In a Day of Many Ups and Downs, Kupcho Doesn’t Back Down at Meijer

By Jeff Babineau 

BELMONT, Mich. – Jennifer Kupcho experienced just about every emotion one could experience on the 18th green at Blythefield Country Club on Sunday, home to the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. She felt the elation of hitting her best shot of the week – an 8-iron that settled 3 feet beyond the flagstick to set up a potential winning eagle – and the guttural disappointment of sliding the putt past the hole and needing to head back to try it all over again.  

If nothing else, though, Kupcho was all about perseverance at the Meijer. She hit it everywhere on Saturday and still managed to shoot 69. And Sunday, the kept belief after a terrible start. Against a world-class field, Kupcho just kept fighting, earned her way into a playoff, and then defeated two of the top young talents in the game, Nelly Korda and Leona Maguire, to win her second LPGA title of the season. 

It wasn’t easy, nor did she figure it would be. Just as Kupcho was shocked when she missed her putt, she was probably more shocked when Maguire, her old rival from the ACC, missed one from similar length, about 3 feet, to extend the playoff on the second playoff hole. It was about the only shot that Maguire (65) didn’t pull off all day. 

Kupcho won her first LPGA title earlier this year, the Chevron Championship, which is a major. In that one, she had a nice lead in the final round. At Blythefield, every stroke meant something in a tumultuous final day.

“Yeah, I think this one is even better than the first, personally,” said Kupcho, who shot a closing 71 to tie Korda and Maguire at 18-under 270 . She earned $375,000 for her victory. “I had such a big lead going into the final round at Chevron, so to come out of this one with, I mean, top-ranked players all over the place, the leaderboard was packed, within strokes, so it really was very close. 

“I feel very proud of myself for coming out of it.”

Maguire charged hard for the second consecutive year at the Meijer. Last year, she shot 66 on Sunday and lost by two to Korda, who a week later would win her first major and become World No. 1. This time, Maguire went one better, firing 65, then waited near the clubhouse to see if it would be good enough for a playoff. When Kupcho hit her drive up against the lip of a fairway bunker at the short, par-5 18th and managed no better than a par, Maguire, also a first-time winner this season, had her opportunity. 

So, too, did Korda, who struggled throughout the day but still birdied the final hole to get to 270 alongside the others. Korda, trying to become Meijer’s first back-to-back champion (and only second mulitiple champion), shot 72 on Sunday, the first time in 15 rounds at the Meijer she was not in the 60s. 

“Unfortunately, sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t,” said Korda, 23, who was making only her second start since early February, having required surgery to alleviate a blood clot in her left arm. She was out of the game for more than three months. 

“If you told me I think three, four months ago when I was in the ER that I would be here, I would being extremely happy.”

Sunday was set up for fireworks, but several of the big guns struggled to match the low scores they had been shooting through the first 54 holes. Korda, who shot 62 at Blythefield last year, started the day at 18-under and finished there, shooting even par. Brooke Henderson, a two-time winner at Meijer who was coming off a victory last week at the ShopRite, had to birdie her last hole to shoot 72. Lexi Thompson, seeking her first LPGA victory in three years, tied for the lead at one point, going out in 33. But she made three bogeys on the back nine and shot 70. 

“I had a rough stretch on my second nine,” Thompson said, “but I kept going with a positive attitude hoping I could birdie every hole in, and I kept on trying. Something to build on, and learn from it, and move on.”

Kupcho started the day one back but fell to three behind when she played her first seven holes in 3-over. She appeared frustrated. But she kept on fighting, and found a spark when she rolled in a long eagle putt at the 475-yard eighth hole. She tacked on a birdie at the ninth and was right back in the middle of things. 

At one point, Kupcho, Korda, Maguire and Thompson shared the lead on the back nine. It was wild. Kupcho made birdies at 12 and 14, but bogeyed the par-4 16th hole with an errant tee shot and an approach that came up short, missing a 12-footer for par. She still was poised to win with a birdie at the 18th, but those plans went awry once her tee shot settled up near the lip of a right-side fairway bunker. 

So much adversity – the bad start, the drive against the lip, the missed 3-footer to win on the first hole of a playoff – but Kupcho kept telling herself to hang in there. 

“She’s a gamer,” said her caddie, Dave Eller, who began working for Kupcho at the start of the season. “When her back is against the wall, she really digs deep and does what she knows, and that’s play good golf. She’s not scared out there. Sometimes she gets down on herself, but she is never scared to hit the right shot. 

