9 Best Rookie Seasons in LPGA History

Counting down the all-time best rookies on the LPGA Tour

There have been many good rookie golfers in the history of the LPGA Tour ... but only nine of them were great enough to make our list. Here is our ranking of the best seasons by LPGA Rookie of the Year Award winners in tour history, counting down from No. 9 to No. 1.

9. Paula Creamer, 2005

Paula Creamer as an LPGA rookie in 2005, playing the Mitchell Company Tournament of Champions
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Paula Creamer, 18 years old, was coming off a great junior golf career. She'd also made multiple appearances as an amateur in LPGA tournaments, and recorded several very high finishes. She was surrounded by hype. And Creamer not only lived up to the hype in 2005, she exceeded it.

He early results were good but not spectacular; then she won the Sybase Classic in her eighth start. From that point, Creamer posted one more victory (the prestigious Evian Masters, not yet a major), three second-place finishes and four other Top 10s. She wound up second on  the money list and third in scoring average. For good measure, Creamer posted a 3-1-1 record at the 2005 Solheim Cup.

8. In Gee Chun, 2016

Golfer In Gee Chun shows off her Vare Trophy, won in 2016
In Gee Chun with the Vare Trophy she earned in 2016 for low scoring average. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

In Gee Chun won only once in her rookie season, yet we rank her year ahead of Creamer's 2-victory rookie year. Why? That one win by Chun was a major, the Evian Championship. And she finished runner-up in another major, the ANA Inspiration.

In all, Chun posted Top 10 finishes in 11 of her 19 LPGA starts, a 58-percent rate that tied for best on tour. She also won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, finished fourth on the money list, and ended the season at No. 3 in the world rankings. Chun was only the second player in LPGA history to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and Vare Trophy in the same year.

7. Lydia Ko, 2014

Lydia Ko playing the Lorena Ochoa Invitational during her rookie year of 2014
Darren Carroll/Getty Images

All the 17-year-old Lydia Ko did was cap her rookie campaign (2014) with the biggest payday in LPGA Tour history to that points - $1.5 million. She earned $500,000 of the amount for winning the season-ending CME Globe Tour Championship tournament, and a $1 million bonus for winning the inaugural Race to the CME Globe points chase.

It was Ko's third victory of the season, and she wound up third on the money list and fifth in scoring. She finished in the Top 10 in 15 out of 26 starts. And, oh - did we mention Ko was only 17? Yes? Well, it bears mentioning again. The list of youngest winners in LPGA history overflows with Ko's name.

6. Jiyai Shin, 2009

Jiyai Shin at the LPGA Mizuno Classic in 2009
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Jiyai Shin had already won LPGA tournaments before joining the tour. In fact, Shin won three times in 2008, including a major (Women's British Open). But her official rookie year - the year in which she was first a member of the LPGA - was 2009.

And in that rookie season Shin won another three times, including another major - the LPGA Championship. Shin won that major by seven shots, the largest margin of victory on tour in 2009. Her first victory of the year was earned with an 8-shot comeback at the HSBC Women's Champions.

Shin led the money list, was second in scoring average and finished second (by one point) in the Player of the Year standings.

5. Karrie Webb, 1996

Karrie Webb during her LPGA rookie season of 1996
Getty Images

In 1996, Karrie Webb was in the Top 10 in 15 out of 25 starts on the LPGA Tour. Of those Top 10 finishes, four were victories, five were second places and one was a third place.

She topped the money list and became the first player in LPGA history to top $1 million in single-season earnings. Webb was also the first golfer in tour history - any golf tour, men's or women's - to top $1 million as a rookie.

Wow. Reading that, it's surprising we only have her at No. 5! But the only thing Webb didn't do in 1996 was win a major.

4. Sung Hyun Park, 2017

Sung Hyun Park plays a shot on the second hole during round three of the CME Group Tour Championship in 2017
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Sung Hyun Park won "only" twice in 2017, but one of those was a major championship. And she was so consistently good throughout the year that she deserves this high ranking — perhaps even a higher one.

