Woman Pro Golfers

The LPGA

Founding member of the LPGA
(1)  Babe Didrikson Zaharias
Founding member of the LPGA

When talking about women pro golfers we are primarily talking about the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Organized in 1950 by a founding group of 13 female golfers from the United States, the LPGA succeeded the Women’s Professional Golf Association (WPGA) which had formed after WW II.   These were bold ladies who just happened to be damn good golfers.

 

These women pro golfers were barrier breakers in this up till now male centric game. Most notable among the group were Patty Berg, Helen Hicks, Marilynn Smith, Louise Suggs, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Babe Didrikson was the best athlete of the group and Maryland Smith lived up to her nickname, “Miss Personality”. These women all had one thing in common … they were tremendously gifted golfers and golf teachers.

In the Beginning

While struggling to establish a season long circuit of professional golf tournaments, this founding group also wanted to include a Teaching Division which they did in 1959 by establishing the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional membership. Focused on “teaching teachers to teach”, this part of the newly formed LPGA grew faster than tournament development did in the beginning.

 

The founding year of the LPGA included 15 tournaments which grew to 23 LPGA tournaments by 1960. Tournament growth continued, reaching 38 tournaments in 1980. Since then the LPGA tournament tour has ranged from 27 to 36 LPGA Tournaments. Not PGA numbers, but respectable just the same.   The PGA has much more history than the LPGA, having formed way back in 1916.

Notable Contributors to Early LPGA Growth

In the 1960s the LPGA Tour was dominated by Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth. In the 1970s Judy Rankin and Nancy Lopez added their names along with Kathy’s to the growing list of LPGA Players of the Year. The LPGA was growing in popularity and in the 1980s added more new names to the LPGA Player of the Year list to go along with Nancy Lopez. These included Beth Daniel, JoAnn Carner, Patty Sheehan, Betsey King, and Pat Bradley.

Very inluential hispanic women athelete
(2) Nancy Lopes
Four time LPGA Player of the Year 1978 to 1988

Beth Daniels, Furman University
(3)  Beth Daniel Three time LPGA Player of the Year 1980 to 1994

Up to this point, all the dominant Women Pro Golfers were from the United States.   But in 1987 the first non US LPGA Player of the Year, Ayako Okamoto of Japan won this prestigious award. The growing international presence of the LPGA was becoming very noticeable. This was especially true during a seventeen year run from 1995 to 2011 when all LPGA Player of the Year winners were from countries other than the United States.

 The LPGA Goes International

The seventeen year run of non US LPGA Player of the Year winners started with Annika Sorenstam from Sweden in 1995. She became a dominant golfer on the LPGA tour winning Player of the Year award eight times from 1995 up to her retirement from competitive golf in 2008.  Laura Davies of England won in 1996, Karrie Webb of Australia won in 1999 and 2000, and Loreno Ochoa of Mexico won in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Annika Sorenstam LPGA Player of the Year
(4)   Annika Sorenstam, Sweden
8 time LPGA Player of the Year
1995 to 2008

Laura Davies 1996 LPGA Player of the Year
(5)   Laura Davies, England
LPGA Player of the Year
1996

Karrie Webb LPGA Player of the Year
(6)   Karrie Webb, Australia
LPGA Player of the Year
1999 & 2000

Loreno Ochoa 4 time winner of the LPGA Player of the Year
(7)   Loreno Ochoa, Mexico
4 time LPGA Player of the Year
2006 to 2009
Yani Tseng LPGA Player of the Year
(8)   Yani Tseng, Taiwan
LPGA Player of the Year
2010 & 2011

Yani Tseng of Taiwan (now the Republic of China) won in 2010 and 2011, and then we saw United States Woman Pro Golfer Stacy Lewis winning the LPGA Player of the Year award in 2012 and 2014. In 2013 the LPGA Player of the Year was Inbee Park of South Korea.  Asian countries are well represented in the LPGA and this particularly applies to South Korea.

 

This note worthy growth of LPGA golfers from South Korea has been quite phenomenal over the last fifteen years or so.  So it's possible that Inbee's Player of the Year award in 2013 is just the beginning of a long run of the LPGA Player of the Year awards going to a South Korean women pro golfer.

