The list included eight players: Angela Stanford (25); Hee-Won Han (25); Grace Park (24); Hilary Lunke (24); Dorothy Delasin (23); Jeong Jang (23); Candie Kung (22); and Lorena Ochoa (22).
These young players were among the elite group completing the season at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., two weeks ago, but many other young players showcased their talents this year, all while managing their success and life on the road on their own.
Entering the real world can be intimidating for most young adults, whether 18 and just out of high school or 22 and just out of college, but the prospect of making it on your own can be especially daunting for a young professional athlete.
At any age, life as a professional golfer can be a challenge, yet many of the young stars on the LPGA Tour successfully handle a professional career and the responsibilities of life on the road. Michelle McGann, Cristie Kerr, Dorothy Delasin, and Christina Kim are a few of the active LPGA players who joined the LPGA Tour right out of high school.
Goals of making it big on the professional circuit kept them from attending college and led them to chase their dreams of being a top name on the LPGA Tour. Visions of owning ones own home and being financially independent also are driving forces toward success.
For some young players, a difficult aspect about making it on the LPGA Tour is growing into their own personality while being independent, but also dealing with the hardships of missing their families.
This was the case earlier in the year for the 2003 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Lorena Ochoa of Guadalajara, Mexico.
The most difficult thing about success at this age is making the sacrifice to be away from my family in Mexico, said Ochoa, who just turned 22 on Nov. 15. My biggest responsibilities right now are to work hard and have the determination to keep practicing.
Ochoas hard work and hours of practice definitely paid off as she finished the season ranked ninth on the ADT Official Money List, becoming only the 16th player in LPGA history to reach the top-10 on a season-ending money list prior to her 25th birthday.
The 22-year-old had eight top 10s this season, including two runner-ups and three third-place finishes en route to winning the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year. With the season concluding, Ochoa can now spend some time in Mexico with her family.
For Natalie Gulbis, who turns 21 on Jan. 7, 2004, one of her most challenging, yet rewarding, tasks this year was buying her own house.
The most exciting part about buying my own place is just having a place to call your own, said 20-year-old Natalie Gulbis, who bought her first house at Lake Las Vegas on Reflection Bay Golf Club in Nevada and finished ranked 39th on the ADT Official Money List. Its a fun process to decorate and pick out everything, and its a nice outlet because Ive never had a hobby outside of golf.
Delasin, who won the 2000 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year at the age of 19, is the youngest player currently on the LPGA Tour with four career victories. Delasin won her fourth victory last month at the Mobile LPGA Tournament of Champions. With the wins came money, excitement, publicity but also more responsibility.
The best part about having success at a young age is that I bought my car and a house for my family with my own money, Delasin said. It was the best feeling just to be able to do it on my own. One of the most unexpected parts is that no one thought I could win.
Delasin became the youngest player in LPGA history to reach $1 million in career earnings in 2002 at the age of 21 years, 7 months and 12 days. She is one of seven LPGA Tour players who have reached the top 30 on the season-ending money list by the age of 20, which she did in 2000, joining Brandie Burton, Donna Caponi, Sandra Haynie, Carol Mann, Judy Rankin and Kathy Whitworth.
Delasin says one of her biggest responsibilities is paying the bills and keeping her place clean, which is difficult since shes hardly ever there, so this is where her help steps in.
I have a great management, Delasin said. My agent pays for all my bills so I dont have to worry about it. All I do is play golf. Im pretty lucky with that.