The IX: Golf Thursday with Sarah Kellam, December 17, 2020
My top 5 stories of 2020 — Inbee Park's press conference — Must-click women's golf links
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My top 5 stories of 2020
2020 is almost over. The end is near! Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief that we get to see the death of this tumultuous 366 days and turn the page to a shiny, clean, new year — one that is hopefully less nonsensical.
This week, the CME Group Tour Championship marks the finish line for both the LPGA Tour’s COVID-19 shortened season and golf in 2020. With the final event of the year on deck, I wanted to reflect on the stories and players that really made an impression on me over the course of these twelve months.
In spite of everything that has happened, the resilience and strength shown by the players and the Tour has been nothing short of admirable and speaks yet again to how impressive this circuit of professional golfers really is.
There has been no shortage of incredible female narratives that have captivated golf’s collective attention this year, from Inbee Park capturing her twentieth LPGA title to Stacy Lewis winning for the first time as a mother to Amy Olson showing her grit and mental toughness after her father-in-law passed away unexpectedly while she was in contention at the U.S. Women’s Open.
All of these compelling stories made it very tough to narrow down, but here’s what made the cut for my top five storylines of 2020.
LPGA players competing on The Cactus Tour
When most LPGA players had nowhere else to compete this year during the COVID-19 induced hiatus, many turned to The Cactus Tour for professional play. This circuit’s schedule was uninhibited by the coronavirus and, as a result, their fields began to fill up with Solheim Cuppers and major winners, along with LPGA Tour rookies and U.S. Amateur standouts.
With these stacked fields came an impressive group of winners, with the Tour seeing Anna Nordqvist, Haley Moore, and Carlota Ciganda taking home titles. In addition, Sophia Popov, this year’s AIG Women’s Open champion, nabbed her first ever professional victory on The Cactus Tour in mid-April and then went on to become one of the best stories in golf for the entire year.
I’ve always considered this tour to be imperative to the success of women’s golf by giving new professionals a place to cut their teeth and keep up with it fairly regularly, but I was so excited that it began to make headlines during the pandemic. What Mike Brown does week in and week out for The Cactus Tour and the women’s game makes such a difference for female professionals and never was it more apparent than this year.
This circuit definitely needed more recognition and, hopefully with the extra attention it got this year and will get in coming years if LPGA players continue to utilize it as a competitive resource, we will see the purse sizes increase and a potential sponsor materialize. It’s an organization worth paying attention to and it’s essentialness to professional golf this year will never be overlooked.
Sophia Popov winning the AIG Women’s Open
If you haven’t heard the story of Sophia Popov and you’re a fan of women’s golf, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Her maiden LPGA Tour title and major title at the AIG Women’s Open is one of the few times I have ever witnessed a fairy tale come to life.
Sophia had battled Lyme disease early on in her career and even considered quitting the game in 2019. She hadn’t even won a professional event until 2020, claiming her first title on The Cactus Tour and just happened to qualify for the Open with a T-9 finish after the Marathon LPGA Classic allowed Symetra Tour players in to round out the field.
Popov’s emotional acceptance speech and resulting revelation of the struggles she overcame to even be at Royal Troon endeared her to both the media and fans, making the moment truly unforgettable. It seemed the cards quite literally aligned for Sophia, and, as a result, produced quite literally the best story golf has seen since the 2019 Masters.
Sei Young Kim breaks out at KPMG
It isn’t very often that you see a tour player card a large number of wins without one of those victories being a major. However, it happened to Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia and, oh yeah, Sei Young Kim. Kim burst onto the LPGA Tour scene in 2015 and, since then, has won 12 events, 2 of those coming in 2020 in back-to-back starts.
Kim had definitely already made a case for herself to be one of the top-tier players on the LPGA Tour coming into this year, but always seems to be overlooked in favor of the bigger names. The thing about Kim is that she’s shown more potential for dominance in the women’s game than really anyone we’ve seen in a long time and it took her win at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for most to wake up to that fact.
