USGA CHAMPIONS
Thompson, Park, Ryu Headline LPGA Awards November 20, 2017 By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Lexi Thompson had a tough finish on Sunday, but wrapped up what was an incredibly successful 2017. (USGA/Chris Keane)

The final day of the 2017 LPGA Tour season began with a crowded leader board at the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Fla., with four players tied at the top and 22 players within three strokes of the lead. By the end of the afternoon, it appeared that once the dust settled, the most consistent player throughout the year would be taking home every major award the LPGA Tour had to offer.

Lexi Thompson had a 2-foot putt to put the finishing touches on a final-round 66 and move into prime position to claim her third victory of the season, and with it, Rolex Player of the Year honors, the Vare Trophy for the Tour’s lowest scoring average, and first place in the season-long Race to CME Globe standings. Ariya Jutanugarn, standing in the fairway, would have to make birdie to force a playoff with Thompson, on a hole that had only yielded three birdies all day.

Then the script flipped. Thompson’s near tap-in barely grazed the edge of the hole, leading to her first bogey in 34 holes, and Jutanugarn, the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, capitalized on the opening, rolling in a 23-foot, downhill birdie putt to claim her second title of 2017, topping Thompson and Jessica Korda by a stroke with a 72-hole total of 15-under 273.

As far as consolation prizes go, Thompson hardly left empty-handed on Sunday evening. The 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion still won the Race to CME Globe title, and the $1 million bonus that comes with it, and still clinched the Vare Trophy, named after six-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Glenna Collett Vare. Thompson’s 72nd-hole gaffe did cost her a chance at Player of the Year honors, which were shared by reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Sung Hyun Park and 2011 U.S. Women’s Open champion So Yeon Ryu.

The victory was the seventh of Jutanugarn’s young LPGA Tour career. The 21-year-old from Thailand had another big year, collecting 10 top-10 finishes, but struggled after her victory in June’s Manulife LPGA Classic propelled her to the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. A nagging shoulder injury contributed to her making just two cuts in her next eight starts, and her victory Sunday was her first top-10 finish since her June triumph.

“I just set new goals the last few months after I started to play really badly,” Jutanugarn said after her victory. “I told my caddie, you know what, No. 1 [in the world] is not going to help me at all. It’s not going to help me become a better golfer. I’m just going to go out and have fun and stay within myself and enjoy myself.”

USGA champions continue to have a strong presence in the LPGA Tour’s end-of-year awards. Thompson’s Race to the CME Globe victory meant a USGA champion has claimed the title each year since the competition was introduced in 2014. Lydia Ko, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, won the title the first two years, and Jutanugarn won in 2016. This year also marks the third straight year and sixth time since 2010 that a USGA champion has won the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Vare Trophy.

Park was announced as the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year in October, the fourth time since 2012 that a USGA champion has won the honor.

Eun-Hee Ji, the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open winner, finished tied for fourth on Sunday. Park and two-time USGA champion Michelle Wie finished tied for sixth, while 2005 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion I.K. Kim finished tied for eighth.

Late Miscues Cost Rose on Road to Dubai

Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, was in the driver’s seat on Sunday afternoon at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, looking to finish off an incredible fall run to the Race to Dubai title. The Englishman was just two weeks removed from back-to-back victories at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and the Turkish Airlines Open, and a third straight trip to the winners’ circle would also secure the top spot in the PGA European Tour’s season-long points standings.

A Saturday 65 put Rose one stroke ahead of the field heading into the final round, and four birdies over his first seven holes Sunday only furthered the notion that he would complete the trifecta. A trio of bogeys on the back nine, however, pushed him down the leader board, and he ultimately finished in a tie for fourth, two strokes behind winner Jon Rahm. Rahm chipped in for par on the first hole and used a combination of sharp iron play and a terrific short game to fire a 5-under 67 and claim his third worldwide victory of 2017.

The late stumble would ultimately cost Rose the Road to Dubai title, ceding it to countryman Tommy Fleetwood. Fleetwood, who finished in fourth place in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, entered the week at the top of the standings and was able to hold on despite finishing tied for 21st in the season finale.

For Rahm, it’s been a quick ascent in the golf world for the 23-year-old Spaniard. Now ranked No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Rahm turned pro just 17 months ago, right after he finished tied for 23rd and earned low-amateur honors in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. 

Scott Lipsky is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

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