Munoz accepts Rookie trophy; POY race continues

Louise Suggs and Rolex Rookie of the Year Azahara Munoz during the Rolex awards reception.

Louise Suggs and Rolex Rookie of the Year Azahara Munoz during the Rolex awards reception.

ORLANDO, Fla. – As Azahara Munoz addressed the crowd Friday night at the Rolex awards reception, her sincerest words were not even understood by most in the room. Accepting the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award, Munoz made it through nearly her entire speech before wiping away tears as she addressed her mother in Spanish from the podium. It was a private moment among a sea of spectators, with a clear message of gratitude from the 23-year-old.

Munoz, who had three top-10 finishes and 10 top 25s, spoke to the difficulty of transitioning from four years of collegiate golf at Arizona State to the pro game, but also thanked the friends and players who have helped her along the way. She ended her address with a heartfelt thank you to the award’s namesake, who sat like a proud parent on the stage behind her.

“I can only hope that one day I can make a sliver of the difference that you have made,” Munoz said.

The Rookie of the Year award was the only hardware handed out at the banquet, as the race for the Vare Trophy and Rolex Player of the Year are still ongoing. Only Na Yeon Choi and Cristie Kerr are still in the running for the Vare title (Choi holds a slight edge with 36 holes to play at the LPGA Tour Championship). Choi, Kerr, Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato and Yani Tseng entered the season-ending event with a shot at earning Player of the Year honors. Suzann Pettersen rounds out the group of six players who still have a shot at ending the season with the No. 1 ranking.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan had described the accomplishments of each to start the night, giving the awards a very personal feel as he addressed each player with memories ranging from Shin’s speedy comeback from an appendectomy, to a pro-am round with Miyazato, to watching Tseng jump in the water at the 18th green after winning the Kraft Nabisco.

“In this room is more greatness than you can ever imagine,” Whan said moments before escorting Suggs to the stage.

Only Choi, Miyazato, Shin and Tseng were on-hand – in glitz, glamour and heels – at the reception to speak about the ongoing races. But so, too, was eight-time player of the year Annika Sorenstam.

“I remember those times were wonderful, so keep it all up,” she told the assembled players.

One thing was made abundantly clear Friday: With 36 holes to go, this race is still raging.

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