After the 2020 LPGA season was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with only 18 tournaments and limited majors, the 2021 season roared right back and didn’t disappoint. In total, 29 tournaments were played, plus all five majors and the Olympics. Now, the tour is set to begin another big year.
Sure, we won’t get the Olympics or the Solheim Cup this year. But the 2022 LPGA season is stacked with 34 official events and another year of record-setting purses and playing opportunities.
This week, everything kicks off at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando, Florida. With stars like Nelly Korda, Jessica Korda, Lydia Ko, Michelle Wie West, Danielle Kang, Brooke Henderson and many more in attendance, the season opener will include a $1.5 million purse and 50 celebrities — including Annika Sorenstam — competing for a $2 million purse.
If you’re still unsure if this season will top last season, here are five things to watch for this year on the LPGA Tour:
Look, it’s no surprise that the first thing we’re looking forward to about the 2022 season is Nelly Korda. If it felt like the 2021 season was the Nelly Korda show, it’s because it was the Nelly Korda show.
A year ago, the 23-year-old Korda won four times, including her first major championship title at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Korda then showed up in Tokyo for her first Olympics appearance and proved why she is the No. 1 player in the world, taking home the gold medal.
“Safe to say I really enjoyed my first Olympic experience,” Korda said after standing on the podium.
This past year, Korda became the first American woman to reach No. 1 since Stacy Lewis in 2014. She starts this year at No. 1, a spot she’s held since June. The run of 28 total weeks tops the 25 weeks in which Lewis was No. 1 over the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
The best part about this potential sequel to Korda’s standout 2021 season? Last year, she fell short when it came to claiming the Rolex Player of the Year honor, which Jin Young Ko won. So, there’s one thing that Korda couldn’t bring home last year. But with a full season ahead, the future looks even brighter for the younger Korda sister.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, Lydia Ko disappeared from golf. Well, not a full disappearance. But the New Zealand star took a break — an extended break. At that point, Ko didn’t really have to prove much to the golf world. She was a 16-time LPGA winner. Everyone knew her name.
During the six-month break, while working with coach Sean Foley, Ko hit the reset and focused on her technique and mental game. The result? A return to form and renewed pursuit of No. 1 in the world.
Ko posted 11 top-10 finishes in 20 starts and a victory at the Lotte Championship. Ending a three-year winless streak, Ko continued to find herself on leaderboards. And after a silver medal finish at the Tokyo Olympics, it was clear that Ko is back. Currently ranked No. 3, Ko won the LPGA’s Vare Trophy award in November for the season’s low scoring average. In her eight-year career, Ko has never claimed that award.
Some new faces, some familiar faces to watch
If we have learned anything over the last few years, it is to never count out the rookies or even the unexpected amateurs on the LPGA Tour. Every tournament presents a new opportunity for a name to burst onto the scene. Last year at the U.S. Women’s Open, Yuka Saso arrived in a blink of an eye.
In mid-December, the LPGA Tour Q-Series entered a new batch of rookies for the 2022 season. And the top finishers, some completely new to the LPGA Tour and some familiar to the environment, include former Korean LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour members, as well as some college stars.
This season, eyes should be on South Korea’s Na Rin An. In only her second time competing in the U.S., Na won the Q-Series medalist honors. But just last year, the two-time Korean LPGA Tour winner stepped onto the American scene when she pulled out a T-3 at the BMW Ladies Championship. If her two times competing on U.S. soil are any indication, Na will be one to watch this season.
After a tumultuous 2021 season where she only made three cuts, Mariah Stackhouse returned to Q-Series to regain her LPGA status. Since her 2017 rookie season on tour, Stackhouse has five top-10 career finishes. For Stackhouse to stick around this year, it will come down to her work around the greens — something she has struggled with over the years.
This year it’s all about the money. And honestly, it’s about time. For years, the LPGA has been leading the way when it comes to pay equity and getting the women closer to what they deserve. And this year, it feels like it’s actually becoming a reality — there’s still a long road ahead, but it’s a start.
In early January, the USGA announced a partnership with ProMedica as a presenting partner for the U.S. Women’s Open. The USGA will increase the overall prize money for the event from $5.5 million in 2021 to $10 million in 2022. Over the next five years, the USGA has committed to moving it to $12 million.
But it doesn’t just stop at the U.S. Women’s Open. The 2022 LPGA season will feature 34 official events with a combined $85.7 million in prize money.
In 2022, the AIG Women’s Open will increase to $6.8 million. The Chevron Championship will increase to $5 million. And both the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and Evian Championship will increase to $4.5 million.
These groundbreaking purse increases aren’t just a new record for the tour, but it’s a game-changer for female professional golfers.
“The stage is set for 2022 to be one of the most exciting years in the history of the LPGA Tour, with the addition of new events, the largest total purse ever, over 500 hours of broadcast television and a collective commitment to being the leading women’s professional sports property in the world,” LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan said last fall.
Filling Mike Whan’s shoes, new commissioner in town
It’s hard to compete with someone that has been hailed by many as one of the “best to ever do it” and applauded as the “game-changer for the women’s game.” But when LPGA commissioner Mike Whan announced last year that he would be resigning and taking over as CEO of the USGA, someone had to take his place. It wouldn’t be easy. But that didn’t seem to faze Princeton athletic director Mollie Marcoux Samaan. In May, she was named the new commissioner. In August, she began her first day on the job.
The ninth commissioner and the second woman to lead the tour since its formation in 1950, Marcoux Samaan inherited the wealth of Whan’s time on tour: a robust event schedule and increased purses. But it’s up to Marcoux Samaan to make sure that the game continues to grow and flourish.
“My mission and the LPGA’s mission are fully aligned: providing women and girls the opportunity to achieve their dreams through golf,” Marcoux Samaan said after being hired in her new position.
The 2022 stage is set, and all eyes are on Marcoux Samaan in her first full season. The LPGA might be in a strong position because of Whan, who recently announced the USGA’s purse increase for the women’s championship, but it’s also in a place of opportunity. And Marcoux Samaan knows that the LPGA must continue to raise the bar and grow the game. Purse increases and iconic venues are not enough.
“This is our time. The momentum is with us,” Marcoux Samaan said.
Source : ESPN.com