A bevy of underdogs look to etch their name in major champ. lore Sunday at Baltusrol
SPRINGFIELD N.J. — Major champions come in all shapes and sizes.
Of course, there are those in the upper echelon of the sport like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam and Mickey Wright.
Then there’s the major championship Cinderella stories — Jack Fleck, Shaun Micheel, Sophia Popov and Pernilla Lindberg, to name a few.
With 18 holes left in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at the historic Baltusrol Golf Club, someone’s life will forever be changed Sunday night, but how we’ll look back at this major remains to be seen.
Sleeping with a one-stroke lead tonight is 28-year-old Leona Maguire at 7 under, less than one week removed from notching her second LPGA victory at the Meijer LPGA Classic. She had a standout college career, earning ACC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year at Duke in 2015. But now she’s standing at the border of major champion territory.
“First time I had ever been in that position,” she said after Round 3. “I feel like we handled it pretty well and tried not to treat it any differently than any other round, just like last week. I think same mindset tomorrow.”
Besides Maguire, the favorite inside the top 10 after three rounds at Baltusrol is two-time major champion Jin Young Ko (T-6 at 3 under), who is set to surpass Lorena Ochoa’s record of 158 weeks as world No. 1 after this week, regardless of her finish.
“I will never give up until tomorrow. Who knows? Leona is still playing really good right now,” Ko said. “She won last week, and she have chance for win this week again.”
Those that sit in between them on the leaderboard, however, fall into the underdog category.
One stroke behind Maguire in solo second is Jenny Shin. The 30-year-old won the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2006 and has one LPGA win — the 2016 Volunteers of America Texas Shootout. The Korean is currently the 98th-ranked player in the world amid a turbulent career.
“There was a period of time where I was happy not winning,” she said Saturday. “I was happy with playing decent golf. This is my 13th year out here, so there’s — I’m sure if you ask any player that’s been out here this long, there’s ups and downs and phases in life, and I think I went through that phase.”
However, she began looking at the big picture and now is on the brink of etching her name in major championship lore.
“A few years back I just asked myself, ‘Where do I want to be in five years, and what do I want to accomplish?’” she said. “‘How do I want to end this career?’ I think that’s where it really started rolling.”
In third place is Stephanie Meadow, who is from Northern Ireland and goes way back with Maguire, knowing her “when she was reading Harry Potter books.” The 31-year-old is ranked No. 151 in the world, yet isn’t surprised that she has a chance to claim her maiden win in a major despite five missed cuts in eight starts this season.
“It’s been quite the journey this year so far,” she said. “But I guess I expected maybe people to go a little bit more in front, so I’m happy to be kind of done an hour early and still only one, two back.”
Lee-Ann Pace, the 16-year LPGA veteran and world No. 193 with one LPGA win — the 2014 Blue Bay LPGA — is tied for fourth with world No. 149 Lauren Coughlin, who has only one top-10 on tour since 2018, and Ruoning Yin, a budding 20-year-old superstar who won the DIO Implant LA Open earlier this year.
Along with Coughlin and Meadow, Mina Harigae, Xiyu Lin and Megan Khang sit inside the top 10 and are looking for their maiden LPGA victories in a major — adding another layer to the prestige of the win.
“A win regardless would be awesome,” Coughlin said, “but if I could do it in a major, it means that much more. Again, I’m just going to be trying to go and stay super patient as much as I can and try not to get too excited and too jacked up for the round tomorrow.”
The saying is: A major championship doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. Though, it’s hard not to think of how different someone’s life can be 24 hours from now — especially if they’ve never won the big one.
“Obviously, we all think about it,” Meadow said when asked if she’s already envisioning herself as a major champion. “That’s our dream. I think it would be silly to say that I don’t think about it.”
But whether you’re Nicklaus or Fleck, Popov or Sorenstam, Ko or Meadow, a major champion is a major champion.
And in one more day, someone’s name will forever enter the history books with the legends of the game.