The Cognizant Founders Cup is one of the coolest tournaments on the LPGA Tour schedule. The players of today compete in a show of respect to the founding members of the organization. Starting last year, the event moved to Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, New Jersey, a perfect host site as UMCC is the first club ever to host a LPGA, PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions tournament. The 27-hole facility is a fabulous AW Tillinghast design located just outside New York City.
Eighteen of the top 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings are here to compete for a $3 million dollar purse. The field of 140 players will try to make the top 65 and ties to play the weekend. First place is worth $450,000, one of the largest non-major-championship, first-place prizes on tour.
Three nines decorate the landscape, and for the tournament, officials use the South and West nines. The par-72 scorecard measures 6,536 yards featuring 65 perfectly placed bunkers and eight holes with water in play that will test the field. While observing the world’s best prepare from on-site this week, the golf course looks to be in tremendous shape.
New Jersey witnessed a mild winter, and the course is wall-to-wall green. The rough is healthy at 2.5” and there’s a noticeable roll-out on the greens. Players can score here as Minjee Lee proved last year. Her 19-under total and two-stroke victory was fueled by 22 birdies and two eagles! In the second year at this venue, a couple of unknowns from the inaugural playing at UMCC have been answered.
To compete and contend scoring is needed. The forecast is beautiful all week with very little wind, temperatures in the 70s and 80s and no rain. April was a wet month for this region, so balls are holding on the greens. More reason these women will need to attack. Looking back, how did Lexi Thompson, Angel Yin and Madelene Sagstrom keep pace with Lee? With the same skill set the 13 foundersshowed back when they started the brand-new women’s tour.
- Each of the 14 drives at UMCC bend off the tee. Tree-lined fairways define the edges of each hole. Seven move right to left and seven move left to right with lush rough promoting a need for accuracy and length. The best drivers in this field who lead the tour in strokes gained off the tee are Ruoning Yin, Nelly Korda, Lee, Yuka Saso and Sagstrom.
- Finding the fairway is just half the scoring equation. From there each of the contenders must not only hit the green, but put their approaches near the hole. These putting surfaces are very challenging. Hit the wrong side and two putting may be impossible. On attack from the fairway in this field, be sure to watch Yin, Jin Young Ko, Megan Khang, Georgia Hall and Nasa Hataoka.
- Forty-four greenside bunkers guard these greens. To win, a player will need to get up and down in a key moment. These sandy penalty areas are deep and difficult. We don’t look to bunker play often in this column, but this week it counts. The best bunker players in this week’s field are Celine Boutier, Cheyenne Knight, Lydia Ko, Yin and Carlota Ciganda.
- The ability to make birdie makes a big difference this week. Scoring average is a good indicator, but we want an aggressive golfer this week. Who makes the most low scores in this field? Look no further than Korda, A Lim Kim, Atthaya Thitikul, Yin and Natthakritta Vongtaveelap.
Driving, approach and scoring is a very “founders” formula for success. One more category that will be critical for success this week is par-4 scoring. Minjee Lee was eight under on the par 4s last year. Her closest competitor, Lexi Thompson, was six under. Lee won by two and showed that consistent play on the fours goes a long way toward winning.
It’s no surprise our watch list is being populated by the game’s best in 2023. Whether you use the information for financial benefit or just to enjoy the competition, there’s no doubt you will be seeing a couple of these women with a chance to win on Sunday afternoon.
Keith Stewart is an award-winning PGA Professional. He covers the LPGA and PGA Tour for Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, LPGA, and PGA TOUR. If you are looking to raise your golf acumen and love inside information about the game, check out his weekly newsletter called Read The Line.