As the 2022 LPGA Tour season begins this week at Lake Nona with the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, there is no crystal ball to peer into that will tell us what’s to come for the players embarking on a 34-event season that traverses the globe. But we can still dream up what we’d like to see happen. From comebacks to new arrivals, bigger purses and sponsorships from new companies, here are nine things we’re hoping to see take place on tour this coming season.
A rivalry we can root for: Nelly Korda vs. Jin Young Ko
It’s clear the talent pool on the LPGA Tour is too deep at the moment for there to be a single, dominant star along the lines of Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa. So, if we can’t have that, a duel is the next best thing. We got a tease of a budding rivalry between Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko late in 2021, as the two entered the final event of the season in an incredibly close race for Player of the Year. Though Ko came out the victor, Korda begins the season ranked No. 1 in the world. She grabbed a major championship and Olympic gold in 2021, two things Ko left that season without. The buzz about the two players was exciting, but brief, as the season ended soon after the fun really started. So as we begin 2022, the wish is that Korda and Ko pick up where they left off. A season full of the pair vying for titles—Korda with her power and Ko with her incredible accuracy—sounds like the Sunday afternoons we deserve. —Keely Levins
Mission Hills goes out in style
With new sponsor, Chevron, taking over, 2022 marks the last time the LPGA’s first major of the year will be played in the California desert at Mission Hills. The Dinah Short Championship course itself isn’t much to speak of, but that was never really the point. The point of gathering at Mission Hills each spring since the event’s inception in 1972 was to celebrate something more than a golf tournament. For years, the event and the course was a cultural touchpoint for feminism and women’s liberation, and those sentiments were underlined by the competition itself: In the 1970s, when the tournament was euphonically named for its co-founder, celebrity Dinah Shore, it gave LPGA players the largest purse in the sport and an overdue platform on network television. Clearly a new sponsor in tow that will nearly double the purse and shift its date away from the Augusta National Women's Amateur and the Masters is good for the overall financial health of the event, and perhaps these alterations return a spotlight to the championship than has dimmed over the past decade. Still, while “The Dinah’s” legacy hopefully remains, there’s a chance the move itself will alter its spirit. In that vein, here’s hoping that in its last dance at Mission Hills, the tournament goes out in style and that those fireworks carry forward with the event, no matter where it’s contested. —Joel Beall
Muirfield proves the best players need to play on the best stages
August cannot come soon enough. For the first time, the AIG Women’s Open will be played at Muirfield, one of the toughest of Open Championship venues. The club came under scrutiny and lost its spot in the Open rota in 2016 when it voted against allowing women to become members. By 2019, the club had changed its mind and the first female members were accepted, opening to host it first women’s major. It’s an iconic course, full of history with winners including Walter Hagen, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and it will be interesting to see how the women fair, not only for that week’s entertainment, but to solidify the notion that the best venues in golf bring out the best in the women’s game, and that women should get more chances at them. —K.L.
The USGA’s bump in prize money pushes other sponsors to do the same
The USGA’s decision to nearly double the U.S. Women's Open purse to $10 million by adding presenting sponsor (ProMedica) was a decisive moment for the women’s game. A funny thing happens when one tournament bumps up its purse: Other tournaments follow suit, especially when that tournament is a major. No major wants to have the smallest purse. Right now, the U.S. Women’s Open is at $10 million, The Chevron Championship (previously named the ANA Inspiration) is at $5 million, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is at $4.5 million, the Amundi Evian Championship is at $4.5 million and the AIG Women’s Open is at $6.8 million. Though not a major, the CME Group Tour Championship has the next-biggest purse to the U.S. Women’s Open, at $7 million. The question now is whether the trend will follow in regular LPGA events as well. —K.L.
Lydia Ko wins a major
Lydia Ko is right there, it seems, on the brink of being a dominant factor once again on the LPGA Tour. The 24-year-old is the No. 3 player in the world as the 2022 season begins and is coming off a year that saw her first win since 2018—the Lotte Championship. She also posted three runner-up finishes in 2021. (See what we mean? She’s right there.) One of those runner ups was a solo second finish at the ANA Inspiration. You can see where we’re headed with this … not only do we want to see Ko get her 17th LPGA win, we want it to be a major. Ko has won two majors in her career: the 2015 Evian Championship and the 2016 ANA Inspiration. She’s a player not only with undeniable talent, she takes time to sign autographs for every fan, she’s thoughtful with the media, she's simply good for the game. —K.L.
