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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let's Talk LPGA 2016

I'm not going to do a long post today but, with the 2015 LPGA schedule winding up over the weekend, I thought it might be fun to take a look at what may await us next season.

Inbee Park and Lydia Ko

First, a reminder of how the end of year races finished up:
  • Race to the CME Globe winner: Lydia Ko
  • Rolex Player of the Year: Lydia Ko
  • Vare Trophy (scoring title) winner: Inbee Park
  • Rolex Rookie of the Year: Sei Young Kim
  • CME Group Tour Championship winner: Cristie Kerr
Inbee also gained enough points to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame when she finishes her 10th year next season. Congrats, Inbee!

And if you pop over to this link at Tony Jesselli's site, you can find the 2016 LPGA playing schedule. There are 34 tournaments, up two from 2015, and the LPGA will take around three weeks off for the Olympics.

The debates have already begun over who will enter 2016 with the most momentum... and who will most likely stumble. Here are my initial reactions to what we've seen so far.

Of course, the Top3 of the LPGA -- Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis -- will most likely continue their rivalry. Among other things, Stacy has been making equipment changes this past season -- tell me, how does a conforming golf ball suddenly cease to be conforming? -- but I expect she'll get everything sorted out over the off-season and be fresh and ready to go in January.

Add to this Top3 the ROY, Sei Young Kim. She came over here because she wanted to qualify for the Olympics. Right now she's got it, and I don't expect her to let up with her goal so close.

Cristie Kerr had her first multiple win season since 2010. Tim Rosaforte said she's spent the last two years learning to juggle golf and motherhood, and she thinks she's got it figured out. If so, I expect her to play even better next year.

In the up-and-coming category, let me give you three names. Gerina Pillar and Ha-Na Jang both had big seasons -- Gerina since her performance at the Solheim Cup, and Ha-Na's had moments of brilliance all year as she has adjusted to being in America. The third, In-Gee Chun, won the US Open in addition to five KLPGA and two JLPGA events this season. I'm not sure any female golfer has ever had a performance like that! I like her chances on the LPGA next year.

There are also a number of players I have questions about, although I think their talent is unquestioned. Can Michelle Wie get over her injuries? Can Suzann Pettersen and So Yeon Ryu get out of their own way? Can Lexi Thompson develop a bit more consistency before she begins to press? I'm also a bit concerned how Brooke Henderson will handle the pressure of being a new LPGA member. She's another player I fear may put too much pressure on herself during her first year on Tour. These are all players who can -- and have -- done great things thus far but need to deal with self-imposed pressure to succeed.

Finally, let me add a dark horse to keep your eyes on. There are rumors that Jiyai Shin intends to return to the LPGA in 2016. Currently she doesn't have a card but, if she's serious, she shouldn't have trouble getting sponsor exemptions and earning her way back on like Brooke Henderson did this past season. Remember, Jiyai is a two-time major champion with 11 total LPGA wins, and has won twice on the JLPGA this season, so she's still got the skills to do it. She's currently 39 in the Rolex Rankings.

And with that, I'll let the girls take a rest until next year. They're going to have their hands full beating the performance they put on in 2015!

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