The LPGA’s 2011 season will culminate this week at the CME Group Titleholders. The inaugural event will be staged Nov. 17-20, at Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Fla.
As the tour’s season-ending tournament, the CME Group Titleholders will feature a field of 66 players who qualified as the top-three performers in each of 22 LPGA tournaments this year. Those players will compete for a total purse of $1.5 million in the unique season-long qualifying format with the winner earning a prize check of $500,000.
Headlining the field and seeking her eighth LPGA title and 12th worldwide title of the year is 2011 Rolex Player of the Year Yani Tseng of Taiwan. Currently No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, Tseng secured top-player status in early October at the HanaBank Championship in South Korea and will be honored with the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year award for the second consecutive year during this week’s CME Group Titleholders.
Among her 2011 milestones, Tseng became the first male or female golfer to win five major championships by age 22 when she emerged as the champion of the 2011 RICOH Women’s British Open. Prior to that victory, she won the tour’s second major championship of the year at the Wegmans LPGA Championship by 10 strokes, becoming the youngest female golfer to win four majors by age 22.
In addition, Tseng has dominated the race for the 2011 Vare Trophy, which rewards the LPGA player with the lowest season scoring average. That award also will be presented this week.
Tseng has recorded 40 rounds in the 60s this season and currently holds a 2011 scoring average of 69.56 strokes per round in 21 events. Hoping to win her second consecutive Vare Trophy, Na Yeon Choi is in second place with a season scoring average of 70.54 in 20 tournaments. If Tseng holds on this week and maintains a sub-70 scoring average, she will become only the sixth LPGA player in history to break 70 for a season-long average, joining Annika Sorenstam (1998, 2001, 2002, 2005), Karrie Webb (1999), Grace Park (2004), Lorena Ochoa (2006, 2007, 2008) and Na Yeon Choi (2010).
Hee Kyung Seo of South Korea, who also qualified for the CME Group Titleholders, will be honored during tournament week as the 2011 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year. The rookie finished second in a playoff at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open and hopes to end the season with a win at the LPGA’s final tournament.
Other headliners who have qualified for this week’s event include two-time winner Michelle Wie of Hawaii, LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Karrie Webb of Australia, 2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship winner and Rolex Rankings No. 8 Stacy Lewis of Texas, and Florida teenage wunderkind Lexi Thompson, who qualified this week by winning the Navistar LPGA Classic. Thompson also earned 2012 LPGA Tour membership for the Navistar victory.
In addition, Florida natives and Rolex Rankings No. 3 Cristie Kerr and No. 10 Brittany Lincicome, along with fan-favorite Christina Kim of California, also qualified for the event. They join the final three qualifiers from last week’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Americans Juli Inkster and Natalie Gulbis, and Beatriz Recari of Spain.
Several Orlando residents will have the opportunity to commute from their homes and sleep in their own beds this week. Rolex Rankings No. 7 Paula Creamer of California, No. 22 Maria Hjorth of Sweden, No. 35 and LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member Se Ri Pak of South Korea, No. 2 Suzann Pettersen of Norway and top-ranked Yani Tseng of Taiwan, all will be making the short drive to work this week from their home driveways. Both Creamer and Pak hope to join Hjorth, Pettersen and Tseng as tournament winners this season at the last event in Orlando.
A number of top performers from this year’s 2011 Solheim Cup also have qualified for the CME Group Titleholders this week, including Europe’s Suzann Pettersen of Norway, Caroline Hedwall of Sweden and Spain’s Azahara Munoz. Also joining the list of top Solheim Cup point-getters is American LPGA rookie Ryann O’Toole of California, who was a 2011 captain’s pick.
Of the 66 qualifiers, Tseng leads all players in the field with multiple season wins. Tseng enters the CME Group Titleholders with seven 2011 LPGA victories. Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen and Brittany Lincicome each have two wins this season.
While this week’s CME Group Titleholders is an inaugural tournament, the Titleholders name dates back to the Titleholders women’s golf tournament held from 1937 to 1966, and one additional year in 1972 in Southern Pines, N.C. The tournament was originally staged at Augusta Country Club in Augusta, Ga., prior to the formation of the LPGA in 1950. Past Titleholders champions include LPGA founders Patty Berg, Louise Suggs and Babe Zaharias.