The 2019 LPGA Tour season officially kicked off three weeks ago at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America in an event that featured winners from the past two years of competition. At age 32, Eun-Hee Ji captured the season’s first title to become the oldest winner since Angela Stanford held the Evian Championship trophy last fall at age 40.
The average age of winners since 2016 has skewed towards players in their 20s with a total of eight players winning in their teens since 2011. For eight consecutive years on the LPGA Tour there has been at least one win by a teenager.
Last season, Nasa Hataoka became a Rolex First-Time Winner at age 19 with wins in Arkansas and her home country of Japan. She joined Brooke Henderson, Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko as players with multiple wins in the same year as a teenager in the last five years.
In 2019, there are four rookies who are still teenagers that will have an opportunity to compete amongst the best players in the world for their chance at victory. They are Pajaree Anannarukarn (19), Youngin Chun (18), Muni He (19) and Suzuka Yamaguchi (18).
The rookie whose path has shown promise is Muni He. In 2018 as a rookie on the Epson Tour, Muni He made the cut in 16 of 21 events played and recorded two top-10 finishes including a win at the Prasco Charity Championship. She averaged 3.5 birdies per round played, which is only one less per round than Ariya Jutanugarn averaged last year.
The rookie class of 2019 is comprised of 27 players representing 14 different countries including the United States. At the end of season, the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year will be awarded for the 58th time in the history of the LPGA.
Koreans have won six of the last eight by an average margin of victory of 582 points. For some perspective, a win on tour equals 150 points with points doubled at the five major championships. All rookies are eligible to earn points in official events if they finish in the top 40 or make the cut.
Since Se Ri Pak’s rookie of the year win in 1998, a total of 12 Korean players have earned the honor. In 2019, rookies Youngin Chun and Jeongeun Lee6 both hail from South Korea.
The player who stands out in the rookie class is Lee6. She’s the highest ranked rookie on the Rolex Rankings, currently ranked No. 20 with the next closest rookie being Anne Van Dame of the Netherlands at No. 74.
Lee6 already has made eight LPGA starts in her career with five of those starts coming in majors. She has finished within the top 20 six times, with a career-best finish of fifth at the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open.
Lee6 also won the inaugural LPGA Q-Series presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina with an eight-day score of 18-under par. And, as a member on the KLPGA Tour in 2017 and 2018, she recorded a total of six wins.
Lee6 won the 2017 HighOne Resort Ladies Open in a sudden-death one-hole playoff against Ha Na Jang and that experience may be very helpful as seven events went into a playoff on the LPGA Tour in 2018.
The average number of playoffs each year over the last 10 years is five with 2014 featuring the most in this timeframe with eight playoffs. The greatest number of playoffs in a year is 12 which happened in 2000. If recent history is any indication, the 2019 season is projected to have at least five sudden-death playoffs featuring players from around the world.
There has also been at least one playoff in a major since 2011. In 2018, the first three major championships ended in a playoff which had not happened since 2006.
Since the start of 2016, Ariya Jutanugarn has made the most appearances in playoffs with four followed by Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko with three each. Jutanugarn’s record of 3-1 in these playoffs earned her four points towards the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame.
Jutanugarn has won a total of 10 times in three years and was awarded the Rolex Player of the Year Award in 2016 and 2018 along with the Vare Trophy last year to accumulate 15 points very quickly.
There are several other active players along with Jutanugarn that are nearing the 27-point requirement for entry into the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame. They include Laura Davies (25 points), Yani Tseng (23 points), Cristie Kerr (22 points), Lydia Ko (18 points), Stacy Lewis (18 points) and Suzann Pettersen (17 points).
Pettersen plans to return to competition in 2019 after maternity leave. Her last event played was more than a year ago at the 2017 CME Group Tour Championship where she finished in a tie for 11th. Pettersen’s last win came at the 2015 Manulife LPGA Classic and since then has recorded a total of 18 top-10 finishes. This season, she’ll be looking to end her winless drought and add to her point total.
With Pettersen being a Dow Ambassador, it’s worth noting that the inaugural Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational could be that opportunity for her to produce another memorable performance. The event will be a team competition format featuring alternating rounds of foursomes and four-ball. Pettersen brings a wealth of experience in these formats having played in eight Solheim Cups. In 2015, she found success in match play paired with Anna Nordqvist and Charley Hull.
Pettersen doesn’t have to look to far to see that wins have come for players at one of their sponsors events. Most recently, Brittany Lincicome won the last two editions of the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic with Pure Silk being one of her sponsors and has finished 13th or better in all past performances.
There’s no better time to start or even continue a win streak in 2019. Lexi Thompson’s win at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship marked a trend of at least one win for her each year since 2013. During this timeframe, she recorded a total of 54 top-10 finishes including nine wins and nine runners-up. Based on past performance, Thompson is projected to record at least seven top 10s in 2019.