By Nancy Berkley.
The 2015 LPGA Tour season began in Florida at the January Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Florida. The Tour and players have come full circle taking an 11-month adventure that included 31 tournaments in fifteen countries including the U.S.
And they were back in Florida this past weekend for the 32nd and final tournament of the season – the CME Group Tour Championship which began on Thursday, November 19th and concluded Sunday, November 22nd in Naples, Florida at the Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz Carlton Resort. It’s the grand finale tournament of the season and also determines the winner of the Race to the CME Globe and Rolex Player of the Year and the winner of the Vare Trophy for the player with the lowest average score in official LPGA tournaments.
SUNDAY FINAL TOURNAMENT RESULTS
For those who want to get the Sunday tournament news quickly, here it is: The winner of the CME Group Tour Championship was Cristie Kerr from the U.S. taking home $500,000. The winner of the season-long Race to the CME Globe was New Zealand’s 18-year-old Lydia Ko bringing home one million dollars and just edging out Korea’s Inbee Park. The Rolex Player of the Year was Lydia Ko – the youngest winner in forty-nine years. And the Vare Trophy honoring the LPGA player with the lowest scoring average is Inbee Park making her eligible for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
THURSDAY EVENING ROLEX AWARDS CELEBRATION
That was the quick tournament news, but the evening of the first day of the tournament featured the Rolex Awards Celebration. The LPGA players get a chance to take off their golf gear and put on party clothes!
Awards are given to women and men who make a difference in the success of the Tour by not only demonstrating outstanding skill in competitions but also by supporting the goals and mission of the LPGA. It’s a global celebration with players from the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia and New Zealand. For complete information see http://www.lpga.com/news/2015-lpga-honors-players-at-rolex-awards-celebration.
These awards do not get much publicity. But because the awards are named after and carry forward the history of the LPGA including its Founders, I always like to mention them. My first set of golf clubs were Wilson’s Patty Berg signature clubs, and I still have that putter! Ellen Griffin was an exceptional teacher of women golfers – a legend that receives very little recognition in a world of high-tech teaching. And the Rolex Awards are embedded in the past and future history of the LPGA. (A timeline of the History of Women’s Golf beginning with Mary Queen of Scots is on my website at www.berkleygolfconsulting.com.)
Following is an abbreviated list of the Thursday evening awards and recipients:
Rolex First-Time LPGA Tour Winners: Sei Young Kim, Hyo Joo Kim, Chella Choi
Rolex ANNIKA Major Award: Inbee Park
Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year: Sei Young Kim
Commissioner’s Award: Terry Duffy, Executive Chairman of CME Group
Ellen Griffin Rolex Award (for excellence in teaching): Dana Rader
Patty Berg Award: Shirley Spork – one of the LPGA Founders
William and Mousie Powell Award (based on votes of Tour players]: Juli Inkster
Heather Farr Perseverance Award (based on votes of Tour players]: Heather Farr
Media Excellence Award: Ron Sirak – writer and supporter of women’s golf.
MORE ABOUT THE CME GROUP TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP AND THE “RACE” TO THE CME GLOBE
Hopefully, readers noticed that all season that caddies on the LPGA Tour wore bibs with “Race to the CME” on them. For those readers and golf fans who are still are wondering what all that was about, here’s the background you probably haven’t heard.
When Mike Whan officially became LPGA Commissioner in January 2010, he had already read about the history of the LPGA. In an early interview with him he explained to me that he noticed that for many years the LPGA schedule included a “Titleholders” tournament. Players who had earned a “Title” by winning (and placing) in one of the tournaments that season were invited to play in the “Titleholders” tournament. Commissioner Whan brought that tournament back to the LPGA in 2010 as a season-ending tournament.
And then, Terry Duffy, the Executive Chairman and President of the CME Group – a global market-exchange and risk-management company stepped forward with key financial support to the LPGA. It helped that Duffy was a good golfer himself who saw how the LPGA’s global presence would be a good fit with the global customers of the CME Group. And it helped that Whan and Duffy shared marketing expertise and could work so well together.
From 2011 to 2013, the final tournament of the season was renamed the CME Group Titleholders and was limited to about 70 players. In 2014, the tournament was again renamed and became The CME Group Tour Championship. To make it worth the season-long effort, the CME Group significantly increased the prize to $500,000.
