Among the many things that define Rolex are timeless beauty, relentless precision and an appreciation of greatness. As the global pandemic has halted the world, freezing the Rolex Rankings since March, the Swiss-based watchmaker also stands as a reminder that time teaches us patience. There is always what’s next.
Now in its 15th season, the Rolex Rankings is more than a glimpse into the essence of the LPGA. Through calculations of ever-increasing accuracy, the ranking also serves as an MRI of the constantly evolving greatness of women's golf. Behind the numbers are the names that define a youthful pool of talent from every corner of the globe.
Since 1967, when it first formed a partnership with Arnold Palmer, Rolex has been linked with greatness in golf. And since 1980, when it became a partner with the LPGA, Rolex has contributed in countless ways as the LPGA has matured into the game’s global tour.
There is the Rolex Player of the Year; the Rolex Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year; the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award; the watch that goes to every Rolex first-time winner on the Tour; the annual Rolex Awards Dinner at the season–ending CME Group Tour Championship and, most recently, the Rolex ANNIKA Major Award.
Rolex brand ambassadors on the LPGA Tour include Maria Fassi, Brooke Henderson, Lydia Ko, Anna Nordqvist, Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam and Lexi Thompson.
But if marking time is what Rolex is all about, the Rolex Rankings has, since first introduced in 2006, provided a measure of the growth of the women’s game. Over those 15 seasons, the LPGA has become more global, providing a deeper talent pool, and a broader stage upon which a startling number of youthful players have emerged as the best in the world.
With the Rolex Rankings unchanging until the competitive game returns globally, this is a good time to take a deep dive into the numbers.
Among the top-50 in the current Rolex Rankings, 13 countries are represented. While South Korea leads the way with 20 players, followed by the United States with 11, Japan and England both have three, while Australia, Spain, Thailand and China have two each with Canada, Germany, Mexico, France and New Zealand all providing one.
That is truly a global reach.
That “Tour Without Borders” is also expressed in the LPGA major championships. Since the Evian Championship joined the ANA Inspiration, KPMG Women’s PGA, AIG Women’s British Open and U.S. Women’s Open as the five women’s majors in 2013, the 35 contests have been won by players representing 10 countries.
Again, South Korea leads the way with 16 victories – a half-dozen by Inbee Park – while the United States has eight. New Zealand, Sweden and Thailand have two each while Norway, Canada, England, Australia and Japan have one.
The highest-ranked Rolex player who is not a member of the LPGA Tour is No. 12 Hinako Shibuno of Japan, the 21-year-old talent who strutted onto the world stage at Woburn last year when she took the title at the AIG Women’s British Open.
And Shibuno provides the perfect springboard into another story told by the Rolex Rankings – age. Shibuno was only 20 when she charmed hearts in England with her joyful manner and stunned the best in the world with her bold play, winning when she rammed home an I’m-not-leaving-this-short birdie putt on the last hole.
Of the top-10 players in the Rolex Rankings, the oldest are No. 5 Danielle Kang of the Unites States and No. 6 Sei Young Kim of South Korea at 27. You read that correctly: The oldest players in the top 10 of the Rolex Rankings are just 27 years old.
The youngest are No. 2 Nelly Korda of the U.S. and No. 4 Nasa Hataoka of Japan at 21, followed by No. 7 Brooke Henderson of Canada at 22.
No. 1 Jin Young Ko of South Korea is 24, as are No. 8 Minjee Lee of Australia and No. 10 Jeongeun Lee6, also of South Korea. No. 9 Lexi Thompson of the U.S. is 25 while No. 3 Sung Hyun Park of South Korea is 26.
The average age of the top 10 in the Rolex Rankings is 24.1 years old. That is a remarkable statistic.
Historians squabble over which Irish writer – George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde – penned the words “Youth is wasted on the young.” But both wrote well before this golden age of women’s golf and were not witness to how well these young women are making use of their enormous talent.
“We’ve been partners since 1980 working together to raise the stature of women’s golf and help build a bigger global awareness for the game,” Arnaud Boetsch, Director of Communication and Image for Rolex, said in 2014 when the company’s relationship with the LPGA was extended through 2023.
“The LPGA couldn’t be more thrilled to have Rolex as a partner for the next 10 years,” LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan at the time. “Their passion for golf and the LPGA over the last 34 years has been exemplary and played a major role in the LPGA’s growth and success both domestically and internationally.”
The pandemic has slowed time – but it can’t stop it. When the LPGA, the LET and all the other tours of the world get back into the swing of things, there will be golf again – global, youthful, passionate golf. And Rolex will be there to measure its greatness.