For Major Winners Lee and Korda, It’s Back to Work at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give

By Jeff Babineau 

BELMONT, Mich. – Minjee Lee, the third-ranked player in the world, took last week off, still riding the giant wave after seeing her lifelong dream pop to life when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in North Carolina two weeks ago. 

Nelly Korda is ranked one spot above Lee, World No. 2, having achieved the No. 1 perch last summer. Here at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give in Michigan is where Korda’s incredible run began. She set a tournament record at Meijer, won her first major (KPMG Women’s PGA Championship) the following week, and topped it all off with an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

For Lee, now a two-time major champion, and Korda, who spent three-plus months of 2022 on the sideline following surgery that helped her correct a blood clot in her left arm, the time has arrived to get back to work. And that work starts on Thursday at Blythefield Country Club. 

Korda, who turns 24 next month, made her return to competition at the U.S. Women’s Open, having not appeared in a tournament since early February. She showed up in North Carolina with very few expectations, but performed quite well after such a long layoff, tying for eighth. Her return arrived later than she had wanted – she stubbornly wanted to return in April at the final Chevron Championship in Palm Springs – but listened to her doctors and rested up. 

Meijer always was going to be on Korda’s schedule. She loves the golf course, and shows up every June. Why, as she pulled into the club earlier this week, a new wooden sign awaited: Nelly Korda Drive.

“It’s a very ‘homey’ tournament, and I enjoy being back,” Korda said. “I love this area. I love coming back. I don’t think I’ve missed a year.”

A year ago, she shot 25-under 263, establishing a new tournament mark in relation to par. Her whirlwind summer stretch was challenging to fully enjoy being that she was in the middle of so much good golf in a short stretch. But certainly a year’s time, coupled with three months away from golf, helped her to appreciate what was the strongest stretch of golf in her career. 

“It’s hard with golf, because you don’t let it settle in, in a sense,” said Korda, who next week will defend her KPMG title at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. “Like, you don’t take a couple of months off. After the Olympics, runners, if they do well, take a couple months off. 

“With golf, we had the British (Open) the next week. … But to have time to look back and even, I looked at a couple of highlights here and there, and it is very special.”

Lee, from Perth, Australia, turned 26 last month, and steadily has been emerging as one of the LPGA’s top stars. She always has been a highly respected ballstriker. Now she owns victories in two of the last four women’s majors, her U.S. Women’s Open title joining her first major triumph at the Amundi Evian Championship in France last summer. Add that to the Cognizant Founders Cup she added just before her U.S. Open, and suddenly Lee has eight LPGA victories. That is one more than Korda.

Lee said she “crashed” for two days following her victory at Pine Needles, then enjoyed some time off around Dallas. She got a reservation at Carbone, a high-end eatery that recently opened in Dallas, which is something not easily accomplished. As for her golf, Lee’s usually solid ballstriking seems to have reached a higher level. 

“I’m not really sure,” Lee said this week at Meijer when asked what has elevated her game a notch. “I knew it (her ballstriking) was already good so I think maybe just a little more belief that I could really pull it off every time I played.

“Also, my driving, I’m hitting it a little longer, so I obviously have a little bit shorter clubs into the greens. I’m sure that has really helped as well.”

Lee’s U.S. Women’s Open triumph has resonated to many corners of the world. Her father was watching at home in Perth, and her mother was trying to keep up with the tournament while in Korea, viewing at odd hours of the day. The reaction from family and friends has been universal: “They were just really happy,” Lee said.

But that victory fell two weeks ago, and Lee said she has more aspirations as she tees it up at Meijer. “I haven’t quite reached all my goals yet, so I’m not going to ease off on my training or anything,” she said. “I’m still going to work extra hard.” 

Likewise, Korda has allowed herself to appreciate her great run in 2021, but this is a new year, new day. The last time she walked off Blythefield Country Club, she was 25-under par; Thursday afternoon at 12:59 p.m. (along with Sei Young Kim and Brooke Henderson, last week’s winner), Korda starts at level par again. Square One. That’s the nature of the game she plays. The memories are great, sure, but … 

“In golf,” Korda said, “you’re constantly moving forward, looking at what’s next. So it’s kind of hard to sit back and reminisce. It’s nice to … but I also like to look at what’s ahead of me.”