It seems she is finally getting the respect she deserves and with 2 wins and 5 top 10s in only 8 starts this season, I suspect we will see more stellar golf from her heading into this new year. She’s definitely a player to keep your eye on.
Korda sisters making the cover of Golf Digest
On November 23rd, Golf Digest released its eleventh issue of 2020 featuring the Korda sisters on the cover. To some, this may not have seemed groundbreaking as Nelly and Jessica are both LPGA Tour stars and are carrying the mantle for the future of American women’s golf on their shoulders.
However, this issue’s true significance was derived from the involvement of women in the project. It was the first time in Golf Digest’s history that the cover featured women, the story was written by a woman, and the photographer sourced for the photos was also a woman.
I couldn’t believe this hadn’t ever happened before, but it gave me a lot of insight into how the golf media landscape is changing and adapting to become more diverse in gender representation. This one instance doesn’t speak for the entire future of golf coverage, but, anytime more women can be involved in projects such as these, the better. Who doesn’t love seeing glass ceilings shatter? (Editor’s note: Now let’s make it a regular thing, not just a novelty.)
Emily Kristine Pedersen wins three in a row on the Ladies European Tour
If you haven’t been keeping up with what’s going on over on the Ladies European Tour, let me clue you in to one of the cooler stories of the past few months. The name Emily Kristine Pedersen may ring a bell for those of you who rooted for the Europeans in the 2017 Solheim Cup, but, until 2020, the Dane had only a single win on the books since she began her career in 2015.
August 2020 saw her second win on the LET, but it was her spectacular fall play that thrust Pedersen into the golf spotlight. Emily won not two, but three events in a row, starting at the Saudi Ladies International, continuing with the Saudi Ladies Team International, and completing the hat trick at the Andalucia Costa del Sol Open de España. Unsurprisingly, the season-long Race to Costa del Sol title followed, culminating a banner year for the 24-year- old.
It’s rare to win three tournaments in a row on any tour and even the most elite players don’t do it often. The fact that she was able to pull it off, not only says something about her game, but showcases the mental toughness required to make it in professional golf. I don’t think this story got nearly enough attention and I look forward to keeping up with Emily, no matter if she sticks with the LET or moves on to the LPGA. She will definitely be in Solheim discussions for 2021.
So there you have it. Those are my top five stories for 2020. I’m hoping this week’s CME Group Tour Championship produces the drama and excitement that have become the norm for LPGA Tour golf, but, along with everyone else, I’m very much looking forward to the clean slate that 2021 will afford.
I have a feeling it’s going to be a banner year and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for women’s golf.
This week in women’s golf
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Natalie Gulbis is very excited to play in Naples despite sponsor’s exemption controversy. (via Golfweek)
Inbee Park is grateful to be playing ahead of potential Race to CME, Player of the Year wins after season-ending event in Naples. (via Golfweek)
Danielle Kang plans to donate $1,000 for every birdie she makes at the CME Group Tour Championship to St. Jude. (via LPGA.com)
Brooke Henderson is feeling close to home at Tiburon in Naples. (via LPGA.com)
Lexi Thompson has her brother back on the bag this week at the CME Group Tour Championship. (via Golfweek)
Inbee Park would love to earn another Player of the Year title, but is just happy to be playing ahead of the CME Group Tour Championship. (via LPGA.com)
Jin Young Ko is in and Sophia Popov is out at the CME Group Tour Championship. (via Golfweek)
What’s on the line for the players this week at the CME Group Tour Championship. (via Golf Digest)
There were two sponsors exemptions this week in Naples. Here’s who they were. (via GolfChannel.com)
A Lim Kim and Sophia Popov aren’t in the field at the CME Group Tour Championship. This is why. (via Golf Digest)
