The biggest storylines in ladies' golf in 2017

News & Tour

From the CEO of the LET stepping down to updated dress codes, ladies golf in 2017 was not short of big stories. Harriet Shephard rounds up the best.

1. Viewer call-in costs Thompson

This was precisely what golf didn’t need; the recent optimism of how golf’s rules were going to be more about common sense and less of them was given its biggest possible setback as Lexi Thompson was handed a four-shot penalty for replacing her ball incorrectly at the ANA Inspiration.

Here there were shades of Dustin Johnson perhaps at last year’s US Open? But this was even more tangled and messy and four times as hard to recover from. The offence, and Thompson did replace it incorrectly, by half an inch maybe but she was at fault, took place the previous day.

Thompson was then told about it with six holes to play, going from two shots ahead to two behind in the time that it took to walk from the 12th green to the next tee. And the reason why this had suddenly come to light 24 hours later was because it all began with a viewer at home emailing in to say that Thompson might be at fault. After a video review she was penalised two shots for an incorrect ball placement and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

This meant that Korean So Yeon Ryu won the opening major of the year.

However, Thompson still stayed behind to sign autographs and was the perfect professional in handling the whole situation.

From January 1 new rules on the use of video reviews in the game will be implemented. This will mean that viewers will no longer be able to call in if they think they have spotted an error.

2. The LPGA Tour get tough

instagram

Back in July, the LPGA updated its dress code with some rules that caused quite a bit of controversy.

The new rules included:

  • Racerback with a mock or regular collar are allowed (no collar = no racerback)
  • Plunging necklines are NOT allowed.
  • Leggings, unless under a skort or shorts, are NOT allowed
  • Length of skirt, skort, and shorts MUST be long enough to not see your bottom area (even if covered by under shorts) at any time, standing or bent over.

The penalty for breaking any one of these rules is a $1,000 fine, which doubles with each offence.

Teen Vogue accused the LPGA of ‘slut shaming’ female players, while Michelle Wie described the decision as ‘unfortunate’.

Wie also recently threw shade at the new dress code rules through an Instagram photo of her at Ko Olina Golf Club in Hawaii.

Posing in her stylish Nike golf apparel and a crop top, the Solheim Cup star captioned it: ‘Offseason = No dress code fines #croptopdroptop’.

3. Not the best year for the LET

There has been lots of speculation this year that the LET is on the brink of collapse.

In an email sent in June (marked CONFIDENTIAL) to the players from the LET’s player president Helen Alfredsson, it was announced that the Ladies European Masters had been cancelled.

The event in Germany had issues with their sponsors and the tournament was pulled from an ever-decreasing schedule.

The 2017 calendar, which was released in January, showed events in China, Turkey, an ‘event in southern France’ and the Czech Republic. But all four, along with the Ladies European Masters have since been cancelled.

This has raised huge concerns about the future of the LET. One unnamed player told The Times: “We do fear the financial collapse of the tour, especially when you look at the accounts. There are so few events now that earning a living is becoming impossible for many of the players. It is much worse than it used to be.”

Two more tournaments had been cancelled by the time Ivan Khodabakhsh left his position as CEO of the LET in August.

It has since been reported that the LPGA and men’s tours are planning to get involved to help save the tour.

4. Team USA had everything going for them

Cristie Kerr

Things get lost over time and the memory dims of other Solheim Cups, but you would be hard pressed to pick a week where one team has holed more putts.

The likes of Kerr, Kang, Creamer, Salas, Lincicome, Piller et al just kept rolling them in and pumping up the crowds and adding yet another birdie to the haul.

And these were tricky greens to putt on.

In the Saturday fourballs the golf hit maybe a new high for this competition. Take the top match and Europe’s Mel Reid and Carlota Ciganda; they were 10 under par. And lost two down to the Brittanys, Lincicome and Lang.

American completed a session whitewash in the Friday fourballs. Taking a three-point lead after one day left a huge mountain to climb over during the weekend.

If the Friday was Danielle Kang’s day, then Saturday belonged to Cristie Kerr. She became the leading American points scorer, walked in putt after putt, holed a bunker shot for eagle and added a pair of wins.

In the singles Lexi Thompson was also the only player from the world’s top 10 on stage.

She was up against the next player on the world list, the unbeaten Anna Nordqvist. After four holes she was four down. There was a shank at the 2nd and she looked a little teary, so much so that the only way Inkster could show some encouragement was to give her a prolonged hug. There were also some motivating words as Inkster and Nancy Lopez got the message across – ‘do not be afraid to fail’. This is how she started the back nine – birdie, eagle, par, eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie. She got a highly unlikely half.

5. Injuries hinder Europe’s chances

Solheim fever

Given Catriona Matthew’s heroics, it might be pushing it to say we were weakened by her late addition in place of Suzann Pettersen.

Nordqvist had been laid low with glandular fever ahead of the match, meaning there was no chance the Swede would be able to complete five outings. But to her eternal credit Nordqvist didn’t lose a match.

