Lydia Ko is one of those generational players.
Lydia Ko (Titleist Pro V1) and the LPGA by extension does not receive enough attention and recognition.
I tuned in to watch the final event of the LPGA season this past weekend, the CME Group Tour Championship, and watched Ko win and collect the record $2 million first-place prize from the $7 million purse.
Part of my reason for tuning in was because I am Canadian and Brooke Henderson (TaylorMade TP5x) who hails from Canada, was in contention. She finished tied for seventh. She won two events this season, including the U.S. Women’s Open. In Canada, Henderson is a huge deal and has advertisers lining up to have her endorse their products.
But back to Ko, who can best be described as a generational player. She burst on the scene a prodigious 17-year-old in 2015, finishing the following season ranked number one, the youngest male or female to achieve that status, in only her second year as a pro. Now, seven years later, she is still on top. I think that’s amazing because there has been a steady increase of quality players on the LPGA circuit, a combination of the game’s global growth and the U.S. colleges’ and universities’ recruiting.
It is hard to stay on top in sports. There are no shortages of players on the PGA circuit of players who rose to excellence earlier in their careers but sputtered only a few years later and have failed to find the very things that made them great. Sometimes it’s a case of being young and fearless and having no responsibilities other than going out week after week and concentrating solely on the sport, whereas only a few years later they lose that drive. Maybe it is because of obligations such as family or business opportunities, but once that ability is gone it is hard to recover it. Think of Rory McIlroy (TaylorMade TP5x) and Jordan Spieth (Titleist Pro V1x), both of whom went through some prolonged slumps before finding the magic again.
But back to Ko. She won the ESPY Award as the Best Female Golfer in 2015 and 2016. Winning an ESPY can translate to recognition and marketability more than what an athlete does in his or her individual sports. ESPN is that powerful.
I believe women’s golf should have a bigger spotlight than it does, at least as big as women’s tennis. I’m not going to speculate why, only to say that prize money matters. When a tournament has a record purse, as the LPGA Tour Championship did, it becomes part of the narrative. The PGA has been ramping up its prize money in recent years – and not solely because of LIV Golf. McIlroy won a record $18 million for winning the 2022 Tour Championship.
I am not trying to compare what McIlroy won versus Ko, but in women’s tennis the winners of both the 2022 men’s and women’s singles each received $2,600,000. The runnerups each receive $1.3 million. Women’s tennis has achieved parity compared to the men, at least in a major such as this.
The LPGA announced last week that the prize money for the 2023 season will surpass a record-breaking $100 million, that’s more than double from 10 years ago. The five majors will account for almost $40 million of that. So clearly women’s golf is evolving insofar as marketing and financial opportunities.
So good on Lydia Ko for making it back to the top again on the LPGA tour, just when it is starting to spike in terms of more money.