Pebble Beach Shines and New Champions Emerge: The Top 10 LPGA Moments of 2023

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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

2023 Mizuho Americas Open2023 Mizuho Americas Open
Rose Zhang speaks during a press conference after a playoff win against Jennifer Kupcho of the United States (not pictured) in the final round of the Mizuho Americas Open at Liberty National Golf Club on June 4, 2023 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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

2023 U.S. Women's Open2023 U.S. Women's Open
Allisen Corpuz plays her shot from the 18th tee as a gallery of fans look on during the final round of the 78th U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on July 09, 2023 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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 result?

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

2023 Solheim Cup2023 Solheim Cup
Carlota Ciganda of Team Europe celebrates with the Solheim Cup after her teams win during Day Three of The Solheim Cup at Finca Cortesin Golf Club on September 24, 2023 in Casares, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

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

2023 AIG Women's Open2023 AIG Women's Open

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.

Nothing short of shocking

Lydia Ko of <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/new-zealand-women/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:New Zealand;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">New Zealand</a> walks to the first green during the third round of the Dana Open at Highland Meadows Golf Club on July 15, 2023 in Sylvania, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)Lydia Ko of <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/new-zealand-women/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:New Zealand;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0"></div></div></div><div class=

Lydia Ko’s season might be best summarized by the seven-stroke penalty she received during the final round of the Dana Open for the incorrect use of preferred lies. While preferred lies were in place for the final round in Toledo, Ohio, it was only on the 1st and 10th holes.

“Note to self, read the preferred lies memo CAREFULLY next time,” Ko later wrote on Instagram.

Overall, it was a shocking year for Ko, who went from World No. 1 and the 2022 Rolex Player of the Year to not just winless in 2022, but 100th on the CME points list. That meant Ko wasn’t even in the field to defend her title at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Of course, Ko wasn’t the only big name to finish the LPGA season without a title. Nelly Korda, Lexi Thompson, Atthaya Thitikul, Jennifer Kupcho and Danielle Kang can all say the same.

China’s new star

2023 Women's PGA Championship2023 Women's PGA Championship
Ruoning Yin poses with the championship trophy after winning the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Ruoning Yin joked that she might start wearing a mask back home in China because so many people now recognize her. Yin became only the second Chinese player after Shanshan Feng to win a major and later rise to No. 1 in the world after her victory at the KPMG Women’s PGA at Baltusrol.

One of the best ball-strikers on tour, Yin shot 67 in the final round at Baltusrol’s Lower Course and hit a staggering 36 greens over the weekend. The player known as “Ronni” wasn’t even playing golf when Feng became the first Chinese player to win a major at the 2012 Wegmans Championship, now known as the KPMG Women’s PGA.

“It’s a lot different,” said Yin of what it’s like now back home. “And especially when I play Buick (LPGA Shanghai). A lot of kids follow me, see me play, and they basically just telling me it’s because you started to play, I started work hard. I was like, that’s the things I want to see.”

Celine Boutier makes history in France

2023 Amundi Evian Championship2023 Amundi Evian Championship
Celine Boutier celebrates with the Amundi Evian Championship trophy following victory in the Amundi Evian Championship at Evian Resort Golf Club on July 30, 2023 in Evian-les-Bains, France. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

A four-time champion in 2023, Boutier became the first French player to claim the Amundi Evian Championship, winning comfortably by six shots over the 2022 champion, Brooke Henderson.

“Honestly, it has been my biggest dream ever since I started watching golf,” said Boutier, who played collegiate golf at Duke. “This tournament has always been very special to me, just even watching as a teenager and just to be able to hold this trophy, it’s pretty unbelievable.”

Legendary finish

2023 U.S. Women's Open2023 U.S. Women's Open
Michelle Wie West celebrates her putt for par with Annika Sorenstam on the 18th green during the second round of the 78th U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on July 7, 2023 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Michelle Wie West drained a 30-foot par putt on the 18th green at Pebble Beach and her whole family lit up like a Christmas tree. It was, quite possibly, Michelle Wie West’s last competitive shot, and it wouldn’t be a Michelle Wie West ending without some sort of drama, husband Jonnie noted – good or bad.

