Brooke Henderson chased down Rolex world No. 1 Lydia Ko with a bold charge that ignited a series of soul-stirring roars through the towering pines at Sahalee Country Club back in June.
It made the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship sound like the women’s version of the Masters.
Henderson defeated Ko in a playoff there with a brilliant 7-iron to 3 feet setting up the winning birdie.
Ariya Jutanugarn barely missed out on joining them for the extra hole.
The epic battle will go down as one of the greatest finishes in the history of women’s golf, but with Ko, Henderson and Jutanugarn so young it felt more like the beginning of something big.
And the summer would get bigger.
Inbee Park made a spectacular return from injury at the Olympics, playing through pain to claim the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.
When Park stepped off the medal stand with gold around her neck, accompanied by Ko with silver and Shanshan Feng with bronze, the trio was swarmed by TV cameramen, photographers and reporters. They were treated like rock stars. Women in golf have never received that kind of attention before.
The 2016 LPGA season will be remembered for how women enjoyed an elevated stage.
It will also be remembered for Jutanugarn’s rise and Ko’s continued reign as Rolex world No. 1 and how they played key roles in both the game’s remarkable youth movement and Asia’s strengthening grip on the game.
A look back at the year’s LPGA highlights:
With a tour-best five titles, Jutanugarn won the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the LPGA money winning title.
She also won the Heather Farr Award for perseverance, coming back from shoulder surgery in 2013 and also a slump that saw her miss 10 consecutive cuts a year ago. She became the first player in history to win three consecutive starts as her first three LPGA titles. She did that in May after collapsing in April with the final-round lead at the ANA Inspiration.
With five victories worldwide, Ko kept a stranglehold on the Rolex world No. 1 ranking from year’s start to finish. She won her second major (ANA Inspiration) and ended the LPGA season atop the world rankings for a 76th week, the last 57 in a row.
Park’s pieces of history
Park battled through an injured left thumb to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June. The pain was obvious there, and it led Park to shut down her game, until amazing the world with her Olympic return two months later, when she won gold in Rio de Janeiro.
The youth movement
The women’s game has been getting younger for some time now, but it’s never been this young.
The average age of this year’s LPGA winners was 22.3 years old.
Brittany Lang was the oldest winner, 30 when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July.
The average age of the top 10 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings at season’s end was 22.8 years old.
Ko won the season’s first major (ANA Inspiration) at 19, Henderson won the next (KPMG Women’s PGA) at 18, Jutanugarn won the Ricoh Women’s British Open at 20 and In Gee Chun the Evian Championship at 22.
Charley Hull joined the youthful winner’s mix claiming the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship at 20.
The Asian dominance
Se Ri Pak said goodbye to the LPGA this year, with a farewell American tour and then a final farewell celebration at the KEB HanaBank Championship in South Korea in the fall.
South Korea’s influence on the game has steadily grown since Pak inspired her homeland winning two majors as a rookie in ’98, but she made an impact through all of Asia, and it’s never been stronger than it was this year.
Ten of the top 12 players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are Asian born.
Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals were swept by Asian-born players.
Thailand’s on the rise now, too, with Jutanugarn’s emergence and a Thai record eight players joining the tour in 2016. China’s also on the rise, with Shanshan Feng following up her Olympic bronze medal performance by winning a pair of LPGA titles in the fall. Feng also led China’s qualification for the UL International Crown. She was the only Chinese player in the LPGA ranks when she won the LPGA Championship four years ago. There were six Chinese players on tour this year.
Americans won just two LPGA titles this year, their fewest in the 67-year history of the tour.
Lang claimed the biggest prize in women’s golf, winning the U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle, but Lexi Thompson’s victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand was the only other by an American in an LPGA event the entire year.
Americans also endured a slide in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings with Thompson the only American left among the top 10 at season’s end.
Henderson’s major breakthrough
When she won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Henderson made history.
At 18 years, 9 months and 2 days old, she became the youngest winner of the championship, which shares its history with the LPGA Championship, which dates back to 1955.
Henderson also successfully defended her title at the Cambia Portland Classic.
Chun joins a pair of legends
Chun moved her name among a pair of legends.
She achieved a pair of rare feats, linking her name to Se Ri Pak and Nancy Lopez.
Chun introduced herself to American audiences winning the U.S. Women’s Open at Lancaster Country Club a year ago. She followed up on that success in a big way this year, winning the Evian Championship to join Pak as the only players to claim majors as their first two LPGA titles. Chun also won the Vare Trophy, becoming the first rookie to do so since Lopez.
Ha Na Jang and Chun got caught up in some misfortune early in the year, when Jang’s father lost control of a suitcase that bounced down an escalator at a Singapore airport and struck Chun in the lower back, knocking Chun out of the HSBC Champions in March and other events in the spring.
The incident set off a firestorm of controversy in South Korea, but they both emerged from the trouble with successful seasons.
Jang won three LPGA titles, more than anyone but Jutanugarn and Ko. Jang won the Coates Golf Championship, the HSBC Champions and the Fubon Taiwan Championship.