Let’s pause and take a deep collective breath before we launch ourselves into the second half of the 2014 season. It’s been an amazing and exciting six months in women’s golf, and with the RICOH British Women’s Open this week and the Evian Championship just nine weeks away, let’s take a closer look a five members of the 2014 LPGA Rookie Class. How are they holding up in the face of a phalanx of heavy-hitting winners: Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, Paula Creamer, Lizette Salas, Karrie Webb, Anna Nordqvist, Inbee Park. What are their prospects for the next few months? The rookies are the future, and these five are showing that they have the stuff it takes to get off the porch and play with the big dogs! They’re all going to get that chance when they tee off in a few days at the RICOH Women’s British Open.
Lydia Ko was challenging the big dogs before she turned pro last November. Ko’s unarguably the dominant rookie in the class, although it’s hard to think of Ko – the youngest winner in LPGA history – as a rookie. The 17-year-old started her rookie year on the first page of the world rankings and with two wins on the LPGA Tour she earned as an amateur already on her resume.
During the first half of her rookie season Ko’s recorded six top-5 finishes including a win at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and runner-up finishes at the JTBC Founders Cup in in March and the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship Presented by P&G in June. One can only wonder what the second half of the season will bring for Lydia Ko.
The New Zealander is currently ranked No. 2 in the world and challenging Stacy Lewis’s hold on the top of the world rankings every time she tees off. She’s 3rd on the money list — she’s collected $828K+ this year — and 3rd in the Race to the CME Globe standings.
Ko’s poised and composed under the pressure of competition, unquestionably a talented athlete and probably the most accomplished 17-year-old golfer we’ve ever seen. The Kiwi is in the field at the RICOH Women’s British Open and could become the youngest player to ever win a major by more than a year if she were to win at either Royal Birkdale or Evian-les-Bains. She came close last year when she finished the Evian just behind Suzann Pettersen.
Mirim Lee is the newest South Korean golfer to step onto the big stage. At mid-season, Lee’s won about half of her earnings for the year — $166K+ — with her tie for 2nd at the Founders Cup, where she finished just one shot back of Karrie Webb, who shot a final-round 63 to edge out Lee.
Lee currently sits in 41st on the money list, 2nd in the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year standings — behind Lydia Ko — and has made eight cuts in 11 starts. She’s a long hitter at 261.5 yards (15th on Tour), about twelve yards behind the big bombers, Gerina Piller and Lexi Thompson. Lee is 15th on the Tour in greens in regulation at 74 percent, trailing Suzann Pettersen’s 80% hit rate. If her putting (88th on tour) catches up to her ball striking, she could be in for a serious push up the money list in the second half of the season. That push could begin when she tees off at the Women’s British Open in a few days.
The twenty-five year old Danish rookie came to the LPGA with three years’ experience on the LET, where she earned her first pro victory at the 2012 Allianz Ladies Slovak Open and posted four top-10s. Vedel’s made her presence felt on Tour this season. She’s entered eleven events and missed only two cuts, and with winnings of $168K+ she’s currently 38th on the money list.
Vedel plays a remarkably consistent game, recording top-25 finishes in each of her last three starts. Her best result so far this season came at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic where she finished in a tie for 4th. Her game recalls the old golf adage, “drive for show, putt for dough.” Vedel’s putting numbers are outstanding for a rookie, ranking 3rd on the Tour in putts per GIR (1.766) and 7th in putting average (29.5). She’s right up there with the big dogs once she puts her ball on the putting surface, and judging from her effervescent smile, she clearly enjoys the competitive moment!
One of the shorter hitters on the Tour (243.5 yards), Vedel makes up for it with a consistently outstanding short game. She’s gotten up and down 57 percent of the time out of bunkers – 5th on tour – and has the 26th best scoring average on tour in 2014. With 14 rounds in the 60s this year already, she’s one to watch at the Women’s British Open and throughout the second half of the season.
Given the harsh climate, it’s hard for me to envision a world-class golfer who grew up in North Dakota, played her way through the junior golf circuit and then collegiate golf in a place with such a brief golfing season. (I know — Suzann Pettersen and Anna Nordqvist are outstanding golfers.) But that’s what Amy Anderson did. She won the 2009 U.S. Junior Girls Amateur and recorded 20 collegiate wins while at North Dakota State.
Anderson qualified for the Tour on her first attempt with a fourth place finish at last December’s LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament and already has three top-25 finishes out of the eleven events she’s entered as a rookie. Her best tournament of the year came at the LPGA LOTTE Championship after a third-round 68 helped her to a 1-over-par four-day total and a tie for 7th. She is currently 62nd on the money list and 4th in the Rolex Rookie of the Year standings.
Anderson didn’t play in either the Kraft Nabisco Championship or the US Women’s Open but she’s in the field at the RICOH Women’s British Open. Let’s see how this spunky rookie handles the big stage of an international major!
Kim Kaufman probably feels like she won the lottery this year. The six-footer, former No. 1 ranked college golfer at Texas Tech , moved from the Symetra Tour to the LPGA Tour with a big finish at the North Texas LPGA Shootout. Although world ranked No. 1 Stacy Lewis ran away with the title, Kaufman finished in a T4th position that earned her a spot on the LPGA for the remainder of the season.
Kaufman’s game is showing enormous promise. She’s currently 64th on the money list and should be a mainstay on the Tour in 2015 as her status continues to improve with her spot on the money list. She’s currently hitting 73 percent of her greens (20th on Tour) but hasn’t had her putting catch up just yet.
Kaufman, like Anderson, will be a player to watch at the RICOH Women’s British Open, as well as throughout the last half of the year.
Let’s see how these five promising rookies measure up to the challenge of the Royal Birkdale Golf Club.