Here's what Park did in 2017:

  • She won the U.S. Women's Open and the Canadian Pacific Women's Open.
  • She was the LPGA's runaway Rookie of the Year and shared Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu.
  • She topped the money list, was second in scoring average, fourth in birdies made, seventh in driving distance and seventh in greens in regulation.
  • She reached the No. 1 spot in the world rankings in November and finished the year at No. 2.

3. Juli Inkster, 1984

Juli Inkster at the 1989 Nabisco Dinah Shore
Mike Powell/Getty Images

Some sources list 1983 as Juli Inkster's rookie year, and, in fact, Golf Digest named her LPGA rookie of the year at the end of 1983. Yet, we have her 1984 season on this list. What gives?

The confusion stems from the fact that from 1973-82 the LPGA held two Q-Schools, and in 1983 there were three! Inkster earned her tour card at one of those 1983 Q-Schools and from August on played eight tournaments, winning one.

However, her first full year was 1984, and it is that year for which she won the LPGA Tour's own Rookie of the Year Award.

What did Inkster do in 1984? Oh, just four victories, including two majors (the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the du Maurier). Inkster was the first golfer to win two majors in her rookie season on the LPGA.

2. Se Ri Pak, 1998

Se Ri Pak wins the 1998 US Women's Open
Craig Jones/Getty Images

And Inkster was the only 2-time major-winning rookie ... until Se Ri Pak's 1998 season.

Pak's first LPGA win was a major, the LPGA Championship, which she won wire-to-wire. And her second was another major, the biggest one, the U.S. Women's Open, which she won in a 19-hole playoff.

The week after the U.S. Women's Open, Pak won again, this time at the Jamie Farr Kroger Classic. And for good measure she later added the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic. She wound up as runner-up on the money list.

In retrospect, Pak's 1998 rookie year seems monumental in LPGA history. She inspired a wave of young girls (and also boys) in Korea to take up golf. All the Korean golfers who arrived on the LPGA Tour in the next two decades are, in a sense, children of Pak's 1998 LPGA season.

1. Nancy Lopez, 1978

LPGA legend Nancy Lopez in the late 1970s
Nancy Lopez was the first LPGA golfer to record five consecutive victories. Tony Tomsic/Getty Images

If you have even a passing knowledge of LPGA history, then you already knew when you started reading this list who would be at No. 1. Nancy Lopez's 1978 season isn't just the best rookie year in LPGA history, but possibly in the history of golf. It's one of the best years period, rookie or otherwise, in LPGA history.

As with Inkster, Lopez actually earned LPGA membership at summer Q-School. Lopez did it in 1977, and played in six tournaments afterward.

Her first full year, and the year for which she was LPGA Rookie of the Year, was 1978. And what did Lopez do in 1978?

  • She got her first LPGA win in the fourth event of the year, the Bent Tree Classic. Win No. 2 happened the following tournament at the Sunstar Classic.
  • From May 12 through June 18, Lopez won every LPGA tournament she entered - five total: the Greater Baltimore Classic, Coca-Cola Classic, Golden Lights Championship, LPGA Championship and Bankers Trust Classic.
  • Win No. 8 was in August at the Colgate European Open. And her ninth victory of the year was at the Colgate Far East Open in November.

The tour had only two majors in 1978, and Lopez won one of them (she was ninth at the U.S. Women's Open). Her 5-tournament win streak set a record that she still shares (Annika Sorenstam later matched it). She lost another two tournaments in playoffs.

Lopez led the tour in scoring and in money. She won Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year.

Lopez remains the only play in LPGA history to win the Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year and Vare Trophy awards in the same season.

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Kelley, Brent. "9 Best Rookie Seasons in LPGA History." ThoughtCo, Dec. 1, 2017, thoughtco.com/best-rookie-seasons-in-lpga-history-1564511. Kelley, Brent. (2017, December 1). 9 Best Rookie Seasons in LPGA History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/best-rookie-seasons-in-lpga-history-1564511 Kelley, Brent. "9 Best Rookie Seasons in LPGA History." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/best-rookie-seasons-in-lpga-history-1564511 (accessed December 12, 2017).