The LPGA is finishing its season this week at the CME Group Tour Championship. This year they’re playing it again at the Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, Florida, but they’ve added a twist.
Everybody in the tournament is there because of their consistency throughout the year: everybody who made a cut got points on a sliding scale, majors had more points, events without a cut awarded just the top 40 and Lorena Ochoa’s exclusive event awarded just the top 20.
First place for the winner is $500,000. And then there’s the matter of the $1 million bonus.
At end of the year, the top nine players all have a mathematical chance of winning the bonus. This year they are:
- Stacy Lewis
- Inbee Park
- Lydia Ko
- Michelle Wie
- So Yeon Ryu
- Shanshan Feng
- Anna Nordqvist
- Chella Choi
- Karrie Webb
If any one of the top 3 players wins the tournament, they win the $1 million bonus.
At the beginning of the tournament, all the points are zeroed out and reset points are distributed top to bottom. At the conclusion of the tournament, Championship points are distributed top to bottom. The two added together determine the winner of the $1 million bonus.
For the last three years, this was known as the CME Titleholders Championship. Player selection back then was each week, the top 3 players not already selected got in. It was kind of unique in that it cast a wider net over the good players, but it created anomalies: last year a sponsor exemption in the last tournament, Lorena Ochoa’s, was selected because everybody else in the small field was already in.
In Thursday’s first round, Julieta Granada is at 6-under, 66 with a 2-shot lead over Sandra Gal. Granada won the first $1 million bonus in her 2006 rookie year. Then it was the ADT Championship and the bonus looted the $1.55 million purse: second place won just $18,125.
Stacy Lewis is T3 with two others at 3-under and Inbee Park and Lydia Ko are T13 with seven others at 1-under.
Conditions were difficult in the wind. Stacy Lewis sums it up:
“It’s pretty hard with that much wind. I think the first four or five holes are some of the hardest holes on the golf course, so you got to come out firing right away.”
“You got some long irons into greens that are not very big. It was playing hard, but then you make the turn and you got some wedges into holes and you can make some birdies.”
“Back nine sets up for some good stuff at the end.”
Granada is from Paraguay and has really gotten serious about her game this year and explains the difference:
“I feel like it’s a little bit of everything. I matured a lot throughout this year. The ups and downs of golf, I guess. But this year I have a new trainer. My coach is the same. But I just kind of came out with a little bit more intensity and I was like, I want to do better.”
“It was a good year”
Winning the $1 million in her rookie year was a life changing event. Looking back, did she ever think it was too much too soon?
“I wouldn’t [give] it back. Like, ‘Here, take that back.’ Yeah, but, you know, you’re 20 years old and it’s your first year out here. It’s really exciting and fun and [then] you win $ 1 million.”
“Life becomes really good. You think you can just go relax a little bit. But everybody else out here is still grinding and going at it.”
“I kind of sat back a little bit and relaxed and I didn’t have the same hunger to play well and to make money, I guess.”
“So, yeah, it was a learning curve, but I wouldn’t take it back.”
And in the process, she’s matured into a nice young player. She came into the week in the No. 24 spot:
“Yeah, it’s maturing. You know, I’m 28 now and I’ve been through 4th on the Money List to 30th on the money to 100th on the Money List. I been pretty much everywhere.”
“It’s maturing and appreciation for being out here. I think I have such a good appreciation, and I love to come out to every event.”
“You just to have to mature as a player and as a person.”
We spend so much time looking at the details of the game that we sometimes miss the benefits of the game. Turn around and before you know it you become somebody you would have aspired to be even if you couldn’t see it when you began.
No wonder so much effort is going into the First Tee programs.