6 burning questions for the 2021 LPGA season (and, yes, we answered them!)
Just like that, the LPGA Tour is back.
In a sport where there is no traditional off-season, players rarely get a chance to take a break and catch their breath. The short few weeks between the end of one season and the beginning of another is the only respite these players get.
With that kicking-up-of-feet behind us, it’s time to get geared up for another LPGA season. The ladies kick off the 2021 campaign this week in Florida at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, with events spanning the globe until the season finale in November.
The season is set up to be chock-full of storylines and interesting characters. Here’s everything you need to know, delivered through six burning questions.
1. Who will replace Mike Whan?
Earlier this month it was announced that longtime LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan would be stepping down. The 11-year head honcho of the tour did not give an exact date when his tenure will end, but it is certain that the end is nigh.
Whan steps down as a transformative figure in the women’s game, helping swell the total purse money for the LPGA and adding 10 tournaments to the slate that did not exist before his tenure. The highlight of his stint, however, might have unfolded over the past 12 months as he navigated the tour through the choppy waters of a pandemic and recession, positioning his organization for success well beyond his departure.
Now, the LPGA turns its attention to finding a replacement for Whan. Here’s hoping they can find a leader as effective as the outgoing commish.
2. Will Michelle Wie West make a comeback?
After battling a variety of injuries, in addition to becoming a mother, there was doubt that Michelle Wie West would ever tee it up competitively again. But in an interview with Fortune late last year, she hinted that her pro golf days might not be behind her after all.
Wie West indicated a healthy and successful pregnancy and childbirth has her rethinking what she’s capable of. She now has a “newfound respect” for her body and hopes to tee it up again to show her daughter what she can do.
“My goal is: I really just want to show (my daughter) that I can play at the highest level,” Wie West told Fortune. “Everything I want to accomplish in my golf career from now on is really for her.”
Although Wie West hasn’t made any firm commitments on when the comeback will commence, it is apparent that it is on the horizon.
3. Who will represent the U.S. and Korea in Tokyo?
Global health permitting, there will be an Olympic Games this summer. With it comes a chance for the top golfers in the world to compete for an Olympic medal.
The Olympics are somewhat of an afterthought for the men’s game, but that’s not necessarily the case on the women’s side. Winning a medal can provide validation as just getting to the Olympics is tricky in the women’s game.
With just four spots available to each country, there will be some highly capable players who do not make their respective teams — specifically Team USA and Team Korea.
Currently, those teams would comprise of Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang, Lexi Thompson and Jennifer Kupcho for Team USA and Jin Young Ko, Sei Young Kim, Inbee Park and Hyo-Joo Kim for Team Korea. Both are strong teams, but with the noticeable absence of some of the game’s brightest stars.
It will be interesting to see what happens as players from these two countries (and others!) jockey for a spot in the Olympics.
4. Who will own the season?
While the PGA Tour has the FedEx Cup, the LPGA has the Race to the CME Globe (and without the net-handicap season finale) as players earn points based on performance throughout the year, with a season-long champion crowned at year’s end.
Here are a few players to keep an eye on in the 2021 Race to CME Globe.
Jin Young Ko
2020 stats: One win, three top 10s, three top 25s
The No. 1 player in the world played in just four events in 2020, but she made them count. By virtue of her win at the CME Group Tour Championship, Jin Young Ko took home the official money title and reminded everyone why she is the best player in the world. Look for her to continue as a staple at the top of leaderboards in 2021.
2020 stats: Two wins, five top 10s, eight top 25s
After securing wins in the previous three years, Danielle Kang continued that trend in 2020 as she won multiple times for the first time in her LPGA Tour career. There were no major victories in 2020, but with the talent Kang has, it’s only a matter of time before she breaks through again.
2020 stats: 0 wins, five top 10s, nine top 25s
Once one of the brightest stars in the game, Lydia Ko struggled for a few years with her swing. But now under the tutelage of swing coach Sean Foley, Ko is poised for a bounce back. Although she did not return to the winner’s circle in 2020, there were signs of the player of old that have many bullish on the 23-year-old’s chances to summit the game’s highest peaks again.
2020 stats: 0 wins, four top 10s, six top 25s
The world No. 4 has yet to win a major in her young career, but she came agonizingly close in 2020. Injuries later in the year cut her season shorter than she might’ve liked, but now that she’s on the mend, Nelly Korda is a safe bet to have a strong 2021 campaign.
5. Which rookies* are poised to break out?
Typically, rookies are players competing in their first season on Tour. But thanks to the craziness of a pandemic-altered schedule, 2020 rookies get a redo. And for the purposes of this column, we will give them another look as well.
Here are some rookies to watch this season.
A Lim Kim
2020 highlight: Won U.S. Women’s Open
A Lim Kim was not on anyone’s radar heading into December of last year, but that changed in a hurry. With a furious three-birdie charge at Champions Golf Club, Kim won the U.S. Women’s Open in her first major appearance. Now Kim will compete on the LPGA Tour full-time in 2021 as she looks to build off the momentum she created in Houston.
2020 highlight: T2 at Volunteers of America Shootout
Yealimi Noh is just 19, but don’t mistake her young age as an indictment on her ability to compete. Noh has already been in contention several times on the LPGA Tour (including at the U.S. Women’s Open) and that’s a trend that should continue as she plays out her extended rookie season continues.
2020 highlight: Symetra Tour Player of the Year
Ana Belac started 2020 aiming to help her Duke University squad defend their NCAA championship. But when the pandemic hit, those plans quickly changed. Instead, Belac made the decision to turn pro and took to the Symetra Tour to hone her game. The result was a Player of the Year campaign that earned her an LPGA Tour card for 2021. Oh, what a difference a year can make.
6. Which tournaments should you be watching?
All of them! But if you don’t have time to catch some LPGA action every weekend, keep an eye on these events. They’re sure to open your eyes to some world-class players and courses.
Dates: April 1-4
Location: Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, Calif.
If last year’s theatrics are any indication, the ANA Inspiration will be must-watch television. Mirim Lee outlasted the field last year in dramatic fashion, and this event always seems to find a way to pull off some fireworks. Plus, the champion cannonballs into a lake. What’s not to like?
U.S. Women’s Open
Dates: June 3-6
Location: The Olympic Club, San Fransisco, Calif.
Ask any LPGA player and they’ll likely tell you the U.S. Women’s Open is the tournament they want to win more than all the others. It’s got a world-class field, a rich history and is played on a course that tests every part of your game. Proving your mettle under those circumstances is a hefty accomplishment. With the event moving back to its normal June time slot and historic Olympic Club playing host, this year’s edition will be all the more special.
Dates: September 4-6
Location: Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio
Is there anything better than team golf? The Solheim Cup will feature the U.S. squad facing off against the always formidable European side as the Americans look to take back the cup they lost at Gleneagles in 2019. The event has been extremely competitive over the last decade as each side has won the cup three times, and the 2021 edition should be no different.
We can’t wait. For all of it.