“You saw that today. She is not afraid of the moment.” 

She is not. It was never easy on Sunday, but Kupcho rode it out better than anyone. For that, she is a winner once more. 

Vu’s Closing Birdie Barrage 

Lilia Vu started Sunday in a tie for 34that the Meijer, and didn’t feel all that good with the putter, but decided to adopt a more aggressive mindset for the final round of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. Her plan worked rather nicely. 

“I was like, I have nothing to lose, final day, I’m just going to try to play my best and birdie every single hole.” she said. 

Vu didn’t birdie all of them, but did birdie half, which was a nice way to finish. There was only one blemish on her card – she pulled her tee shot at the par-4 17th,hit a tree with her second, and made double – but regrouped to make one last birdie at 18 to shoot 7-under 65. 

She said she will carry those positive vibes into her next start at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. 

“It’s really big. I didn’t think it was a big factor, but I ended pretty poorly at my last event, at the U.S. Open, so I think that’s where … at the beginning of that week I was kind of shaky, didn’t have a lot of confidence.”

Vu went out in 35 strokes in her last round of the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, and returned in 44 shots. She said it took her time this week to rebuild confidence.

“It was basically from that event,” she said. “It just completely destroyed me on the back nine. And then I think this really helps out with momentum for next week.”

Vu earned a card via the Epson Tour last season. It’s her second run at the LPGA. Her rookie season arrived straight out of college, and it proved eye-opening. 

“I think I grew up a lot. I went straight from college to LPGA,” she said. “I thought it was going to be like la-tee-da, having fun with teammates and it was going to be so fun, and people are really serious out here.

“I know it’s their job and all that stuff and there is money on the line, but I had to basically grow up, know myself, not think about the money, just play golf the way it’s always been – just 18 holes every single time.”

Nelly Korda’s Close Call

Nelly Korda made a nice run at trying to become the first back-to-back winner in the history of the Meijer LPGA Classic, but she just didn’t have it on Sunday at Blythefield Country Club. On a golf course where birdies are plentiful, Korda shot 2-over 38 on her opening nine, and knew she was in some trouble. The best she could do on Sunday was 72, ending a run of 15 consecutive rounds in the 60s at Blythefield Country Club, a place she loves. 

“Can’t really do that out here,” Korda said of her opening nine. “You have to capitalize on those par-5s. I fought my way back on the back nine and snuck into the playoff.”

She did, making birdie on her final hole of regulation. In the first hole of the playoff, also the par-5 18th, Korda had to take an approach up and over a tree on the left side, and ball bounded to the back of the green, some 50 feet from the hole. She actually stroked her putt for birdie before eventual winner Jennifer Kupcho even attempted the 3-foot putt she faced for eagle. When Korda missed her birdie attempt from 6 feet, her hopes were dashed. Shockingly, Kupcho then missed her eagle putt. Birdie would have been good enough for Korda to play another hole. 

“Yeah, my lag putting was not the greatest this week,” she said. “I think I had like six three-putts throughout the entire week, so it’s something that I can work on and improve and hopefully it’s better into next week.”

Korda can take solace in the fact that, after three-plus months off, she has finishes of T8 (U.S. Women’s Open) and T2 (Meijer LPGA Classic). She was off to Maryland, where this week she will defend her title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Kupcho Keeps the Pace, but Familiar Faces Chase

By Jeff Babineau 

BELMONT, Mich. – Some very familiar faces worked their way up the leaderboard on Friday at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. Defending champion Nelly Korda, for one, made a move with a second-round, 7-under 65; Brooke Henderson, playing alongside, was not far behind. Henderson, the only two-time winner of the Meijer LPGA Classic, shot 66 to move into strong position for the weekend. 

Korda, 23, the tournament’s defending champion, and Henderson, 24, own three of the last four trophies handed out at the Meijer, which is staged at 94-year-old Blythefield Country Club, a golf course the players truly enjoy. Korda, posting her 13th consecutive round in the 60s at Blythefield, moved to 12-under 132, nearly halfway to her winning total of 25-under a year ago. Henderson is two shots behind her. But they aren’t setting the pace. 

Both players will begin the weekend chasing fellow twentysomething Jennifer Kupcho, who took a while to get going on Friday. When she finally did, she was impressive once again. After eight opening pars, Kupcho, 27, got the putter rolling again, making five birdies in a round of 67. She will enter the weekend with a two-shot lead, seeking her second LPGA victory. 