Eamon Lynch on Sophia Popov’s exclusion from the CME Group Tour Championship. (via Golfweek)
Here’s who to watch this week in Naples. (via Golfweek)
Jin Young Ko qualified for the CME Group Tour Championship with her solid play at the U.S. Women’s Open. (via LPGA.com)
There are four rookies in the field at the CME Group Tour Championship this week: Andrea Lee, Leona Maguire, Bianca Pagdanganan, and Yealimi Noh. (via LPGA.com)
Top 5 finishes at the U.S. Women’s Open helped Megan Khang into the 2021 edition, Jin Young Ko qualify for CME, and A Lim Kim gain eligibility for Tour membership. (via LPGA.com)
Here’s what you need to know about the 2020 CME Group Tour Championship. (via LPGA.com)
Stephanie Meadow makes her return to Tiburon in a much different place than she was when she was there in 2015. (via LPGA.com)
Alena Sharp and caddie Sarah Bowman tied the knot ahead of the U.S. Women’s Open. (via nytimes.com)
Natalie Gulbis and Amy Bockerstette were both nominated to President Trump’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. (via Golfweek)
Will COVID-19 continue to affect the LPGA Tour schedule? (via Golfweek)
This redshirt college freshman already has a professional win on her resume. (via Golfweek)
Here’s what courses are set to host the U.S. Women’s Open through 2025. (via Golfweek)
The Ladies European Tour has a new sustainable sponsor for 2021. (via LadiesEuropeanTour.com)
HSBC has renewed its sponsorship agreement with the LPGA and PGA Tours. (via LPGA.com)
Annika Sorenstam will tee it up at the Diamond Resort Tournament of Champions as a celebrity in January. (via Golfweek)
Annika Sorenstam gives her advice to Tiger and Charlie Woods for the PNC Championship. (via Golf.com)
Could we see Annika Sorenstam at the 2021 U.S. Senior Women’s Open? (via GolfChannel.com)
Ron Sirak’s thoughts on Amy Olson’s finish in Houston after family tragedy. (via LPGA.com)
Amy Olson carved out a T-2 finish at the U.S. Women’s Open in spite of losing family member. (via Golfweek)
Amy Olson tragically lost her father-in-law suddenly on Saturday evening of the USWO. (via Golfweek)
Amy Olson soldiers on through final round at the U.S. Women’s Open despite family tragedy. (via Golf Digest)
More on Amy Olson’s loss of her father-in-law before the finale of the USWO. (via Golf.com)
There’s cool and then there’s A Lim Kim on 16 at the U.S. Women’s Open cool. (via Golf.com)
A Lim Kim becomes the fifth player ever to win the USWO in their debut. (via Golfweek)
What equipment A Lim Kim used to take home her first major title. (via Golfweek)
Here’s a full breakdown of the prize money handed out in Houston. (via Golfweek)
A Lim Kim birdied her last three holes en route to the title in Texas. (via Golf Digest)
The U.S. Women’s Open champion donned a mask for the entire week at the U.S. Women’s Open. (via Golf Digest)
Hear from the Golf.com writers on the USWO in this week’s Tour Confidential. (via Golf.com)
The last three holes proved pivotal for A Lim Kim in her win at Champions Golf Club. (via Golf.com)
Doug Ferguson takes you through A Lim Kim’s win in Houston. (via GolfChannel.com)
A Lim Kim is the first player since 1995 to make a five shot comeback to win the USWO. (via LPGA.com)
More on A Lim Kim’s first major win in Texas. (via LPGA.com)
A.J. Hill, a member of the grounds crew at Champions Golf Club, is the only member of the team, but she’s no stranger to challenging the norm. (via Golf.com)
See who else made an impact at the U.S. Women’s Open. (via Golf.com)
Here are some of the best storylines from the 2020 edition of the U.S. Women’s Open. (via WomenandGolf.com)
Who is Hinako Shibuno? Here are five things to know about the “Smiling Cinderella”. (via Golf.com)
Kaitlyn Papp made headlines at the USWO for not only her play, but her unique pre-shot routine off the tee. (via Golf.com)
Kaitlyn Papp of the University of Texas took home low amateur honors and receive berth into the next edition of the U.S. Women’s Open. (via Golfweek)
Many players were unhappy with the conditions at the U.S. Women’s Open. (via Golf Digest)
Cristie Kerr recounts golf cart accident after her first round at the USWO. (via Golfweek)
More on the cart accident that almost took Cristie Kerr out of the U.S. Women’s Open. (via WomenandGolf.com)
