Everything you need to know about the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open, explained by Paige Mackenzie

Paige Mackenzie picked South Koreas Sei Young Kim as her favorite for the 2020 U.S. Womens Open
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On Monday, NBC Sports golf analyst Paige Mackenzie sat down with On Her Turf to preview the 75th edition of the U.S. Women’s Open, which is being held at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, later this week (December 10-13). This Q&A has been edited lightly and condensed for clarity.

On Her Turf: For the new golf fans out there, can you describe the significance of the U.S. Women’s Open and your first memories of the tournament?

Paige Mackenzie: The U.S. Open is the pinnacle of the sport. As a kid, this is the event that I grew up watching. It is the most prestigious and it always had the biggest purse. And not only is it the national championship, but it also features the best players in the world. 

On Her Turf: The 2020 U.S. Women’s Open was originally scheduled for June, but it was postponed because COVID-19. What impact did the postponement have on tournament setup? 

Paige Mackenzie: [With the competition in December], we’re fighting daylight a lot more. So the first two rounds will actually be held on two golf courses (the Cypress Creek course and the Jackrabbit course). Players will tee off both the first tee and the tenth tee, and then do two waves of tee times. Athletes will be play one round on one golf course, then one on the other. After the first two rounds, they will make the cut, and half of the field will proceed to the final two rounds, which will be held on the Cypress Creek course. 

On Her Turf: What type of impact does playing two courses have on the athletes?

Paige Mackenzie: Preparing for two courses just takes more time. With the U.S. Open, it’s run by the USGA, and they tend to test and push the golf course to its limit. They’ll grow out the rough, they’ll make the fairways narrower, they’ll make the greens firmer and faster. The result is that the U.S. Open is the pinnacle of demanding golf courses. This is true on both the men’s and the women’s side. The U.S. Open usually has the highest finishing score of any tournament all year long. So for that reason, you have to be mentally sharp on every single shot. And because it’s on two golf courses this year, it’s just going to be that much more mentally tiresome for the players. So there’s just going to be a little bit more of an onus to conserve energy.  

On Her Turf: What about the weather conditions? It’s not like Texas gets that cold, but it’s still December… 

Paige Mackenzie: It’s chilly. Well, it’s chilly for golf. It is expected to get into the 30s overnight, so in the early mornings, you will get a firmer ground, because it will have like the frozen sub layer. And we also might run into frost delays. 

On Her Turf: Given how many LPGA tournaments were postponed or cancelled this year, how have the players dealt with the uncertainty throughout the season? 

Paige Mackenzie: Right now, I think most of the women are just excited to be playing. One of the differences between golf and other sports, especially team sports, is that players are independent contractors. There’s no guaranteed contract. Almost every single endorsement deal that the players have is dependent on the number of starts that they make. So for that reason, a lot of the players were without income at all when tournaments weren’t going on. So I think there’s a feeling of gratitude that the LPGA Tour found a way to have as many events as they did this this season. Because it was really tough on some of the professional golfers to not have any way to make a living.

On Her Turf: How did the financial situation compare on the women’s side versus the men’s side?

Paige Mackenzie: It’s definitely different. I think, generally speaking, the men just had more money in the bank account [to begin with], so I think there’s less hardship there. However, on the men’s developmental tours below the PGA Tour, those players were in the same boat. Those players were out of work for five months. You had some guys taking jobs at grocery stores, stocking shelves, just to make ends meet. So it was hard across the board for a lot of the players, men and women. It’s just that upper tier had a little bit more cash in the bank.

On Her Turf: Looking ahead to this week’s U.S. Open, which women are you most excited to watch? Who’s your favorite going in? 

