The LPGA 2014 season tees off in a week at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. Ilhee Lee, the defending champion, is going to face a full field of challengers at the Ocean Club Golf Course on Paradise Island. Lee, who’s Rolex Ranked No. 33 and starting her 4th year on the Tour, claimed her first LPGA victory at the 2013 Pure Silk, tied for 3rd at the Kingsmill Championship and again at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. She’ll need to bring her sharpest game to Paradise Island if she hopes to successfully defend her title. In addition to the usual cast of characters who’ll be prowling around the top of the board, four golfers who had a very strong 2013 season are going to come off the 1st tee hot and ready.
Let’s take a look at them.
Shanshan Feng, Rolex Ranked No. 6
Coming into 2014 Shanshan Feng’s goal is to capture three LPGA Tour wins. I’m keeping an eye on her. Feng’s persistent and determined and generally hits her mark. She’s hungry to improve on a two-win, 10 top-10 finishes 2013 campaign. The Chinese standout made her first trip to the winner’s circle in 2013 at the Reignwood Classic in front of her home country before closing out the year in style with a win at the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Titleholders. Beaming with confidence, Feng finished 2013 inside the top-10 in four statistical categories and looks poised to break inside the top-3 on the Rolex Rankings this season.
Lexi Thompson. Rolex Ranked No. 9
While some might argue that Lexi Thompson has already arrived at the top of the pro golf pile, there could be even more things in store for the teen phenom in 2014. After bursting onto the LPGA Tour scene with a victory at the age of 16, Thompson continued to amaze in 2013, rocketing from a starting Rolex Rank of 24 in January to the 9th spot in December. The Floridian took home her first LPGA Tour win as a member at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in October before edging out Stacy Lewis in Mexico a few weeks later at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Ending the year No. 6 on the Official Money List, Thompson looks poised to put a serious fight to become the top ranked American. A win at the Pure Silk would get her closer to Lewis.
So Yeon Ryu, Rolex Ranked No. 5
While So Yeon Ryu failed to notch a victory in 2013, that didn’t stop her from clawing her way inside the top-5 on the LPGA’s Official Money List. With ten top-10 finishes in 2013, consistency was key for the 2012 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, but a win 2014 could propel her even closer to the top position on the money list. Ryu’s high on the list to play on the South Korean team at the inaugural International Crown, and she’s going to bear close watching all the way up to that event in July.
Beatriz Recari, Rolex Ranked No. 19
Beatriz Recari had a breakout season in 2013 with wins at the Kia Classic in March and the Marathon Classic Presented by Owens Corning & I-O in July as well as nine additional top-10 finishes. I look for this fiery Spaniard to ride the momentum she set in motion last year to an even better 2014 season. Like Thompson and Ryu, Recari is poised to represent her country in the International Crown match play event. She’s one of the most competitive players on the LPGA Tour. The International Crown will provide the perfect stage for Recari to thrive in the team competition.
For those of us who can’t take off for a January Bahamas break, Golf Channel will provide daily live coverage of the Pure Silk-Bahamas: Thursday, January 23 and Friday, January 24, 11:30-2:30pm; Saturday, January 25 and Sunday, January 26, 3-5pm, all times ET. I’ll, of course, also provide my regular daily wrap-up of each round.
Correction: In an earlier version of this post I indicated that Lydia Ko would be absent from the Pure Silk-Bahamas field of players. Ko is not included in the official player list. I apologize to Lydia Ko and to Pro Golf Now readers for this error.