It’s not often that an LPGA rookie rises to No. 1 in the world, but Atthaya Thitikul proved to be a special player last season. Will anyone be able to make such a strong showing in 2023?
This year’s rookie class is once again highly global. In fact, an American hasn’t won the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award since Paula Creamer in 2005.
There are, however, a couple of American hotshots who made headlines before they graduated from elementary school in the 2023 rookie class. Could Lucy Li or Alexa Pano break that drought?
Here are a dozen LPGA rookies to keep an eye on in 2023:
Lucy Li of the USA tees off on the first hole during the first round of the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics at Massereene Golf Club on August 11, 2022 in Galgorm, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)
Lucy Li made headlines when she competed in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, and now she’s finally made it to the big show. The 20-year-old won twice on the Epson Tour and tied for 16th at the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles. Li led the Epson Tour in scoring at 69.389 and finished T-4 at the LPGA’s Dana Open.
Hae Ran Ryu
Hae Ran Ryu of South Korea celebrates after birdie on the twelfth hole during the third round of the BMW Ladies Championship at LPGA International Busan on October 23, 2021 in Busan, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korea’s Hae Ran Ryu took medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series, finishing at 29 under. The KLPGA player came into the event ranked 50th in the world and broke 70 in six of the eight rounds. The 21-year-old was the 2020 KLPGA Rookie of the Year and 2018 Korean Women’s Amateur champion.
Alexa Pano of the United States hits a tee shot during the final round of the 2022 LPGA Q-Series – Dothan at Highland Oaks Golf Course on December 11, 2022 in Dothan, Alabama. (Photo by Hannah Ruhoff/Getty Images)
Alexa Pano, 18, finished tied for 21st at LPGA Q-Series to earn her card. The former Netflix star, known for her role in the documentary, “The Short Game,” became the youngest golfer (age 11) to play a JLPGA Tour event at the 2016 Yonex Ladies Open. Pano made the cut in 16 of 18 starts on the Epson Tour with five top-10 finishes last season.
Minami Katsu of Japan reacts to her tee shot during the final round of the 2022 LPGA Q-Series – Dothan at Highland Oaks Golf Course on December 11, 2022 in Dothan, Alabama. (Photo by Hannah Ruhoff/Getty Images)
Lucy Li and Alexa Pano aren’t the only prodigies on this list. Minami Katsu became the youngest winner in JLPGA Tour history when she won the 2014 KKT Cup Vantelin Ladies Open at age 15. A two-time major winner on the JLPGA, Katsu turned professional in 2017. She has won 10 times on the JLPGA and finished tied for eighth at last year’s TOTO Japan Classic, which is co-sanctioned with the LPGA.
(Ines Laklalech/Epson Tour photo)
Everything Ines Laklalech does this season will be noteworthy as she’s the first player from North Africa and the Arab region to earn LPGA status. Laklalech, who played collegiately at Wake Forest, hails from Casablanca and Morocco. The 25-year-old advanced through all three stages of LPGA qualifying.
Earlier this season she won the LET’s Lacoste Ladies Open de France, becoming that tour’s first Moroccan, Arab and North African champion.
Yuna Nishimura of Japan smiles on the 5th hole during the second round of Daio Paper Elleair Ladies at Elleair Golf Club Matsuyama on November 18, 2022 in Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
Yuna Nishimura, 22, is a six-time winner on the Japan LPGA. She turned professional in 2019 and has five five career LPGA starts, including a solo-fourth at the 2022 TOTO Japan Classic. Nishimura was runner-up in the 2018 Women’s Asia-Pacific Amateur and fifth in 2019.
Xiaowen Yin of China plays her shot from the sixth tee during the final round of the HSBC Women’s World Championship at Sentosa Golf Club on March 06, 2022 in Singapore. (Photo by Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
Xiaowen Yin was the youngest player to earn her card through the Epson Tour last season at age 17. The Chinese player, who turned 18 in December, won back-to-back events on the Epson Tour over the summer en route to securing her card. She jokes that her father is her good luck charm as she won the FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship the first week he came out to watch. Her highest World Amateur Golf Ranking was seventh.
Jaravee Boonchant of Thailand hits a tee shot during the sixth round of the 2022 LPGA Q-Series – Dothan at Highland Oaks Golf Course on December 9 2022 in Dothan Alabama. (Photo by Hannah Ruhoff/Getty Images)
Bangkok native and former Duke Blue Devil made 13 cuts in 16 starts on the Epson Tour last season. Boonchant was a four-time All-American at Duke and had former teammate and current LPGA member Gina Kim on the bag at Q-Series. She won the 2022 Epson Tour Championship to close out the season.
Hyo Joon Jang
Hyo Joon Jang of Republic of Korea walks to the 8th tee during the second round of the Epson Tour Championship at the Champions course at LPGA International on October 07, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
This 19-year-old rookie from South Korea entered the Epson Tour Championship ranked 11th on the money list with $74,202, just $1,076 behind No. 10 Pano. Hyo Joon Jang’s T-11 finish was enough to push her into the 10th spot, forcing Pano to head to Q-Series to earn her LPGA card.
Jang travels with her mom, leaving her 11-year-old sister at home in South Korea. The sacrifice serves as motivation for the talented teen.
Natthakritta Vongtaveelap/Epson Tour photo
The 20-year-old from Bangkok turned professional in November of last year for the final stage of LPGA qualifying. She advanced through the first two stages as an amateur. Vongtaveelap finished runner-up twice in the 2021 and 2022 Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship.
Grace Kim/Epson Tour photo
A rookie on the Epson Tour last season, Grace Kim, 21, notched five top-10 finishes this season, including a victory at the IOA Golf Classic. The young Australian star won the 2017 Australian Girls’ Amateur and the 2021 Australian Women’s Amateur. She has five professional wins, including two on the ALPG.
Kiira Riihijarvi of Finland plays her shot on the third tee during the first round of the Epson Tour Championship at the Champions course at LPGA International on October 06, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Kiira Riihijarvi won the Epson Tour’s Ann Arbor’s Road to the LPGA in June and finished in a share of fourth at the Tour Championship to clinch her card. The 2020 Finnish Amateur champion played Division II collegiate golf at the University of Tampa, winning 12 times.
She led the tour in greens in regulation at 79.6 percent.