Simona Halep (click to enlarge)
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 #2 players for 2015: Simona Halep (WTA), Teresa Lu (JLPGA) and Inbee Park (LPGA).
SIMONA HALEP (WTA)
2015 Prize Money: $4,568,127
Titles: BNP Paribas Open, Shenzhen Open, Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship
Awards: WTATennis.com Most Popular Player of the Year
While my favorite player among currently active players is Madison Keys, my favorite player to watch is Simona Halep. In some ways she reminds me of a smaller version of Kim Clijsters in how adept she is at changing ball trajectories during a rally. The Romanian star has my favorite current shot in tennis, her backhand up the line. When she changes direction in a rally and hit that shot cleanly…it’s a thing of beauty. She had another tremendous year on tour, and yet before I sat down to do her recap part of me worried that she had a bit of an off year. But how could that be true when she’s ranked #2 in the world? It’s telling how important the big tournaments are that despite finishing the 2015 season world #2, I assumed that 2014 was a better year for Simona Halep. After all, she was runner-up at the WTA Finals and Roland Garros while making a final, semi and quarter in Majors. She also won twice and was runner-up three times. Ok, maybe Halepeno didn’t quite match her success in big tournaments this past season, but by any measure Simona was again phenomenal. She won 3 times, including her biggest title to date at Indian Wells, an event sometimes labelled a mini-Major. She also took another Tier I championship in Dubai. If there was one tournament that maybe got away, it was the US Open. With Roberta Vinci taking out Serena Williams in one semifinal, had Halep been able to take out Flavia Pennetta she would have been a huge favorite to win her first Major against Vinci. But that didn’t happen. Still, if Simona continues to play the way she has the past few seasons…and there is no reason to believe she won’t for many years to come…that first Major will come.
TERESA LU (JLPGA)
2015 Prize Money: $1,221,398 USD (¥146,957,679)
Titles: JLPGA Championship Konica Minolta Cup (Major), Fujitsu Ladies, NEC Karuizawa 72 Golf Tournament, Resort Trust Ladies, Daikin Orchid Ladies Golf Tournament
After having a career year in 2014, what could Teresa Lu do to top it in 2015? She played even better. The Taiwanese star added her third Major at the Konica Minolta Cup. Having already won the Ricoh Cup and Japan Women’s Open, Lu needs only the Salonpas Cup to complete the JLPGA Career Grand Slam. In all, she won 5 times in 2015 while setting personal bests in prize money and scoring average. I’d have to check it year by year, but just off the top of my head the year Teresa put together in 2015 might be the greatest in recent memory by anybody who did not win Player of the Year. In the five seasons prior to 2015 (2010 thru 2014), Lu’s 2nd place money list total would have beaten the money list winner in all but one year. And even in that one year, 2014, she would have only narrowly missed matching Sun-Ju Ahn by a little more than 6 million yen. That might sound like a lot but it’s only around $50,000, a slim margin in golf money lists. Depending on the tournament that could be the difference between finishing 5th or 2nd in one event. Oh, and were that not enough she had he best ever result in an LPGA/LET Major, finishing 6th at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. When the Salonpas Cup rolls around in 2016, I know who I will be watching more than any other player.
2015 Prize Money: $2,630,011
Titles: KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Ricoh Women’s British Open, HSBC Women’s Champions, Volunteers Of America North Texas Shootout, Lorena Ochoa Invitational
Awards: Vare Trophy, Annika Major Award
I tried for so long to hold off admitting what is becoming more and more obvious. I am a big fan of South Korean golf pioneer Se Ri Pak. Nobody has done more to change the demographics of his or her tour more than she has. And she set the bar for all Seoul Sisters with her Hall of Fame career. Inbee Park is better than Se Ri. There. I said it. While Se Ri had all-time greats to deal with like Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb, an argument can be made that the LPGA is stronger and deeper now than it has ever been. Yet Inbee still is putting up all-time great numbers. She won 5 tournaments including 2 more Majors in 2015, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (for the 3rd straight year) and the Ricoh Women’s British Open. That brings her Major total to 7. She finished top 10 in 4 Majors with a T11 in the other, along the way winning the Annika Major Award. Queen Bee also won her 2nd Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. As I mentioned with Teresa Lu, the year Inbee put together in 2015 might be the greatest in recent LPGA years for a somebody that didn’t win Player of the Year. From 2009 thru 2014, Park’s 2nd place prize money total would have beaten every money list total save for Yani Tseng in 2011. She has yet to reach Se Ri’s overall win total. Maybe Inbee will get there. Maybe she won’t. Regardless, I am already calling her the greatest South Korean golfer of all-time.
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