Six takeaways from the 2021 LPGA season

A year that saw Jin Young Ko regain her best form, Nelly Korda rise to the heights, and Europe maintain its recent dominance of the Solheim Cup.

With victory in last week's CME Group Tour Championship Jin Young Ko confirmed her status as the 2021 LPGA Player of the Year.

It was a stunning performance at the end of a six month spell in which she and Nelly Korda have traded wins like two card sharps with an apparently endless supply of aces.

Since the middle of June there have been 10 LPGA individual event completed, plus the Olympic competition in Japan, and Ko and Korda claimed victory in no less than eight of them.

They were not alone in shining in 2021 however.

Another Ko, Lydia, rediscovered her winning touch and so, too, did another Korda, Jessica.

Inbee Park added to her legend, Patty Tavatanakit and Yuka Saso became Majors champions, and Matilda Castren's career was transformed from player-very-few-had-even-heard-of to instrumental-cog-in-Europe's-Solheim-Cup-triumph.

Here are seven takeways from the 2021 LPGA season.

Jin Young Ko is very, very good

Winning a lot of tournaments in a season is not rare on the LPGA. Annika Sorenstam, for example, was relentless at being relentless and won 11 times in 2002 alone.

But the manner of Ko's five wins was still remarkable (as is the fact they came in just nine starts in the final five months of the season).

Consider the 14 consecutive rounds of sub-70 golf she chalked up in the summer, equalling Sorenstam's record in the process.

Consider, too, how she completed victory last week by hitting every green in regulation over her final 63 holes.

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And consider also the words of Laura Davies on Sky Sports. "The easiest low scoring I've ever seen in my life," she said of Ko's weekend rounds of 66-63.

Her next step? Returning to winning ways in the Majors. Her count is currently two and there must be a very good chance she will add to that in 2022.

Nelly Korda is now a Major player

The American was already a three-time winner on the LPGA heading into this season, but her tally is now up to seven (and make that eight if you add the non-LPGA sanctioned Olympic competition).

While she had proved herself in regular events, however, her efforts in the Majors were not exactly poor, but she had not made an early impact on them like many other top stars.

In fact, she'd made 23 starts in the Majors ahead of 2021 and recorded just four top 10s. In part, it was a consequence of playing many of them as a youngster (she debuted aged just 14) yet contrast her record with Brooke Henderson whose first 23 Major starts reaped nine top 10s including a win.

Oddly, it was a missed cut in a Major (June US Women's Open) which triggered the change. Korda admitted that the disappointment prompted her to "change my demeanour".

Within weeks she had won the KPMG Women's PGA Championship and before the summer was out she had added gold at the Olympics which might not be a Major, but is as close as it comes.

With the ANA Inspiration set to change title and venue after 2022 Korda will want to make the most of her fondness for long-time host Missions Hills - she's finished top three there in both the last two years.

The Majors shocks quietened down

When Yuka Saso won the US Open at odds of 200/1 she was maintaining a frankly ridiculous run of Major Championship surprise winners.

She was preceded by Patty Tavatanakit winning the ANA Inspiration at 150/1, while the 2020 winners were Sophia Popov at 80/1 in the Women's British Open, Mirim Lee at 750/1 in the ANA Inspiration, Sei Young Kim at 16/1 in the KPMG PGA Championship and A Lim Kim at 150/1 in the US Open.

And before that?! Hinako Shibuno won the 2019 Women's British Open at 200/1.

Matters changed in the final three Majors of the year. Korda won the KPMG PGA Championship at 14/1, Minjee Lee was 40/1 when tasting success at the Evian Championship, and Anna Nordqvist triumphed in the Women's British Open at 66/1.

Nasa Hataoka

The 22-year-old will be one to watch next year.

A two-time winner in 2018, she added another title the following year, and then another two this season, but she has been very close to upping her rate of success to even more impressive levels because she has finished runner-up eight times.

Moreover, she will winter high on confidence after chasing Jin Young Ko to the line in the Tour Championship. The Korean might have been one shot too good, but Hataoka was also four clear of the rest of the elite field.

(And remember Ko and Korda won eight of the last 11 events of the year? Hataoka won two of the other three.)

Leona Maguire is also very good

She is yet to make a winning breakthrough on the LPGA, but the evidence is mounting that the Irishwoman is not far away.

She twice finished second in 2021, ended the year ranked 17th on the Race to CME Globe and was nothing short of sensational when winning four and halving a fifth match as a rookie in the Solheim Cup.

But get this: only one player appears in the top 20 of the best rounds of 2021 using adjusted averages (which grades performance against both field strength and field average).

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It's not Ko, Korda or Hataoka. Nor it is Lydia Ko or Inbee Park.

It's Leona Maguire - and she doesn't just appear twice, she appears three times.

Stats are going to be game-changing

Traditional golfing stats reveal a little, but not much than that and sometimes they are even downright deceptive. So it has always been a hindrance to the women's game that modern stats are not collected.

The good news is that this season that changed and heading into 2022 it will begin to have an impact.

KPMG Performance Insights began collecting data in early June of this year and the more numbers that are added, the more will be revealed.

It should improve the golf we watch (players will be better able to identify strengths and weaknesses) and also our appreciation of it.

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In the case of Inbee Park, for example, we are beginning to see data emerge that can bolster what anecdotal evidence has always said of her.

The tide is still with Europe in the Solheim Cup

It's amazing how the sway of of the Solheim Cup has so neatly echoed that which occurred in the Ryder Cup in the 1980s.

In the latter, Europe went close to victory away from home (1983), were emboldened by the experience and won the next match (1985), defended in America (1987), and have won more than they have lost ever since.

In the former, that close shave came in 2009, the breakthrough win was in Ireland two years later, the successful defence in 2013, and, again, dominance has been maintained.

Team USA won eight of the first 11 matches and Europe, after more success this September, has now won four of the last six. But for an imperfect storm on Sunday morning of the 2015 match in Germany that would read five of six.

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Can the Solheim/Ryder Cup echo continue in 2023? When the Ryder Cup headed to Spain in 1997 the home team had lifted the trophy in four of the previous six matches.

In two years time the Solheim Cup also heads to Spain for the first time and Europe is once again trying to make it five in seven.

READ MORE: Jin Young Ko wins the CME Group Tour Championship and clinches LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year

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