The “three seasons in a day” weather that is typical in the upper San Francisco peninsula at this time of year played a big role in determining the outcome of the 2016 Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, played April 21–24 at Lake Merced Golf Club in Daly City – and made getting on the right side of the draw for tee times a vital component of victory. Japan’s Haru Nomura got those advantageous tee times on Friday and Saturday, riding a little bit of luck in the draw and solid play on the weekend to her second LPGA Tour win. Her first LPGA Tour victory came earlier this year, at the ISPS Handa Australian Women’s Open in February.
The tournament opened Thursday morning in clear, calm – if a tad chilly – conditions, and Nomura parlayed an 8:28 a.m. tee time into a 7-under 65, second only to the 9-under 63 that was shot by South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu. Players who started later in the day during the first round had a tougher time of it as chilly, breezy conditions moved in, sending scores soaring.
Friday’s second round featured rain, wind, and more rain, but once again, the luck of the draw made all the difference. Having gone out early on Thursday Nomura had a later start on Friday, and while she battled the wind during her round, she didn’t have to contend with rain. Her Friday scorecard reflects the improving conditions: out in all-par 36, back in 34 with three birdies and two bogeys on Lake Merced’s tougher back nine, for a 2-under 70.
A look at the scoring day by day reveals the secret of Nomura’s win – consistency. In Round One only one player outscored her; in Round Two, eight; in Round Three, 11; and in Round 4, eight. More importantly, of the players who outscored her on the weekend, only two – Lexi Thompson and Jenny Shin – did it both days, but neither of them challenged for the lead because their Thursday/Friday scores were so far behind Nomura’s. With the headstart provided by her first-round 65, Nomura’s subsequent rounds of 70, 71, and 73 were enough for a final score of nine under par, four strokes better than second place.
The final round of the tournament was played under the most challenging conditions of the week. Sustained high winds, with gusts hitting 30 – 40 mph, tested the field, driving the average score to 3-over 75 and holding the number of rounds under par to five, or 6.3% of the field – by comparison Thursday through Saturday saw under-par percentages of 24.8%, 15.2%, and 22.5%.
Eventual second-place finisher Lee-Ann Pace mounted something of a charge late in Sunday’s round, but in the end it amounted to no more than keeping pace with Nomura as she matched the leader’s 1-under 35. The South African’s efforts to make up the 3-stroke deficit she faced at the beginning of the final round wasn’t helped by the five consecutive bogeys that she opened with in the final round.
Defending champion Lydia Ko never seemed to gain any traction on a course where she has had so much past success: back-to-back wins in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, in 2014 and 2015; and advancement to the semifinal round of the USGA Girls’ Jr. Championship in 2012. Her first-round 68 put her in a tie for 6th place after 18 holes, but hopes of a “three-peat” were dashed when she couldn’t get out of the 70s for the remainder of the tournament; her 68-71-73-75–287 score was good for no better than T-6, eight strokes behind Nomura’s winning score.
Among players with local connections the best finishers were Hall of Fame member and 7-time major winner Juli Inkster of Los Altos and San Jose Native Christina Kim – both carded 4-over 292’s to finish T-19. Monterey’s Mina Harigae finished T-50 with an 8-over 296; Stanford alum Michelle Wie withdrew after 15 holes in the final round, citing neck spasms; and Pleasanton native Paula Creamer missed the cut by two strokes with rounds of 72 and 78.