Paige Mackenzie: Going in, my favorite is Sei Young Kim from South Korea. She is a phenomenal talent. One of the reasons I like watching her play is because she has incredible power and aggressiveness. You’ll get a sense of that if you listen to her and her caddy. She’ll pick a really specific and aggressive target and he’ll almost like push her away, [encouraging her to] tone it down a little bit. And so it’s really fun to watch somebody that’s so confident. During her rookie year, she won three times. Last year, she ended up winning the season-ending event in dramatic style. She made a 25-foot [birdie] on the last hole to take home a winner’s check of 1.5 million, which was the largest payday in women’s golf history. She has won her last two starts, so this week we’re going to see if she can win three starts in a row.

Inbee Park, a legend in the sport, is also on my shortlist of favorites this week. She won early in the season is at the Australian Open in February, but then obviously COVID happened and she lost her momentum. But in the last couple of starts that she’s made, she’s played great.

Inbee is known for is playing great at major championships. They are much more demanding tests, and Inbee is extremely methodical. She does not make mistakes. She likes to stay conservative, be patient, and use her biggest weapon, which is her putter. So Inbee and Sei Young represent two contrasting styles.

For people who aren’t familiar, in the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Inbee Park was injured. There were some other South Korean players who could have filled her position, and she was actually pressured by some in South Korea to give up her spot because of the injury. But she didn’t, and then she went on to win gold. It was one of the most impressive Olympic performances I’ve ever witnessed – across all sports. 

On Her Turf: I know from covering other sports that South Korean fans are often very knowledgeable and passionate. What does that look like in golf? 

Paige Mackenzie: A lot of the players from South Korea have fan clubs that they correspond with. The fans come out to the tournaments wearing t-shirts and hats, carrying signs. It’s great. All of the places that the LPGA travels to within Asia, you have these energetic fans. It’s amazing to see their love for women’s sports. It’s actually opened my eyes to the possibilities for women’s sport. Because there’s such an admiration and appreciation for the finesse that golf is played with. In the United States, I think we get really caught up with power and strength all the time. People compare men and women in that way, but they just play differently. It’s not that one style is better or worse, it’s just different. So when the LPGA travels to countries where maybe the culture is more appreciative of the finesse, it helps create a really enthusiastic fan base.

On Her Turf: In terms of the American women, what are your expectations for them this week? 

Paige Mackenzie: Well, one of the best Americans – Nelly Korda – has been injured. I’m not sure if she’s going to be able to tee it up this week.

Danielle Kang is someone I’m keeping my eye on. She’s taken some time off – five weeks – heading into the U.S. Open. The last time she took the same amount of time off – this past spring during the COVID break – she came out swinging and won the first two events after the break. So I’m anxious to see if we’re going to see a similar reaction this time.

Angela Stanford also has a great story. She’s had a long and successful career; she’s now in her 20th year on tour. Earlier in her career, one of the highlights/lowlights was when she failed to win the U.S. Open in 2003. It was a three-man playoff, an 18-hole playoff the Monday after the tournament ended. They don’t do that anymore. Angela was coming off of a win the week prior so she was the one you thought maybe would have gotten it done. And Hilary Lunke just nipped her. Fast forward 15 years – and Angela actually wins a major championship in 2018 at age 40. It was awesome to see. It kind of felt like her swan song, a great way to cap off her career. But then last week, she goes and wins again – in Dallas – and she’s Texan through and through. And now she has the opportunity to win back-to-back with the U.S. Open, still in her home state.

Angela has been such a role model on the LPGA Tour. Her mom has fought cancer several times and Angela has a foundation that helps children with college scholarships if they or their family members have been affected by cancer. It’s just great to see someone that has given back so much throughout their career also be so successful for such a long period of time. I mean, it takes a lot of energy and passion to be competitive for 20 years in any professional sport.

On Her Turf: In terms of up-and-coming players… Is there anyone who might not necessarily be in the running to win this week, but that you’re really excited about looking ahead to the future?

Paige Mackenzie: Yeah, Yealimi Noh. She’s technically a rookie on the LPGA tour, though she did play a handful of events last year as a non-member… and she nearly won two of them. Last week in Dallas, she was in contention. And she is young – only 19 – and has a lot of potential. So I’m keeping my eye on her for sure.

