Thursday’s annual Rolex Awards, held during the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, a number of honors were handed out to players and leaders in the sport. From Jane Park’s emotional speech as she accepted the Heather Farr Perseverance Award to Lexi Thompson taking home the Founders Award, the evening tied a bow on the 2023 season. If there was one image from the night that summed up the year and the overarching theme of women’s professional golf, it came when first-time winners were honored. As all 12 of them stretched across the stage, the group photo was a perfect visual representation of the depth and parity in the game right now.
Combined with last year’s 11 first-time winners, that’s a whopping 23 players taking home their first LPGA trophies in the last 24 months. This year’s group included a number of rookies (Rose Zhang, Alexa Pano, Grace Kim, and Hae Ran Ryu) and veterans (Angel Yin and Megan Khang). For some, it’ll be their only win. For others, it’ll be the first of many. Only time will tell if Lilia Vu can continue to rack up majors, or if Linn Grant’s flashes of dominance will become her norm.
The abundance of talent is likely something commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan will be putting on her “Things I’m Thankful For” list this week. Her sport has superstar potential and tons of personality even just among those dozen new winners. It’s a gift that comes with challenges though. When the top ten players each week are a revolving door of names, it’s tough for a casual fan to stay in the know. It’s even tougher when your league is jostling for broadcast windows or subjected to tape delay. The talent deserves to be showcased, and it’s on Marcoux-Samaan to make it happen.
The good news is that we’re starting to see her make some inroads. Earlier this week, she and CME Group CEO Terry Duffy announced next year’s Tour Championship purse will be increased to $11 million, along with a two-year contract extension. The same day also brought news of a two-year streaming deal with ESPN. Tomorrow, the LET votes on a merger with the LPGA. Marcoux Samaan addressed the vote, highlighting how joining forces could lead to new revenue opportunities for both tours. After a slow start as commissioner, there are encouraging signs that Marcoux-Samaan intends to elevate the LPGA the way we’ve recently seen other leagues like the NWSL and WNBA manage. There’s still a long way to go (ShotLink at every tournament would be a god-send when it comes to putting player performances in context), but Marcoux-Samaan has real momentum now for the first time since her tenure began.
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