Another week has passed on the LPGA Tour, and another bright, young talent has found her way into the winner’s circle.
This time it was the turn of Nelly Korda, the younger sister of Jessica who, after a couple of near-misses, finally got the job done with a steadfast front-running masterclass in Taiwan.
The 20-year-old has seen a lead slip twice in her two years on the LPGA. Last July, she held a two-shot advantage at the Marathon Classic before In-Kyung Kim came storming from behind with a 63. And then in March this year, a one-shot lead in Singapore disappeared after Michelle Wie drained a 35-foot birdie putt on the 18th to cruelly pip her by a solitary stroke.
Clearly undeterred by both, Korda went up against the home-favourite Wei-Ling Hsu, who was being carried along by the fervent Taiwanese galleries. When Hsu stumbled on the back-nine, there was Korda, completely in control of both her game and emotions and, as she arrived at the final hole with a two-shot lead over a charging Minjee Lee, the American calmly dispatched a mid-iron into the heart of the green, 10 feet from the pin, to seal it.
It’s the latest proof that young players are taking over the women’s game. That’s not to say the experienced heads are struggling to compete now. After all, 40-year-old Angela Stanford won her first major at the Evian, as did 32-year-old Pernilla Lindberg at the ANA Inspiration, but we are seeing more and more young players break onto the scene, fully capable of winning titles.
The average age of a winner on the LPGA so far this season is 25. There have been 12 winners aged 23 or younger, and Japan’s Nasa Hataoka was – and still is – a teenager when she broke-through at the NW Arkansas Championship in June. She then turned up the following week at the KPMG PGA Championship, fired a Sunday 64 only to be defeated in a play-off. Even the World No. 1, Ariya Jutanugarn, is just 22, and she’s already won three times this year on the way to locking up the Rolex Player of the Year award.
Of course you can make the case that the young generation have been doing this for years. It’s easy to forget that Lydia Ko is still only 21 – she has won 15 times on the LPGA, held the No. 1 ranking for 104 weeks and pretty much dominated the tour from 2014 to 2016.
But the younger players are becoming more and more prevalent now. Just cast your eye to the LPGA Q-Series: five amateurs are ranked in the top-11 at the halfway stage. Kristen Gillman finished 27th at this year’s US Open and then went on to win a professional event on the Japanese tour; Patty Tavatanakit was 5th in the US Open; Atthaya Thitikul finished 8th at the LPGA’s HSBC World Championship and 30th at the ANA; Albane Valenzuela made the cut at both the US Open and ANA.
Young players competing, contending and winning on the LPGA isn’t just a coincidental phase. It’s now just normality.
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