BELLEAIR, Florida – Every time Jin Young Ko wins a tournament, she does the math to see how many points she needs to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. It has been a goal, she said, since she took up the game as a 10-year-old in South Korea.
“Right now, I have 15 points,” Ko explained midway through the Pelican Women’s Championship, “so 12 points left. It’s going to be tough, but I just play four years, so that means it’s a big accomplishment, and I think I can do that.”
The LPGA’s Hall of Fame is the toughest to get into in all of sports. To date, there are 25 entrants. Players must amass 27 points and play 10 years to gain entry.
In addition to the $1.5 million that’s on the line at next week’s season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, there are three Hall of Fame points at stake. Tournament victories are worth one point, except for majors, which are worth two. Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners get one point, too. (The Vare Trophy is awarded to the player with the season’s low scoring average.)
With one left in the season, Korda now holds a 10-point lead over Ko in the POY race after her victory at the Pelican Women’s Championship.
Both Ko and Korda have four wins apiece on the LPGA this season, though the young American won both a major and Olympic gold (which does not factor into the points system). Though many might consider Korda’s season to be the most impressive due to the weight of her titles, the LPGA’s cut-and-dry points system leaves no room for subjectivity. And Ko can still win it outright.
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Introduced in 1966, Judy Rankin has said players originally decided to use a points system to keep the award from becoming a popularity contest. Stacy Lewis, a two-time POY, likes it that way. So too, does Inbee Park.
Mel Reid, however, is among those who wouldn’t mind seeing the tour move to a voting system like the PGA Tour, saying that if she had to vote now, she’d pick Korda.
“That’s no disrespect to Jin Young Ko,” said Reid. “She’s a phenomenal player. But I think the pressures that Nelly has being American, you know, I would personally vote for Nelly. I think she’s handled it tremendously.”
The Korda sisters have big goals, of course, but when asked earlier in the week where the Hall of Fame stood, Jessica said it’s nothing that has really been on her radar, noting how difficult it is to amass 27 points. The elder Korda went on to say that the fact that Lorena Ochoa isn’t in the LPGA Hall of Fame is “laughable.” Ochoa, who is in the World Golf Hall of Fame, earned 37 points but retired before meeting the 10-year requirement.
“I think what we focus on is major championships,” said Nelly. “What I always focus on is CME and end-of-the-year Money List. That’s like where my main focus always is every year.”
An American player hasn’t qualified for the Hall of Fame since Juli Inkster in 1999.
Last year’s Player of the Year, Sei Young Kim said the Hall of Fame has been a big-picture goal since junior golf.
“That’s biggest motivation to me,” she said.
With the top three players – Ko, Korda and Park – all ineligible for the Vare Trophy because they won’t meet the minimum number of required rounds (70), Lydia Ko sits atop the standings at 69.391.
The Kiwi, however, almost missed out on the opportunity to win the Vare Trophy because as of late last week, she wasn’t in the field for the Pelican. Without it, she would’ve been one round shy of 70.
“I didn’t realize there was like a minimum round count,” said Ko. “I thought I played enough that I would count, and I thought the other three would, too.”
Ko, who has never won the Vare Trophy, currently has 19 Hall of Fame points. The Vare would get her to 20. Ko said winning the career Grand Slam is her biggest goal, and if she can get there, the Hall of Fame will likely sort itself out.
The 24-year-old said right from the start of her LPGA career that she’d like to retire by age 30.
Still plenty of time to get to 27 points.
“There is a league,” said Ko, “and there is another league … it’s like the cool ladies club there.”