With venues like Pebble Beach and Baltusrol on the major championship schedule and a Solheim Cup in Spain, the 2023 LPGA season was bound to deliver. And while there were many intriguing storylines this year, it’s safe to say the vast majority were completely unpredictable.
A player who’d never won on tour came the first American to win two majors in a season since Juli Inkster in 1999. Meanwhile, stars who looked destined to shine brightly in 2023 came up stunningly short.
A record 12 players were Rolex First-Time winners in 2023, up from a record-tying 11 last season (first set in 1995).
Among the 12 was Rose Zhang, the best amateur player in modern history. The Stanford star managed to accomplish something that hadn’t been done in decades her first professional start.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 storylines from a surprising 2023 season:
Rose Zhang’s ridiculously good debut
A mere 13 days removed from winning her second NCAA title, celebrating her 20th birthday and announcing her professional plans, Rose Zhang took on the best players in the world and beat them all.
Zhang defeated major champion Jennifer Kupcho in a playoff at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first player since Beverly Hanson in 1951 to win on the LPGA in her pro debut.
“What is happening?” said Zhang as she held a bouquet of red roses. “I just can’t believe it.”
Pebble in prime time
Hawaii’s Allisen Corpuz made history at Pebble Beach Golf Links, becoming the first woman to win a U.S. Women’s Open at the iconic course.
And because an historic event deserves historic coverage, it also marked the first time that NBC aired a women’s major in prime time.
The 2023 championship was the most-watched USWO since Michelle Wie West won in 2014 at Pinehurst No. 2. The average audience of 895,000 viewers was up 118 percent over 2022.
Sunday’s final round averaged 1.58 million viewers and peaked with more than 2.2 million viewers in the 8:15-8:30 p.m. ET quarter hour.
The digital consumption also hit historic marks for women’s golf, tripling numbers from last year.
Carlota Ciganda wins it for Spain
When it comes to storybook, it’s hard to imagine anything more perfectly scripted than what Carlota Ciganda pulled off at the Solheim Cup. Playing on home soil, the fiery Spaniard held the hopes of Europe in her hands as she made her way down the stretch at Finca Cortesin.
Walking down the 16th hole, European captain Suzann Pettersen turned to her longtime friend and said, “Is this how you wanted it? It’s all yours.”
Ciganda, who had just cold shanked a shot on the previous hole, dug deep.
With the hopes of a nation on her back, Ciganda birdied the 16th and stuffed one inside an already close Nelly Korda on the par-3 17th to win the match and retain the Cup for Europe.
“I’m just so happy,” said Ciganda. “Everyone here is a family.”
Rise of Lilia Vu
There was a point in the 2023 season when Lilia Vu wondered if her fine play was a fluke. By the season-ending event in Naples, Florida, however, that idea seemed absurd.
Vu won four times this season, including two majors, to clinch the Rolex Player of the Year award. Pretty incredible for a player who not long ago considered quitting the game to go to law school.
“I think it’s been unreal for (Player of the Year) to happen,” said Vu.
“I think last year I was telling (caddie) Cole (Pensanti) on the last hole, I remember after the last round … I just broke down in tears. I was just really hard on myself. I was definitely hard on myself this year, too, but much nicer.”
Prior to her victory at the AIG Women’s British Open, Vu carried on the tradition of the champion’s leap at the Chevron Championship, becoming the first to jump into the murky water on the 18th at the Club at Carlton Woods in Texas.