We’re just past the halfway point in the 2016 LPGA season, and for a third consecutive time the most dominant force has been Lydia Ko. But in an expanded way.
Ko, 19, is one of two three-time winners this season (Ariya Jutanugarn won three consecutive tournaments) and leads major categories where she has completed the season at No. 1: the Race to the CME Globe (last two years), Rolex Player of the Year (last year), Earnings (No. 1 last year) and the top ranking in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings (No. 1 for 54 total weeks).
But Ko is also breaking new ground this season. She leads the LPGA in two categories where she has never placed first.
- Ko is tops in Scoring Average, which captures the Vare Trophy at season’s end, with a 69.08 stroke average, one of the lowest marks in history. Ko is currently riding a streak of 18 consecutive rounds at par or better, which includes the last eight in the 60s (plus a second-round 62 last week in Arkansas). Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis have led this category twice apiece in the last four years. Annika Sorenstam established the season-low scoring average in 2002 when her average was 68.70.
- Ko is also the LPGA’s best putter right now, with a 28.67 average per 18 holes. She has never finished better than 19th in two seasons on the LPGA in this putting category.
- Her performance in majors is also new territory. Until last year’s Evian Championship victory, Ko was mediocre in majors. Now, she has won two (2015 Evian and 2016 ANA Inspiration) and finished second in a playoff (2016 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship). Additionally, she finished T3 at the Ricoh Women’s British Open last summer. That’s a four-major record of T3-1-1-2 entering next week’s U.S. Women’s Open.
That’s quite a lot to digest for someone who is a freshman in college and has already won 13 LPGA events.
“Obviously it's gone by so much faster than I could have ever dreamed of and ever imagined, but people say hey, do you worry about or aren’t things coming too quickly?” Ko said after winning the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship last week. “But to me I just have to focus and enjoy what’s in front of me right now and I feel very lucky with what has happened, so I’m going to enjoy it. Tomorrow is another day, so every week is a new week, but to me, I feel so fortunate to be here on the Tour with these amazing girls and the world's best golfers.”
Even though Ko has had quite a start to 2016, the excellence isn’t limited to the New Zealander:
- Mo Martin leads the Driving Accuracy category at 87.4 percent. It’s a category that could be named for her as she has been the most accurate driver each of the last three years.
- Lexi Thompson is the longest driver on the LPGA, with a 284.2-yard average. Even though Thompson has never officially been the LPGA’s longest driver, she has finished second in this category four times and has never placed worse than fourth. She also holds the lead in Eagles with 11.
- The secret to Ha Na Jang’s two wins this season: iron play. Jang won her first two LPGA events this year and leads the LPGA in Greens in Regulation at 80.1 percent. In her first LPGA win, at the Coates Golf Championship, she missed only seven greens.
- For the second time in three years, a rookie who won prior to LPGA membership leads the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year competition. In Gee Chun won the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open and has a pronounced lead in this year’s Rookie of the Year standings. In 2014, Lydia Ko won the award after previous wins on the LPGA as a non-member.
- Brooke Henderson has stormed to second in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and won her first major title, at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Aggressive play might be the biggest reason for her success. Henderson has made an LPGA-high 254 birdies this season, just ahead of Minjee Lee and Haru Nomura with 253 each.