This time last year we wrote about how Lydia Ko would almost certainly take the next step in her short career by landing the number one spot in the Rolex Rankings. She might not have done that, yet, but she has certainly thrown down her gauntlet by winning the LPGA CME Group Tour Championship, and with it the biggest prize in women’s golf, a cool $1 million bonus.
For any critics that might have argued in favor of her completing college last year instead of turning professional, her season earnings of $2,089,033 plus the $1,000,000 bonus for finishing top of the _Race to CME Globe_ gave her in excess of $3 million.
To put that total in perspective, she is comfortably in the top twenty-five of any golfer’s on-course earnings this year, male, female or senior.
The bonus fund was the idea of LPGA chief Mike Whan and it made for one of the more entertaining weeks on the LPGA Tour this year. Anyone of one the top ten could theoretically have won the $1 million pot, but realistically a good finish from Stacey Lewis or Inbee Park would have secured it. As it happened it was Ko whose victory secured it by the smallest of margins.
Next year, the tour grows again, 33 tournaments in 15 countries with an enlarged purse of over $60 million to be played for. New sponsorship deals are in place and with the resurgence of Michelle Wie, the success of Lexi Thompson and the strength of women’s golf in Asia it’s a tour that goes from strength to strength.
Before the off all the talk had been centered on the bonus prize money on offer and the three main protagonists vying for the prize, Lewis, Park and Lydia Ko were all photographed together as such. After two rounds, it looked like Wie had forced herself into contention too, with Lewis and Ko struggling and Park well down the field.
But come the weekend Ko, the newly-crowned Rookie of the Year, finished with two 68s in difficult conditions to share a playoff with Julieta Granada and a Carlota Ciganda. After Granada bailed at the first extra hole and Ciganda missed a makable three footer for the win on the third, Ko completed her season with victory, calmly two putting at the fourth.
Her immediate reward was a face full of champagne from her fellow LPGA players, an ironic reminder she is still just 18 – and of Commissioner Whan’s allowance of her joining the tour at the tender age of 17.
With three wins this year and walking off with the biggest prize ever in women’s golf, she matches the number of victories of Park and Lewis. More importantly Whan has a 2015 LPGA Tour more eagerly anticipated than ever.