Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa dominated the Player of the Year award for the better part of 15 years. Now it's a wide-open race. Who will earn top honors in 2011? Jay Coffin and Randall Mell offer up their takes.
By JAY COFFIN
For as well as South Koreans have played on the LPGA over the past decade, no one from that country has been named Player of the Year. That’ll stop this year when Jiyai Shin steps up and claims those honors for the first time.
The race for the top spot was left wide open in 2010 when Lorena Ochoa retired.
It left Shin, Na Yeon Choi, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen, Ai Miyazato and Cristie Kerr to duke it out, with Tseng ultimately ending the year as POY based mostly on the strength of her two major championship victories.
But 2011 is Shin’s time to shine. She’s only 22 years old and has eight career LPGA titles, including three in 2008 when she wasn’t even a member of the tour.
She ran away with Rookie of the Year honors in 2009 and nearly clipped Ochoa for Player of the Year, but Ochoa captured the trophy on the last hole of the last tournament of the season.
Shin won twice in 2010, was second in earnings, but was fifth in Player of the Year. She doesn’t hit the ball far by today’s standards but was No. 1 in fairways hit, No. 1 in top-10 finishes, and sixth in putting average.
That’ll lead to a dangerous mix in 2011, one that’ll end as the LPGA’s Player of the Year.
By RANDALL MELL
Na Yeon Choi will be the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year this season.
It will set off fireworks in South Korea, because it will make her the first player from that nation to win the award. It seems inevitable that a South Korean becomes Player of the Year with South Koreans becoming the most formidable nation in women’s golf over the last decade. They’ve been on the rise since Se Ri Pak won the LPGA Championship and U.S. Women’s Open in 1998.
Today’s Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings feature five South Koreans among the top 10. The United States is next best with two players.
It won’t be easy for Choi, though, because you can expect another tight competition with so many quality players poised to contend. Fellow country woman Jiyai Shin will make a run. So will Suzann Pettersen, Ai Miyazato, Cristie Kerr, Yani Tseng and Paula Creamer.
Choi, 23, ranks as the player to beat, based not only on the consistency she showed last season, but the upward trajectory she created over year’s end.
Choi won the LPGA’s Vare Trophy for low scoring average (69.87) and the money title ($1,814,558) in 2010. She won two LPGA titles (Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic and the Hana Bank Championship) and finished among the top five in nine of her last 13 starts.