Kupcho (14-under 130) said she got about everything she could squeeze out of her 63 a day earlier, a terrific round considering that high winds kicked up in the late afternoon, when she was finishing. On Friday, she, Korda and Henderson all played early, not that the wind did much lying down for them. It was breezy, winds gusting into the mid-20s, forcing players to think about every shot and exhibit extreme care in executing those shots. 

“I was trying to hit an 8-iron like 130 yards today, just a little low bullet,” said Korda, who is making her second start after three months off following surgery to alleviate a blood clot in her left arm. “It’s fun. I really enjoy that type of golf. The creativity comes out of you, and so, yeah, I enjoy it.”

Kupcho won a good deal on the amateur front, but it took her a while to win on the LPGA. That victory finally arrived in early April, and it was a big one. She captured the Chevron Championship, a major, played one last time in Palm Springs. Clearly, breaking through has injected her with confidence she didn’t carry until collecting that first trophy.

The time she spent waiting to win? Well, that was valuable, too. 

“Honestly, it’s just taking every opportunity to learn,” Kupcho said. “I think I needed to improve a lot of parts of my game when I got out here, and so that was pretty much what happened over the last two, three years.

“Obviously I’ve won a lot in amateur golf, so, yeah, I was cold for a couple years, so to be able to come out and win, I think it just gives a lot of confidence to be able to win on this level.”

Following eight pars to start her round, including a clutch par save for the second consecutive day at the par-4 17th, Kupcho notched a birdie at the short par-5 18th, her ninth hole, then got hot on the front nine for the second day. In two tours of Blythefield’s first nine, she has made 10 birdies and nary a bogey. (She has yet to make bogey this week, in fact.)

Korda said she enjoyed the “vibe” playing alongside Henderson, and surely the two of them pushed one another to keep making birdies. They made eagles, too. Korda was first, spinning a third shot with a 58-degree wedge from 82 yards out into the hole for a 3 at the 14th, her fifth hole of the day; Henderson would answer a few holes later, making an eagle-3 on the 479-yard 18th hole, her second in as many days.

In between Korda at 12 under and Henderson at 10 under is Spain’s Carlota Ciganda, who made eagles on two of Blythefield’s five par-5 holes, the eighth and the 18th. Ciganda shot 65, tying for the day’s low round with a handful of players that included Korda. Joining Henderson at 10-under 134 were Madelene Sagstrom and Lexi Thompson, each of whom shot 69 in the late afternoon. 

Thompson is seeking her first LPGA victory since 2019, and has a nice record at Meijer, being a past champion. Being in contention heading into the weekend is why she says she competes.

“I think as a top athlete you always want to be in the mix of things, always want to be at the top of the leaderboard or whatever it is in other sports,” said Thompson, an 11-time winner on the LPGA.

“Just knowing that your hard work pays off, I think that’s always the best feeling. To be here in Michigan, I love coming to Michigan. Just having the support of fans and the little kids out here, this tournament is top notch hospitality-wise. I’m always happy to come back, and hopefully we get the most people out here that we have this weekend, and hopefully I play well.”

Sounds like a plan. 

A Happy Return for Parks

BELMONT, Mich. — It’s been a few years since Sadena Parks had her LPGA card, and she hadn’t made a start on the LPGA since late 2017, nearly five years ago. But she earned her way into this week’s Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give by winning THE JOHN SHIPPEN National Golf Invitational presented by Rocket Mortgage, a 36-hole event that rewarded her with starts at the Meijer and the LPGA’s upcoming Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, also slated for Michigan next month. 

Parks first round back inside the ropes included a little bit of everything. She missed a few fairways and paid the price from the thick rough. She finished with round of even-par 72. 

“You know what?” she said. “Nothing is wrong with an even score. I haven’t lost some, I haven’t gained any (strokes). I did enjoy it. I’m happy to be out here. I just want to play some good golf. I saw a few things I need to work on. The greens are rolling really nice; I want to make sure I can match up with the green speed, and hit fairways, most importantly. I missed more fairways than I expected.”

Parks, 32, a two-time winner on the Epson Tour, did finish strongly, making birdies on two of her final three holes, fist-pumping when her 15-footer on her last hole (the par-4 ninth) vanished into the hole. 

