In a season that saw more first-time winners than ever before, plenty of players made big moves up the Rolex Rankings. One doesn’t have to go far down the rankings to find impressive break-through stories. In fact, there were four first-time major winners in 2023.
From Rose Zhang’s pro splash to Alexa Pano’s birthday bash, there’s much to reflect on from a year that was full of surprises.
Of course, there were plenty of big moves in the wrong direction, too, as many veteran stars struggle mightily.
Here’s a look at notable players who ended the 2023 LPGA season a long way from where they began:
UP: Lilia Vu, 42nd to 1st
After Vu ended the 2022 season in tears at the CME Group Tour Championship because she hadn’t won a tournament, she was all smiles one year later at Tiburón Golf Club.
Vu began 2023 with a victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand event thanks to a closing 64. LPGA stats man Justin Ray noted in his season-ending numbers package that Vu gained 5.32 strokes on the field in putting that week, making seven putts of 10 feet or longer.
She’d go on to win not one but two majors, collecting four titles in all in 2023. At the Chevron Championship, Vu became the first player to win a major coming from outside the top 10 on Sunday since Sherri Turner at the 1988 LPGA Championship.
The Rolex Player of the Year finished third in scoring (69.81), second in putts her green in regulation and first in money ($3,502,303).
“I think this whole entire season I’ve played for my grandpa,” said Vu. “Once I lost him at the beginning of COVID, I think I just always keep him in the back of my mind and just trust myself and not give up.”
UP: Ruoning Yin, 149th to 2nd
Last year to start her rookie season, Ruoning Yin missed the cut in seven of her first nine starts. That rough start, coupled with an injury to her left wrist, had her calling her mother from the range to say she wanted to quit.
Yin chalks up the injury to too much practice. She usually hits about 100 balls per session but last year upped it to 500.
“My mom told me, ‘If you cannot swing just don’t swing. Just do your putting drills, practice putting and chipping you’ll be fine. No matter what, we still love you,’ ” said Yin.
“I think that give me power to continue practicing, and I had a good week at Dana (Open), and I think that give me a lot of confidence and keep playing.”
The injury cleared up in February of 2023, and Yin took off. She won her second start of the season, the DIO Implant Open, and then became only the second Chinese player to ever win a major. Yin shot 67 on Sunday at the KPMG Women’s PGA, hitting a staggering 36 greens over the weekend at the KPMG Women’s PGA.
She finished the season ranked second in Strokes Gained: Approach per round behind Minjee Lee.
UP: Rose Zhang, 333rd to 25th
When Zhang turned professional, golf fans expected big things to happen, but not as fast as how things unfolded for the Stanford star. Zhang became the first player in 72 years to win in her first LPGA Tour start as a professional at the Mizuho Americas Open.
As spending a record 141 weeks atop the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Zhang started ascending up the Rolex Rankings in a hurry. Soon after her Mizuho victory, Zhang posted top-10 finishes at three majors: KPMG Women’s PGA, U.S. Women’s Open and Amundi Evian.
How would Zhang grade her first half season on the LPGA?
“I’m thinking B, a solid B,” she said with a smile at the season-ending CME.
UP: Allisen Corpuz, 47th to 13th
Corpuz picked a fine time to collect her first LPGA title, winning in historic fashion at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. No one hit it closer on average all week at Pebble. Ray noted that in Sunday’s final round, Corpuz gained 2.5 strokes on the field in putting.
Corpuz joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Tom Watson as major winners at Pebble Beach. In a week when fellow Punahou School grad Michelle Wie West retired from competitive golf, Corpuz said aloha to the world.
She backed it up the following week with a runner-up finish at the Dana Open in Toledo.
Corpuz finished third on tour in driving accuracy and 11th in greens in regulation.
UP: Aditi Ashok, 189th to 41st
India’s Ashok ended her 2023 Ladies European season the same way it began – with a victory. Ashok started off 2023 finishing 1-3-2 in her first three starts to the year on the LET.
Five of Ashok’s 11 top-10 finishes on the LPGA came this season, including a playoff loss to major champion Hannah Green at the JM Eagle LA Championship. Ashok, an elite putter, worked hard during the offseason on building swing speed and added 10 to 20 yards.
A five-time winner on the LET, Ashok closed out the year on that tour last month with a two-stroke triumph at the Andalucia Costa Del Sol Open de Espana.
UP: Amy Yang, 82nd to 16th
After too much rock climbing led to what Yang feared might be a career-ending injury, she fought back to collect her fifth LPGA title – and first on U.S. soil – at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. Yang collected $2 million for her efforts and then promptly headed to Q-Series to caddie for good friend Jennifer Song.
The week prior to CME, Yang posted a 61 en route to a fourth-place finish at The Annika. Ray noted that Yang’s 27-under total is the fourth-lowest 72-hole score in LPGA history. In addition, her iron play over the weekend at Tiburón Golf Club, yielded an average proximity of 22 feet, 5 inches, more than 12 feet close than the tour mean.
The 34 year old was the oldest winner on tour this season.
UP: Alison Lee, 58th to 21st
Alison Lee, boosted by the confidence of new friend Fred Couples, finished runner-up in her last three starts on the LPGA and won on the LET in the middle of that run.
