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There’s a back-up of appointments at the DMV, which means 19-year-old Yealimi Noh faces an even longer wait now to get her driver’s license. Noh still lives at home with her parents in Concord, California, and has no plans to move out anytime soon. They travel the LPGA as a family of three, and she’s quite happy to have help navigating these early years of professional life.
Noh won $415,307 in official earnings last year on the LPGA, contending several times and climbing to 46th in the world. It was a terrific rookie season, given that it was shortened to only 16 events due to a global pandemic.
Here’s the strange part: She gets to have her rookie season all over again.
The LPGA decided not to hold the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year race in 2020 due the pandemic. Unless a player won in 2020, her place on the priority list remained unchanged heading into 2021. It amounts to an unheard of mulligan season for 19 young pros.
“For us to have half of a year last year,” said Noh, “is like a preview for what it’s going to be like for the rest of our career.”
Five new rookies have been added to the mix for 2021, highlighted by 2020 U.S. Women’s Open winner A Lim Kim. Four Symetra grads have also joined the 2021 class.
Andrea Lee isn’t quite sure at this point what her first event will be this season. She starts 2021 at 160th on the LPGA priority list despite finishing 48th on the money list last year with $242,944. It’s likely that a number of international players will skip the first few events in Florida, which would help her cause. The Gainbridge LPGA event at Lake Nona Feb. 25-28 will have a field of 120 players.
While a rookie couldn’t move up the priority list without winning, she could move up the Rolex Rankings and money list, which helps at the majors and Solheim Cup. And for those who, like Noh and Lee, made a nice living last year, it’s clutch for a rookie to have a financial cushion to start the year (that wasn’t a loan!).
Haley Moore poses Bob McNichols, Longbow Golf Club General Manager, and Mike Brown, Cactus Tour Director, on Dec. 27, 2020, after Moore won $10,000 for claiming the the inaugural Longbow Cactus Cup Championship in Mesa, Arizona. Photo by Noah Montgomery
On the course, a string of missed cuts points to a disappointing rookie season for Haley Moore. But the year was about so much more than that. Moore started her new foundation to fight bullying. She also appeared on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts and was part of the LPGA’s Drive On ad campaign.
On Christmas Day, Moore and her mother drove to Arizona for the winner-take-all Longbow Cactus Cup Championship, a celebration of the top money earners on the developmental Cactus Tour. Moore birdied the first playoff hole to win the $10,000 prize, which equaled nearly half her earnings on the LPGA.
Moore said her swing coach, who is based in Arizona, came out and watched her compete, which was hugely beneficial as they mapped out an offseason plan.
Moore noted that her biggest lesson from 2020 was learning to stay patient and steady.
“If you have a bad week and happen to not make the cut,” said Moore, “you just have to let it go and move on to the next event, as the next event could be the best you’ve ever had.”
Noh, like many rookies before her, had underestimated the role a caddie plays in her success. David Stone picked up her back for the last few events of the LPGA season and she saw an immediate change.
“The first event that I was with him I played really well,” she said of her tie for second at the Volunteers of America Classic. “The week before I was playing the same exact golf, it was just that he was next to me giving me a lot of confidence, hyping me up. Now I know exactly what I want to hear, what I want in a game plan.”
While Stone heads back to the PGA Tour, he helped Noh connect with Kyle Morrison for the 2021 season.
Noh said everything about her success comes down to putting. She has big goals set for her second rookie year, starting with winning an event “as soon as possible.” She’d also like to be a rookie on this year’s U.S. Solheim Cup team and compete in the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Noh, who has contended several times already on the LPGA, said Sei Young Kim has taken on a sisterly role, first reaching out after she finished runner-up at the 2019 Cambia Portland Classic as a non-member.
The focus in 2021 has shifted from trying to experience everything for the first time, she said, to playing to win. The talented teen is comfortable with whatever pressure follows.
“A little pressure never kills anyone,” said Noh. “I think pressure is great.”
While the 15 events Lee competed in last year were more than she anticipated getting in, she did miss out on a big one after she tested positive for COVID-19 the week of the U.S. Women’s Open.
“The first few days in my hotel room I was pretty miserable,” said Lee. “I was depressed.”
She devoured Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog, in two days and binged on The Queen’s Gambit. It wasn’t long before she was one of four rookies teeing it up in the CME Group Tour Championship.
The former Stanford standout thought she might go skiing over offseason but decided she couldn’t take that much time off. she wants to add length off the tee, a higher ball trajectory for her longer irons and sharpen the edges from 100 yards and in.
“This year is kind of like you said, a do-over,” said Lee, “and I’m going to try to put myself in the best position to try and win Rookie of the Year.”
To do it, she’ll have to beat the most experienced rookie class in tour history.
2021 LPGA Rookie Class
Matilda Castren, Finland
Jennifer Chang, U.S.
Jiwon Jeon, South Korea
Linnea Johansson, Sweden
Esther Henseleit, Germany
Jillian Hollis, U.S.
Nuria Iturrioz, Spain
Yui Kawamoto, Japan
Kyung Kim, U.S.
Andrea Lee, U.S.
Esther Lee, U.S.
Haley Moore, U.S.
Yealimi Noh, U.S.
Leona Maguire, Ireland
Bianca Pagdanganan, Philippines
Maia Schechter, U.S.
Yujeong Son, South Korea
Patty Tavatanakit, Thailand
Albane Valenzuela, Switzerland
New rookies for 2021
Ana Belac, Slovenia
A Lim Kim, South Korea
Fátima Fernández Cano, Spain
Janie Jackson, U.S.
Frida Kinhult, Sweden
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