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.