Rose Zhang makes her first major start as a professional at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Given how things turned out in her professional debut two weeks ago, she’s as much of a headliner at Baltusrol as World No. 1 Jin Young Ko.
Zhang, of course, won the LPGA’s Mizuho Americas Open in her first professional start, becoming the first player to accomplish such a feat since Beverly Hanson in 1951. Expectations are sky-high for the 20-year-old American.
With three majors left on the schedule and full LPGA status, it’s natural to think big for Zhang, the most decorated amateur in the modern game.
She jumped to No. 61 in the world after her win at Liberty National, but is nowhere to be found on the LPGA points lists for the U.S. Solheim Cup team, Player of the Year or Rookie of the Year.
There are other ways to make the Solheim Cup beyond the points list, of course, but not receiving the 150 points toward the Rookie race or the 30 for the POY race puts Zhang at a massive disadvantage when it comes to year-end accolades.
If given the points, she’d currently be fourth in the rookie race and tied for 14th in the POY. South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu leads the rookie standings with 381 points in 10 starts. Ryu has four top-10 finishes this season but has yet to win.
Two years ago, the LPGA changed its regulations so that non-members who win on tour receive official points and money for any win after accepting tour membership. After Sophia Popov won the 2020 AIG Women’s British Open, she accepted tour membership and started at zero. Her money from Royal Troon was unofficial, and she didn’t earn any points toward the CME Race to the Globe, which kept her out of the ANA Inspiration and the CME Group Tour Championship.
The LPGA waited until the next season to make that change.
Zhang’s Mizuho victory did earn her 500 CME points, thanks to the Popov rule. She’s currently 27th in that race. But she didn’t receive points for anything else.
Nancy Lopez won nine times during her rookie season in 1978, including five in a row, and remains the only player to win LPGA Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Vare Trophy in the same season. Given the depth of today’s game, winning nine times in a season would be a phenomenal feat, likely one that will never be matched.
It’s entirely realistic to think that Zhang might miss out on Rookie of the Year honors this season because her Mizuho victory points did not count. Given her consistency, she might even contend for Player of the Year, too, despite playing college golf for half the year.
When asked for an explanation as to why points are applied to the CME race but nowhere else, an LPGA spokesperson said, “As with anything within our regulations, we will review as a group and make any changes that benefit the LPGA and the membership. Any proposed changes will not be made retroactively since we have already started the 2023 LPGA season and 2023 and 2024 Solheim Cup qualifying periods.”
The Rolex Rankings and captain’s picks make it possible for Zhang to compete in Spain next September regardless. But as for the Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year races, there’s nothing stopping the LPGA from making those changes now.
There’s been a change in leadership since that original decision was made for the 2021 season, and it’s likely that many didn’t realize the full breakdown of those regulations for non-member wins until Zhang stepped into the winner’s circle. Maja Stark, for example, won last summer in Northern Ireland as a non-member and didn’t receive Rookie of the Year or Player of the Year points.
Wouldn’t it be better to make those changes midstream to help ensure that the points system in place rewards the member who won the most events?
The LPGA’s system should be set up to celebrate greatness – not hold it back. The beauty of using a points system to determine year-end awards is that it removes subjectivity. The system fails, however, if the points aren’t properly distributed.
It’s time to get this fixed.