We’re at the midway point of the 2014 season. The season’s brought a top-heavy group of winners (all ranking within the top-18 in the Rolex Rankings), an American women’s golf revival (10 American wins in 16 events), and perhaps the greatest rookie we’ve seen in a long time. But in addition to Lydia Ko’s continual ascent to challenge Stacy Lewis as the world’s best player at a mere 17 years old, there’s a banner crop of rookies that feels like they’ll continue to make a major impact on the tour during the second half of the year and the rest of their careers. Here’s the five rookies showing the most so far.
It’s hard to think of Ko – the youngest winner in LPGA history - as a rookie considering the 17-year-old had two wins on the LPGA Tour before being granted a special age exemption by Commissioner Mike Whan to play full-time on Tour for the 2014 season. And what a spectacular rookie season it has been with six top-5 finishes including a win at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and runner-up finishes at last week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G and earlier this season at the JTBC Founder’s Cup. The New Zealander is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, 3rd on the money list and 3rd in the Race to the CME Globe standings. She’s unquestionably the most accomplished 17-year-old we’ve ever seen, but it’s not out of the question to wonder: Could this be one of the greatest rookie seasons ever? The Kiwi is in the field at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and could become the youngest player to ever win a major by more than a year if she were to win at Royal Birkdale.
Lee won little more than half of her earnings for the year with her tie for 2nd at the Founders Cup, where she finished just one shot back of Karrie Webb, who shot a final-round 63 to edge Lee. She currently sits in 41st on the money list, 2nd in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year standings and has made eight cuts in 11 starts. A long hitter at 261.5 yards (15th on Tour), Lee is 15th on the Tour in greens in regulation at 74 percent. If her putting (88th on tour) catches up to her ball striking, she could be in for a serious push up the money list in the second half of the season.
The Danish rookie has wasted little time making her presence felt on Tour this season coming in at 38th on the money list. She’s been remarkably consistent, making the cut in nine of 11 tournaments so far. She’s been especially consistent recently with top-25 finishes in each of her last three starts. Her best result so far this season came at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic where she finished in a tie for 4th. Her game is reminiscent of an old golf adage that goes “drive for show, putt for dough.” Vedel’s putting numbers are outstanding for a rookie, ranking 3rd on the Tour in putts per GIR (1.766) and 7th in putting average (29.5). She’s one of the shorter hitters on tour (243.5 yards), but makes up for it with a consistently outstanding short game. She’s gotten up and down 57 percent of the time out of bunkers – 5th on tour – and has the 26th best scoring average on tour in 2014. With 14 rounds in the 60s this year already, she’s one to watch at the Ricoh Women’s British Open and throughout the second half.
After an extremely decorated amateur and college career, it’s little surprise that Anderson’s been one of the top rookies on Tour this season. She won the 2009 U.S. Junior Girls Amateur and recorded 20 collegiate wins – that’s not a typo – while at North Dakota State. She qualified for the Tour on her first attempt with a fourth place finish at last December’s LPGA Final Qualifying Tourament and already has three top-25 finishes as a rookie. Her best tournament of the year came in beautiful Hawaii after a third-round 68 helped her to a 1-over-par four-day total and a tie for 7th. She is currently 62nd on the money list and 4th in the Rolex Rookie of the Year standings.
The former No. 1 ranked college golfer at Texas Tech has made her impact felt after gaining status through the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament and winning a Symetra Tour event in 2013. She’s played six events in 2014 on the LPGA Tour with three cuts made. Her big finish, though, came in Dallas, where she posted a tie for 4th after vaulting into contention with a second-round 66 and a third-round 68. Stacy Lewis ran away with that event, but it showed the immense promise the 6-foot South Dakotan has. She’s currently 64th on the money list and should be a mainstay on the Tour in 2015 as her status continues to improve with her spot on the money list. She’s currently hitting 73 percent of her greens (20th on Tour) but hasn’t had her putting catch up just yet. Either way, Kaufman’s one to watch on the Tour the last half of the year.