LPGA has ev­ery­thing but a dom­i­nant player

No short­age of star play­ers in women’s golf

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - SPORTS - Doug Fer­gu­son AP Sports Colum­nist

NAPLES, FLA. » Even with five of the big­gest prizes still up for grabs at the fi­nal LPGA Tour event of the year, So Yeon Ryu has set an am­bi­tious goal.

“I want to be a rock star for the fu­ture,” Ryu said. Her smile and in­fec­tious laugh kept it all in con­text Tues­day.

The LPGA Tour has no short­age of star play­ers this year.

Shan­shan Feng set a record last week with­out even know­ing it when she won the Blue Bay LPGA in China and moved to No. 1 in the world, mak­ing her the fifth player to be No. 1 this year. That’s the high­est num­ber of play­ers to reach the top of the rank­ing in a cal­en­dar year, male or fe­male.

Par­ity in women’s golf doesn’t end there.

The CME Group Tour Cham­pi­onship will de­cide who wins the LPGA money ti­tle be­tween Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It will de­cide who wins the Vare Tro­phy for the low­est ad­just scor­ing av­er­age among Park, Lexi Thomp­son and In Gee Chun. The points­based award for LPGA player of the year comes down to Ryu, Feng, Park and Thomp­son. Those four play­ers, along with Brooke Hen­der­son, only have to win at Tiburon Golf Club to claim the $1 mil­lion bonus for win­ning the CME Race to the Globe.

It’s one thing to have star play­ers. But a rock star? That’s about the only thing the LPGA is lack­ing after a dy­namic sea­son that still has one fi­nal act.

The tour had the po­ten­tial for a dom­i­nant fig­ure with Ly­dia Ko, who won her first LPGA Tour ti­tle at age 15 and reached No. 1 in the world for the first time at age 17. Ko won her sec­ond LPGA ma­jor when she was 18, and she stayed No. 1 in the world for 20 con­sec­u­tive months.

And then she stopped win­ning.

Ko changed her equip­ment, her coach and her cad­die this year, and she hasn’t been the same. She lost her No. 1 rank­ing in June, and that paved the way for a stream of play­ers who have taken their turns at the top — Ariya Ju­tanu­garn, Ryu, Park and Feng. Ju­tanu­garn lasted two weeks at No. 1. Park was there only for a week.

Is one star greater than five?

“That’s a tough ques­tion, be­cause it could be re­ally great to see a lot of play­ers have the op­por­tu­nity be­ing No. 1,” Ryu said. “Be­cause ev­ery sin­gle player just re­ally loves this game and they do their best to be No. 1. But at the same time, it could be like we might need a rock star, win the tour­na­ment more than five times in the year, be­ing in con­tention pretty much ev­ery tour­na­ment.” Not this year. The LPGA Tour sea­son be­gan with 15 play­ers win­ning the first 15 events on the sched­ule.

Ryu won the ANA In­spi­ra­tion in a play­off over Lexi Thomp­son in a ma­jor best re­mem­bered for Thomp­son in­cor­rectly mark­ing her ball on the green in the third round and get­ting docked four shots in the fi­nal round when the in­frac­tion was dis­cov­ered. Ryu be­came the first mul­ti­ple win­ner in June, and she hasn’t won since.

Rock-star sta­tus will have to wait.

Women’s Bri­tish Open cham­pion I.K. Kim has three vic­to­ries, tied for the most this year with Feng, who has won the last two weeks in Asia. Park has won the U.S. Women’s Open and the Cana­dian Women’s Open. Thomp­son has won twice but no ma­jors.

“There are so many great play­ers out here,” Thomp­son said. “It’s been a dif­fer­ent win­ner ev­ery week seems like for the ma­jor­ity of this year. It’s great to see. A lot of peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how tough it is to win ev­ery sin­gle week and have a dom­i­nant player on tour.”

It didn’t stop Ko, who won five times in 2015 and four times in 2016 un­til she went into her tail­spin. Be­fore Ko, dom­i­nance came from Lorena Ochoa. The Mex­i­can star won 21 times in three sea­sons, and then she abruptly re­tired in 2010.

The year Ochoa walked away, the No. 1 rank­ing changed nine times among three play­ers, and no one held it longer than nine weeks.

It’s a ques­tion that has come up over the years, mainly on the PGA Tour, and most re­cently in­volv­ing Tiger Woods.

Does golf need dom­i­nance to spark in­ter­est?

It al­ways helps to have a ri­valry, and Woods had a re­volv­ing door of them that be­gan with Ernie Els and David Du­val, fea­tured Vi­jay Singh, stretched all the way to Rory McIl­roy and al­ways in­cluded Phil Mick­el­son.

But it was al­ways about Woods.

Since his last stay at No. 1 in 2013, five play­ers have been No. 1. McIl­roy is the only one so far who has kept it for more than a year, and while men’s golf has great depth at the top, the at­ten­tion over Woods’ re­turn next month in the Ba­hamas shows how much golf craves a rock star.

The LPGA had that with An­nika Soren­stam and Ochoa. It nearly had it with Ko.

With this much par­ity, the next one will have her work cut out.

DOUG FER­GU­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

LPGA golfers, from left, Sung Hyun Park, So Yeon Ryu, Lexi Thomp­son, Shan­shan Feng and Brooke Hen­der­son pose be­fore a glass case, Tues­day re­flect­ing the $1 mil­lion cash bonus up for grabs this week at the CME Group Tour Cham­pi­onship golf tour­na­ment at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla.

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