LPGA's Player of the Year race comes down to numbers, not popularity

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LPGA's Player of the Year race comes down to numbers, not popularity

LPGA Tour

LPGA's Player of the Year race comes down to numbers, not popularity

NAPLES, Fla. – In-Kyung Kim met a fan on her way back to the clubhouse on Thursday who wanted to show her a magic trick. The polite Kim stood there as the man made a red handkerchief disappear, only to pull it back out of his clenched fist seconds later.

Kim, the 2017 Ricoh Women’s British Open champion, has a chance to become the winningest player this season, but not even a touch of magic could make her the LPGA Rolex Player of the Year.

It comes down to simple math, and Kim can’t earn enough points this week to catch So Yeon Ryu for top honors. While the PGA Tour selects its Player of the Year by player voting, the LPGA uses a points-based system.

Kim, a three-time winner this season who opened with a 2-under 70 at Tiburon Golf Club, has 124 total points. Ryu leads the tour at 162. A victory at the CME Group Tour Championship is worth 30 points, which means only Lexi Thompson, Shanshan Feng and Sung Hyun Park have a chance to unseat Ryu.

How can Kim win that much and be so far behind? The CME is only her 17th event of the season. Both Ryu and Park have played in 23. This marks Feng’s 22nd start of the season and Thompson’s 21st.

“I really didn’t plan my schedule to any sort of award or anything, said Kim. “For me, the timing was a little bit off.”

Kim didn’t begin 2017 until the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in March after she fell down some stairs in December and suffered an injury. She competed in five tournaments in the spring before taking off the entire month of May to be with family. She’d missed that opportunity over the winter due to rehab and was feeling burned out.

Kim then won her first tournament back, the ShopRite LPGA Classic, followed by the Marathon Classic in July. But it was her triumph at the Ricoh Women’s British Open that makes her 2017 so special, given what she had to overcome to win her first major. Golf fans can’t forget the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship, when Kim missed a 14-inch par putt on the 72nd green that would have given her the title outright.

It was a sentimental victory to be sure.

Kim played eight out of 10 weeks in the summer of 2017, but her fall season was again exceedingly sparse. Since winning the British on Aug. 6, she has completed only two events. She was forced to withdraw from the LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship with a stomach ache and then had to skip the Toto Japan Classic after losing her passport.

By the time she teed it up in last week’s Blue Bay LPGA event in China, it felt like a new season for Kim.

“I feel like I had a winter training already,” said Kim. “I might start a little bit early (next year) and take some time off in the middle of the season.”

Brittany Lincicome admitted that she doesn’t pay much attention to how POY points are allocated, but felt Kim deserved the chance to claim the title with a victory at the CME.

Then she thought back to the time she was trying to win a car in the 2015 Kia Power Drive. Joanna Klatten left Naples with a new set of wheels by finishing the season first in driving distance at 274.42 yards. Klatten played in nine fewer tournaments than Lincicome, who came in second, 4.91 yards behind.

Lincicome can therefore appreciate that playing in more events – in this case with more top-10 finishes – should count for something. Feng and Ryu lead the LPGA with a dozen top-10 finishes. Park has 10. Thompson has five runner-up showings.

Major winner Mo Martin respects the fact that Kim took time off when needed.

“For the amount that we’re on the road, I think it’s really important,” she said, “and it can’t be understated that you need to take time off, and manage yourself emotionally and physically.”

There is a downside to that fact that the player who wins the most might not secure Player of the Year. But Martin can see both sides to the tour’s numbers-based approach.

“It sucks that the points system is going to favor somebody that just plays more,” said Martin, “but obviously whoever wins is going to obviously have a great season, and I’m sure they’re going to deserve it, too. So for that reason, that’s why I go back on neutral.”

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