“I’m amped up, and I think that’s really what it was, amped up, adrenaline running through my veins. I’m ready to tone it down and see what tomorrow brings.”

Asked about her biggest strength on Thursday, Parks said, “Just the humbleness I brought to the game.” 

Captain, My Captain

BELMONT, Mich. — Stacy Lewis was pleased with her own game on Thursday – five birdies, no bogeys – but also is filling another role as she competes these days. As the next U.S. Solheim captain, she is an astute observer as she starts to build a team in her head. On Thursday, Lewis was grouped with fellow veteran Cristie Kerr – Kerr has played in nine Solheim Cups – as well as 23-year-old American Andrea Lee, who was impressive in shooting an opening 66. 

“Andrea is a great putter. Gets me excited because that’s something I think our team has been missing,” Lewis said. “So it was great to watch her play. I mean, she has really good demeanor out there, plays quick, and is decisive. Her round could have been with a little bit better finish, too.”

The next Solheim Cup is slated for Spain in September 2023, to be played at Finca Cortesin. Suzann Pettersen will captain the European side. The event will go to even-numbered years starting in 2024, at Robert Trent Jones Club in Virginia. 

Lee won on the Epson Tour in late March, and it seems to have raised her confidence level. Having limited access on the LPGA, she tied for fifth at the Palos Verdes Championship (at Wilshire Country Club, in Los Angeles, her home course), was fourth at the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play, and tied for 15th at the U.S. Women’s Open. 

“I was fully prepared to grind it out on the Epson Tour,” Lee said, “and to be able to have these opportunities now where I don’t have to worry about the schedule is really nice. I mean, I haven’t been in this position before, so it’s awesome.”

The Nelly Forecast: Low and in the 60s Again 

BELMONT, Mich. — Defending champion Nelly Korda, making only her second start after surgery to correct a blood clot in her left arm sidelined her for three months, played in the afternoon on Thursday at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give, the more difficult portion of the day, and shot 5-under 67. 

Overall, the World No. 2 was pleased with the effort. She had to scramble on her opening hole just to walk away with bogey, but said avoiding a double set a good tone for her day. From there, she made seven birdies (including birdies at 17 and 18) against only one more bogey.

“Made seven birdies and two bogeys in the wind, so I’m pretty happy with that,” Korda said. 

Her 67 marked her 12th consecutive round in the 60s at Blytheville Country Club, where last year she shot a third-round, 10-under 62 and eventually set the tournament record in relation to par (25-under). She and Brooke Henderson share the tournament scoring mark of 263 (Henderson doing it when Blytheville played as a par 71). 

“I just really enjoy being here,” Korda said. “I like the golf course and I like the atmosphere.”

This week, she also enjoys the road into the clubhouse, featuring a sidepost that reads Nelly Korda Drive.

Kupcho Turns in Career-Best 63 to Lead After Round One at Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give

By Jeff Babineau 

BELMONT, Mich. – There are no hidden secrets to success at Blythefield Country Club, home of the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. A player must walk onto the first tee, step on the gas, and never let up. The task of the day is to make eagles and birdies. Bogeys aren’t welcome. 

A year ago, Nelly Korda shot 25-under 263 to win, which was a tournament record. And early Thursday, her peers on the LPGA picked up where she had left off. The round of the day belonged to Jennifer Kupcho, the 25-year-old former amateur standout who collected her first major title (Chevron Championship) earlier this season.

Playing in gusty winds in the day’s tougher afternoon wave, Kupcho went out in 6-under 30, and stood 9-under by the time she reached the 15th tee. That’s how she would finish. The final four holes presented the strongest winds of the day; when Kupcho missed the green at the par-4 17th (good bunker save) and three-putted the 18th hole for par (from 40 feet), she still was signing for the low round of her career, a 9-under 63. 

Kupcho likes everything about Blythefield Country Club. She loves the golf course, loves that birdies are readily available, and has a great host family she enjoys. Beyond the majors, she always lists the Meijer among her favorite weeks of the year. On Thursday, she got hot with the putter, running in putts of 25 feet at the 13th (for birdie) and the par-5 14th (for eagle) to separate herself from the others playing in the afternoon. The next best score in the afternoon was 5-under 67, one of which was turned in by defending champion Nelly Korda, who birdied her last two to get there.

