LPGA Tour begins 2017 season in the Bahamas (Jan 25, 2017)
Defending champion Hyo Joo Kim and reigning player of the year Ariya Jutanugarn highlight the field as the 2017 LPGA begins its season on Thursday with the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic at the Ocean Club Course at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.
A field of 108 players will be compete for $1.4 million in prize money plus a full allocation of points in the Race to the CME Globe season-long competition. The winner receives $210,000 and 500 CME Globe points.
The fifth edition of this tournament is the first of 35 events on the LPGA Tour schedule, up from 33 in 2016. The combined total official prize money of the tour's events is an LPGA-record $67.35 million - and 11 of the events (including four of the tour's five major championships) will have increased purses.
If progress is not the catchword for the LPGA Tour, youth must be. The average age of the tour's winners in 2016 was 22.30 years, as 24 events were won by players 23 years old or younger - and 16 of those were garnered by golfers 21 or younger.
The tour also had 18 winners from 12 different countries and five golfers who finished with a scoring average under 70 for the first time in LPGA history.
Leading that charge was Thailand's Jutanugarn, who's just 21 years old. She had a historic season in 2016, winning five times on the way to capturing the Rolex Player of the Year award and Race to CME Globe in just her second season on tour.
Jutanugarn, currently the No. 2 player in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings, became the first player in LPGA Tour history to have the first three wins of her career come in consecutive tournaments. And by winning the RICOH Women's British Open, she is the first major champion (male or female) from Thailand.
Hyo Joo Kim, who's also only 21, captured her third title on the LPGA Tour in last year's event with a final round 7-under-par 66 to win at 18-under par, two strokes ahead of Stacy Lewis, Anna Nordqvist of Sweden and 2015 champion Sei Young Kim of South Korea.
"It's great to be back since 2016," Hyo Joo Kim said through a translator. "But there's a lot of wind these past few days. I was initially very happy to be coming to the Bahamas and now I'm a little bit more anxious given the weather and the strong winds.
"Last year's win came much earlier (in my career) than I expected. I joined the LPGA a little bit earlier than I had planned emotionally, and I think even in terms of you were kind enough to say that my game is there, but I still feel like I'm not quite there yet. I'm very, very slowly walking up a very steep hill."
Four of the top 10 players in the Rolex Rankings and 10 of the top 20 from the 2016 LPGA money list are entered. The other top 10 players in the field are No. 5 Lexi Thompson of the United States, No. 6 Sei Young Kim of South Korea and No. 8 Brooke Henderson of Canada.
Jessica Korda and Ilhee Lee, who won this event in 2014 and 2013, respectively, also return. The field also includes sponsor invite Natalie Gulbis and Bahamas native Georgette Rolle, who won the Bahamas qualifier in December to earn her fourth berth in the tournament.
There are 13 major championship winners in the field for the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic with a total of 25 major titles as well as seven champions from the 2016 LPGA schedule.
The Ocean Club Golf Course, designed by Tom Weiskopf, will be set up at 6,625 yards and will play to a par of 36-37--73.