Extraordinary prize money headlines Women’s PGA Championship

Stacy Lewis watches her shot off the 11th tee during the practice round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship on June 22, 2022, at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. (Elsa/Getty Images)

This year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is the fifth major championship held at the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., and the first for women.

In addition, the LPGA plays the course for the first time since its year-and-a-half renovation in June 2021.

Here are some of the storylines to follow from this year’s tournament, which begins Thursday.

The major purse surge continues

The 2022 season will go down as one of historic purse raises on the LPGA Tour.

From the U.S. Women’s Open breaking tradition with the first presenting sponsor to bring the purse from $5.5 million to $10 million, only two weeks later the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship doubled from $4.5 million to $9 million.

“When this partnership came about and we had the first KPMG Women’s Championship in 2014, we really made a commitment,” PGA of America President Jim Richerson said. “We really wanted to make sure we utilized this event to showcase the best women’s players in the game and do that with one of the biggest purses.”

All five LPGA majors have had purses increase by over $1 million in 2022. The Chevron Championship went from $3.1 million to $5 million, the Amundi Evian Championship went from $4.5 million to $6.5 million and the AIG Women’s Open went from $5.6 million to $6.8 million. The total is an incredible $13.9 million increase in major purse size, just shy of the total purse of the LPGA’s 1990 season, which surpassed $14.8 million.

With a first-place check of $1.35 million, once the announcement reached players’ email inboxes, they quickly got moving to practice.

“Someone else said that the news hit while the players were in dining,” LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said, “and all of a sudden they all scurried out to the range. That was the joke in dining.”

It’ll be the fourth check exceeding a million dollars handed out this year, with Minjee Lee and Mina Harigae winning $1.8 million and $1.05 million, respectively, at the U.S. Women’s Open and $2 million to the CME Group Tour Championship victor, the first multi-million dollar prize in LPGA history.

U.S. Solheim Cup 2021 roster performing well at majors

American Solheim Cup Captain Stacy Lewis had 20 players out for dinner in Bethesda to chat about the team and keep them in the loop about plans for the 2023 match-play event in Spain. While Lewis didn’t point out any specific name, she gave props to potential rookies Lilia Vu, who finished third at the LPGA’s Bank of Hope Match Play in late May, and Andrea Lee, who posted two top-five finishes in her last five starts.

Lewis went on to acknowledge team veterans Nelly Korda, who lost in a playoff last week in her second start since returning after four months away due to a blood clot complication, and Lexi Thompson, who has four top-five finishes in eight starts this season.

“I think American golf is in a good spot,” Lewis said, “It’s just different faces than everybody is used to, and that’s just the natural progression of it. There’s always going to be changes. There’s always going to be changing kind of rolling over of players. This new guard coming up is really good. Got some new names for people to learn.”

Three Americans have won or finished runner-up at the year’s first two majors. First, Jennifer Kupcho won the Chevron Championship, with Jessica Korda finishing in second. Then Mina Harigae followed up with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Kupcho became one of two multiple-time winners in 2022, along with Minjee Lee, after defeating Korda and Leona Maguire in a playoff last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic.

“I think for sure we’re definitely trending that direction more so than even when I first came out here,” Kupcho said, “I think there’s a lot of great American players right now.”

Minjee Lee takes aim at third major

Last year, Nelly Korda was No. 3 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings before winning the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. This year, Lee — arguably the top-performing golfer on the LPGA this year with two wins, including the U.S. Women’s Open, and eight top-25 finishes in nine starts — sits in the No. 3 spot in the world rankings.

Fueling the Australian’s campaign is the working out she did in the offseason, mainly throwing a medicine ball around to average 270 off the tee. It’s eight yards further than 2021, helping her to lead the tour in birdieing 26.7% of her holes, a 2.5% lead over Atthaya Thitikul and a 5% leap from last season.

It led the eight-time winner to the 72-hole scoring record in the U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles (271), and she’s leading the LPGA in major scoring with a combined score of 38-under par, leading Nelly Korda by four strokes.

If her current form holds, Lee may end up in the winner’s circle for her third major title in her last five major starts, becoming the first multi-major winner in a season since Jin Young Ko in 2019.

“I like to embrace the challenge [of majors],” Lee said, “and I think the harder the golf courses get, I think the better I play. You do have to focus a little bit more on smaller details, so I think that’s where I kind of excel. When I play under pressure, that is where I excel as well. I think it just really sets up well.”

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.