NAPLES, FLORIDA | Jin Young Ko will tee off on Thursday at the CME Group Tour Championship as the No.1 player in the Rolex Rankings, the 2019 Rolex LPGA Player of the Year, the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award winner and the leading candidate to take home the Vare Trophy for low scoring average as well as the money title depending on her finish at Tiburón Golf Club.
Should Ko, who was also the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year in 2018, pull off that feat, she will join Ariya Jutanugarn as the only player to sweep the awards while being No.1 in the world. Jutanugarn did it in 2018, a year when the Thai also won the Race to the CME Globe, another category in which Ko is the current leader.
“It’s unbelievable,” Jutanugarn said after making history a year ago in Naples, holing an 18-foot birdie putt on the final green to shoot 66 and secure all the season-ending awards. “I never thought I could play this well, ever.”
The player Jutanugarn edged out for the Vare Trophy in 2018 was none other than Ko, who won early in the season and then reeled off a series of top-10 finishes.
Granted the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award is only six years old. But in order to win it, a player has to win one major championship and play well in the rest. A lot of players have won the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year without capturing a major. One of them was the last player before Jutanugarn to capture Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy and the money title in the same season: Stacy Lewis.
Lewis held off Inbee Park in Naples in 2014 to take home all three awards. But Lewis’ best finish in a major that year was runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“It’s amazing,” Lewis said in the fall of 2014. “The coolest part to me is that I get to be on these trophies with some pretty amazing women and be a part of history.”
Lewis also won the Vare Trophy in 2013, a year when she captured the AIG Women’s British Open and finished tied for sixth at The Evian Championship. But she did not win Rolex Player of the Year that season because Inbee Park won three majors in a row: the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Ko won two majors this year – the ANA Inspiration and The Evian Championship. She also claimed third in the AIG Women’s British Open and finished in the top 20 in both the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open. Throw in a couple more wins at the CP Women’s Open and the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and it’s easy to see the historic potential.
When you look at the players who have won Rolex Player of the Year, the Vare Trophy and the money title in the same year, you understand just what a big deal this season could be.
Lorena Ochoa took all three in 2006, ‘07 and ‘08 when she was dominating the women’s game. But Ochoa won only two majors in her career, the 2007 AIG Women’s British Open and the ANA Inspiration in 2008, which makes Ko’s two majors this year all the more impressive.
Annika Sorenstam won the money title, the Vare Trophy and Rolex Player of the Year in 1998, 2001, ‘02 and ‘05. But only one of those seasons (2005) did Sorenstam, for whom the Rolex major championship award is named, win multiple majors.
The farther back you go, the larger the multiple-award-winning list becomes. Karrie Webb, Betsy King, Dottie Pepper, Pat Bradley, Beth Daniel, Nancy Lopez, Joanne Carner, Judy Rankin, Kathy Whitworth, they all captured multiple awards in the same season, including Rolex Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy.
But if you want to know how big a deal a clean sweep is, look no further than the players who never did it.
Inbee Park, whose Hall of Fame career includes 19 LPGA Tour wins and 7 major championships, won the money title twice, the Vare Trophy twice and Rolex Player of the Year once. But never did she win all three in the same season.
Neither did Se Ri Pak, who won five majors and 25 LPGA Tour titles but never won the money title or Rolex Player of the Year.
Pak began a revolution in the women’s game, inspiring a legion of young girls from the Republic of Korea to take up golf and fight their way to the top of the world stage, including a young Inbee Park. They are the only two Koreans in the LPGA Hall of Fame. It speaks volumes that Jin Young Ko, at 24, could eclipse them both, at least in this one rare sweep.