Houston-native Stacy Lewis asks local businesses to have a tournament in the area every year. (via Golfweek)
Wanna know how cold it was in Houston on Monday? Check out these photos. (via Golf Digest)
Lots of mudballs on Saturday and being unable to lift, clean, and place had many of the competitors at the USWO frustrated with the conditions. (via Golf.com)
In the bomb and gouge era, Inbee Park proves that you don’t always need distance to be successful. (via Golf.com)
Sophia Popov credits her major win in 2020 for her newfound confidence on the course. (via Golf.com)
Yuka Saso may not have been a name you recognized in Houston, but her swing is eerily similar to a seasoned PGA Tour professional. (via Golf.com)
Angela Stanford has been making headlines as of late, but the visor she wore hitting the first tee shot of the U.S. Women’s Open is probably my favorite thing she’s done all year. (via Golf.com)
This professional was given a rare penalty in Houston for missing her tee time. (via Golf.com)
The Jutanugarn sisters came close to breaking a sibling record that has stood since 1957. (via Golf Digest)
Tweet of the Week
Five at the IX: Inbee Park’s press conference at the CME Group Tour Championship
On her game following the COVID-19 hiatus: When I started the tour, when I played a couple events in Florida and couple in Australia, I thought I was in really, really good shape. I was really feeling like I’m really ready to play this year. Then after the COVID hit and we had to take quite a few months off, I didn’t know whether my game was going to be the same as in February when I came back in August. I came back and I felt like I was a little bit rusty but able to manage myself really well and played really, really good. So I’m really proud of myself. This year I was trying to leave the expectations that I had in February, and I was able to do it pretty close to what I wanted to do. I came a little bit short of winning the last couple of the tournaments that I played at the end of the year, but I really feel like I’ve played really good golf and very consistent golf. I’m just really thankful that we get an opportunity to play this year. It’s not really about the results. Just the opportunity that we get is very special. So many people are really, really struggling this year, and I’m just happy that we are out here playing and staying safe.
On playing Tiburon this week: I’ve played this golf course many, many times and I never really feel like I’ve conquered these greens at all over all those years. The tee-to-green is not a big issue. I think it just really comes down to the putting, and the Bermuda greens can get really tricky on you. I’m just trying to adjust to the speed on the greens and read the putts right. You can’t read them right all the time, but I’m just trying to do a little better at a time, and hopefully I can putt a little better this week.
On being ranked 3rd in the world: I just didn’t know how the season was going to go this year. To be honest, I didn’t really have any goals coming into 2020, coming back since the August, and I just told myself, let’s just play as good as I can every week and that’s what I can do. So let’s just appreciate the opportunity that we got given, and, yeah, that’s just what I did, and I was able to play really good.
On what it would mean to win the Player of the Year award again: It would be nice to have some kind of I guess souvenir for a great year. To be honest, it really really doesn’t bother me that much anymore. It would be nice to have another award obviously, but, like I said, this year has been a gift. I’m just happy that we got to play. That’s really all I can ask for. If the results follow, that’s great. If not, I’m just really happy we’re out here and playing some really good golf.
On making the Korean Olympic team: It’s not that far away anymore. We’re finishing year 2020, and obviously 2021 is coming really quick. With COVID, I really don’t know how the world rankings are working right now. I have no idea how it’s going to go next year. I’m just trying to do my best every week, and if I get given an opportunity, that’s great. I’m just trying to play good golf, and that’s what I have been doing. So I’m really happy that I’m able to play out here and still able to compete every week and compete for the trophy.