For the third consecutive year, there is a runaway leader for the honor. And it must come as some comfort to Jeongeun Lee6 to know that her two immediate predecessors in securing the ROY have built upon it quite nicely. In fact, they are No. 1 and No. 2 in the Rolex Rankings.
Jin Young Ko, the top rookie last year, has won four times in 2019 – including the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship – and may sweep all of the top awards this year, as well as being Rolex No. 1. Sung Hyun Park, who was ROY in 2017, has been a multiple winner in each of her three LPGA seasons and is currently Rolex No. 2.
In fact, the Rookie of the Year award has been a pretty good barometer for predicting success on tour of late. In addition to Ko and Park, recent winners have included In Gee Chun, Sei Young Kim, So Yeon Ryu, Lydia Ko and Moriya Jutanugarn – all winners on the LPGA with Chun, Ryu and Ko major champions.
Lee6 didn’t wait to join Park, Ko and the others as a major champ, taking the U.S. Women’s Open at the Country Club of Charleston in June. With five tournaments left, including the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, Lee6 has 1,273 Rookie of the Year points, more than double the 517 accumulated by Kristen Gillman.
And as the tour takes a week off before heading to Asia for a four-tournament swing that leads back to Florida and the conclusion of the Race to the CME Globe with its $5 million in prize money, Ko finds herself leading every major LPGA statistical category.
In the battle to be leading money winner, Ko’s $2,623,412 is $719,055 ahead of Lee6. The Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average, which brings with it an LPGA Hall of Fame point, has Ko leading Hyo Joo Kim by 0.395 strokes per round.
And in Rolex Player of the Year, which also earns a Hall of Fame point, Ko has 237 points with Lee6 at 123 followed by Park (117), Lexi Thompson (104) and Brooke Henderson (102). To further demonstrate how dominate Ko has been, she’s No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings by 2½ average points over Park.
And Ko also sits atop the Race to the CME Globe points list with 3,988 to 2,659 by Henderson. But the real race there is for the final spot in the 60-player field in which the winner gets $1.5 million, the largest prize in the history of women’s golf.
Currently holding down No. 60 is Nicole Broch Larsen with 627 points. But she is only one point ahead of Charley Hull. Both will be in the field at the next tournament, the Buick LPGA Shanghai in China from Oct. 17-20.
As an indication of how the LPGA has become golf’s global tour, from when the Vare Trophy was created in 1953, and won by Patty Berg, through 1994, when Beth Daniel took home the honor, every winner was an American. Since 1994, the only Yanks to win the Vare have been Stacy Lewis in 2013 and 2014 and Lexi Thompson in 2017.
And since Kathy Whitworth won the first Rolex Player of the Year in 1966 through 1994, when Daniel won the award, every winner was an American. Since then, Lewis in 2012 and 2014 has been the only American to claim the honor.
The LPGA swings through China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan before returning to the United States and the CME Group Tour Championship on the Tiburón Golf Club layout at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Naples, Fla.
It could very well be that in addition to the $1.5 million first prize, a bunch of awards will also be on the line – but most likely not Rookie of the Year. Seems like that one has already been deep sixed.