To make the annual tournaments even more exciting, in 2014, the season-long-points “Race” was introduced with a huge purse of $1,000,000 – the highest ever in women’s professional golf. The “Race” format included a “reset” element prior to the final CME Group Tour Championship.
The reset feature insured that the final field of 72 players competing for the one million dollar prize would be the best of the best of the LPGA Tour that season. And to create uncertainly and excitement, the winner of that one million dollars could not easily be predicted until the conclusion of the Group Tour Championship and the allocation of those points. In my opinion, this is the best season-long tournament scoring system in all of golf. I think the simplicity of the Race to the CME Group beats the PGA Tour’s complicated FedEx Cup formulas and gives credit to the stamina and staying power of players on a global tour like the LPGA.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS: THE PROS AND THE REST OF US
One of the benefits of being able to sit in the media center is listening and participating in the post-round interviews. Players have just come off the course and are gracious enough to answer our questions. This is my opportunity to share my observations based on those press interviews.
Expert golfers and recreational golfers have some similar issues
First: Although the LPGA Tour players play at a professional level, they have some of the same problems recreational golfers like myself (and most women) have. Inbee Park admitted after the third round on Saturday that she was hot out on the course and her left hip was feeling “tight” ending with “I did all I can do.” (How many times have we said that to our playing partners?) Christie Kerr shared her back problems and how she is building up her core strength so that she can get her core and legs more into the swing and hit farther. How did she hurt her back? She hurt it picking up her 35-pound adorable son, Mason.
Second: Professional players change swing styles and strokes just like recreational golfers. Lydia Ko sometimes uses a putting grip with her left hand high and sometimes with her left-hand low. If only I could figure out what works best for me!!
Third: Professional golfers have tremendous variation in their swings. Several excellent players take a short half swing at address before hitting the ball .. but most don’t. And there are so many different ways that golfers line up puts. I found it interesting that Ko straddled a putting line midway to the hole – as if to get a better read. (I may try that!)
Fourth: Professional women golfers have to make decisions about work/family balance just like the rest of us. And there is no right answer for everyone. Cristie Kerr commented in the press conference about her age (she just turned 38). She wondered out loud with us as to whether she can keep playing with all the young talent on the Tour? (I hope she talks with Julie Inkster!) At that time, she didn’t know that she would be the winner on Sunday; so, I think she may have her answer now – she looked so good out there on the final round!. On the other hand, Lydia Ko has already announced that she would like to retire by 30 and presumably settle into a more traditional life with a focus on marriage and children.
But expert golfers do one thing better than recreational golfers. It’s called “practice.” Expert golfers practice and practice and practice those hard shots.
Sunday’s round began late so I hung around the practice areas. I watched Suzanne Pettersen with her caddy on the putting green practice dozens of balls three feet from the cup. I watched Lexi Thompson hit every club in her bag on the practice tee for a very long time. I watched Inbee Park with her husband (also her coach) practice lots of shots on those practice tees and then some from the bunker. I watched many golfers practice those soft wedge shots from 3 feet off the green. That really inspires me! They make it look so easy.
Finally, observations about women’s golf fashions. They have never been better! The short skorts look great and it’s about time the rules change at our U.S. clubs. For the first time in many years, I bought a couple of PUMA golf shirts. Guess what? Lexi Thompson was wearing one very similar to mine – that pretty chevron print! Maybe new designers at PUMA. And, maybe now I’ll drive the ball farther?
This is my last article about the 2015 LPGA Season. Hats off to www.womensgolf.com. I thank you for the privilege of writing for this website. I’m looking forward to next season. The LPGA’s first tournament is January 25-31 – the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in Paradise Islands, Bahamas. And the Olympics in Rio! And some talk about women/men playing together in team competition. All exciting.
So much is happening as more girls join the game and women golfers and women’s tournaments get more media coverage. I don’t think there is another sport that is as personally rewarding in so many ways as the game of golf. Nothing relaxes me more than playing golf by myself at twilight just as the moon appears over the course. I continue to believe: “Be Happy, Be Healthy, Live Longer, Play Golf.”
Best wishes to all for the New Year.
Describing herself as a good bogey golfer with permanent potential, she shares news about women’s golf – along with her opinions on www.berkleygolfconsulting and www.nancyberkley.com. You can also follow Nancy on Twitter.