Mickey Wright, one of the best ever in women’s golf, once said: “Every star needs a great chorus line behind her.” The LPGA Tour had plenty of both in 2019. While Jin Young Ko ran away with Rolex Player of the Year and Jeongeun Lee6 took Rolex Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year just as decisively, the season celebrated both the depth and breadth of talent on Tour.
Ko has four victories going into the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, joining two-time winners Nelly Korda, Sung Hyun Park, Brooke Henderson, Sei Young Kim, Hannah Green and Mi Jung Hur as multiple champs. But overall, 23 players from nine nations won in a season punctuated by a scintillating Solheim Cup after five dramatic major championships.
The young talent from all corners of the globe bodes well for the future of the LPGA Tour. The seven multiple winners average in age 24.4 years while the five major champs – Ko (ANA Inspiration and Evian Championship), Lee6 (U.S. Women’s Open), Green (KPMG Women’s PGA Championship) and Hinako Shibuno (AIG Women’s British Open) – average 22.4. For the fifth year in a row, a rookie won a major, as did a 20-year-old non-Member in Shibuno.
Among the 182 Members on the Official Money List are players from 30 nations. The top 10 on the Rolex Rankings features six nations, with the United States and South Korea leading the way with three each. In Shibuno, Japan had its only major winner on the LPGA or PGA Tour other than Chako Higuchi, who won the 1977 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Still up for grabs are the Vare Trophy for the lowest season-long scoring average and the Race to the CME Globe grand prize of $1.5 million from the $5 million purse that goes to the winner of the CME Group Tour Championship, the largest ever first prize in women’s golf.
Ko has a 0.209 strokes-per-round lead over Hyo Joo Kim for the Vare Trophy as nine players – Park, Henderson, Korda, Minjee Lee, Lee6, Mi Jung Hur and Carlota Ciganda joining Ko and Kim – are averaging under 70.
A race that has been decided is the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, with Ciganda taking the $1 million bonus for the season-long performance on a designated hole at each event. She joins Brooks Koepka in capturing the largest equal prize for a male and female golfer.
Some impressive streaks were extended in 2019. Lexi Thompson, only 24, won for the seventh consecutive year. Henderson, who didn’t turn 22 until September, was a multiple winner for the fourth consecutive year. Lee6 made 2019 the fifth consecutive year a rookie won a major. And Ko shattered a Tiger Woods record by playing 114 consecutive holes without a bogey.
If there was one event that stood out it was the Solheim Cup. More than 90,000 singing, dancing, chanting fans swarmed over Gleneagles in Scotland and filled the grandstands as they witnessed perhaps the most dramatic team competition in the history of golf.
With the last stroke on the last hole by the last player on the course, Suzann Pettersen gave Europe a 14.5 to 13.5 win over the United States, which would have kept the Cup on a 14-14 tie if Pettersen had missed. Her 1-up victory over Marina Alex completed a stunning comeback from a 13.5 to 11.5 deficit in which Anna Nordqvist and Bronte Law joined Pettersen in winning the final three singles matches.
Nelly and Jessica Korda, who both won 3.5 of their 4 points, paced a U.S. team that featured six rookies on Captain Juli Inkster’s squad while Celine Boutier and Georgia Hall were top point winners for Europe with four each as Charley Hull snared three.
This was a changing-of-the-guard Solheim Cup for both sides, with many familiar faces replaced by future stars. While nine-time Solheim veteran Pettersen announced her retirement immediately after sinking the winning putt, Law stepped forward as her replacement in terms of feistiness for Catriona Matthew’s team from Europe.
U.S. stalwarts Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lang, Angela Stanford and Gerina Piller as well as injured Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie along with Brittany Lincicome, who was on maternity leave, were absent. But Solheim rookies Nelly Korda, Megan Khang, Marina Alex, Brittany Altomare, Annie Park and Ally McDonald were able replacements, joining veterans Thompson, Jessica Korda, Lizette Salas, Morgan Pressel, Danielle Kang and Angel Yin.
A month before the Solheim Cup, Shibuno won hearts at Woburn with her infectious smile and bold style as she captured the AIG Women’s British Open. She was one of three non-members to win in 2019, joining Ai Suzuki and Ha Na Jang. They have until Nov. 18 to decide if they want to join the LPGA in 2020.
Lee6 also won fans at the Country Club of Charleston with the way she owned the number 6 at the U.S. Women’s Open. She marked her ball with a 6, had 6 on her bag and by the ShopRite Classic a week later, fans were yelling out 6 to her.
Hannah Green was electric at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Hazeltine and backed it up with a win at the Cambia Portland Classic. And, of course, there was Ko winning at both ANA and Evian, two wins that earned her the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award for best overall performance in the majors.
Nelly Korda earned a bit of family pride by winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open. Her sister Jessica won the same tournament in 2012 so Nelly completed the Korda Aussie Slam. Their father Petr won the 1998 Australian Open in tennis and their brother Sebastian won the 2018 Junior Australian Open in tennis.
While Lee6 put away rookie honors early, there was good news for the Americans. Kristen Gillman is second and Jennifer Kupcho, who didn’t play as a pro until the U.S. Women’s Open, which ended in early June, is third.
The first 32 events of the year set the stage nicely for the CME Group Tour Championship and whetted the appetite to see who takes home the $1.5 million pot of gold at the end of the Race to the CME Globe rainbow.
But 2019 was also a tasty table-setter for 2020 – the 70th anniversary of when 13 women got together in 1950 and founded the LPGA.
What started as a handful of Americans looking for a place to play has grown into a global Drive On campaign celebrating the potential of women worldwide.
Truly, this is for every girl.