More women-led businesses supporting the tour
In the 1970s, a University of Michigan study suggested that women professors graded women graduate students more harshly than male students. The study initiated the idea of the “Queen Bee Syndrome,” namely that powerful women were prone, intentionally or otherwise, to holding back the progress of other women. The study’s been replicated multiple times, including a 2020 investigation in the British Journal of Social Psychology, which indicated that the problem wasn’t so much powerful women as it was the organizational framework they operate in.
All this psycho-blather is prelude to one simple question: Why are not the most powerful women in business supporting the LPGA Tour? There are 41 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. How many of those companies are title sponsors of LPGA events? One. (And that’s a loose interpretation. General Motors, which is run by Mary Barra, owns the Buick brand, which is the title sponsor of the Buick LPGA Shanghai in China.) It seems time in 2022 for the LPGA to get some real backing domestically from some of the biggest companies in the world, companies led by women. That list includes Citigroup (Jane Fraser), UPS (Carol B. Tomé), Oracle (Safra A. Catz), The Hershey Company (Michele Buck), Progressive Corporation (Tricia Griffith) and dozens of others. The LPGA is the best run women’s sports organization in the world. It’s time some other women used to running great organizations get on board. —Mike Stachura
No more tape delays
The scene was perfect at the Pelican Women’s Championship last November. Nelly Korda had just made a 20-foot birdie putt and Lexi Thompson had missed her putt to force a four-woman playoff with Korda, Thompson, Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim. The four major champions were heading down the first playoff hole. And yet somehow it wasn’t on live television; the Pelican was on a tape delay. Watching sports on a tape delay is rough. In the age of Twitter it’s almost impossible to not find out what happened before the tape finally plays. But seeing it happen in an event with a powerhouse playoff really drove home the fact that tape delays need to be a thing of the past for the LPGA Tour. We’re not in the room deciding what gets airtime and what doesn’t, and yes it’s a saturated market with a lot of live sports out there gunning for airtime. But if 2022 could be the year of no tape delays, everyone would be happy. —K.L.
Patty Tavatanakit avoids the sophomore slump
In just her 18th professional start on the LPGA Tour, Patty Tavatanakit confirmed what many were already convinced to be so: the rookie from Thailand had a game that could win a major championship. At last April’s ANA Inspiration, she combined distance off the tee, touch around the greens and an overall course savvy to hold off a hard-charging Lydia Ko for a two-shot victory. It was her lone win of 2021, but in her remaining 15 starts, the eventual Rookie of the Year had eight additional top-10s—including two in majors. The question naturally arises as to whether the now 22-year-old might suffer from a “sophomore slump” in 2022 after having an offseason to absorb just what she accomplished. Yet the way in which she continued to thrive on tour after her ANA victory suggests she’ll be OK, as does the fact that in her actual sophomore year of college at UCLA she added to her career victory total of seven. —Ryan Herrington
Leona Maguire gets her first LPGA Tour win
The pursuit of success doesn’t always follow a straight line, as Leona Maguire’s path to the LPGA Tour proves that. The former No. 1 amateur in the world and three-time college player of the year at Duke University didn’t sail straight from graduation to the LPGA Tour. She failed to make it through LPGA Q-School on the first try and had to get her reps in on the Symetra and Ladies European Tours. She got her LPGA card for the shortened 2020 season, and 2021 provided a full schedule with more tournament opportunities. Only then, a few years later than expected, did Maguire start coming into her own. She shot a final-round 61 at the Amundi Evian Championship, which tied the record for the lowest round shot at an LPGA major. She stunned as a rookie at the Solheim Cup at Inverness, going undefeated (4-0-1) and emerging as a hero for Team Europe. Her potential has been proven, but there’s one important thing Maguire hasn’t done yet: win. With an LPGA Tour victory, Maguire’s circuitous route to the tour will be complete. And her new journey as an LPGA Tour champion will have officially begun. —K.L.