On Her Turf: I’m curious about your own transition from player to commentator… I imagine that, when you were playing, you usually had the blinders up, trying to stay focused on your own game. What was it like when you made the transition to the broadcast team and suddenly had to be in tune with how other players were playing?

Paige Mackenzie: When I started working for Golf Channel, I actually was still competing full time. And I remember my first week… it was actually U.S. Open in 2013. And I had not qualified. And I remember while I was on the plane, I was kicking myself, like, ‘What am I doing flying on a week that I have off, going to a studio to talk about about players that I compete against in a tournament that I should be playing in.’ But what I realized is that I loved it. I watched the tournament and I never once thought about what I would have done. I just looked at what each of those players had done well. It’s been a challenge, and it’s certainly different, but it actually came pretty naturally to me. I really like being able to to sit back and enjoy what I’m seeing, and try to share some of those things that I might see differently than what the audience sees.

On Her Turf: Golf is notoriously difficult to produce, given that multiple things are happening at the same time. What’s your approach in terms of keeping up-to-date on how the tournament is progressing?

Paige Mackenzie: Yeah, it’s been a journey for me in the booth. For me, I love test taking. I love being prepared and feeling like I can walk into a show and know the direction the tournament is going in. But you also want to be reacting on the fly to what you are seeing. So I feel like been a really a pretty big learning curve. For me, I don’t have the resume of a Hall of Famer like Judy Rankin, Johnny Miller, or Paul Azinger. I haven’t walked the fairway down to the 18th hole, trying to win a tournament. Instead, I think what I can bring is the enthusiasm that I have for the players, and how they differentiate themselves from each other. I’m speaking as an educated fan with the best seat in the house, watching some of my peers do some pretty incredible things.

On Her Turf: A question about golf culture… When I was in college, I remember being impressed when a friend signed up for a golf class, specifically because of the role the sport often plays in business relationships. How have you seen the role of golf in business evolve over time, especially when it comes to women in the workplace?

Paige Mackenzie: [The business side of it] was very much ingrained in why my parents introduced my brother and me to the game of golf. It wasn’t because they wanted us to play professional golf or have a career in the golf industry. It was to help us develop a skill and a networking tool. When I was about nine years old, my dad taught me how to shake somebody’s hand and look them in the eye. And he said, ‘You’re going to meet a lot of people in the game of golf. My first job offer was on the golf course.’

And so my dad didn’t want us to fall behind and not have that [opportunity]. I actually see that a lot with women. I play in corporate events all the time and it is the CEOs and CFOs and general counsels of these big companies who are the ones playing – and networking – and I can count on one hand how many women I play with in a year. So women are shut out of this incredible opportunity, just because they don’t have the skill of playing golf. I hope that more young women will take up the game, but also that moms and dads introduce their daughters to the game. It’s not just a sport, it’s a life skill and a networking tool.

On Her Turf: From the outside, golf can seem pretty intimidating to try. If someone is interested, but doesn’t know where to start or doesn’t have a lot a resources, what do you recommend?

Paige Mackenzie: You don’t have to go out and buy all new equipment, you can use a rental set. Take an individual lesson or a group lesson. Or, one of my favorite places to introduce somebody to the sport is Top Golf, which has locations around the country. It’s like a driving range that operates like a bowling alley.

The other thing I think can be an obstacle for women is that they might not have the confidence to go out and try it. They don’t want to embarrass themselves, especially if it’s a business setting. But here’s the thing: I see men embarrass themselves all the time. So it’s not that the men are better players, they’re maybe just more willing to put themselves out there. So that’s always my advice to women… you’re no worse than anybody else that I’ve seen play.