 

Keep your eye on Sei Young Kim, Amy Yang, Na Yeon Choi, and Hyo Joo Kim in addition to Inbee Park.  These South Korean LPGA golfers are all in the mid year 2015 Top 10 LPGA money winners as is Lydia Ko who is from South Korea, but currently resides in New Zealand.

The Top 100 LPGA Money Winners

The United States and South Korea are clearly dominating the Top 100 LPGA money winners list.   Currently according to midyear 2015 money rankings there are 5 golfers from South Korea and 3 from the United States in the Top 10. In the Top 50 there are 15 Korean golfers and 16 golfers from the United States. South Korea and the United States make up more than half the Top 100 LPGA money winners.

LPGA Player of the Year 2013
(9)   Inbee Park, South Korea
First LPGA Player of the Year
2013
Top 5 mid year 2015 LPGA
(10)   Amy Yang, South Korea
Top 5 LPGA money winner
mid year 2015

 

LPGA Player of the Year Stacy Lewis
(11)   Stacy Lewis, United States
LPGA Player of the Year
2012 & 2014

Top 10 LPGA money winner mid year 2015
(12)   Morgan Pressel, United States
Top 10 LPGA Money Winner
mid year 2015

But it’s not just about South Korea and the United States. The LPGA has truly achieved a global reach and it is growing. The 2015 LPGA tournament schedule includes tournaments in 12 countries around the world in addition to the United States including: Australia, Bahamas, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.

 

What demonstrates the international move even more is the mid year 2015 LPGA Money Rankings. Twenty one different countries are represented in the Top 100 money winners list.

LPGA Top 100 Woman Pro Golfers
United States
34

LPGA Top 100 Ranking
South Korea
21

LPGA Top 100 Rankings
Japan
5

LPGA Top 100 Rankings
Spain
5

LPGA Top 100 Rankings
Thailand
5

LPGA Top 100 Rankings
Australia
4

Sweden is in the LPGA Top 100 money winners
Sweden
4

LPGA Top 100 Money Winners
Taiwan
4

Top 100 LPGA money winners
China
3

LPGA Top 100 money winners
France
2

LPGA top 100 money winners
Germany
2

LPGA Top 100 money winners
South Africa
2

LPGA Top 100 money list
Canada
1

LPGA Top 100 money list
Colombia
1

LPGA Top 100 money list
England
1

LPGA to 100 money winners
Malaysia
1

LPGA top 100 money list
Norway
1

LPGA to 100 money winner list
Netherlands
1

LPGA to 100 money winner list
New Zealand
1

LPGA top 100 money winner list
Paraguay
1

LPGA top 100 money winner list
Scotland
1

(13)   Mid year LPGA Top 100 Money List count by country.  

Rapidly Growing Korean Presence in the LPGA

The increased number of South Korean women pro golfers is even more interesting when compared to the men pro golfers on the PGA from South Korea.  Here there is only one golfer in the Top 100 rankings, so it's curious what has been the source of the Korean growth on the LPGA tour.  It is believed by many that this  phenomenon was triggered by a young South Korean golfer named Se Ri Pak.  In 1998 she became the first women pro golfer from South Korea to win an LPGA major tournament.  She won the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open golf championship at the age of 20 and became the youngest women ever to win a major LPGA tournament.  It is this event that many believe started the evolution in women’s golf in South Korea.

 

LPGA US Open winner
(14)   Se Ri Pak
Youngest women pro golfer
to win the LPGA US Open, 1998

Korean families started encouraging their daughters to follow in the foot steps of Se Ri. Soon there was a national commitment supporting them. Se Ri Pak continues to be a roll model for young Koren female golfers more than 15 years after she introduced the golfing world to South Korea. The result has been a growing number of South Korean women pro golfers on the LPGA Tour over the last 15 years … and they are winners.   There’s no question that Se Ri may be largely responsible for the number, but why they tend to be such good golfers is a puzzle.

 

Daughters of South Korean families are exposed at an early age to a very competitive environment. Cultural influences include a high degree of patience and an unparalleled willingness to practice. But most of all it might be the over whelming family commitment of these aspiring young golfers to support their daughters in their pursuit of becoming leading LPGA golfers. Indeed it might be considered a national commitment.