World’s Top Players Set to Return to the 2022 Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give

By Jeff Babineau 

BELMONT, Mich. -For LPGA competitors, the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give offers the best of two worlds. The event at Blythefield Country Club just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan, maintains a small-town community ambience, but it comes wrapped inside an atmosphere that let’s players know that something big is going on. Something major. 

“I was thinking about this,” Brittany Lang said recently regarding the 72-hole tournament that gets underway on Thursday (June 17) at Blythefield. “It’s such a great place. It has the community feel like our Toledo event (which dates to 1984), and Palm Springs, and Arkansas .   

“First off, it’s a great golf course. Then we have the great community feel. They make the players feel welcome, and it’s a great town, as well. It’s nice to be there … I love it, and I have since Day 1.”

The tournament was not played in 2020 (COVID-19), and in 2021 it was the first LPGA event to welcome fans back in full force. Those who attended witnessed a pretty strong show. Ireland’s Leona Maguire, seeking her first LPGA victory at the time, shot 66 on Sunday to keep the pressure on front-runner Nelly Korda, but Korda was able to hold off Maguire to post a two-shot victory. 

Korda’s winning total of 25-under 263 – sparked by a tournament record-tying 62 in the third round – established a new tournament scoring mark. Bigger yet, it touched off a magical summer for Korda. Before long, she would own her first major championship, capturing the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, as well as Olympic gold in Tokyo. With her KPMG victory came a new world order in women’s golf. Korda went to No. 1.  

Korda had been sidelined with blood clots in her arm that required surgery, but returned at the U.S. Open, where she played well and tied for eighth, and has committed to defend her title at Meijer. Korda’s older sister, Jessica – who has been an Olympic teammate of her sister’s, as well as a Solheim Cup teammate – said she missed having her little sis out on tour. 

“Yeah, watching her win Meijer last year was amazing,” said Jessica, who has been slowed by injuries of her own this season. “It was kind of the start of what was an incredible summer, because after that she won KPMG, a couple weeks after that she won the Olympic gold medal. 

“Pretty spectacular, and (it) kind of all started at Meijer.”

This week’s field at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give includes nine of the top 10 players from the Rolex Women’s Golf Rankings (as of June 12), led by Nelly Korda, who is ranked second, U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee, now a two-time major champion, and Sunday’s winner of the ShopRite Classic, Brooke Henderson. Canada’s Henderson won the Meijer at Blythefield Country Club in 2017 and 2019, and brings some nice momentum into the week. 

Jessica Korda said she enjoys the test that Blythefield presents the top players in women’s golf. It’s a thinker’s golf course, with players requiring a smart plan to play it well. 

“You’ve got to plot your way around,” Korda said. 

Beyond the great test of golf, though, players are attracted to the community feel of the Meijer, and the energy that surrounds the tournament. Many players have been housed by community residents for years, building great friendships and connections to Blythefield and Grand Rapids along the way. 

“It’s just a nice feeling that you have a small family to go to rather than just another hotel room … another week, another room, something like that,” said LPGA player Megan Khang, who stays in touch with the family that housed her in her first visit to Meijer. “It’s nice to go back to a little comfort.” 

This year’s Meijer has elevated its hospitality experience. It’s called J. Brewer’s, and it will offer premium all-you-can eat food as well as partnerships with some top local restaurants. As a family company committed to enriching lives in its community, Meijer has set a goal to raise $1.2 million for Simply Give, which feeds hungry families, and kicked off the fund with an initial donation of $25,000. Meijer also earmarked $25,000 to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association Educational Foundation to support and train future restauranteurs. 

Christina Fecher of the Meijer LPGA Communications Team says that in sponsoring this community tournament, Meijer finds itself in a win-win position. 

“We get to see the best golf in the world right in our own back yards, but we can do that alongside having great family-focused fun on the course while helping those in need,” Fecher said. 

Meijer, a Midwest-based retailer and grocer, has raised more than $69 million through its Simply Give program, with more than $7 million generated through the LPGA event it has sponsored since 2014. 

Gates are scheduled to open to the public at Blythefield Country Club beginning with the opening tournament round Thursday morning. For ticket and tournament information, visit MeijerLPGAClassic.com.