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2022 Rivalry Series: USA extends lead to 3-0 over Canada in women’s hockey showcase

Hilary Knight #21 of Team United States reacts after scoring a shorthanded goal in the second period during the Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match.
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Hilary Knight had two goals and one assist to lead the U.S. women’s hockey team to a 4-2 win over Canada on Sunday, extending Team USA’s series lead to 3-0 in the seven-game 2022-23 Rivalry Series.

Savannah Harmon and Abby Roque also scored for the U.S., which has notched three consecutive wins against Canada for the first time since 2019. Goalie Nicole Hensley made 22 saves in front of a record-setting crown at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, where fan attendance totaled 14,551.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse scored for Canada, which captured gold \at both the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September and the Beijing Olympics in February.

Knight has enjoyed a standout 2022-23 Rivalry Series to date, registering six points (three goals, three assists) in the first three games including the game-winning goal in a shootout victory in Game 1 of the series on Tuesday and the game-winning assist in Game 2 on Thursday. Prior to the puck drop in Seattle on Sunday, Knight was presented with a golden stick to commemorate her record-breaking 87th career point in world championship play. Knight became the all-time points leader at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September, when the eight-time world champion recorded one goal and one assist in Team USA’s 12-1 quarterfinal win over Hungary.

Sunday’s matchup between the U.S. and Canada marked the third game of the 2022-23 Rivalry Series and was the third matchup between the two teams in five days. The U.S. came in with a 2-0 series lead following a 2-1 victory on Thursday in Kamloops, B.C., and a 4-3 shootout victory — the first shootout in Rivalry Series history — in Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday. It also was the first game for the U.S. national team on home soil since Dec. 17, 2021, when the team hosted Canada in St. Louis (Canada won 3-2 in overtime).

The 2022-23 Rivalry Series continues next month with two games in the U.S., set to be played in Las Vegas on Dec. 17 and Los Angeles on Dec. 19.

2022-23 Rivalry Series schedule, results

Tuesday, Nov. 15 USA 4, CAN 3 (SO) Kelowna, British Columbia NHL Network
Thursday, Nov. 17 USA 2, CAN 1 Kamloops, British Columbia NHL Network
Sunday, Nov. 20 USA 4, CAN 2 Seattle, Washington NHL Network
Thursday, Dec. 15 10 p.m. ET Henderson, Nevada NHL Network
Monday, Dec. 19 10 p.m. ET Los Angeles, California NHL Network

What is the Rivalry Series?

The Rivalry Series was introduced by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada during the 2018-19 season and designed as an annual showcase of the highest level of women’s hockey at various locations in the United States and Canada. The first series comprised three games between the two national teams, with Canada winning 2-1. Team USA took 2019-20 title, winning the expanded five-game series 4-1 and wrapping with an overtime win in the finale in front of a then-record-breaking total of 13,320 fans in Anaheim, California.

Following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic and preparation for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Rivalry Series resumed this season with seven games over three months: three in November, two in December and two in February.

The U.S. and Canada have battled in the gold-medal game of six of seven Winter Olympics and 20 of 21 IIHF Women’s World Championship, with the two exceptions being the 2019 World Championship and 2006 Olympics. The Canadian women are the reigning Olympic and world champions.

2022-23 Rivalry Series rewind: USA takes Games 1-2

Game 1 recap: USA 4, CAN 3, SO (Nov. 15): The series kicked off Tuesday with Team USA grabbing a 2-0 lead off goals from Hannah Brandt and Hilary Knight. But Canada battled back with three unanswered goals and held a 3-2 lead with 13 minutes to go in the third. With just 1:29 remaining in regulation, Alex Carpenter tied it for the Americans, sending the game to overtime. The U.S. ultimately won in a shootout, with Knight and Carpenter scoring while U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley made two key saves.

Game 2 recap: USA 2, CAN 1 (Nov. 17): Canada was first to get on the board Thursday when Marie-Philip Poulin capitalized off a penalty shot opportunity in the second period, but USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield knotted the score just 1:12 later. Alex Carpenter scored the go-ahead tally with 6:36 remaining in the third to give the U.S. a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead. U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney recorded 19 saves in net.

