Ranking the Top Storylines Heading into 2014 LPGA Season
The 2014 LPGA season kicks off with the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic this week from Paradise Island.
Inbee Park winning three majors, Suzann Pettersen moving to No. 2 in the world and Stacy Lewis with 20 top-10 finishes were definitely the biggest stories on the LPGA Tour in 2013.
Two young players may have a big impact on the 2014 LPGA Tour's season.
Lexi Thompson had two wins late in the season and brings a much-improved short game into 2014.
Teenager Lydia Ko turned professional in October and became a member of the LPGA Tour.
The tour has added new tournaments to its schedule and a $1 million bonus in the Race to the CME Globe.
Here is a listing of the top-10 story lines heading into the 2014 LPGA Tour season.
10. Rookies to Watch in 2014
Ko is technically a rookie on the LPGA Tour in 2014, and with two LPGA Tour trophies already on her mantle, she is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year honors.
Jaye Marie Green
Green is just 19 years old and announced her presence by shattering the LPGA Q-School tournament record. She posted 29-under par for the five rounds and finished 10 shots ahead of the runner-up.
With a year of professional golf under her belt on the Symetra Tour, look for Green to get off to a hot start in the Bahamas.
Though she is only 17 years old, Lin brings a ton of experience and game to the LPGA Tour. She already has three wins on the China Ladies Professional Golf Tour.
Lin finished T-17 in the 2013 Ricoh Women’s British Open and T-23 in the 2013 Reignwood LPGA Classic held in her homeland.
Molinaro from Italy was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2012 and earned First Team All-American honors as a member of the Arizona State Women’s Golf Team.
Molinaro collected one win, five top-10 finishes and finished second on the 2013 Symetra Tour to earn her LPGA Tour playing privileges.
9. LPGA Tour Adds Events, Reaches $56 Million Total Purse
The LPGA Tour fell to only 23 tournaments on their schedule in 2011. Since then, Commissioner Michael Whan and his staff have increased that number to 32 for the 2014 season.
The LPGA announced that total prize money available will reach $56 million in 2014 and the Race to the CME Globe will add another $1 million for one lucky LPGA Tour member.
The details of three new tournaments for this year were also announced.
The Alabama Classic returns to the schedule this year. The Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic will be a new event held at Lake Merced in San Francisco, and the tour will make an appearance in Michigan for the Meijer Classic.
The final details have not been released, but a fourth tournament is planned for China.
8. Three Veterans to Watch in 2014
Recari is from Spain and joined the LPGA Tour in 2010. She won two events on the LPGA Tour in 2013 and was a member of the winning European Solheim Cup Team.
She earned more than $1 million last year and finished No. 9 on the LPGA Tour money list.
So Yeon Ryu
Ryu already has won the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.
She did not post a win last year, although she did have 10 top-10 finishes.
Ryu is ranked No. 5 in the world and is one of the most consistent golfers on the LPGA Tour.
Feng won twice at the end of the 2013 season. She became the first Chinese-born player to win an LPGA Tour event, and she won the inaugural Reignwood Classic in China.
Feng also won the largest first-place check ever on the LPGA Tour when she collected $700,000 for her win at the season-ending CME Titleholders in November.
7. 2014 LPGA Tour Season Begins in Bahamas
With no sponsors willing to foot the bill for women's golf early in the year, in the past, the LPGA Tour was forced to begin their season at the jointly sanctioned ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
The tour then moved to Asia before returning in March for the Founders Cup in Arizona, its first tournament of the year on U.S. soil.
The Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic will kick off the 2014 LPGA Tour season. It isn't exactly in the continental U.S., but it is a lot closer than Australia.
It promises a $1.3 million purse with $195,000 going to the winner and will not require a 20-hour plane ride to get there.
The Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic was held in May last year and was inundated by heavy rains, which made much of the course unplayable. The rain-shortened event was won by Ilhee Lee.
It will be interesting to see who gets off to a hot start and wins the first event of the year.
6. LPGA Tour to Hold First International Crown World Team Event
Team events such as the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup have been so successful that the LPGA Tour will present the inaugural International Crown World Team Event in July at Owings Mills, Maryland.
