If the topic were the Mt. Rushmore of women’s golf, a lively debate would ensue over the fourth face. Babe Zaharias, Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Nancy Lopez, Betsy Rawls, JoAnne Carner, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, Se Ri Pak and Laura Davies are among those with their backers. But the other three immortals are a lock: Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Annika Sorenstam.
The three greatest winners in LPGA history have a combined 242 victories – Whitworth 88; Wright 82 and Sorenstam 72 – with 29 of those major championships – Wright 13, Sorenstam 10 and Whitworth six. So when it was time to decide the LPGA Player of the Decade, the three women who personified greatness in the first 70 years of the tour were the perfect source to consult.
And the three consensus members of any greatest-ever list of women golfers reached a consensus on which two players should battle it out for the top spot as the most-dominant player from 2010 through 2019. Inbee Park, who won 18 times in the decade with six of those majors, was the top pick for all three of the immortals.
Two of the three – Whitworth and Wright – went with Lydia Ko as their second pick, with Sorenstam saying no one rivaled Park in the decade. Park and Ko, along with Yani Tseng of Chinese Taipei and Brooke Henderson of Canada, are the Final Foursome of the LPGA Player of the Decade. As determined by the fans, they are a quartet from four different countries, exemplifying that the LPGA is truly golf’s global tour.
“I think No. 1 and No. 2 both go to Inbee,” said Sorenstam, who knows a thing or two about dominating. “She has dominated this decade with some amazing golf. Her performance in the majors really impresses me the most. She rises to the occasion in the biggest events.”
Certainly, the majors are where Park made her mark. She won six out of 15 majors between 2013 and 2015, including the first three of 2013, and had 27 top-10 finishes in the decade while making consecutive cuts in the first 28 majors of the decade. In 2016, Park skipped two majors to get healthy for the Olympic Games, where she won the gold medal for the Republic of Korea.
“My two choices are Inbee, and Lydia,” said Wright, whose swing was described by Ben Hogan as the best he ever saw. “Inbee's record makes her the obvious No. 1 choice,” Wright said.
“I chose Lydia because, in my opinion, she may be one of the most natural, well-coordinated women to ever play the game,” Wright said about the 22-year-old from New Zealand who has two major championships among her 15 LPGA wins. “She overcame her rough spell and has come back remarkably.”
From 2014 through 2016, Ko won 12 times, including majors at the 2015 Evian Championship and the 2016 ANA Inspiration. She also won the silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games.
For Whitworth, whose 88 career wins made news this year when Tiger Woods won his 82nd PGA Tour title, tying Sam Snead for most on that tour, but still a half-dozen short of Kathy, the difficult decision was her second choice.
“Been going back and forth with Brooke and Lydia,” Whitworth said, after taking several days to mull over her picks. “Very much like both. For sure, Inbee is No. 1, reason speaks for itself. She by far was the dominant player of this decade. Think she would have done even more if not for injury.”
As for her second pick, golf’s greatest winner chose the 22-year-old New Zealander over the 22-year-old Canadian, her dilemma in deciding indicates the abundance of young talent on tour.
“Have decided on Lydia even though she struggled the last few years,” Whitworth said. “She certainly has the credentials with the majors as well as overall performance.”
The Player of the Decade comes at a perfect time, as the LPGA in 2019 finished its 70th season and in 2020 celebrates its 70th birthday since the tour was founded in 1950.
Whitworth and Wright were, quite simply, golf’s greatest rivalry. In the decades of the ‘60s, Wright won 68 times while Whitworth, took 53 titles from 1962 through 1969. Sorenstam totally dominated her era, winning 54 times from 2000 through her last season in 2008 as she became the Tour’s greatest international winner.
Who better to assess the Final Foursome of the LPGA Player of the Decade than the tour’s three greatest winners? But ultimately, it’s for the fans to decide.