Who’s playing in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series?

Team USA’s roster — led by coach John Wroblewski — for the November Rivalry Series games features 23 players, 16 of whom were part of the silver medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship in August:

  • Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights, Minn.)
  • Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.)
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.)
  • Jincy Dunne (O’Fallon, Mo.)
  • Aerin Frankel(Chappaqua, N.Y.)
  • Rory Guilday (Minnetonka, Minn.)
  • Savannah Harmon (Downers Grove, Ill.)
  • Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo.)
  • Megan Keller (Farmington Hills, Mich.)
  • Amanda Kessel (Madison, Wis.)
  • Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho)
  • Kelly Pannek (Plymouth, Minn.)
  • Abby Roque (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.)
  • Hayley Scamurra (Getzville, N.Y.)
  • Maddie Rooney (Andover, Minn.)
  • Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn.).

Team Canada’s 23-player roster, selected by coach Troy Ryan and director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury, features 16 players who were on the gold medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship and the 2022 Beijing Olympics (Canada beat , including:

  • Erin Ambrose
  • Kristen Campbell
  • Emily Clark
  • Ann-Renée Desbiens
  • Renata Fast
  • Brianne Jenner
  • Jocelyne Larocque
  • Emma Maltais
  • Emerance Maschmeyer
  • Sarah Nurse
  • Marie-Philip Poulin
  • Jamie Lee Rattray
  • Ella Shelton
  • Laura Stacey
  • Blayre Turnbull
  • Micah Zandee-Hart

Rivalry Series history

Following Sunday’s victory, the U.S. holds a 6-2-1-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record over Canada all time in the Rivalry Series. Canada won the 2018-19 Rivalry Series with a 2-0-0-1 record, while the U.S. won the 2019-20 Rivalry Series with a 3-1-1-0 record.

2019-20 Rivalry Series results

Dec. 14, 2019 USA 4, CAN 1 Hartford, Connecticut Alex Cavallini
Dec. 17, 2019 USA 2, CAN 1 Moncton, N.B. Alex Carpenter
Feb. 3, 2020 CAN 3, USA 2 (OT) Victoria, B.C. Hilary Knight
Feb. 5, 2020 USA 3, CAN 1 Vancouver, B.C. Katie Burt
Feb. 8, 2020 USA 4, CAN 3 (OT) Anaheim, California Megan Bozek

2018-19 Rivalry Series results

Feb. 12 USA 1, CAN 0 London, Ontario
Feb. 14 CAN 4, USA 3 Toronto, Ontario
Feb. 17 CAN 2, USA 0 Detroit Michigan

Atthaya Thitikul takes LPGA rookie-of-year honors in stride ahead of Tour Championship

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand smiles after the birdie on the 6th green during the second round of the TOTO Japan Classic.
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To say that Atthaya Thitikul has enjoyed a breakout rookie LPGA season is a bit of an understatement, but keeping things low-key is exactly how 19-year-old “Jeeno” likes it.

As the 2022 season concludes this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, Thitikul has already captured two LPGA titles, held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and collected the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors. But the current world No. 2 displays a wise-beyond-her-years ethos when she says what she’s most proud of this season is her mindset.

“[I’m]19 years old — I think I’m still young to handle all the things that I have now,” Thitikul told On Her Turf ahead of this week’s season finale in Naples, Fla. “I didn’t say that I handled it well, but I’ve just said that I think I can handle it. I can do it. And yeah, it’s turned out to be pretty good this year.”

To keep herself in check, the Thailand native keeps her philosophy posted on her Instagram profile, which reads, “Be you, be happy and everything will be fine.” Thitikul, who on Oct. 31 joined 18-time LPGA winner Lydia Ko as the only players in tour history to reach No. 1 before their 20th birthday, said she took stock of poor performances on the golf course and found they all had one thing in common: She wasn’t being herself.