The International Crown will feature teams from eight countries that qualified via their cumulative position on the Rolex Rankings.
The South Koreans with four players inside the top-10 on the Rolex Rankings will be a heavy favorite.
Other teams hoping to take home the first International Crown include: United States, Japan, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia.
The hope of the LPGA is to stimulate growth in women's golf in countries not qualified for the International Crown and improve their rankings for future events.
5. Lexi Thompson Appears Ready to Dominate
Lexi Thompson is still just a teenager, but she is one of the most exciting players on the LPGA Tour.
She is coming off wins at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in October and the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in November.
Thompson won the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic on the LPGA Tour and the 2011 Dubai Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour when she was just 16 years old and not yet a member of the LPGA.
Averaging 271 yards with her driver, she is second in driving distance on tour. She finished sixth on the 2013 LPGA Tour money list with $1.2 million and is No. 9 on the Rolex Rankings.
She ranked No. 104 in putting average last year, but her putting improved greatly in the second half of the year.
Can she capitalize on her strong finish at the end of 2013 and win early and often in 2014?
4. Will the "Big Three" Dominate Again in 2014?
The PGA Tour had the “Big Three” of Arnie, Jack and Gary for more than a decade. The LPGA Tour now has it's own version with Inbee, Suzann and Stacy.
Inbee Park, Suzann Pettersen and Stacy Lewis won all five major championships last year. They finished Nos. 1, 2 and 3 on the LPGA Tour money list and in the Rolex Rankings.
Lewis claimed the No. 1 spot in the world early in 2013, but Park surpassed her by winning the first three major championships of the season.
Lewis countered by winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July and posting 20 top-10 finishes in 2013, but could not catch Park or stay ahead of Pettersen.
Pettersen also had an outstanding year with one win on the Ladies European Tour and three wins on the LPGA Tour, including her second major championship victory at the Evian Championship.
Will these three women continue to lead the world rankings and win majors in 2014?
3. Women’s U.S. Open to Follow Men's U.S. Open at Pinehurst
In a unique sequence, the USGA will hold both its men’s and women’s national championships on the same golf course in consecutive weeks in June.
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have done a masterful job of restoring Pinehurst No. 2 to its original design as envisioned by famed golf architect Donald Ross.
The USGA always pushes a golf course to the brink of extinction during the week of the men’s U.S. Open.
It will be wonderful to watch the contrasting styles of the men's and women's games over the same golf course.
The question becomes: Can historic Pinehurst No. 2 withstand the rigors of men’s tournament and still remain a fair test for the women the following week?
2. Lydia Ko Joins the LPGA Tour in 2014
Lydia Ko is just 16 years old and already has two LPGA Tour wins on her resume.
She was the No. 1-ranked women’s amateur golfer for over three years and won a total of four professional tournaments as an amateur.
She turned professional last fall, and LPGA Tour Commissioner Michael Whan immediately offered her full tour membership.
Ko finished T-21 in her first start as a professional at the CME Titleholders in November, and she won the Swinging Skirts Ladies Masters in Taiwan in just her second professional start.
Although technically a rookie, Ko is already ranked No. 4 in the world and has a ton of experience.
The only question for her is: Can she withstand the constant media attention and grind of the professional game?
1. Race to the CME Globe Offers $1 Million Bonus
The LPGA Tour announced the new season-long Race to the CME Globe, which will offer a $1 million bonus to one lucky player in 2014.
It is modeled after the FedEx Cup, Charles Schwab Cup and Race to Dubai that offers a bonus pool for the PGA Tour, Champions Tour and European Tour members at the end of their seasons.
Michael Whan has done a masterful job of growing the LPGA Tour over the past three years. His efforts combined with those of the CME Group to bring the Race to the CME Globe to the LPGA Tour is a major accomplishment and puts it on equal footing with other major golf tours.
Points will be awarded to every player that makes a cut at each LPGA Tour stop. Watching what players are in the running for the $1 million bonus will bring added excitement to the LPGA Tour throughout the entire season.