The LPGA’s season ended with a big-bang finish Sunday in Naples, but in so many ways this year feels like it could be the start of something bigger.
At 17, Lydia Ko’s star is just beginning to rise. She won two LPGA titles before joining the tour as a member this year. She won three as a rookie this season, equaling Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park and No. 2 Stacy Lewis for most victories in 2014. It's just a matter of time until she breaks through in major championships.
Park, 26, and Lewis, 29, have battled to within hundredths of a decimal point for the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, with their struggle to hold the mountaintop evolving nicely into a rivalry that saw them square off in a brilliant head-to-head battle in Taiwan last month. They were 1-2 in just about every statistical category that mattered this year.
Michelle Wie’s passion is returning, her confidence growing with those victories at the U.S. Women's Open and Lotte Championship. You can see how much she wants to join Park and Lewis in that battle for No. 1. You can see her competitive fires burning anew. She gets this look in her eyes now, like she wants to plow through the field to the trophy. Wie, 25, just needs to stay healthy and keep that putter functional to make a run at Park, Lewis and Ko for the game’s big prizes.
“There’s no reason she can’t climb all the way to No. 1 now,” says David Leadbetter, Wie’s swing coach.
Suzann Pettersen ended 2013 on the cusp of No. 1, but a back injury earlier this year derailed her momentum. You know she didn’t like being an afterthought in all the battles for big prizes late this year. At 33, she’s burning to get right back in the mix for majors, No. 1 and Player of the Year battles.
Lexi Thompson, 19, won her first major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship earlier this year playing bomb-and-gouge golf in a way the LPGA has never seen before. Lewis says Thompson hits shots that nobody else on tour can hit. A lot of tour pros are waiting to see if Thompson puts all that mega- talent together for her biggest year yet this coming season.
The LPGA’s season may be over, but that big-bang finish Sunday came with the promise of even more spectacular fireworks. It felt like momentum that won't be contained by the calendar's turn to December.