Overnight rains this week have softened the layout and made greens very receptive. Forty-four players from a field of 144 shot rounds in the 60s on Thursday, and 88 players broke par. Players able to avoid the rough off the tee – Kupcho proved adept at that, hitting 10 of 13 fairways – have lots of green lights to fire at pins. Kupcho got on one of those hot runs and never let up.

“I’ve really been comfortable at this place,” Kupcho said. “I felt like I could birdie every hole.”

Gerina Mendoza set the early pace with a round of 8-under 64 that included seven birdies and an eagle, the latter coming on her final hole of the day.  

Lexi Thompson, a past champion and twice a runner-up at Blythefield, opened with 65. So did Anna Nordqvist, as well as fellow Swede Madeline Sagstrom, both of whom rode hot late runs to the clubhouse. Andrea Lee shot 66, and a large group at 5-under included defending champion Nelly Korda, at World No. 2, the highest-ranked player in the field. 

There were few indications showing that of all the fast starters, Mendoza would start the fastest. She is 37 years old, and though she has more than $4 million in career earnings, competed at the Olympics in Rio and has appeared on three U.S. Solheim Cup teams, she had not shown a great deal of form of late. She missed the cut in her last four starts of 2021, and this season has only one finish better than T50, that being a tie or sixth at the LOTTE Championship in April. 

“It feels awesome,” said Mendoza after seeing her name atop the board in the morning. She missed only two fairways, and hit 17 of 18 greens. “It’s been a while.”

Mendoza played in the Solheim Cup in 2017, then took maternity leave in 2018. She says being a mother and a professional golfer can be a double-edged sword. She works hard to be a great mom, but that doesn’t mean she can’t work hard to be an impactful player again, too. 

“You have other priorities,” Mendoza said, “but at the same time, you still want to play good golf. You don’t want to just come out here going through the motions. So that definitely takes a while to find that balance.” 

Mendoza finished off a hot round with a birdie from 18 feet at her penultimate hole, the 400-yard 17th, and then reached the 479-yard par-5 18th with a driver and 7-iron. She felt she was owed the eagle putt; earlier in the round, she had missed an eagle attempt from 6 feet at the eighth hole. 

At 27, Thompson is one of the tour’s most dynamic players, and has won 11 times. But her last victory – the 2019 ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer – came three years ago. She already is a two-time runner-up in 2022. At Blythefield this week, where she won in 2015, and finished second two other times, Thompson said she is taking things very slowly. 

“I just kind of felt really relaxed the whole day,” Thompson said after her bogey-free effort. “Coming into today, I knew I’ve been hitting it well and I’ve been putting in the work, so just coming out here and believing in myself and just staying in the moment, in the present.”

After making one birdie in her first seven holes, Thompson then took flight, making birdies on six of her next 10 holes. She shot 65 despite making birdies on only two of the par-5 holes, easily reachable for her. She said the putter was a nice key on Thursday, as she steadily poured in 5- and 6-footers to keep momentum on her side. 

Sagstrom, 29, notched her lone LPGA victory in 2020. She was another player who made a pedestrian round special with a torrid finish. Standing 2-under with five holes to play, she finished birdie-birdie-birdie-par-eagle to finish at 65. 

Sagstrom has been trending nicely. She missed the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open (69-77), but prior to that, had finishes of T9 or better in four consecutive starts. How good was her closing stretch Thursday at Blythefield?

“Well,” Sagstrom said, “you just don’t feel like you can do anything wrong, really.” 

Kupcho knew that feeling well on Thursday. Still, it was one day, one round. She says she sees lots of players who come out strong and then shoot even-par rounds to back it up, so her mindset will be to stay aggressive, keep making birdies, and stretch her lead in the morning. 

Mendoza would like to do the same. She won’t play until later. She said she will see how she feels when morning beckons. 

“Tomorrow is a new day,” Mendoza said. “You know, that’s the great thing about golf. If it was the same every day, your same feels would work day after day, and the same person would win every week, but that’s not the case.”

J. Brewer’s Experience Transcends Beyond the Great Cuisine at Meijer LPGA Classic

By Jeff Babineau

BELMONT, Mich. – Jessica Ann Tyson hands a plateful of food across the counter inside the new and expansive J. Brewer’s culinary experience at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give, and the warm waft of collard greens, black-eyed peas and fried chicken is enough to make any ardent foodie’s knees buckle. 

