By Steve Eubanks
The LPGA chooses its Rolex Player of the Year on points, a system that is straightforward and simple. An LPGA Tour win is worth 30 points; a runner-up finish is worth 12; third place gets 9 points; fourth is worth 7; and fifth through 10th earns values of 6, 5 4, 3, 2 and 1 point, respectively. Those points are doubled in majors. There are a few quibbles with the system.
A player can win a handful of Ladies European Tour events in addition to four or five LPGA Tour victories and still lose the Player of the Year award to someone with no LET wins but one more top-10 LPGA finish. But that doesn’t happen often. The upside of points far outweighs the down. The alternative is a vote, which brings in all sorts of subjectivity. This is, after all, Player of the Year, not Most Popular Player of the Year. By setting an objective standard, the LPGA has eliminated any Rory McIlroy/Brooks Koepka-type controversies. Earn the points, you get the prize.
This year, that system produced one of the most dramatic finishes in recent memory. Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko teed off in the final group of the final round of the final event of the LPGA Tour season, the CME Group Tour Championship, with not just the tournament and its $1.5 million prize on the line, but also the Player of the Year still unsettled. Ko had to win to overtake Korda in points. And win she did, hitting an incredible 63 greens in regulation in a row to take the title.
But we at Global Golf Post are not bound by what a league does, especially since the LPGA’s Player of the Year system had one large and significant omission in 2021.
Korda won four LPGA Tour events. Ko won five. That one win proved to be the difference, even though one of Korda’s wins was a major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship where she fired a competitive course-record 63 at Atlanta Athletic Club, the course where Jerry Pate won a U.S. Open and Larry Nelson, David Toms and Keegan Bradley won PGA Championships.
But Korda had another victory, one that, in the minds of the editors at GGP, makes her the top choice for Player of the Year. It came in the sweltering heat of an August afternoon near Tokyo, Japan, where she parred the 72nd hole at Kasumigaseki Country Club’s East course to become just the third woman in history to win an Olympic gold medal in golf.
At the time, it was Korda’s third win in a row. She won the Marathon Classic in Ohio and followed with the Women’s PGA, before finishing the streak with a sizzling 17-under par at the Olympics, a week that included a near 59 in the second round. Korda needed to birdie the 18th hole that Friday to become the second woman behind Annika Sörenstam to break 60 at the highest level of competition. But she and her caddie misjudged the line off the final tee, found the rough behind a tree and made double bogey to shoot 62.
Still, Korda appeared to have things on cruise control until Sunday when it looked like the world might chase her down. The 23-year-old from Florida fell into a tie for the lead with Mone Inami of Japan and Lydia Ko of New Zealand. But she found another gear, as she had throughout 2021, pulling ahead by three shots on the back nine and then reeling off six consecutive pars, none bigger than the two-putt from 30 feet on No. 18 to clinch gold.
“This is just kind of like almost legend status as a golfer, period, male or female,” said Korda’s older sister, Jessica, who also was on the United States team and ran out to hug Nelly when the final putt dropped. “It’s tough to win out here and she makes it look easy. For her to be doing this, it’s insane to me. This is like total GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) status to me.”
Lydia Ko, who won Olympic bronze for the second time in a row, said of Korda’s performance: “It’s not easy playing as the No. 1 (ranked player in the world) in the Olympics. I did that in Rio. And for Nelly to fight through those kinds of pressures and expectations and end up winning the gold, I think it shows what kind of class player she is.”
Korda won once more after that, again in spectacular fashion. That victory would come at the Pelican Women’s Championship in Belleair, Florida, the penultimate week of the LPGA Tour season.
Tied for the lead with Lexi Thompson with two holes to play, Korda made the worst mistake possible on the Pelican Golf Club, hitting her approach over the 17th green and down the steepest hill on the course. She made a triple bogey from there and went to 18 two shots behind. But showing a level of grit the women’s game hasn’t seen in decades, Korda birdied the toughest on the course to get into a four-way playoff (after Thompson three-putted from 60 feet for bogey). Korda then birdied the same hole again, rolling in a 21-footer to capture her fourth LPGA Tour title of the season, her fifth overall victory of the year.
In our minds, Nelly was never in doubt. Five wins including a major and Olympic gold makes Korda the 2021 GGP Player of the Year.
Top: Nelly Korda during the CME Group Tour Championship