By Jeff Babineau
BELMONT, Mich. – For LPGA players, Blythefield Country Club, home to the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give that begins on Thursday, can represent a “horses-for-courses” style of venue. Those who have won here, or come close, are no strangers to getting themselves back into contention. Some courses offer that kind of fit.
Brooke Henderson has won twice at Blythefield. Nelly Korda, not playing this week ahead of next week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, shot 25-under 263 to win in 2021, and last year found herself in a three-way playoff for another trophy. (Jennifer Kupcho prevailed for one of her three victories in 2022.) Likewise, Leona Maguire has run second here for two consecutive years.
Some places just bring great feels, and green-light visuals. As she returns to Blythefield, Maguire looks around and sees a little bit of Ireland, her homeland. It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly why she feels the way she does. Maybe it’s the lush green grass and wispy rough, which is less of a hindrance this June with Michigan receiving so little springtime rain. Bottom line, Maguire just has a certain comfort level in this part of Michigan.
“I don’t know. I like the golf course. It suits my eye pretty well. I usually drive it pretty well and usually scoring is pretty low, so you have to give yourself a lot of birdie chances,” said Maguire, 28. “Kind of reminds of the courses at home a little bit. People are always really nice, friendly. The food is good. Generally, a nice week.”
Jennifer Kupcho captured last year’s Meijer, turning back Maguire with a birdie on the second playoff hole. Maguire missed a short birdie attempt that would have forced another hole. But she looks at the bigger picture, and her successful consecutive starts here, and enjoys the way that Blythefield seems to get her into an aggressive frame of mind.
The tournament didn’t finish as Maguire would have preferred last summer, with her efforts falling short of a trophy, but she did say that her performance gave her nice momentum for the busy summer ahead of her.
“Didn’t expect to get that close” said Maguire, 28, who closed with a round of 65. She was only one of three players in the field to break 70 in all four rounds. In fact, seven of her eight career rounds at Blythefield have been in the 60s.
“Yeah, would’ve been nice to go one better and have won,” she said, “but gave me some nice momentum heading into the summer last year. Hopefully can do the same with a busy major stretch coming up this year.”
Maguire comes into the event off of back-to-back top 10s, so her game seems to be in good form. She made it into the semifinals of the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play presented by MGM Rewards in Las Vegas, and tied for seventh at the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club.
Once again, the Meijer has a strong field assembled, with five of the top 10 players from the Rolex Women’s World Rankings leading the field: Lydia Ko (No. 3); Minjee Lee (No. 5); Hyo Joo Kim (No. 7); Lexi Thompson (No. 8); and Henderson (No. 10), the event’s only two-time winner.
Henderson, in fact, considers the Meijer to be one of her favorite tournaments on tour.
“I’m super excited to be back here at the Meijer,” said Henderson, who, at 25, already has won 13 times, including two majors. She opened 2023 with a victory at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando.
“You know, being two-time past champion is really cool. I feel like I’ve always had great vibes around this golf course, lots of great memories, lots of birdies to look back on, which is always a great feeling. … It is really nice coming back to places where you have felt very confident and you’ve found success.
“They have changed the golf course since I won both, so it’s been a little bit tricky the last couple years trying to figure it out. They made some big changes, especially off the tee, so just trying to pay attention to those and get a strategy that works again.”
Being that Michigan is so close to Canada, Henderson says she always feels great support when playing here. And hey, Canadian golf is already on a high, with Nick Taylor winning the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday, breaking a near-70 year drought for a male player from Canada to win his national Open. (Pat Fletcher was the last, in 1954.) Henderson was traveling to Michigan, and had to keep refreshing her phone to try to watch Taylor’s magical finish in a tight playoff.
“I’m just so happy for him and all of Canada, because I think having a Canadian win the Canadian Open is such a huge deal for the entire country,” Henderson said.
Henderson knows that feeling of elation. In 2018, at the age of 20, she won the CP Women’s Open in her home country.
“That’s one of the highlights of my career,” Henderson said. “Being able to hoist the trophy at home on home soil in front of the hometown crowds was absolutely amazing.”
She’d like nothing more to give the crowds at Meijer something big to cheer about this weekend just south of the Canadian border. Thrice a winner at the Meijer? That sounds awfully nice. And Blythefield Country Club is the kind of place where success seems to breed more success.