taking place in Europe (she’s got five LET wins under her belt), it should be a pretty comfortable week at Walton Heath. Linn nabbed a T-19 last year at Muirfield in her first Women’s Open start as a professional.
Furue’s breakout on the LPGA occurred at a links course when she won the Scottish Open by three shots over Celine Boutier in 2022, her rookie year on tour. Her game has since been exempt from any kind of sophomore slump: She ranks 8th this season in driving distance and has collected three top-5s and two top-10s in majors this season.
While she didn’t recapture the same glory at the Scottish Open as the defending champion, Furue brings a high level of overall momentum this week that’s hard to overlook.
I’d be remiss to leave Maja Stark out of this discussion, who we’ve seen in contention at majors as early as 2020 when she finished the US Open T13 as an amateur. A T9 at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open proves she can compete on the biggest stages and best courses, and like Grant, the bulk of her professional success has occurred in Europe (six LET wins in just two years). It’s hard not to imagine Stark in contention this week. She enters the final major of the season on a particularly high note, having finished T4 at the Scottish Open last week.
Don’t count out this exceptionally talented group – even if a major championship trophy may be missing from their collection. Their experiences in this event, though few, are valid, and a new venue serves as a new proving ground for another step in parity among the champions in the game.