For the past two years I have counted down the top 30 (2013) and top 25 (2014) players on the WTA and LPGA money lists as my year-end wrap-up. This year I am reducing the list to the top 15. However, I am adding the LPGA of Japan (JLPGA) to the countdown. For the WTA, singles, doubles and mixed doubles are added to the total money earnings. For the JLPGA, I will approximate the US Dollar totals based on the day I look up the exchange rate. Here are the #6 players for 2015: Maria Sharapova (WTA), Ayaka Watanabe (JLPGA) and Amy Yang (LPGA).
MARIA SHARAPOVA (WTA)
2015 Prize Money: $3,949,284
Titles: Brisbane International, Internazionali BNL d’Italia
What worries me the most about Maria Sharapova is the reoccurance of injuries that have derailed several of her recent years. The career Grand Slam winner will turn 29 in 2016. For all of the glitz and glamour that surrounds her, she seems to have a real passion for and dedication to her tennis. I’d hate to see her lose any more playing time when she is getting closer to the end of her stellar career. 2015 had so much promise. When she could play, she played very well. Masha won titles in Brisbane and Rome. She was the runner-up at the Australian Open and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon. But injuries after Wimbledon meant she didn’t play a completed match again until the WTA Finals at the end of October. Once healthy, she performed well again, reaching the semis. She ended her year winning both of her singles rubbers at the Fed Cup final, including against the ace of the champion Czech Republic squad, Petra Kvitova. Masha has nothing to prove in her career. She is one of the best players in tennis history. I just hope that as her career winds down she will have healthy full years to build on what will be her already impressive Hall of Fame achievements.
AYAKA WATANABE (JLPGA)
2015 Prize Money: $837,267 USD (¥100,866,583)
Awards: JLPGA Best Shot of the Year
Titles: Hisako Higuchi – Ponta Ladies, Yamaha Ladies Open Katsuragi
Ayaka Watanabe has improved each year she’s been on the JLPGA. Her place on the money list has risen while her scoring average has fallen, both good things in golf. Over the past three years the 22-year old Ayaka has risen from 46th to 11th to this year 6th in prize money earned. She also recorded her first multiple win season, taking titles at Hisako Higuchi and Yamaha. Early on, it didn’t look promising for Watanabe as she missed the cut in her first 3 events. But from then on, she was sensational. In addition to her 2 wins, she finished runner-up twice and had 17 top 10s. If there is one player on the JLPGA to keep an eye on in 2016 other than the obvious players at the very top, I’d say it’s Ayaka. If she keeps up her trend of improving each year, she could have a year in 2016 that challenges for the best on tour.
AMY YANG (LPGA)
2015 Prize Money: $1,438,312
Titles: Honda LPGA Thailand
2015 was the type of season for Amy Yang that many close watchers of the LPGA imagined she was capable of producing, although I’m not sure even her most ardent supporters saw 9 birdies in a row on the back 9 at HanaBank. She set personal bests in prizemoney, scoring (70.51) and top 10s (10). She won the Honda LPGA Thailand while finishing second at both the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the US Women’s Open. It’s that USWO finish that particularly stands out for me. If there is one event that I would predict she would win, it’s the biggest tournament in women’s golf. Amy has been top 10 in 5 of the last 6 USWOs, top 5 in 4 of the last 5 USWOs and runner-up in 2 of the last 4 including this year. Just like for years in tennis people thought Goran Ivanisevic, for all the times he fell short, was just made to win Wimbledon…which he eventually did…I feel that Amy is made to win the US Women’s Open. Trust me. Eventually, she will.
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