Jin Young Ko’s epic win caps off a big week for the LPGA


No doubt about it: Korea’s Jin Young Ko is the best player on the LPGA tour in 2021.

NAPLES, FL. – The PGA and LPGA tours concluded their 2021 seasons on Sunday, and the women went out with a bigger bang than the men.

The PGA Tour reached its high point a couple months ago with the staging of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Ryder Cup. Those were tough acts for the remaining tournaments to follow. On the other hand, the LPGA took the more traditional route. The biggest event was the last one.

Korea’s Jin Young Ko won that big event for the second straight year, but her win was much different than the one in 2020, when the tourney was played without fans because of pandemic concerns.

Ko started the final round in a four-way tie for the lead with American Nelly Korda, Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and France’s Celine Boutier.  Ko fired a 63 to edge Hataoka by one stroke.  Korda, the other member of the final threesome, wound up in a tie for fifth place.  Boutier, who played in the next-to-the-last threesome, tied for third.

A left wrist injury bothered Ko since May and she considered withdrawing in the days leading into the tournament, but she was awesome in the last event of the season.  She reached the green in regulation in her last 63 holes.

“I didn’t practice much,’’ said Ko, “but I played really well.  The whole week was amazing.’’

“She made everything,’’ said Korda.  “I just stood back and watched her all day.’’

In addition to winning the Race to the CME Globe Ko also overtook Korda for the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year Award.The Race to the CME Globe has brought together the LPGA’s top players for that calendar year since 2011.  This year’s had 60 players chasing a $5 million purse and Ko received a record $1.5 million.

As a footnote, Winnetka’s Elizabeth Szokol became the first Chicago area golfer to even qualify for the LPGA’s biggest event.  She shot her best round of the week — a 69 — on Sunday and tied for 51st place.

In a sense, however, the biggest news of the week came before the first ball was struck at Tiburon Golf Club.  Mollie Marcoux Samaan, who replaced Mike Whan as the LPGA commissioner four months ago, had taken a low-key approach to her new role until the CME’s pre-tournament banquet.

Samaan had been athletic director at Princeton when Whan was finishing up his successful 11-year stint with the LPGA.  Whan became the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association when Samaan started tackling LPGA issues, and she finally shed some light on where she’ll be taking the women’s circuit. It looks like it’ll be to a better place.

In 2021 the LPGA purses totaled $67.5 million, with the $5 million at the CME event topping the list. Last week’s tournament announcement revealed a season boost in purses to $85.7 million for 2022.  Nine of the 34 tournaments boosted their purses, most notably the CME.  Its purse will climb to $7 million with the first prize boosted to $2 million.

“This is our time,’’ said Samaan.  “Momentum is with us.  There’s even more growth to come in so many different areas.’’

For now, though, those who want to watch the pro golf tours will have to endure at least a six-week waiting period.  The PGA and LPGA will hold their Tournament of Champions in January. The PGA, as well as PGA Tour Champions, will hold theirs in Hawaii.  The PGA version is at Kapalua Jan. 3-9 and the Champions will tee it up at Hualalai Jan. 17-22.

The women’s version will be slightly later and at a new site.  It’ll move to Lake Nona, in Florida, with dates of Jan. 20-23.  The first three events on the LPGA’s 2022 schedule will be in the Sunshine State.