LPGA has everything but a dominant player

AP
Published 6:29 p.m. ET Nov. 14, 2017

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Even with five of the biggest prizes still up for grabs at the final LPGA Tour event of the year, So Yeon Ryu has set an ambitious goal.

“I want to be a rock star for the future,” Ryu said.

Her smile and infectious laugh kept it all in context Tuesday.

The LPGA Tour has no shortage of star players this year.

Shanshan Feng set a record last week without even knowing it when she won the Blue Bay LPGA in China and moved to No. 1 in the world, making her the fifth player to be No. 1 this year. That’s the highest number of players to reach the top of the ranking in a calendar year, male or female.

Parity in women’s golf doesn’t end there.

The CME Group Tour Championship will decide who wins the LPGA money title between Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It will decide who wins the Vare Trophy for the lowest adjust scoring average among Park, Lexi Thompson and In Gee Chun. The points-based award for LPGA player of the year comes down to Ryu, Feng, Park and Thompson. Those four players, along with Brooke Henderson, only have to win at Tiburon Golf Club to claim the $1 million bonus for winning the CME Race to the Globe.

It’s one thing to have star players.

But a rock star?

That’s about the only thing the LPGA is lacking after a dynamic season that still has one final act.

The tour had the potential for a dominant figure with Lydia Ko, who won her first LPGA Tour title at age 15 and reached No. 1 in the world for the first time at age 17. Ko won her second LPGA major when she was 18, and she stayed No. 1 in the world for 20 consecutive months.

And then she stopped winning.

Ko changed her equipment, her coach and her caddie this year, and she hasn’t been the same. She lost her No. 1 ranking in June, and that paved the way for a stream of players who have taken their turns at the top — Ariya Jutanugarn, Ryu, Park and Feng. Jutanugarn lasted two weeks at No. 1. Park was there only for a week.

Is one star greater than five?

“That’s a tough question, because it could be really great to see a lot of players have the opportunity being No. 1,” Ryu said. “Because every single player just really loves this game and they do their best to be No. 1. But at the same time, it could be like we might need a rock star, win the tournament more than five times in the year, being in contention pretty much every tournament.”

Not this year.

The LPGA Tour season began with 15 players winning the first 15 events on the schedule.

Ryu won the ANA Inspiration in a playoff over Lexi Thompson in a major best remembered for Thompson incorrectly marking her ball on the green in the third round and getting docked four shots in the final round when the infraction was discovered. Ryu became the first multiple winner in June, and she hasn’t won since.

Rock-star status will have to wait.

Women’s British Open champion I.K. Kim has three victories, tied for the most this year with Feng, who has won the last two weeks in Asia. Park has won the U.S. Women’s Open and the Canadian Women’s Open. Thompson has won twice but no majors.

“There are so many great players out here,” Thompson said. “It’s been a different winner every week seems like for the majority of this year. It’s great to see. A lot of people don’t realize how tough it is to win every single week and have a dominant player on tour.”

It didn’t stop Ko, who won five times in 2015 and four times in 2016 until she went into her tailspin. Before Ko, dominance came from Lorena Ochoa. The Mexican star won 21 times in three seasons, and then she abruptly retired in 2010.

The year Ochoa walked away, the No. 1 ranking changed nine times among three players, and no one held it longer than nine weeks.

It’s a question that has come up over the years, mainly on the PGA Tour, and most recently involving Tiger Woods.

Does golf need dominance to spark interest?

It always helps to have a rivalry, and Woods had a revolving door of them that began with Ernie Els and David Duval, featured Vijay Singh, stretched all the way to Rory McIlroy and always included Phil Mickelson.

But it was always about Woods.

Since his last stay at No. 1 in 2013, five players have been No. 1. McIlroy is the only one so far who has kept it for more than a year, and while men’s golf has great depth at the top, the attention over Woods’ return next month in the Bahamas shows how much golf craves a rock star.

The LPGA had that with Annika Sorenstam and Ochoa. It nearly had it with Ko.

With this much parity, the next one will have her work cut out.

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