But the cuisine itself is only part of what the 50-year-old bubbly and energetic multi-business entrepreneur is busily serving up. There is a smile with each plate, as well as a zesty dash of genuine love and appreciation for the joy she is able to deliver. The food Tyson prepares for others goes beyond sustenance. It represents comfort, and safety, and perseverance, and so many other things as she gives back to the Grand Rapids community that she has called home for 20-plus years. 

Being able to serve others is a special part of her busy life. “I’m blessed,” she said, smiling. 

Tyson is the owner of The Candied Yam, a popular Grand Rapids eatery that specializes in southern cuisine and rustic soul food. (A second location is scheduled to open this summer.) At the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give this week, the restaurant is one of a handful being highlighted inside J. Brewer’s, an upscale experience inside a 20,000 square-foot facility that runs along the fourth fairway. For a $75 daily ticket Friday-Sunday, golf fans at Blythefield Country Club can watch live golf – nine of the top 10 LPGA players in the world rankings are competing – and occasionally check in on the U.S. Open outside Boston on several televisions inside. Oh, and it is all-you-can-eat and free beverages, including craft beers, too.

“This year we introduced J. Brewer’s to bring a more elevated experience to the course,” said Sonny Franks, Corporate Communications Specialist for Meijer, a well-known Midwest retailer with more than 260 stores in six states. “It’s unlike anything on the tour.”

J. Brewer’s – named after the financier who once owned the land where Blythefield Country Club’s course was laid out nearly a century ago – features local minority-owned restaurants and sits on the footprint that once was home to a tournament experience called the Grand Taste. Many of those folks who participated in Grand Taste in years past will maintain an involvement through offerings at concession stands across the course, where no menu item exceeds $4. J. Brewer’s hosted a private event on Tuesday night to kick off the week, with many of the LPGA players in attendance.  

“J. Brewer’s features larger portions and premium quality, but we also wanted to highlight as many of our restaurant partners as possible,” Franks said. “So we brought the Grand Taste experience from prior years into concessions so everyone could taste it. We wanted to keep it really accessible. You can get unique offerings like Wasabi Street Tacos, say, for $4, and don’t need a special ticket. The food is really good.”

Tyson views J. Brewer’s a victory for all. People can come out to support great golf – she loves the sport – and also sample some terrific local cuisine, supporting small businesses along the way that have endured challenging times through COVID-19. For the Candied Yam, it’s a great spot to meet new customers.

“There’s more than just small restaurants,” Tyson said. “There’s breweries, there’s cakemakers, just a variety of people that they brought to the table. Not only diverse in the type and size of the businesses, but the colors, LGBTQ+ … we’ve all been brought together. That’s what they (Meijer) do in their stores.”

“I’m working next to other restaurant owners, and they feel exactly the way that I do. We feel blessed. One, we’ve made it through COVID, or on our way outward, hopefully. And we’re able to be in a place with a firm organization that’s been around for many years, and still is doing the things that Mr. Meijer did when he was alive.”

Tyson met Fred Meijer, the retailer’s late founder (he died in 2011), on several occasions. She tells a story that she once was driving to church one Sunday when she saw a gathering in a parking lot at a new Meijer location, so she veered off and “crashed” the private grand opening. She can be mischievous like that. 

“He was who he was, he was about the community, and made sure that everybody had something (in the store) that would help to make things better for their family,” Tyson said of Mr. Meijer. “We have to figure out ways that we can support everybody in our community, not just some. This is a welcoming community, and I’m so proud of that.” 

Tyson has an interesting resume. She is an elected public official in Grand Rapids and has operated her own public relations business for 18 years. She opened a spa that specializes in salt treatments, and is close to opening a restaurant for dogs that will be called The Beastro. Plus, at least two more potential businesses are swirling in her mind. 

She kept Candied Yam open throughout the pandemic, mostly because it allowed her to follow a mission she started when she opened the restaurant five years ago. Being a restauranteur allows her to feed as many people as she wishes to. That’s something near to her giant and generous heart. 

In a quieter moment, Tyson describes that she endured a difficult childhood. She and her entrepreneurial twin sister – “She’s my ride or die,” Jessica Ann says – spent their younger days bouncing through foster homes. Jessica Ann said they ate from trash cans when they were little. Luckily, the sisters always stayed together – separated only once – and at the age of 8, found their forever home as a package deal. 

The sisters were adopted by a preacher and a teacher in Lansing, the state capital, about an hour from Grand Rapids. Their adoptive parents kept a garden of fresh greens, and tomatoes and carrots, and taught their daughters their love of food, the drive of entrepreneurship, and the compassion to take care of their neighbors.