“I definitely held back tears the entire round,” said Wie West as she held her daughter tight.

The 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion wasn’t the only big name to pick Pebble Beach as a swan song. The USGA paired Wie West alongside Annika Sorenstam for the first two rounds of the championship. Sorenstam, a 10-time major winner who first retired from major championships in 2008, said goodbye once again at the historic championship.

Ever the competitor, Sorensatm was angry about having to line up a putt for double bogey on her final hole. That frustration, however, was overridden by her appreciation for the warmth she felt from those watching and where she feels the game is headed.

Jane Park’s inspiring return

Jane Park visits with her daughter Grace Park after completing the third hole during Day One of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club in Midland, Michigan, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)Jane Park visits with her daughter Grace Park after completing the third hole during Day One of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club in Midland, Michigan, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Jane Park visits with her daughter Grace Park after completing the third hole during Day One of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club in Midland, Michigan, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jane Park returned to LPGA competition in the summer of 2023 for the first time since daughter Grace’s life-changing injuries nearly 2 ½ years ago. Park, the 2004 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion who joined the LPGA 16 years ago, played alongside good friend Paula Creamer in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational.

“Just to see the type of impact that Grace has had on the general public,” said Park during tournament week, “and just to see that our story has touched them in a way that has left an indelible mark on them, that’s an honor.”

Monday-qualifier shocks in Portland

Chanettee Wannasaen of Thailand poses for a photo with Rolex Vice President of Marketing and Communications Mounia Mechbal as she is recognized as a 2023 Rolex First-Time Winner during the 2023 LPGA Rolex Players Awards at Tiburon Golf Club on November 16, 2023 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)Chanettee Wannasaen of Thailand poses for a photo with Rolex Vice President of Marketing and Communications Mounia Mechbal as she is recognized as a 2023 Rolex First-Time Winner during the 2023 LPGA Rolex Players Awards at Tiburon Golf Club on November 16, 2023 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Chanettee Wannasaen of Thailand poses for a photo with Rolex Vice President of Marketing and Communications Mounia Mechbal as she is recognized as a 2023 Rolex First-Time Winner during the 2023 LPGA Rolex Players Awards at Tiburon Golf Club on November 16, 2023 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Thailand’s Chanettee Wannasaen wasn’t even in the field for the Portland Classic when she came to town. The 367th-ranked player in the world Monday-qualified her way into the tournament and then proceeded to win it all, closing with a 9-under 63 to triumph by four.

The 19-year-old was just the third Monday-qualifier to win on tour and the first since Brooke Henderson did the same in 2015. Wannasaen finished the season No. 45 in the world.

*Bonus! Lexi Thompson plays the PGA Tour

Lexi Thompson of the United States walks from the ninth hole during the second round of the Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin on Oct. 13, 2023 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)Lexi Thompson of the United States walks from the ninth hole during the second round of the Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin on Oct. 13, 2023 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)
Lexi Thompson of the United States walks from the ninth hole during the second round of the Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin on Oct. 13, 2023 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images)

While this storyline came outside the LPGA schedule, it involved the most popular player in the women’s game:

In October, Lexi Thompson became only the second woman to record a sub-70 round in a PGA Tour event when she carded a 2-under 69 at the PGA Tour’s Shriners Children’s Open. Thompson joined Michelle Wie West, who twice shot 2-under 68 at the Sony Open.

Thompson made Friday golf must-see TV at the Shriners with an exhilarating run at becoming the first woman to make the cut since Babe Zaharias. She became the seventh woman to tee it up in a PGA Tour event,

“Just seeing the amount of kids that were out there screaming, ‘Lexi Lexi, go Lexi!’ it makes me tear up sometimes,” said Thompson, “because that’s what I play for, to inspire these kids.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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