NAPLES, FLORIDA | It wasn’t mathematically over until Sunday, although, realistically, everyone knew the outcome before the first shots were struck. Lydia Ko was leading the Rolex Player of the Year race when the week began. In order for her to lose it, Minjee Lee, Brooke Henderson or Atthaya Thitikul had to win the CME Group Tour Championship and Ko had to finish third or worse. By Sunday morning, Ko was tied for the lead with Leona Maguire. Lee was nine shots back. Thitikul was 10 behind.
Ko shot 70 in a cold, hard wind on Sunday to capture the year’s biggest awards, along with the money title at north of $4 million for a single season, the second-most in history. It was also Ko’s 19th career win, six more than any other LPGA Tour player younger than 30. And Ko is only 25.
She also leapt a good bit closer to another milestone. Each of her awards, as well as her win, earned her another point toward the LPGA Hall of Fame. Ko now has 25 points, two shy of qualifying. The youngest inductee is Inbee Park, who was 27 when she entered the hall. Ko won’t turn 26 until April of next year.
Thitikul, who won twice on the LPGA Tour at age 19, locked up the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award one week earlier at the Pelican Women’s Championship and accepted the award from Nancy Lopez at the Rolex LPGA Awards Banquet on Thursday.
“It’s such a huge honor to receive the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award,” Thitikul said as she took the stage. “I am just a little girl who always had a dream to play and compete on the LPGA Tour, and to be here on this stage in front of you guys is more than a dream come true.”
In Gee Chun also grabbed an honor, taking home the Founders Award, the only award decided by player votes. The winner of the Founders Award is the player who, in the eyes of her peers, exemplifies the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.
“To receive any award as a player on the LPGA is special, but this one is even more special because it is from the LPGA players, who I have great respect and admiration for,” Chun said in her acceptance speech. “I think I also hold a sense of responsibility as a professional golfer. At some point, I thought to myself that my words and actions have an influence on those around me, so I wanted to share good energy and positive thoughts with as many people as I could. I want to continue to share good energy with more people in this moment and in the future.”