 

The surprising thing about the growth of South Korean daughters on the LPGA Tour over the last 15 years is that none had won the coveted LPGA Player of the Year award until Inbee Park did it in 2013. But when you look at the current mid year 2015 LPGA Rankings there are 5 South Koreans in the Top 10, 9 in the Top 20 and 12 in the Top 30 LPGA money winners. So it’s possible that we may see a South Korean run on the LPGA Player of the Year award real soon.

 

Inbee Park looks like she may have a lock on the award in 2015. With only 12 more scheduled LPGA tournaments to go (out of a 32 tournament schedule in 2015), she is the leading money winner by a considerable margin.   The second leading money winner so far this year is Lydia Ko of New Zealand who is 18 years old. Early on in 2015 Lydia was the leading the LPGA rankings becoming the youngest to do so at 17 years old. She is South Korean born and educated, but currently resides in New Zealand and proudly represents that country on the LPGA tour.

You've Come A Long Way Baby

So yes ... the LPGA has come a long way from it's early beginnings way back in 1950.  International growth, particularly from Asian countries, has been phenomenal and is driving a growing world wide interest in women's pro game.  Feeding this growth are strong amateur golf programs and a growing number of very competitive College and University golf programs for young women.

 

These amateur programs are telling us that the international growth in womens pro golf is likely to continue.  A scan of the mid year 2015 Top 20 Amateur Rankings reveals 3 from Spain, 2 from France, 2 from Sweden, and 1 each from Australia, England, Ireland, Mexico, and South Korea to go along with 8 from the United States.  Truly the future looks bright for womens pro golf.

 

Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.  I will reply as soon as possible.  One of the questions I'm still researching is an explanation for what makes South Korean women golfers such good golfers.


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6 thoughts on “Woman Pro Golfers

  1. Marc

    Women Pro golfers never cease to amaze me. They are incredible athletes that push the boundaries of Golf. They may not be the big hitters like Tiger was in his prime, but they are definitely accurate. I actually prefer to watch women's golf over men's golf now days. Amy Yang is one of my favorites right now. Thanks you for mentioning her.
    Marc

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thank you for stopping by Marc. I agree with you. Their game is different than the men on the PGA tour, but every bit as competitive. The tremendous growth in young women pro golfers from South Korea, in addition to Amy Yang, is amazing. What makes it so interesting is that the men pro golfers from South Korea do not share the same success. So there is something unique going on with young women in South Korea aspiring to become professional golfers. What makes so many of them such good golfers is the question.

      Stop by any time Marc.

      Reply
  2. Benjamin

    Hello Dennis,

    Relaxing image at the top, my mother was a fan of Beth Daniels and used to watch her and try and copy her style whilst golfing.

    Laura Davies was a bit of a cannon, it's also great how much female golfing is a big sport today and will continue innovating and inspiring other women to keep golfing.

    ~Benji~

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thank you for stopping by Benji. That relaxed golf swing at the top is Babe Didrikson Zaharias. She was a tremendous athlete, and a key member of the founding LPGA group. Laura Davies from England only won the LPGA Player of the Year award once (in 1996), but was definitely one of the long hitters of her time. My favorite during this period of time was Annika Sorenstam of Sweden. She won the LPGA Player of the Year 8 times between 1995 and 2008.

      The LPGA has inspired many young female golfers around the world. The 2015 mid year Top 100 LPGA money winners includes 34 from the United States and 21 from South Korea. The number from the US makes sense, but what is driving the growth of the LPGA in South Korea?

      Stop by any time Benji.

      Reply
  3. Dave

    I'm so proud of golf for being one of the sports that has better exposure and development of the ladies game. Too many focus way to much on the men and miss out on half of what the players have to offer!

    Sad to only see one of my fellow Scots on the earners list though 🙁

    Reply
    1. admin

      Hello Dave ... thank you for stopping by. I follow both the PGA and the LPGA, and I'll have to admit I kind of enjoy the women pros more. I can relate to their game more than I can the men. Their golf swings are so graceful yet amazingly powerful. I can relate to their 260 yard drives easier than I can the 300+ yard drives on the PGA. I am particularly interested in the Korean LPGA stream of fantastic golfers. It's an amazing story.

      I sure enjoyed the British Open recently completed in your home country. Henrik Stenson was a machine. He and Phil Mickelson put on quite a show. Russell's game is really coming together. Over $3 million tournament winnings so far in 2016 makes for some nice trips to the bank. He's been a touring PGA pro now since 2007 and the hard work is really paying off.

      Reply

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