Lee played her last three events on the LPGA in 56 under par. She credited work with a putting coach for helping to turn up the heat.
Ray reported Lee had the best strokes gained approach performance of the season on Friday at The Annika when she picked up 7.96 strokes over the field with her iron play en route to a career-low round of 62.
UP: Angel Yin, 139th to 22nd
LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster has become like a second mom to Yin. Inkster picked Yin for the 2017 Solheim Cup team and saw a player with a ton of potential who needed maturing in her course management.
“She’s super stubborn,” said Inkster. “It has taken me a while to kind of get to her.”
Yin took a more conservative approach this season and tried to play with the same kind of emotion she brings to the Solheim Cup because that’s her personality.
The result: her first LPGA victory in her 159th career start at the 2023 Buick LPGA Shanghai. Yin also won the $1 million bonus for claiming the Aon Risk Reward Challenge.
The long-hitting Yin led the tour in strokes gained putting. Ray noted she made 143 putts of 10 feet or longer on the season, 12 more than any other player on the LPGA.
UP: Grace Kim, 179th to 76th
This Aussie rookie won in only her third LPGA start at the Lotte Championship. She ranks 11th on tour in driving accuracy and 29th in greens in regulation. She finished 14th at the KPMG Women’s PGA and T-13 at the U.S. Women’s Open.
Kim had dinner with longtime mentor Karrie Webb during the week of the KPMG.
“You know,” said Kim, “she’s always just like, enjoy yourself. It’s not as stressful as it seems.”
UP: Chanettee Wannasaen, 359th to 45th
To say Wannasaen came out of nowhere to win in Portland might be an understatement. The 19-year-old Monday-qualified to get in the field. She missed eight consecutive cuts in the lead-up to the Portland Classic yet somehow managed to have everything come together in glorious fashion.
Wannasaen shot 68-66-65-63 to win by four and become the first Monday-qualifier to win on the LPGA since Brooke Henderson won the same event in 2015.
“I got a lot of opportunity and a lot of confident, more confident from Portland,” she said. “That was a big move, yeah. That made me like proud of myself and then improve like my short game, everything in golf.”
UP: Alexa Pano, 452nd to 127th
Rookie Pano didn’t crack the top 100 of the Rolex Rankings, but she did climb 325 spots over the course of the past year. Pano won the ISPS Honda World Invitational on her 19th birthday, defeating Gabriella Cowley on the third playoff hole.
Pano, who first gained notoriety on the Netflix film “The Short Game,” missed the cut six times in her first 11 starts this season before hoisting a trophy.
DOWN: Lydia Ko, 1st to 11th
While Ko only fell 10 spots in the Rolex Rankings, it certainly felt more dramatic. After the build-up to such a stunning 2022 season, Ko failed to contend at an LPGA event until October, when she finished third in South Korea at a tournament she won last year but required a sponsor exemption to get into this season.
Ko’s ball-striking took a big hit this season as she dropped to 156th in driving accuracy and 111th in greens in regulation.
DOWN: Lexi Thompson, 7th to 31st
The good news for Thompson is she ended the season on a high after finding something that worked with new instructor Tony Ruggiero. Thompson’s driver, normally her biggest weapon, was lost for a large part of the season.
Thompson missed the cut in eight of her first 10 starts of the LPGA season before turning things around right in time for the Solheim Cup, where she delivered a 3-1-0 record. She finished the season with three consecutive top-10 finishes on the LPGA and a strong run at making the cut in her first PGA Tour event.
DOWN: Jennifer Kupcho, 13th to 39th
After winning three times last season, including a major, Kupcho was shut out in 2023. Her brightest spot came at the Mizuho Americas Open where she lost in a playoff to Zhang. The former Wake Forest star posted two top-10 finishes in 23 starts.
DOWN: Danielle Kang, 15th to 44th
Tough year inside the ropes for Kang, a six-time winner on the LPGA who wrapped up her 12th season on tour. Kang played her best golf of the season at the Solheim Cup, where she posted a 2-2-0 record. She finished 126th on tour in greens in regulation and 92nd in strokes gained tee to green.
DOWN: Marina Alex, 38th to 118th
After collecting her second career LPGA title last season, Alex hit a rough spot midway through 2023, missing six straight cuts. She ranked 102nd in strokes gained putting this season.
The former Solheim Cup player took to Instagram a few weeks ago to sum up her season: “Been a very challenging year on the course. Struggled to put together four solid rounds all season. Hard to build momentum. But that’s part of the game.”
DOWN: Mina Harigae, 49th to 120th
Currently in the middle of LPGA Q-Series, Harigae dropped from 49th this time last year to 120th in the Rolex Rankings. Her putts per green in regulation ranking has fallen off considerably since Pat Hurst picked her for the 2021 Solheim Cup team, dipping from 16th to 83rd.
The 34 year old finished 101st on the CME points list, one position outside of a full card. Harigae headed to Alabama this week to try to better her status.
“I think the most important thing for me is recovering physically and mentally just not wearing myself out out there mentally,” said Harigae of the 108-hole grind. “Not trying to get so upset over shots. Like everyone makes mistakes … recovery is very big this week.”