“I didn’t have fun,” she says of those unsatisfactory rounds. “I was expecting a lot of results on the golf course, not really talking, not really enjoying it. So I think being myself, have fun, keep smiling, keep laughing and talking with other players or talking with my caddie, joking around — I think it’s the best that I can do.”

Golf has always been fun for Thitikul, who grew up in northeast Thailand and was introduced to the sport at age 6 through her father and grandfather, both of whom were not golfers themselves but recognized the opportunity that golf might provide. Thitikul teases that her grandfather was enamored with Tiger Woods, but after her first golf experience with a professional in Bangkok, she was hooked, too.

“They asked me when I finished practicing, do I like it? And I say, ‘Yeah, I do.’ Because [there were] a lot of friends and when I practice, it seemed fun and it seemed not like other sports that I have been watching on TV,” she recalls.

Thitikul’s ascent to the top of her sport was swift: In February 2017, just three days after her 14th birthday, she made her first LPGA tournament appearance at the Honda LPGA Thailand and finished 37th out of 66 players. Just five months later, Thitikul made headlines when she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tour event at age 14 years, 4 months and 19 days old, winning the Ladies European Thailand Championship on the Ladies European Tour (LET).

RELATED: 2022 CME Group Tour Championship — How to watch, who’s playing in LPGA’s season finale

For three more years, Thitikul resisted turning professional, racking up multiple international amateur victories and plenty of tour experience, notching her first LPGA top-10 finish in March 2018 at the HSBC Women’s World Championship (T-8) and earning low amateur honors that same year at two majors, the ANA Inspiration (T-30) and Women’s British Open (T-64). The following year, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship for the second time in three years, earned low amateur honors at the British Open (finishing T-29) for the second straight year and was No. 1 on the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

In her first year as a pro, during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, Thitikul broke through for her first professional win in July at the Thai LPGA Championship. She finished the season with five Thai LPGA wins and topped the money list.

Thitikul moved to the LET in 2021, winning the Czech Ladies Open in June, and just a month later she moved into the top 100 on the world rankings for the first time at No. 89. She finished 2021 with two wins, three runner-ups and nine additional top-10 finishes, securing the LET Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year titles and becoming just the fourth player to win both awards in the same season.

After finishing third at LPGA Qualifying School to earn her card for 2022, Thitikul didn’t miss a beat in her meteoric rise this season. She posted two top-10s in her first four starts before striking a staff deal with Callaway, which she followed up by winning her first LPGA title in March at the JTBC Classic. She carded an 8-under 64 in the final round to force a playoff and Nanna Koerstz Madsen on the second extra hole. She earned her second LPGA title in September at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tying the tournament record of 61 in the second round and beating Danielle Kang in a playoff.

As for the pressure of being a teen phenom, Thitikul admits she can’t ignore it but has figured out how to turn it around to her advantage: “It’s still so hard because I think as players want to be on top and we put the pressure on ourselves, and there’s a lot of eyes on us. … But at the same time, it’s kind of like you couldn’t win every week, you couldn’t have a good day every day. It’s golf. I like to think of pressure as a challenge. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think of it as challenging.”

Away from the golf course, Thitikul enjoys spending time with friends, watching Korean television dramas and indulging in Asian food (Chinese and Korean are favorites). Although she doesn’t have a pet, she says she’s a dog person, and prefers the mountains to the beach, as she loves to hike.

But don’t expect too much lounging, hiking or other non-golf activities on Thitikul’s itinerary after this season wraps on Sunday.

“This offseason, we have a lot of work to do,” she says.” There are a lot of things I still have to learn – not just for next year but for [beyond.] … But hopefully next year, it’s going to be nice and good for me as well. I really want to have a major win in my career. I don’t know if it’s going to happen next year, but hopefully.”