Lexi Thompson Wins CME, Jutanugarn 1 million, Rankin Presides
The CME, and the “Race” to it, all ended yesterday, and it signaled the end of the LPGA year. While that is, in a sense, sad, as I miss a full slate of golf over the winter, the tour is now strong enough to tide me over. The CME was interesting to me on several levels. Besides being the high point and end of the year, it was a big win for Lexi Thompson. Last year, she lost this tournament over a two-footer. This year, I could have played the last hole for her and she still would have won. There is no doubt about Lexi’s talent level, but it hasn’t been one of her greatest years – ups and downs, as she describes it. She didn’t win anything, and she always wins something, sometimes lots of things. The CME has some pretty hefty sums of money handed out, and it was good to see Lexi get that cool half million. Fellow tour player, Ariya Jutanugarn, the name of whom I finally learned how to pronounce thanks to Judy Rankin, collected an even cooler million for a year-long body of work, in which she won every conceivable award. That includes the Vare Trophy, Rolex Player of the Year and the one million bonus. She scored 470 birdies in one season, and shot 57 rounds in the 60s. Not too far back, Thailand was not a spot associated with golf. Now, it features one or two of the best players anywhere.
Above it all, I was gratified to see Judy Rankin calling the show with her colleagues in the booth. She has seen a lot of golf go by, playing much of it herself, and continues to excel at the commentator thing. Her presence offered a sense of history and perspective to the young stars raking in all that money. Rankin was on tour at the age of 17, and notched 26 wins, including one or two tournaments that would later be declared majors. Pretty much every award has come her way, and she’s a Hall of Fame favorite. Only a back injury was able to stop her. Rankin had a connection to the founders of the tour a generation before her, and is able to tie up those pioneer days with the brilliant modern version of what those women created. The LPGA Commissioner deserved to look as proud as he did when the stats came out with a full slate of tournaments in an enormous spread of countries all over the world. Rankin ably took note of it all.
The CME also afforded veterans like Judy Rankin an interesting conversation about how golfers have come to view money as the purses balloon in size. Rankin became the first to win over $100,000 by taking in $150,000 in 1976. That must have been a dream come true in terms of making a living. She discussed what it was like for the first golf millionaires, and the mind-blowing experience of reaching such a figure doing what one loves to do. They couldn’t do it in the Bobby Jones era, and it was rare until a generation ago. Suddenly, from the Big Three to the modern tours, it has all made a quantum leap. Worth noting is that the first millionaire generation was comprised of either children of parents coming out of the world-wide depression of the 1930s, or some who were actually in the thick of it. Those effects have finally begun to wear off with the youngest wave of players. Good riddance, and may it never happen again. Still, having Rankin to talk about the long picture of women’s golf in addition to the great rounds being played this week was comforting to an old golf history buff.
The other item that struck me was the manner in which Jutanugarn received her bonus, in a box with wrapped-up rolls of cash. I was amused thinking that Al Capone would have loved it, despite the drawback of the CME being completely on the up-and-up. All in all, it was a great day – terrific winner, impressive bonus winner, great course in great shape, and Judy Rankin on the headset.