Lydia Ko has cracked the top 20 money winners in LPGA history and is keeping pace with the legendary Annika Sorenstam's earning power.
Ko, at just 21, is now 18th on the All-Time list having nudged past the NZ$12.5m mark after her career-jolting win in San Francisco yesterday.
The first-hole playoff victory over Australian Minjee Lee at Lake Merced broke the former world number one's 43 tournament drought in a period hit by controversy over her constant change of support people and equipment. There were also claims her family was playing too big a part in career decisions.
The long term financial significance is huge if Ko can leave an unexpected slump behind, and re-establish herself as a unique world star rather than simply a member of the leading pack.
Time magazine once named her among the 100 most influential people in the world, a status hard to maintain when your golf ranking has zoomed out of the top 10 and is threatening to leave the top 20 behind.
Some golf analysts believe Ko's bad start in the final round of the Mediheal Championship was a turning point, sparking the young Aucklander into rediscovering what makes her tick on the course.
It raises the possibility that Ko, the world number one for a staggering 104 consecutive weeks, can claw her way back to the top, and her earnings would also take off once again. The win sees her jump from 18 to 12 in the current rankings.
The fastest earner in LPGA history was Mexico's Lorena Ochoa who won $21.1m in just 175 starts, before prematurely retiring in 2010 aged 28. This equates to about $120,000 per start.
The long-haul pacesetter is Sorenstam, who won a record $32m in 303 starts, or about $105,000 each time she lined up.
Ko, who won $320,000 at Lake Merced where she is a member, wins on average just over $100,000 per tournament.
Ko's 15 tournament wins puts her 36th in history, one behind the famous Australian golfer of the 1970s and 80s Jan Stephenson, who was noted for taking the game down a more glamorous path.
Ko's net worth is estimated at well over $15m after tax, boosted by five-year contract with PXG golf clubs worth a reported $14m. PXG will be delighted with her return to the winner's circle, and beyond that there must be renewed potential for her earnings to soar into orbit again.
The Golf Digest reckoned Ko was the 44th highest earner among male and female golfers last year, with well over half of an estimated $8.5m earnings coming from off course deals.
But it was form rather than her bank balance which led to Ko's tears in San Francisco, after nearly two winless years on the LPGA tour.
The Golf Channel's Morning Drive show dedicated a segment to her win, with a consensus among the experts on what had happened.
Former PGA tour member Charlie Rymer said "Lydia Ko remembered she was Lydia Ko."
"I think it simply comes down to that.
"Walking off the sixth green (after her third bogey) she's in bad shape. She turned it around by making a conscious decision that 'I'm Lydia Ko - I know how to play golf.
"Up until that point she had been so focused on the technique, everything that's going on with her caddie, her clubs, equipment...you know all that doesn't make a difference.
"She deflected attention by talking about her team and family. I didn't see her team or family hitting the golf shots.
"You have to decide to play the game the way you know how. I loved seeing this - I think it is going to be a springboard for a re-start to her career. She has learned you don't have to reinvent the wheel if you are this good."
Former LPGA player Paige Mackenzie said Ko rediscovered her levity.
"What always made Lydia Ko unique was this tremendous golf IQ," she said.
"She has amazing touch around the greens, she is a gifted golfer. She is not only technically sound but had this way and presence.
"We've seen dominance by other players but they did it with power, did it with intensity. She always did it with such levity.
"Over the past two years it looked like she was bogged down. It looked almost like the shackles were off (during her latest win)."
Sports/golf journalist Damon Hack said: "She was floating around that golf course...it was a masterful performance."
Another former PGA player Robert Damron said: "With all the changes she has had along the way you lose sight of things.
"The three bogeys early on will turn out to be important in the long run. She was blowing the tournament and remembered 'I'm going to play like Lydia Ko'."
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