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 #5 players for 2015: Flavia Pennetta (WTA), Ji-Hee Lee (JLPGA) and Lexi Thompson (LPGA).
FLAVIA PENNETTA (WTA)
2015 Prize Money: $4,406,005
Titles: US Open (Major)
If you’re going to retire from the game, what a way to go out. Flavia Pennetta dropped the mic on her WTA career by winning her first Major in singles, the US Open. Yes, she did play a few tournaments after that, but symbolically I will always think of her as winning in Flushing Meadows and announcing to the crowd that she was retiring. Anybody other than Serena Williams winning the US Open this year was a surprise. However, if there was one Major that Flavia might win it would be on the hard courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. While Pennetta had reached only 1 singles QF in all of the other Majors combined, she went into her final Major having reached the US Open quarters 5 times, including 1 semifinal berth. Not only did she add a 6th quarterfinal appearance and 2nd semifinal appearance this year, she won the first all-Italian final in a Major over her friend, Roberta Vinci. Best wishes to Flavia and her fiance Fabio Fognini.
JI-HEE LEE (JLPGA)
2015 Prize Money: $839,465 (¥101,127,369)
Titles: Yokohama Tire Golf Tournament PRGR Ladies Cup, Nobuta Group Masters GC Ladies
It was a resurgent season for Ji-Hee Lee in 2015. The South Korean star is one of the greatest players in JLPGA history with 19 victories, including the 2008 Japan Women’s Open. However, coming into this year she hadn’t won since 2012. She took care of that early when she won the Yokohama Tire event in her second tournament. She would go on to win the Nobuta Group Masters towards the end of the season. Along the way Ji-Hee posted her best year on the money list since 2011, when she finished 2nd. The 36-year old Lee has finished 2nd in prize money 3 times in her brilliant career. Her success has her 3rd on the all-time JLPGA money list. Comparing Ji-Hee to Flavia, it’s great in golf to be able to watch Ji-Hee continue to play into her late 30s and maybe even her 40s, if she desires whereas at 33, I’d like to see Flavia play on but the toll the pro tennis tour takes on the body…33 is old age in tennis, particularly singles. You can get away with playing longer as a doubles specialist. But other than just wanting to retire and start a new phase of life, if somebody like Ji-Hee is playing well at 36…why not keep on going?
LEXI THOMPSON (LPGA)
2015 Prize Money:$1,763,904
Titles: Meijer LPGA Classic, LPGA KEB HanaBank Championship; [TEAM] Solheim Cup (United States)
From two players at or nearer to the end of their careers, I shift to Lexi Thompson. She’s been in the women’s golf consciousness so long that it seems weird to think that she’s only 20 years old. Despite her youth, she recorded her 2nd multi-win season on the LPGA in 2015, taking the Meijer LPGA Classic and HanaBank. Lexi was also runner-up at the Evian Championship, one of three Majors where she finished top 10. Overall, she had 13 top 10s this year. She didn’t win a Major this year as she did in 2014, but it can reasonably be said that 2015 was her finest season to date. Thompson had her best result in prize money (5th) and, by far, in scoring average (finishing 4th overall at 70.01). Because I try to keep these recaps short and sweet, I haven’t even talked about her being a part of the winning Solheim Cup team or the memorable shots she has hit this year like the hole in one at HSBC. Although Lydia Ko and Inbee Park look like they are in a league by themselves (although Stacy Lewis might argue about that), lookout if Lexi is beginning to put it all together. If she is still improving, which her performance in 2015 suggests she is, she might be the rival for Ko over the next decade.
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