About the only thing Lydia Ko didn’t accomplish over the weekend was move to No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings — although she got close. The 25-year-old claimed just about everything else on the line as the LPGA wrapped up an extremely compelling season.
Ko won the Tournament of Champions and the largest prize in women’s golf — $2 million — wrapping up player of the year, the season money title and the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. She also moved within two wins of reaching the threshold to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame.
None of those honors were guaranteed until Ko finished at 17 under to claim her third title of the season in a remarkably consistent season. She won the first full-field event in January, on the Asia swing in the fall, and the finale Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.
What she didn’t do is win a major championship, something three of the others battling for player of the year had on their resumes.
Jennifer Kupcho matched Ko with three wins, including the year’s first major, the Chevron Championship. Minjee Lee (U.S. Women’s Open) and Brooke Henderson (Evian Championship) had two wins each.
Ko’s consistency was enough. She had 12 top-five finishes to put herself in the hunt for titles, more than any other player. Birdies on two of her final three holes Sunday allowed her to lower her scoring average to a remarkable 68.988, and her money total of $4,364,403 was less than $1,000 shy of Lorena Ochoa’s all-time record for a single season.
“This year has been an incredible year,” Ko said. “I really could never ask for more to win so early in the season and then to have won in Korea and then win the last event of the year. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better.”
The LPGA couldn’t have drawn up a better season, either, despite scary incidents involving two of the best American players. Nelly Korda missed nearly three months in the spring after a blood clot was discovered in her arm, and Danielle Kang missed nearly as much time in the summer with a tumor on her spine.
In their absence, new stars emerged — although Korda made it back to world No. 1 by season’s end. Rookie of the year Atthaya Thitikul won twice and had a staggering 16 top-10 finishes as a 19-year-old and reached world No. 1 briefly late in the year.
The United States found some new stars for future Solheim Cup teams in Andrea Lee and Lilia Vu, who broke out at the LPGA Match Play in Las Vegas and skyrocketed to bigger success from there.
All credit to Las Vegas
Gemma Dryburgh finished her LPGA season with a flourish, winning for the first time in Japan three weeks ago to make the Tour Championship field, where she tied for seventh. According to Dryburgh, she never would have had those opportunities without Las Vegas and the LPGA Match Play.
Dryburgh was an alternate for the tournament but traveled to Nevada just in case. When Anna Norqvist withdrew the night before the start, Dryburgh got in, made a run to the quarterfinals and earned enough CME points to qualify for the Women’s British Open, which in turn allowed her to also get into the field in Japan.
“I mean, looking back at that it was kind of a season-changing kind of result, because I think that got me in the British Open, and got me into a few other things,” she said of Las Vegas.
She had no expectations of getting into the match play field, she said.
“Obviously the start of that week I wasn’t even thinking I was going to get in,” she recalled. “I wasn’t even going to maybe travel because it’s such a limited field it’s kind of unlikely that someone would pull out, so I’m so glad I did. That probably helped me get into Asia as well, that result.
“So might not even have been in Japan if I had not gone to Vegas. Who knows?”
Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.