All Scores

Jin Young Ko in league of her own: 5 takeaways from LPGA Tour Championship

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

NAPLES, Fla. — The CME Group Tour Championship’s much-anticipated duel between Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda for the LPGA Tour’s Rolex Player of the Year delivered over the weekend. After the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world won each of the last two tournaments heading into the final event of the LPGA season, the stage was set for one last battle.

Ko emerged victorious at Tiburón Golf Club, shooting a 63 on Sunday to finish at a tournament-record 23-under par and defeat Nasa Hataoka by one stroke. The win was the South Korean’s 12th career LPGA title and earned her Player of the Year honors for the second time in three years.

Here are my five takeaways from the tour finale.

1. Jin Young Ko puts exclamation point on three-year LPGA reign

Ko has ten victories over the last three years, the most of any golfer on the LPGA Tour over that span. The next closest is Nelly Korda with six. With the victory Sunday, Ko became one of 14 golfers to win two Player of the Year awards in the LPGA’s history, and she accomplished it in 81 starts. Ko backed up her win at the 2020 CME Group Tour Championship, becoming the first player to defend her title and the first to win five times in a single year since Ariya Jutanugarn in 2016, doing so over her final nine starts of the season.

Ko accomplished all of this despite playing on an injured left wrist; she spent a half hour with a physio, and instead of warming up on the range as she usually would, the 26-year-old only took swings with a 52-degree wedge to get loose. The lack of preparation did not stop her from displaying the full prowess of her game, hitting a mind-numbing 63 consecutive greens in regulation to close out the tournament.

“Honestly, it was definitely the ‘Jin Young Ko Show’ today,” Korda said. “It was really cool to witness. Obviously, I wish I could have kind of given it a better run.”

When Ko won $1.2 million last year, she bought a house in Dallas with the money. This year, she said the $1.5 million winner’s check is going into her savings account.

2. Nasa Hataoka shines, eyes 2022 majors

The five-time Tour winner birdied 17 of the last 28 holes to nearly catch Ko on Sunday, finishing just one stroke behind her. But instead of getting caught up in the duel between Ko and Korda, the world No. 8 stuck to her plan at Tiburón Golf Club.

“I have one thing in my mind — routine,” Hataoka explained. “There were a few times where there was a lot of pressure, but I was able to think simple, which helped me a lot today.”

The 22-year-old finished as runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Open in June, losing in a playoff to Yuka Saso at Olympic Club. It was the second time Hataoka had lost in a playoff at a major after the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The Japanese star continues to use a U.S. Women’s Open ball marker to remind her how close she was to her goal of winning a major in her first five years on tour.

“This year was the fifth year, so I really wanted to win [a major] this year,” Hataoka said. “Obviously it won’t change, my goal won’t change. I still have strong feelings for winning majors.”

3. Nelly Korda’s historic season overshadowed

The world No. 1 maintained perspective on her season as she walked off the course in Naples on Sunday. The four-time Tour winner and Olympic gold medalist in 2021 became the first American to surge to the top of the Rolex World Rankings since Stacy Lewis in 2014. While losing out on Player of the Year was a disappointment, Korda learned this year just how much she can accomplish on the LPGA Tour.

“If I set my mind to it, I can do anything,” Korda said. “I had a good year, and I’m just going to go back and kind of think about my year and kind of let it kind of soak in, which I’m super excited about, and get ready for next year.”

Korda would’ve gone home with even more hardware if not for the LPGA’s Vare Trophy minimum requirement of 70 rounds played during the year. With her 17-under finish at the Tour Championship, the 23-year-old averaged 68.774 in 2021, besting Ko’s 68.866 for the lowest score on tour. Korda finished 62 rounds this year, while Ko played 67. But it was Lydia Ko who won the Vare Trophy after finishing with the third-best scoring average of 63.329 in 73 rounds of play.

Adding to the historic nature of Korda and Ko’s battle this weekend, 2021 marked the first time in the 72-year history of the LPGA that two players averaged scores in the 68s in a single season. Only Annika Sorenstam in 2002 (68.7) and 2004 (68.7) and Sei Young Kim in 2020 (68.69) have accomplished that feat previously.

4. A streak continues at the Tour Championship

Players ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the world have won eight of the last nine Tour Championships. The best and brightest on tour continue to shine at Tiburón Golf Club since the tournament moved there in 2013.

The four players tied for the lead going into Sunday’s final round — Celine Boutier, Hataoka, Korda and Ko — all won on tour this season. Boutier, Korda and Ko combined for the last six LPGA Tour victories, while Hataoka won twice. The final grouping of Hataoka, Ko and Korda featured three of the four players who won multiple times in 2021, combining for ten wins.

5. CME’s new purse shows increased commitment to women’s golf

On Friday, the LPGA announced its new schedule for 2022, headlined by CME increasing the tournament purse to $7 million in 2022, up from $5 million this year. In addition, the winner will receive a new first-place prize of $2 million, more than Ko’s and Sei Young Kim’s $1.5 million prize in 2019.

The investment in the Tour Championship has surged in recent years, with the first-place check growing 300 percent from $500,000 in 2018 to $2 million in 2022.

Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.