Europe also had to do without Charley Hull on Saturday after her longstanding wrist injury flared up on Friday morning. It was rumoured that Hull was out of the singles but she did return and actually added a point.

Gutsy stuff from all of them – it was just a shame that Europe didn’t get a clear run at it.

More excuses, but only playing in a handful of events this year on the LET wasn’t the ideal preparation for the pressure cooker surrounds of the Solheim Cup. It’s been well documented how the LET has lost so many events and the likes of Georgia Hall and Florentyna Parker had sometimes gone months without playing in the lead up to the Solheim.

And aside from the competitive side of things, the disjointed nature of the home tour can’t have helped with the team spirit.

6. A multitude of World No. 1s

So Yeon Ryu

Five different golfers topped the official Rolex World Rankings during 2017.

We started the year with Lydia Ko who had held the position since October 2015.

Then Ariya Jutanugarn jumped to the top for just two weeks in June, before So Yeon Ryu overtook her (are you lost yet?).

Then just over four months later, Sung Hyun Park of South Korea became the first LPGA rookie to reach No.1 in the world.

However, this lasted just one week before Chinese player Shanshan Feng won the Blue Bay LPGA event and claimed the top spot for herself. But after the turbulence of 2017, who knows how long she will last into 2018.

In her press conference, Feng reflected on what it meant to be the first Chinese golfer to top the world rankings.

She said: “Because now is just the beginning, right? Like I don’t know how much longer I’ll be World No. 1, but at least I’ve been No. 1. Hopefully that can encourage more people to start playing golf. I would say China will become one the strongest countries in the future.”

7. Lewis donates winnings to the flood victims

Just days after Stacy Lewis pledged any winnings to the Houston relief effort, she won for the first time in three years, and 83 starts, at the Portland Classic.

Lewis, who has lived in Houston since she was 11, was pushed all the way by In Gee Chun as her closing three-under 69 gave her her 12th win on Tour and one that ranked alongside her two majors. Her sponsor KPMG then matched the $195,000 pay cheque to help repair some of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.

“I was hoping some of my sponsors would step up and donate a little bit. Obviously I wasn’t expecting the match from KPMG,” said Lewis. “When I said that I had the goal of winning the tournament, you’ve got to get a lot of things right, to go your way. Just what we’re going to be able to do, we’re going to be able to help rebuild houses and get their homes back. That’s more important than anything.

8. Matthew became our new skipper on home soil

Catriona Matthew

Sport likes to throw up a romance, doesn’t it?

There’s always a story – a dream, a fairytale. Some are contrived, some are accidental.

Some, though, are just meant to be.

Catriona Matthew captaining Europe’s Solheim Cup mission, at Gleneagles in two years’ time, feels like one of those.

Nine times she has represented the continent in the competition, an event that has grown out of all proportion in her two decades of participation.

Des Moines rookie Georgia Hall was a babe in arms when Matthew first teed off in European colours in 1998 at Muirfield Village. Now the tale has come full circle.

So what a finish it could be, to put the seal on such a grand career – a major-winning career no less – by wresting the cup back from the United States at Gleneagles.

She’ll have plenty of backing. The Scots love nothing more than a hometown hero and if Des Moines seemed raucous, then Perthshire could be off the charts in support of the North Berwick native.

“It’s a great honour and a dream come true to be the captain at home in Scotland,” she said after being unveiled. “Since my first appearance in 1998, I have always loved playing in the Solheim Cup. It’s always such an incredible atmosphere and, over the years, I have enjoyed it more and more.”

9. Kim makes up for THAT putt

Women's British Open

A one-foot putt at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, now the ANA Inspiration, was all that separated In Kyung Kim from her first major victory.

She missed and went on to lose the subsequent play-off. The wait would go on.

Fast forward five years and the now 29-year-old has finally banished those demons, seeing out a two-stroke victory at Kingsbarns to lift the Women’s British Open title.

“I feel uplifted. I never expected to win. I get asked all the time about my putt in 2012 and the way I look at it is that it isn’t the worst thing that can happen in life.”

10. Nordqvist won a major while battling glandular fever

Less than three months before the Evian Championship, Anna Nordqvist was told to stay in bed for a fortnight after being diagnosed with mononucleosis at the US Women’s Open. The Swede missed the Scottish Open, tied for seventh at the Women’s British Open and was then Europe’s top scorer (3.5/4) at the Solheim Cup.

She then became a major winner for the second time at the Evian after beating Brittany Altomare in a play-off that was played in atrocious conditions.

Both players were round in 66 to finish on nine under (the tournament was reduced to 54 holes after Thursday’s play was ruled out) and they were one ahead of Lydia Ko, Katherine Kirk and the overnight leader Moriya Jutanugarn (72).

Speaking about her debilitating illness, Nordqvist said: “These last couple of weeks it’s been hard, it’s been frustrating and disappointing. I was very excited to tee it up in the Solheim Cup and I was absolutely exhausted after. I came back last week, hit it flawless and missed the cut, so it has just been very testing, but I couldn’t be more proud.”

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