Edge to long hitters at Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club

The Atlanta Athletic Club is a mystery to most of the players in the field for this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Very few had set foot on the property until they began to arrive Monday and Tuesday. Only a handful came for a pre-emptive practice round.

The club hasn’t hosted a women’s major championship since the 1990 Women’s U.S. Open, which was held on the Riverside Course. This week’s event, the third of five majors on the women’s schedule, is being contested on the more famous Highlands Course, which has hosted three PGA Championships, a U.S. Open, a U.S. Amateur, a U.S. Mid-Amateur and a Palmer Cup.

Highlands is big and brawny and long. Given the rain that hit the course earlier this week, it likely will play even longer until it dries out for the weekend. That could give an advantage to some of the long hitters in the field for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

“This course is really amazing,” said defending champion Sei Young Kim. “Aronimink (last year’s site) is a little long overall, but this course has more bunkers I can see. The course got a lot of rain, so it feels like more length, a longer length than last year. … I look forward to this week.”

Danielle Kang said, “It’s definitely playing long because of how soft it is. I think it’s going to be really interesting, and it’s going to be a fun week.”

The course will require many players to hit longer irons or hybrids into the greens – including the four beefy par-3s – and master the large Bermuda greens loaded with speed and undulations.

“It’s probably going to play a little long,” Inbee Park said. “Nobody says it’s easy to hit long clubs, but you’ve got to work with what you have.”

The championship begins Thursday with players going off both nines. The only Georgians in the field are Jane Park of Alpharetta and Mariah Stackhouse of Riverdale.

“I feel like I have a lot of support from the membership,” said Stackhouse, who has spent time using the club’s practice facilities. “So this definitely has the vibes of a home-course event.”

Here’s a look at 10 players to watch this week:

Ally Ewing: The Mississippi State product won her first LPGA title last fall at the Drive On Championship at Reynolds Lake Oconee in October, then nearly won her next event. This spring Ewing has won the LPGA Match Play Championship and tied for seventh at the ANA Inspiration. Ewing’s accuracy will be needed this week.

Danielle Kang: She was disappointed with her performance at the U.S. Women’s Open (T35) and Mediheal Championship (T5) and took last week off to regroup. Kang visited instructor Butch Harmon, her Las Vegas neighbor, and sorted things out. She’s even written reminders from those sessions on the tape wrapped around her left wrist. There may not be a better short game on the LPGA Tour than Kang, who won twice last year. She has one major to her credit: the 2017 KPMG Women’s PGA.

Brooke Henderson: Henderson, who will be part of the Canadian Olympic team this summer, spent last week focused on her putting after back-to-back poor performances – one withdrawal and one missed cut – after a T7 at the Women’s U.S. Open. Over the past five years Henderson has the best scoring average (69.95) at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, which she won in 2016.

Sei Young Kim: The defending KPMG Women’s PGA champion has flown under the radar with three top-10s but no wins. No one has played better in majors since 2020; Kim is 21 under in 20 rounds. She is a combined 71 under in majors since 2017, 17 strokes better than anyone else.

Jin Young Ko: The No. 1 player in the Rolex rankings has tied for seventh in the first two majors of 2021. Ko seeks her first win since 2019, when she claimed a pair of major championships. Ko keeps it in the fairway and finds greens with regularity, although her putting has suffered this season.

Lydia Ko: She ended a three-year winless spell in April by taking the Lotte Championship – her 21st victory -- by an amazing seven strokes. Ko has average length off the tee, but is unmatched on the greens. She has the ability to get hot with the flat stick and run away.

Nelly Korda: She’s having a career season, with two victories, including last week’s win in the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. Korda tied for second at this spring’s ANA Inspiration, her career-best at a major. She leads the LPGA with a 69.03 scoring average, 31 rounds under par and 180 birdies. She’s looking for her first career major.

Jessica Korda: Big sister to Nelly has a win and a pair of close calls. But her results in the two majors have been tepid. She ranks among the top 10 in driving, and that will be extremely helpful this week.

Inbee Park: The veteran won the Kia Classic by five shots in March, the 21st victory of her career. She has won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship three times (2013, 2014-15), but has not taken a major title since 2015. Park doesn’t kill the ball, but keeps it in the fairway and can get hot with the putter.

Patty Tavatanakit: The leader for the LPGA’s rookie-of-the-year award hits it a long way. She made her first professional victory a memorable win by taking the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major, to open the 2021 season.