NAPLES, FLORIDA | It was perfect. There have been times when the Rolex Awards Banquet, the season-ending shindig at the Ritz-Carlton Naples where the LPGA Tour hands out hardware for Player of This and That, has seemed overproduced, more of a show than a gathering of friends honoring friends. But this year, they got it just right. The tone, the presentations, the meal, the atmosphere: everything about Thursday evening’s event was tasteful and appropriate.
Having great winners helped. The first honoree of the night was Katherine Kirk, who received the William and Mousie Powell Award for the player whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA. A picture of grace, Kirk gave the classiest acceptance speech in recent memory, thanking her fellow players, Commissioner Mike Whan and LPGA founder Marilynn Smith, who, at age 88, was in attendance.
“I’m often asked if I feel an obligation to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “But I think of it not as an obligation but as a privilege. Thank you, and God bless.”
The second award was the Heather Farr Perseverance Award, named for the late LPGA member who battled breast cancer with dignity and grit before passing away in 1992. This year’s recipient was another cancer survivor, Tiffany Joh, who was diagnosed with melanoma early in the year but came back cancer free in the summer.
“I realized that in my life I always prioritized personal space over personal relationships,” Joh said with her friend and fellow LPGA player Jane Park by her side. “But it was my friends and people on this tour who called and encouraged me, who helped me and were there for me. Every person we meet can have an indelible impact on your life. I am thankful for all the relationships that I have. And I will never take them for granted.”
The night rolled on with outgoing LPGA board chairman Roberta Bowman receiving the Commissioner’s Award for her behind-the-scenes contributions and Sandy LaBauve, LPGA teacher and daughter of famed instructor Jack Lumpkin, receiving the Ellen Griffin Rolex Award for outstanding contributions to teaching. LaBauve was one of the creators of the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program that has grown from 5,000 girls in its first year to more than 75,000 this past summer.
The Vare Trophy and Player of the Year would have been handed out if those awards had been decided. But Annika Sörenstam was on hand to give out the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year award to Sung Hyun Park. Sörenstam also gave So Yeon Ryu the Rolex Annika Major Award for having the best record in the LPGA majors, highlighted by a victory at the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I am so honored to receive an award named after Annika Sörenstam,” Ryu said. “You have truly been an inspiration to us all.”
These things can sometimes get tedious. Speeches go too long, the food comes out cold, the sound system is too loud. But not this time. The LPGA got the 2017 Rolex Awards just right. Here’s hoping for more seasons like this one.