Women’s golf is on the rise, led by young stars Nelly Korda and Jin Young Ko

Nelly Korda competing at the 2022 U.S. Women's Open
Getty Images
0 Comments

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (AP) — Women’s golf is on the rise, a momentum swing not lost on fans and sponsors.

With an abundance of emerging stars gaining notoriety, the sport is drawing more attention — and sponsorships — in the post-Covid era. Tickets sales for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open are up more than 50% over the three-year, pre-COVID average, according to the USGA.

2022 U.S. Women’s Open: Preview, how to watch, course details

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko and America’s Nelly Korda are not yet household names, but are leading the charge. They combined to win nine LPGA Tour tournaments last year. Ranked 1-2 in the world, both landed on Forbes’ 2022 list of top 10 highest-paid female athletes in the world.

Ko collected $4 million from endorsements deals with LG Electronics, Jeju SamDaSoo mineral water, Korean Air and Rejuran skincare products. Korda, who returned to action this week after surgery to repair a blood clot in her arm, earned $3.5 million in endorsements with more than 10 sponsors, per Forbes. She has more than 504,000 followers on Instagram.

Lexi Thompson remains one of the biggest draws in women’s golf with her powerful swing along with former NCAA champion and August National Women’s Amateur winner Jennifer Kupcho, who is coming off her first major championship.

Then there’s 19-year-old Rose Zhang, who in the next few years might become the biggest crossover player on the LPGA Tour since Michelle Wie West, who received immense media attention when she turned pro a week before her 16th birthday in 2005.

Zhang won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur and has been the top-ranked amateur in the world since. She won the NCAA championship last month as a freshman at Stanford and helped the Cardinal to a national title while amassing an NCAA record 69.68 scoring average.

The youth parade also includes 16-year-old Anna Davis. She turned heads after winning the August Women’s Amateur and twice receiving a sponsor’s exemption to play on the LPGA Tour — making the cut both times. Like the other players this week at the U.S. Women’s Open, Davis was gifted with a new rental car to use to get around Southern Pines.

Only problem is she doesn’t have a driver’s license.

“Yeah, it’s all right,” she said with a shrug. “It’s a pretty car, though, so I’m OK just sitting in it.”

MORE WOMEN’S GOLF: Anna Davis takes aim at 55-year-old amateur record at 2022 U.S. Women’s Open

In all, there are 22 players under the age of 20 competing at the U.S. Women’s Open this week and 29 amateurs. The three U.S. major winners last year were 19, 21 and 23 years old.

“Look at all the amateurs that continue to either be exempt or qualify into this championship,” said Shannon Rouillard, a senior director with the UGSA. “We’ve averaged somewhere in the vicinity of 30 amateurs in this championship over a number of years. I think right there that just speaks to the future of the women’s game moving forward.”

While tomorrow looks promising for the women’s game, it’s not doing too bad today — especially overseas, where it is incredibly popular.

There are about 30 credentialed international media members on site at Pine Needles this week and approximately 200 more in the USGA’s virtual media hub.

Of the top 10 players in the women’s world ranking, eight are international players. It’s been that way for years, as the LPGA Tour was well ahead of the PGA Tour in attracting the best players from every corner of the globe.

On Thursday, Sweden’s Ingrid Lindblad recorded the lowest round by an amateur in the 77-year history of the U.S. Women’s Open, a 6-under 65 that left her one shot behind first-round leader Mina Harigae.

VIDEO: Ingrid Lindblad breaks 18-hole amateur record at 2022 U.S. Women’s Open

Lydia Ko, who was born in South Korea and raised in New Zealand, won her first LPGA event as an amateur when she was 15. She reached No. 1 in the world for the first time at age 17 and now has 17 LPGA Tour victories.

Yuka Saso, with dual citizenship in The Philippines and Japan, won the U.S. Women’s Open last year at age 19.

And corporations are taking notice.

New Jersey-based technology firm Cognizant invested in golf by becoming a global partner for the Presidents Cup, but not without investing in the LPGA Tour as title sponsor of the Founders Cup. It raised the purse to $3 million, the largest among regular LPGA events.

Aon, the London-based financial risk insurance company, created the “Aon Risk-Reward Challenge” bonus for men and women, awarding a $1 million prize to the winner of each tour. KPMG and Chevron initially entered the men’s golf market. Both are now title sponsors for women’s majors and have raised prize money to record levels.

Total prize money this season has crested $90 million, a big leap from $67 million two years ago. That still pales in comparison to the men, which has a deeper heritage and has leaned on the powerful appeal of Tiger Woods. Purses top $425 million on the PGA Tour.

The increased purses are a step in the right direction for women.

USGA chief executive Mike Whan, the former LPGA commissioner, recently added ProMedica, a health care company, to sponsor the U.S. Open. The purse nearly doubled from $5.5 million to $10 million in one year. The winner gets $1.8 million, the largest payout ever in women’s golf.

Annika Sorenstam, who returned to play in the U.S. Open this week after a 13-year hiatus, was the biggest name in women’s golf for years, amassing 72 wins and 10 majors on the LPGA Tour while winning more than $22 million during her career.

But at 51, her playing career is essentially over.

RELATED: New ‘Becoming Annika’ documentary recounts golf legend’s journey to the top

She’s primarily competing in the U.S. Open this week to spend time with her family and celebrate her prestigious career.

But Sorenstam, who spent years helping to grow the women’s game through her Annika Academy in Florida, is excited to see where the game is headed with the up-and-coming stars.

“It’s so neat so see that women’s golf is in good hands,” she said.

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Getty Images
0 Comments

It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Getty Images
0 Comments

The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.