Wednesday, August 8, 2007

LPGA Late Season Assessment: The View from St. Andrews

With her fine play in the LPGA's European swing and first victory in a major, Lorena Ochoa put to rest the "best player without a major" and "needs to validate her #1 ranking" memes infesting the golfy media this summer. Even golf writers can't ignore her Tiger-like lead in the Rolex Rankings and the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Not only was she the only player to record two top 3s at the Evian Masters and Women's British Open, only three other players-- #3 on the KLPGA money list Eun-Hee Ji, #1 on the LET Order of Merit Maria Hjorth, and #7 on the LPGA money list Paula Creamer--even managed top 20s on the two very different courses.

Which is to say that her closest competitors lost a lot of ground to Ochoa during the European swing. Creamer, Jee Young Lee, and Brittany Lincicome made out fairly well, with Lee's second-place finish at the Women's British Open the best of the bunch. Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, and Ai Miyazato played unevenly, but at least they made both cuts. The same can't be said for Mi Hyun Kim, Seon Hwa Lee, Morgan Pressel, or Se Ri Pak (who chose to skip the Evian Masters). So let's see how the Mostly Harmless mid-season assessment looks after St. Andrews.

Back in mid-June, I argued that Ochoa was in a class of her own, followed by Pettersen, Sorenstam, Webb, and Creamer, then by Inkster, Pressel, and Kim, then by Kerr, Prammanasudh, Pak, Lincicome, Miyazato, JY Lee, and Castrale, and then by Jang, Ahn, Steinhauer, S Lee, Hurst, SH Lee, Granada, Davies, Matthew, Gustafson, and Han. Now in mid-August, Ochoa stands further apart from her top peers, Kerr (#6 GSPI, #4 RR, #3 money list), Creamer (#3 GSPI, #9 RR, #7 money list), Pressel (#7 GSPI, #7 RR, #8 money list), and Sorenstam (#2 GSPI, #3 RR, #30 money list)--the only other players in the top 10 in each of the 3 major ranking systems (with Sorenstam's injury-induced absence, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and moving her up into this category, despite her low standing in the money list thus far).

Close behind them are the 5 players in the top 10 in 2 of the 3 systems (with a top 5 in one system offsetting any ranking below 20th in another): MH Kim (#8 GSPI, #11 RR, #4 money list), Pak (#9 GSPI, #5 RR, #11 money list), Webb, (#4 GSPI, #2 RR, #22 money list), Pettersen (#15 GSPI, #6 RR, #2 money list), and JY Lee (#5 GSPI, #13 RR, #5 money list).

A bit further behind these top 10 comes the 6 players who are in the top 20 in each system (with a top 10 in one offsetting a lower ranking in another): Miyazato (#11 GSPI, #12 RR, #10 money list), Jang (#12 GSPI, #14 RR, #13 money list), Prammanasudh (#10 GSPI, #17 RR, #16 money list), Lincicome (#19 GSPI, #15 RR, #9 money list), Inkster (#18 GSPI, #10 RR, #18 money list), and SH Lee (#21 GSPI, #18 RR, #6 money list).

Next comes the 4 players in the top 30 in each system: Castrale (#16 GSPI, #22 RR, #12 money list), Matthew (#13 GSPI, #30 RR, #24 money list), Steinhauer (#17 GSPI, #28 RR, #27 money list), and A Park (#24 GSPI, #25 RR, #14 money list).

And finally comes the 5 players in the top 30 in two of the three systems: Davies (#23 GSPI, #37 RR, #21 money list), Stanford (#26 GSPI, #31 RR, #19 money list), Y Kim (#22 GSPI, #45 RR, #25 money list), Gulbis (#34 GSPI, #26 RR, #15 money list), and Han (#14 GSPI, #23 RR, #84 [thanks to maternity leave]).

To give you a sense of the gaps between these subgroups among my top 25, consider that Ochoa has 68.05 rating on the GSPI, a 17.33 average in the RR, and has made $2.30M this year. The next 4 players average 69.77 on the GSPI, 8.21 on the RR, and $.89M on the money list (not counting Sorenstam's total in their money average due to her long absence from competitive golf). The 5 behind them are very close indeed--70.17 (GSPI), 7.58 (RR), and $.83M (money list)--and hence are far ahead of the next 6, who average 70.54, 5.62, and $.72M. There's about as sizable a gap between them and the next 4, who average 70.66, 3.97, and $.55M, but the last group of 5 are fairly close behind them, averaging 70.95, 3.50, and $.52M (not counting Han's total in their money average due to her long absence from competitive golf). In short, Ochoa is further ahead of her closest 4 competitors than they are of the bottom of the top 25.

Outside of this top 25 are formerly ranked and up-and-coming players like Gustafson, Ahn, S Lee, Hjorth, Hurst, Francella, Diaz, C Kim, and IK Kim. As always, it would be interesting to see how these rankings would change if top players on other tours--like Ji Yai Shin, