LPGA Money List 2015

LPGA Popularity

The LPGA is growing in popularity
(1)   Women's professional golf is growing in popularity

By all accounts the LPGA is growing in popularity. The tournament schedule is growing after several years of decline. Their game is international, much more so than the PGA where almost 90% of the tournaments are played in the United States. By comparison over half of the LPGA tournaments in 2015 were played beyond the boarders of the United States.

Some will say that the growing international component may be causing a popularity decline in the United States. I do not agree with this assertion and feel the recent decline was caused more by LPGA management, or mismanagement as it were. LPGA popularity is growing and it is it's international reach that has been a great contributor.

Consider Annika Sörenstam's run at the top from 1995 to 2005 followed by Lorena Ochoa from 2006 to 2009. Annika, of course, is from Sweden and Lorena is from Mexico, so neither one of these LPGA champions grew up in the United States. But they are good for the LPGA, and have been tremendous Ambassadors for women’s golf. 

Annika is a tremendous ambassador for women's golf and the growth of the LPGA
(1)   Annika Sorenstam

Lorena is a tremendous ambassador for women's golf and the growth of the LPGA
(2)   Lorena Ochoa

Since 2007 the ANNIKA Foundation has been promoting healthy life styles for children, including opportunities to develop golf skills.  The Foundation recently joined forces with the LPGA*USGA Girls program in the Florida area.  Similarly the Lorena Ochoa Golf Foundation provides access to golf for underprivileged children with a focus on family time.

 

These two non US golfers were a tremendous boost to LPGA popularity because of their record breaking skills as professional golfers.  They were instrumental in introducing the golfing world to the LPGA.  International representation has grown from their contributions to the game, and is contributing to the growing popularity of women's professional golf.

LPGA Asian Golfers

Yes LPGA growth in women golfers from Asia, particularly South Korea, has been phenomenal, but so has the overall international growth of the LPGA. Since it’s founding back in 1950, the LPGA was dominated by members from the US.   But, in 1980 Tatsuko Ohsako from Japan came along and won the LPGA Mazda Japan Classic becoming the first Asian golfer to win an LPGA tournament.

 

Then Ayako Okamoto of Japan came on the LPGA scene in 1982, winning 17 LPGA tournaments over a period of about 10 years, culminated by her selection as LPGA Player of the Year in 1987.  It would be another 10 years before the Korean LPGA ascent in the LPGA would begin.

 

Si Re Pak's tremendous victory in 1998 LPGA US Open inspired the phenominal growth of Korean golfers and that continues today. But this has been good for LPGA golf, demonstrating to the world golfing community that participation is entirely possible.  In the opinion of this writer the current international growth in LPGA golf is contributing to the overall popularity growth of the LPGA.

 

The 2015 LPGA Top 50 Money List includes 13 South Korean women pro golfers, but it also includes 17 women pro golfers from the United States. In total, 21 of the 2015 Top 50 Money list are from Asian countries, including Japan, China, Chineas Taipei, and Thailand. Lydia Ko is number 1 on the 2015 Money List. She is South Korean born, but represents New Zealand where she started to play golf after her family migrated from South Korea when she was very young.  So yea … the Asian influence on the LPGA is growing and this has helped to grow the popularity of the LPGA over the last five years.

Top Women Golfers 2015

Lydia Ko - New Zealand

Money Position Age LPGA Rookie Year Tournament Earnings
#1 18 2014 $2,800,802

Lydia Ko started to play golf when she was only 5 years old. She was visiting her Aunt in Australia who was a golfer. Her Aunt gave her a 7 iron and putter to play with. When her father took her to the driving range to hit balls she delighted onlookers at how well she could hit the ball. Her mother took her to the Pupuke golf Course in New Zealand where the Pupuke Pro, Guy Wilson, gave young Lydia a few lessons.

 

According to Wilson, who went on to coach her until December 2013,  Lydia became engrossed with hitting a golf ball. Her success is the result of an insatiable desire to play the game well. She has an uncanny ability to focus on practice without being distracted. She just hits more balls than anyone else … loves to practice says her first coach.

 

Now at the age of 18 she just might be the best young golfer, male or female, to ever play the game. Completing the 2015 LPGA season with 5 tournament wins, including her first major, the Evian Championship in France, Lydia is poised to challenge the LPGA records set by Annika and Lorena.

Inbee Park - South Korea

Money Position Age LPGA Rookie Year Tournament Earnings
#2 27 2007 $2,630,011

Inbee is an active LPGA veteran now at the age of 27. Born in Seoul, South Korea she is a product of the Se Ri Pak effect, responsible for the incredible growth of women’s professional golf in South Korea. She was 10 years old when Se Ri won the 1998 LPGA US Open instigating a national movement in South Korea for women’s professional golf. Inbee acknowledges that Se Ri inspired her to take up the game.

 

She moved to the United States with her family when she was 12 years old in pursuit of a dream to become a professional golfer. She has been a dominant LPGA golfer since 2013 when she won 6 tournaments including her second US Open. She won 5 tournaments in 2015 including her third consecutive Women’s PGA Championship and the British Open Championship making her only the seventh LPGA golfer to complete a career grand slam.

 

Inbee continues to be one of top scoring leaders on the tour winning her 2nd Vare Trophy in 2015 for the lowest average score.   She has moved up to #7 on the LPGA career earnings list at $12,563,660, and with successful surgery on an injured finger suffered in 2015 should be ready to compete for the #1 Top Money spot in 2016.

Lydia Ko is at the top of the LPGA 2015 Top Money List
(3)   Lydia Ko, #1

Inbee Park is #2 on the LPGA 2015 Top Money List
(4)   Inbee Park, #2

Stacey Lewis - United States

Money Position Age LPGA Rookie Year Tournament Earnings
#3 30 2009 $1,893,423

Stacey started playing golf when she was 8 years old, and credits her parents for encouraging her to play even though she was diagnosed with a scoliosis condition when she was 11 years old. She was determined to play the game she loved, and constantly wore a corrective back brace except when she was playing golf.

 

After receiving a golf scholarship to the University of Arkansas, she decided to go with her doctor’s recommendation to have corrective spinal fusion surgery which required a long rehabilitation period. Knowing that her college golf coach would keep a spot for her on the team made the rehabilitation experience much more bearable.

 

Her doctor eased her back into golf, prescribing only chipping and putting practice for a long time. Her achieved skill serves her well as a Pro Golfer.  She is considered one of the best iron players on the tour. At the University of Arkansas, She went on to be a Women’s Collegiate Golf All American for 4 years in a row.

 

Stacey won the Rolex Player of the Year award in 2012 and 2014 and was #1 on the LPGA Top Money list in 2014, the year she also won the Vare trophy for LPGA average scoring leadership. While not winning a tournament in 2015, she was just behind Lydia Ko and Inbee Park in top 10 tournament finishes which was enough to earn the #3 Top Money spot.  

Sei Young Kim - South Korea

Money Position Age LPGA Rookie Year Tournament Earnings
#4 22 2015 $1,820,056

Sei Young Kim started playing golf on her own without the parental hovering that is so common among the stream of great women pro golfers from South Korea. She started her professional career on the Korean LPGA tour in 2011, winning 5 tournaments, before joining the LPGA tour in 2015. She won 3 LPGA tournaments in 2015 and finished in the top 10 in 8 additional tournaments. This earned her the 2015 LPGA Rookie of the Year award.

 

For her size at 5’3’’, Sei Young is a long hitter coming in #10 on the 2015 longest driving average list. She is a very strong and athletic looking 5’3”.   Some say that her black belt taekwondo workouts build fluid, full body strength which translates smoothly into increased club head speed in her golf swing.  The result is that she ended the 2015 LPGA season with an average driving distance of 263 yards.  That's crushing the ball.

 

While a rookie on the LPGA tour in 2015, she really was a seasoned professional from her Korean LPGA experience. Completing the LPGA Q – School in 2014 earned her a Tour Card for 2015, and she obviously made the most of it. According to Inbee Park, Sei Young very likely represents the top of the class of a new generation of South Korean women pro golfers who will continue the amazing Legacy of Se Ri Pak.

Stacey Lewis #3 2015 LPGA Top Money winner
(5)   Stacey Lewis, #3

Sei Young Kim #4 LPGA Top Money winner 2015
(6)   Sei Young Kim, #4

Lexi Thompson - United States

Money Position Age LPGA Rookie Year Tournament Earnings
#5 20 2012 $1,763,904

Lexi Thompson grew up in Florida in a golfing family. Her dad was a golf coach and both her older brothers are headed for successful pro golfing careers. So it should not be surprising that she took up golf at a fairly early age. All 3 of the Thompson children were home schooled giving them time to work on and develop their golf game under the watchful eye of their Dad.

 

She was competing and winning amateur golf tournaments as early as 7 years old, and as a 12 year old in 2007 became the youngest female golfer to ever qualify for the LPGA US Open. She did this two more times (in 2008 & 2009), finally making the cut in 2009, the same year she was ranked as the #1 Women’s Amateur Golfer at 14 years old. As a 15 year old amateur, she was a runner up at the 2010 LPGA Evian Championship in France, won by Jiyai Shin of South Korea.

 

Lexi Thompson #5 LPGA Top Money winner 2015
(7)   Lexi Thompson, #5

Turning Pro in late 2010, Lexi went on to play in 8 LPGA tournaments in 2011, becoming the youngest winner of the LPGA Navistar Classic at the age of 16. This led to being granted her LPGA Card by the LPGA in September of 2011. She played in 23 LPGA tournaments in 2012, scoring in the top 10 four times and earning $611,021 in her first year officially on the LPGA tour.

 

In 2013 she won 2 LPGA tournaments and was in the top 10 in five other tournaments ending the year with $1,206,109 in tournament earnings. In 2014 Lexy struggled a bit with her game winning only 1 tournament while finishing in the top 10 in 7 other tournaments. Working diligently her game In 2015, Lexi won 2 tournaments and scored in the top 10 in 12 other tournaments earning her the # 5 position on Top Money List.

The LPGA Has a Bright Future

So yea ... the LPGA is growing in popularity, and 2016 is promising to be an exciting year.  Two tournaments have been added for a total of 33 with the possibility of a 34th, the Reignwood Classic in China, to be played during the Asian swing in 2016.  But the real measure of popularity growth is the addition of $4 million in total sponsorship price money for 2016.

 

Who will be #1 on the LPGA Top Money List in 2016?  One could argue that it very likely will be one of the five LPGA golfers listed above.  Lydia Ko's skills, dedication, and early high level success probably make her a preseason front runner, but a lot can happen during a 34 tournament season.  Will this be Lexi Thompson's breakout year?  The golfing world just might not have seen her full potential yet.  Both she an Lydia are very young women pro golfers.

 

My guess is that we will definitely see all 5 golfers discussed here in the 2016 Top 10 Money Winners List.  It's going to be an exciting year for LPGA golf in the 2016 and the addition of competition in the Rio Olympics will help continue the growth of LPGA popularity.


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