For the fourth annual edition of my WTA and LPGA money list countdown I will focus on the dynamic dozen from each tour, the top 12 on the money lists. For the WTA, singles, doubles and mixed are combined for total earnings. Here are the #12 players for 2016: Madison Keys (WTA) and Minjee Lee (LPGA).
MADISON KEYS (WTA)
2016 Prize Money: $2,311,022
Titles: Aegon Classic Birmingham
It was a season of growth for my favorite active tennis player, Madison Keys. 12th on the money list, the 21-year old American reached #7 in the world in singles, her highest ranking to date and finished the season at #8. Along the way she won the Aegon Classic Birmingham, her second career singles title (both on grass, where her big serve is most lethal). She also played into the second week of all four Majors, although she did not reach a quarter or semi as she did in 2015. She played for the bronze medal at the Olympics, coming up just short against Petra Kvitova. However, in my opinion Maddie’s best result was in Rome at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia where she beat Kvitova, Andrea Petkovic and Garbine Muguruza, all in straight sets, en route to a final against Serena where she took then-#1 Williams to a first set tiebreak. It was that clay court performance that reminded me of the potential Maddie has to be a future Major winner. She also showed tremendous heart in the 3rd round of the US Open, coming back from 1-5 down in the 3rd set to defeat Naomi Osaka. Add in a runner-up finish at Rogers Cup and Keys is moving in the right direction. If there is one aspect of her game to tighten up, it’s her second serve. Sure, her kick serve is a problem for lower ranked players but against Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, they adjust their return position and jump all over it. Serena William built the most formidable service game in the history of women’s tennis not only because of her booming first serves, but also her solid second serve. If Keys improves her second serve over the off-season, she could…check that, she will…reach the top 5 in 2017.
MINJEE LEE (LPGA)
2016 Prize Money: $1,213,902
Titles: Lotte Championship, Blue Bay LPGA
If you ask Minjee Lee about her shot of the year, no doubt she would point to her hole in one on a par 4 at the Kia Classic. It was only the 2nd ever par 4 hole in one in LPGA history, both coming this year. Historic or not, that wasn’t my favorite Minjee shot this year. Let me say, I am not dimishing her achievement as some have, noting the moved up tee on the 275 yard 16th hole at Aviara. Length is not my issue. After all, the other par 4 hole in one, by Ha Na Jang, was on a 218 yard par 4. No, it’s the significance of Lee’s eagle on the 13th hole in the final round of the Lotte Championship. It was part of a back 9 30 which helped propel the Aussie from 5 back at the start of the day to her second career victory and first of the season. She would go on to add a second title at the Blue Bay LPGA. Even though she didn’t medal, a tie for 7th at the Summer Olympics in Rio was a great performance. If there was one letdown on Minjee’s year it’s that she didn’t have the Major results to match her talent. With 3 career regular LPGA wins in two years, look for Major success as the next step in her development.
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As far as total earnings go (prize money and endorsements), the WTA always kicks the LPGA’s butts. A couple of years ago when Li Na was still playing, there were only 3 females in the top 100 of Forbes Highest paid Athletes list, and they were all tennis players: Li, Serena Williams, and Maria Sharapova. In 2016 there were only 2 ladies..Serena and Masha.
The LPGA could use a Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova type. Somebody that really pushes the media’s needle. It looked at one time like that might be Michelle Wie. But Serenas and Mashas don’t grow on trees. But somebody like that could attract more attention and more sponsors.
Seeing Madison Keys here reminds me that all 4 singles players on the USA Olympics womens singles team were black, which is an amazing feat, since 40 years ago it seemed to be primarily a white sport. I guess we can thank the Williams sisters for inspiring young black girls to take up the game. Where are the black female professional golfers of top 200 caliber? Cheyenne Woods (who has the pedigree) and Sadena Parks are in the 250’s, but quite frankly they are not ever going to be top notch players. Food for thought.
If Cheyenne Woods had been a superstar, it would have been sooooooo good for the tour. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets a win or two in her career, but so far she isn’t Ariya, Lydia, In-Gee, Brooke, Charley or any of the young guns.