KPMG Women's PGA Championship

At KPMG Women's PGA Championship, Schmelzel takes charge, and Korda makes an early exit

June 21, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Any player expecting a warm greeting out of Sahalee Country Club this week was jolted by a bucket of icy water atop their heads on the way through the door. One by one, Sahalee – with its narrow fairways and its greens growing firmer by the day – spit out the best players in the world, doing so with the affection one gets from a porcupine’s hug.

For all its mind-numbing beauty, Sa-hallway, as some players are calling it, can rear back and punch like Mike Tyson. Very few passed unscathed through the winding maze of nature in the second round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship on Friday. We could be in for a weekend of attrition.

Your KPMG Women's PGA Championship co-leaders after 36 holes are Sarah Schmelzel, the golfer out of Arizona who has yet to win on the LPGA, and Amy Yang, a more accomplished LPGA veteran from Korea who hasn’t had a top-20 finish this season. Both played terrific golf – Yang was bogey-free – and if either goes on to win, she will have earned every inch of it.

Schmelzel somehow found six birdies in the morning on Friday, including birdies at her last two holes (17 and 18), shot a day’s best 5-under 67, and was first to post 6-under 138.

Yang, in her 17th LPGA season, was last year’s winner of the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in Florida.

Yang, in the days' second-to-last group, shot a rock-steady 68. One shot back with one hole to play, Yang laid up well short of the green, then stuffed a wedge to tap-in range at the par-5 18th to grab a share of the lead.  

Three players sit two shots back, including former World No. 1 Jin Young Ko of Korea (68); Lexi Thompson, who is 29 and plans to make the 2024 season her last as a full-time player; and Japan’s Hinako Shibuno. Thompson shot 72. Shibuno, a former Women's British Open champion dubbed "the smiling Cinderella," shot a second consecutive 70.

Thompson, seeking her second major title and first in a decade, played her opening nine in 33 shots to reach 7 under, but ran into a double and two bogeys coming in. She came ready for a good tussle, and was encouraged with her position heading to the weekend. She has not won on the LPGA in five years.

“Honestly, even (par) is a great score out here,” said Thompson, who fell just short in a playoff a week ago at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give. “Had a great front nine and had a few hiccups on the back nine, but it happens out there. Also made a lot of good putts, so really going to build on that.”

Perhaps most alarming in Friday’s action was the unexpectedly poor performance of World No. 1 Nelly Korda, already a six-time champion in 2024. Korda, 25, started the day tied for second at 3 under, trailing Thompson by a shot. Friday afternoon, she was headed down the final few holes sitting directly on the cutline, trying to avoid missing the cut in a third consecutive start.

By the time her second shot bounded millimeters out of bounds at the par-4 15th, where she made double, Korda was in deep trouble, and she couldn’t recover. Korda opened the round with four consecutive bogeys to quickly leave red numbers – she missed 3-footers on Nos. 2 and 4 – and shot 42 on the front nine. Headed for her first birdie-less round since the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, Korda got up and down from a greenside bunker at the par-5 18th for her lone birdie, and a round of 81. It left her at 6-over 150, one shot beyond the cut. It marked the first time in her career that Korda has missed three consecutive cuts.

"It's just golf recently for me," said Korda. "No words for how I'm playing right now. I'm just going to go home and try to reset."

Schmelzel, 30, who graduated to the LPGA through the Symetra Tour but has yet to taste victory in this, her sixth LPGA season, knew she was capable of playing some strong golf – she just needed to see it. It had been a while.

After a hot start to 2024, Schmelzel missed the cut in five of her last seven starts. Instructor Chris Mayson, who began working with Schmelzel last offseason, had some simple but impactful words for her as Schmelzel got ready to head to Seattle this week.

“I was kind of in that ‘perfection’ frame of mind,” Schmelzel said, “like, ‘What do I need to do play well?’ He said, ‘You’re going to play well. Relax and it’s going to happen. And believe it.’ ”

Ah, yes. The belief. It’s a key ingredient in the mix. Schmelzel appeared poised for a magical LPGA season in the early days of the year, finishing T8 in three different starts to go along with a career-best runner-up finish at the Blue Bay LPGA in China.

Schmelzel said she has relied on the team that surrounds her to remind her that her golf is all about the process; it is not, nor will it ever be, about trying to be perfect.

“They have been just awesome helping me continue to work on the right things and encouraging me,” Schmelzel said. “I think they’ve just said it enough that I started to believe it.”

Schmelzel competed in gymnastics as a youth, a state champion in the high bars in Arizona, but her athletic direction would veer down a completely different path when her dad showed up to dismiss her from school early to watch something special that was happening on the family’s home course, Moon Valley.

It was 2001, and Annika Sorenstam was in the middle of shooting 59 that day, a scoring record that never has been matched in women’s golf.

“I don’t remember much of it, other than the atmosphere,” Schmelzel said on Friday. “But from that point forward, I went out to Moon Valley every year.”

She took up golf at 5, and this week, she continues to chase a dream. Schmelzel is 36 holes away from being not only a winner on the LPGA, but a major champion. Standing in the way: Amy Yang’s experience and a venue called Sahalee.

Schmelzel will have her hands full. The good news? She is hardly alone.