The charitable mission at this week’s Meijer LPGA Classic is to raise $1.2 million for Simply Give, which feeds families in need across the Midwest. That is a mission that Tyson is happy to join. 

“When we were asked to be a part of this, it just resonated so loud with my background and upbringing,” Tyson said. “We’re so glad to be here. It fits with our message: Be humble. Be kind. Love your neighbor. 

“Coming through COVID, I see a deeper level of appreciation at the restaurant from people who are realizing that life is short, and life is precious. I may have had a hard childhood, but now I can feed all the people that I want to.”

Every single plate served with love and a smile. 

Brooke Henderson, a two-time winner at Meijer, Eyes a Perfect Return in Western Michigan 

By Jeff Babineau 

BELMONT, Mich. – Looking back at her magical Sunday at the ShopRite LPGA Classic in New Jersey less than 48 hours earlier, there was a word that kept coming back to Brooke Henderson as she sat with a microphone in her hand at Blythefield Country Club discussing this week’s Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give

Perfect. She would use it on a couple of occasions. 

Perfect, as in the only way to describe her final-round, bogey-free 64 that allowed her to chase down the lead and earn her way into a late-afternoon playoff against Lindsey Weaver-Wright. Perfect, as in her eagle on the first playoff hole that landed her a trophy, securing her first victory in a year, and her 11th triumph on the LPGA. All this at the age of 24. 

As for this week at Blythefield, in Western Michigan, not far from Grand Rapids? Well, it would seem to set up rather perfectly for more of the same. In the eight-year history of the Meijer LPGA Classic, Canada’s Henderson is the only player to win the event twice. 

Henderson won in 2017, and again in 2019. Blythefield Country Club has a Canadian feel to it, too, reminding her of some of the tree-lined courses and familiar grasses upon which she grew up playing. 

“Lots of great memories here, and being a two-time champion, it’s exciting to kind of think, ‘Oh, yeah, I was here right in this spot, and I putted to that hole and I made it,” she said. “So it’s nice reflect on those memories and think about them. Hopefully add to the strategy this week.”

Henderson shot 21-under 263 in 2017, edging Lexi Thompson by two shots. At Blythefield, players must go low to contend. Hdnerson shot 63 in the opening round that year and never really cooled off. Two years ago, she started 64-64 and would cool some on the weekend, but her four-round total of 267 still was enough to beat a quartet of players by two shots. (Thompson again was a runner-up, one of the four finishing two shots out.) 

What did Henderson feel was extra special in her game that week?

“Any time you’re winning, you have to make a lot of putts, so hopefully the putter is working well this week,” Henderson said. “I think off the tee here, you know, hitting it in certain spots, and even it applies more so now that they have the extra bunkers and how thick the rough is, especially the first couple yards off the fairway.

“So, I think hitting it long and straight off the tee will be a key this week, first step to get you to making some birdies.”

Henderson’s victory at the ShopRite lifted her to eighth in the Rolex Rankings, moving her up three spots. There are nine of the top 10 in the rankings here this week at Blythefield, and 18 of the top 20, giving the event a big-time feel. 

Henderson started the 2022 LPGA season nicely. She didn’t win, but her first six starts produced some solid results, her “worst” finish being a tie for 13th. Then her game hit a serious lull. She withdrew from the Lotte Championship, missed the cut at two California events, and finally got back on track with a T-15 at the U.S. Women’s Open. 

Henderson said one uptick in her game has been her putting. Listening to her father, Dave, who is her coach, and her sister, Brit, who has been her longtime caddie, Brooke recently went left-hand-low with the putter, and she likes what she is seeing, and feeling, on the greens. She says putting “is back in my corner.”

“I’m very much a feel player, so Brit and dad worked more on the technical things,” she said. “They thought it would be a good idea, and when I did it I felt a lot more comfortable and just felt like I could make putts that way, so that’s always a good feeling.”

She says it hopes most on her shorter putts, and the way Henderson strikes it, if she gets the putter going, she often is going to contend. 

That could be the case this week as she returns to a golf course where she has had success, while riding the momentum and adrenaline of winning just a few days ago. Her brother-in-law is from nearby Grand Rapids, and she will add plenty of maple-leafed support from just across the border. Not only that, but Michigan looks a whole lot like home in Canada, too. 

Add it all up? Sounds pretty perfect.