That might be considered great for those who value parity, but for most of us, it is decidedly dull. Women’s college basketball boasts an amazing collection of female talent, but it is dis-proportionally concentrated in Storrs, Connecticut. Those games are difficult to stay awake for, unless you bet on whether the Lady Huskies will cover a 70 or 80 point spread on that given day. The WNBA is the WNBA, soccer is only interesting once every four years, and a once riveting sport, women’s figure skating, died for me when Oksana Baiul stole Nancy Kerrigan’s gold medal, undoubtedly the worst crime Kerrigan has ever been a victim of.
Fortunately, there is an exciting women’s sports league that is picking up the slack: The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). This deep, star-studded organization is arguably sitting at its historical apex. It has never been younger, more talented, and more interesting than it is right now. And there has never been a better time to jump on its bandwagon.
Here are just a few reasons why you need to be following the LPGA:
1. YOUNG BUDDING STARS
One of the biggest reasons for the exponentially increasing popularity of the men’s pro golf circuit is its youth. With the PGA Tour’s stud pantheon of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIroy (with a few others just a touch behind their trajectory), there’s a sense that not only is the league currently in the hands of immensely talented individuals, but it will be for the foreseeable future. Well, that pantheon looks like the country club members from Caddyshack compared to the 2016 LPGA Tour winners. Fifteen tournaments have been played this season and only two have been won by a golfer over the age of 23. And both of those champions – Anna Nordqvist (28), Jenny Shin (28) – are under 30 years-old.
The talent on the LPGA Tour is not just great now, it should be fantastic for a long time.
YOUTH REIGNS ON THE LPGA TOUR
Champions 23 & Under
13 of 15 LGPA Tour Winners in 2016 have been 23 years-old or younger.[/orbit_circle_loader]
Champions Under 30
All 15 LPGA Tour Winners in 2016 have been under the age of 30.[/orbit_circle_loader]
2. A KO-LOSSAL CENTRAL FIGURE
Lydia Ko, the 19-year-old phenom and New Zealand product, has amassed a prodigious amount of early-career success that is mostly unprecedented across the sports spectrum. Here are just a few of the things she has accomplished so far:
- Became the #1 ranked player at 17 years old, the youngest ever male or female to do so.
- Amassed 12 LPGA Tour victories.
- Won two major championships (the most recent two). She even Johnny Millered the final round of her first major win with a 63, en route to a six-stroke victory.
- Has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
- Won her first LPGA tournament at 15(!) years old, possibly the acme of her celebrated amateur career.
- Has made 74 of her last 75 cuts.
- Ko even broke a record set by Wayne Gretzky, by becoming the youngest MVP winner (or MVP equivalent) in professional sports history.
LYDIA KO BY THE NUMBERS
On top of being extraordinarily successful on the course, she is fun, humble, amiable, and charismatic off it.
Here she is closely watching NBA superstar Steph Curry before a Warriors game:
Meeting a PGA Tour legend:
Here she is congratulating fellow LPGA Tour member, Ariya Jutanugarn, after her first career victory:
Her talents are not just limited to the golf course; she can also shoot rainbows out of her mouth. True story.
3. A HALL OF FAME-SIZED CONTROVERSY
What sports league has ever been interesting and successful without a little bit of controversy? The LPGA is engaged in a juicy one right now with the Hall of Fame chase of 27-year-old star, and #2 ranked golfer Inbee Park.
Park has an incontrovertible Hall of Fame resume: 17 career wins including 7 majors, she has been ranked #1 in the world, has completed the Career Grand Slam, and has earned $12.8 million in just nine seasons on tour. The key part of that in regards to her Hall of Fame eligibility is the nine seasons, as the LPGA requires 10 qualifying seasons for induction.
INBEE PARK BY THE NUMBERS
Park clearly has not lost her game, as her two 2015 major victories attest to, but she is currently battling a nasty thumb injury that has led to some awful results in 2016, as she has not shot a round in the 60s since March, and has had to withdraw from her last two tournaments, including one in which she shot a first-round 84.
The obvious question is, why not rest the injury until she’s healthy enough to compete? She needs a certain number of rounds for 2016 to qualify as a full season for the purposes of Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Park’s apparent insistence on making this season qualify is fueling speculation that she may be planning a Sandy Koufax-style early retirement, similar to former LPGA stars Annika Sorenstam (who retired at 38, but left while she was still a great player), and Lorena Ochoa (who walked away at 28).
Park’s entry into tournaments that she is not healthy enough to finish, let alone compete in, has rubbed at least one of her colleagues the wrong way, as Stephanie Meadow, an alternate for a recent tournament that Park withdrew from after one round, sounded off on twitter:
— Stephanie Meadow (@StephMeadow20) May 27, 2016
4. JUTANUGARN FEVER
An overnight sensation of the likes sports fans haven’t seen since Linsanity, Ariya Jutanugarn has won the last three LPGA Tour events, her first three victories as a professional golfer. After a few Sunday collapses marred some early season promise, Jutanugarn cannot be shaken, with her most recent victory being of the five-shot variety.
It is an exciting story, which takes it’s next chapter to Sammamich, WA for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the second major of the year. Between Jutanugarn winning her last three tournaments, and Lydia Ko winning the last two majors, there are some very intriguing storylines to follow.
5. YANI TSENG: A COMEBACK (HOPEFULLY, SOMEDAY) IN THE MAKING
Before Lydia Ko took the golf world by storm, another young golfer, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng was dominating the LPGA in an early 2000s-like Tiger fashion.
In a roughly 3.5 year stretch between 2008 and 2012, Tseng won 15 LPGA events, including five majors, and was a top-10 machine. However, since her last win in March of 2012, her game has inexplicably disappeared, similar to what we saw on the PGA Tour from David Duval around the turn of the century. She has not been injured, she just hasn’t been good, and the reason has been greatly debated. For a short time in 2015, she showed glimpses of the unbeatable Yani, but 2016 has been a categorical disaster.
In 12 events this season, she has missed eight cuts, and does not have a finish higher than a T-60. It is painful to watch at times, but with the dominance she once showed still in the collective minds of golf fans, it is tough to look away. It is a story needing a Hollywood ending, and if it gets one, you will want to be able to say you saw it.
6. DIVERSE & INTERESTING
What do New Zealand, South Korea, United States, Canada, and Thailand all have in common? Probably lots of things, but one of them is that they all have at least one representative in the top 10 of the Rolex Rankings, the women’s version of the OWGR.
Expanded to the top 20, China, Australia, Norway, and Sweden are included as well. Showcased brilliantly in Ryder Cup years, the sense of national pride brings a whole other dimension to both team and stroke-play events.
It isn’t just their diverse backgrounds that make fun to follow. Social media use is very heavy among LPGA professionals, and that gives us a great look at what makes these women different, how they prepare for career success, and what they are like off the course.
All in all, it brings us closer to these athletes than we have ever been able to get.
This video shows Michelle Wie engaged in two of her favorite practice drills.
This video shows Lexi Thompson hard at work on her core muscles.
Simply put, there has never been a better time to jump on the LPGA bandwagon.