Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder; proximity to the people, places and things we love fueling our passion. Such it is with the 2020 LPGA season, the Coronavirus delay creating a Leap Year longing for the resumption of what looms as a scintillating season.
This week would have been the Blue Bay LPGA on Hainan Island in China but it, like the Honda Thailand and HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, was canceled out of concern for the safety of all involved. Instead, the calendar gives us a bridge to the Volvik Founders Cup, which kicks off one of the most intense runs of tournament golf in the 70 years of the LPGA.
Anticipation is truly one of the strongest of emotions and the desire for the arrival of the 10th anniversary Founders Cup at the Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix on March 19 builds daily both among players and fans. Beginning at Founders, the Tour plays 16 tournaments in 19 weeks, four of those being major championships, in the run-up to women’s golf at the Olympics Aug. 5-8 in Japan.
While Jin Young Ko emerged as the clear Rolex Player of the Year in 2019, with two major championships among her four victories, the first of which came at the Founders Cup, the last four years have been a celebration of the depth and diversity of the LPGA. That party is likely to continue in this anniversary season.
Since 2015, when Inbee Park won the last two of her seven LPGA majors, the 20 grand slam events have had 17 different winners from nine countries. Ko, Sung Hyun Park and Ariya Jutanugarn each won two while South Korea (8), the United States (3), Thailand (2) and Sweden (2) are the multiple winners among nations.
While Ko won both the ANA Inspiration and the Evian Championship last year – the first two majors of her brief career – Jeongeun Lee6 of South Korea (U.S. Women’s Open), Hannah Green of Australia (KPMG Women’s PGA) and Hinako Shibuno of Japan (AIG Women’s British Open) picked up their first majors.
Before the health hiccup hit this season, the LPGA was off on another exhibition of the depth and breadth of its talent. The first four events of 2020 – two in the United States and two in Australia – had four different winners from three countries. It was the perfect birthday celebration for the tour that played its first event in January 1950.
Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden won her first LPGA tournament in the Gainbridge at Boca Rio; Gaby Lopez of Mexico picked up win No. 2 at the Diamond International Tournament of Champions while South Korea swept Down Under as Hee Young Park got her third title at the ISPS Handa Vic Open and Inbee Park collected No. 20 at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
While Ko has yet to compete this year – she was planning to kick things off on the Asia swing but will now make her 2020 debut at the Founders Cup – Inbee Park has played all four, an indication of how badly she wants to defend her gold medal from the 2016 Olympics. At most, four players can represent a country in Olympic golf and Park is fifth among Koreans.
“I always started the season a little bit late, probably end of February or early March,” Park said before the start of the Tournament of Champions, where she was T-2 in a playoff loss to Lopez. “This year I'm starting early because it's an important year. There's Olympics on the line, so I wanted to give myself a lot of opportunity.”
One of those who won’t have to worry about her spot in Tokyo is Brooke Henderson who, at the tender age of 22, already has nine LPGA wins and, along with Alena Sharp, represented Canada in the 2016 Olympics. Henderson is top-10 in the Rolex Rankings and as close to a lock for the Games as there is.
“Yeah, 2016 was a lot of fun for Alena and I to go and represent Canada,” Henderson said. “To be with the best athletes in the world and watching them compete and train and stay in the Olympic Village with them was really cool. I'm excited for all 34 events on the LPGA Tour, and the Olympics is just another one. It will definitely be fun to go and represent Canada again.”
Good things are worth waiting for and 2020 promises to be a great year for women’s golf with robust schedules on the LPGA, the Ladies European Tour and the Symetra Tour as well as Olympic golf. There is every reason to believe this will be a season well worth the wait.