It’s that time of year! The start of the 2013 LPGA season is quickly approaching and as we count down the days until the year’s first event, our eyes are focused on “What to Watch” for the upcoming season. So over the next two weeks on LPGA.com, we will take a glimpse at some of the top storylines on the LPGA Tour for 2013. Today’s storyline…Here Come the Rookies!
Every start of each LPGA Tour season brings the excitement of welcoming in a group of new faces and names. Each year, every member of the rookie class plays to make a name for themselves and to have an immediate impact on Golf’s Global Tour. The dream of becoming an LPGA player became a reality for 35 players this year. The 2013 LPGA Tour rookie class is a deep, talented and diverse group with different backgrounds, but one thing is for sure: they’ll bring even more excitement to an already thriving tour.
The class includes NCAA national champions, U.S. Curtis Cup Team members and two players in the top-50 in the Rolex Rankings. So who will make the most of their first season on tour? Who will join the ranks of Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng and most recently So Yeon Ryu as a Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year? Take a look at some rookies to keep an eye on through this season’s Rookie of the Year race.
Chie Arimura- The No. 20 player in Rolex Rankings will bring her game from the JLPGA where she has won 13 times in her career. The Kumamoto, Japan native qualified for the Tour on her first attempt when she finished T5 at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament in December. She’s watched fellow compatriots and friends Ai and Mika Miyazato put Japan on the map in LPGA Tour competition. She’s hoping she can follow suit.
“I’ve played on the Japanese tour since I’ve turned pro and it’s a great tour with a lot of events and good courses,” said Arimura. “The fans are great over there. But if I can play here in America and do well, hopefully the fans in Japan will be happy. It will help grow the game in Japan to have a lot of players do well.”
Esther Choe- Coming off her best year as a professional and earning Symetra Tour Player of the Year honors last season, the six-year pro has found her groove and dominated the developmental ranks. Choe won two out of her first three starts on the Symetra Tour and posted two runner-up finishes in 2012. Her six starts were the lowest in tour history for a player of the year, a list that includes Lorena Ochoa, Stacy Prammanasudh, Cindy LaCrosse, and Vicky Hurst. Choe also competed on the LET in 2012 and recorded five top-15 finishes.
“I’ve been struggling the last few years but I feel like I’ve always made positive improvements,” said Choe. “I never gave up and kept trying things. I think I finally got a good team of people together around me and I just started thinking positively.”
Austin Ernst- The South Carolina native has excelled at both the collegiate and amateur level and qualified for the tour on her first attempt after finishing T11 at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. Ernst turned pro after playing two seasons at LSU. She captured three wins for the Tigers including the NCAA individual National Championship in 2011 as a freshman.
Ernst made waves on the amateur and international circuit as well before making her way to the big leagues. She was a semifinalist at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur and won the 2012 Women’s North-South Amateur. She also has experience representing the United Stated after being selected to the 2012 U.S. Curtis Cup Team and the World Amateur Team. Ernst held her own against the world’s best when she played at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last year on a sponsor’s exemption and made the cut at the major championship.
Moriya Jutanugarn- The talented Thai teen brings a steady game to the professional ranks and will try to play off her recent success in the amateur ranks and solid play at LPGA Final Qualifying. She won the heralded South Atlantic Ladies Amateur Championship (SALLY) in 2012 and was runner-up at the 2011 U.S. Women’s amateur. She was co-medalist at Final Q School in December and held a six-shot lead heading into the final round.
The always humble Jutanugarn will need to have full belief that she’s good enough to compete on a weekly basis and adapt playing competitively for the first time in her life without sister and best friend, Ariya, who will compete on the LET this season.
“It’s a really good chance for me,” said Jutanugarn. “Even though I’ve been playing golf for ten years, once you turn pro, it’s all new; you’re like a baby. I’ve had a lot of good experience in ten years but everything will be new. It will be cool.”
Caroline Masson- The Gladbeck, Germany native is coming off a solid year in Europe on the Ladies European Tour and qualified for the LPGA in December after a T11 finish at Final Qualifying. Masson is the second highest ranked rookie at No. 48 in the Rolex Rankings and will try to bring her 2012 success to the LPGA.
She finished second on the LET’s Order of Merit and recorded her first professional win at the South African Women’s Open. She posted six additional top-10 finishes including three runner-ups and a tied for second.
Brooke Pancake- Pancake turned pro last spring after a prolific senior year at the University of Alabama. She led the Crimson Tide to its first NCAA National Championship while finishing individual runner-up. She was named First-Team All-American and was awarded the 2012 Honda Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer.
The Chattanooga, Tenn. native has worked hard at transitioning to the professional ranks and made four appearances on the Symetra Tour in 2012 with a season-best T6 finish at the Eagle Classic. She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open in 2012 and made the cut as a sponsor’s exemption at the LPGA’s Jamie Farr Toledo Classic Presented by Kroger, Owens Corning and O-1, finishing T50.
Nicole Smith- Smith has developed as a professional through her three seasons on the Symetra Tour and looks poised to bring her competitive spirit and powerful game to the LPGA Tour. The Riverside, Calif. native was the face of consistency throughout the 2012 season and was the only player in the top-10 to make every cut. She joined Player of the Year Esther Choe as the only two players to hold a spot in the top-10 15 out of the 16 weeks last year.She posted five top-10 finishes and en route to finishing ninth on the money list and led the tour in birdies (172), greens in regulation (75%) and was 2nd in average driving distance (269 yards)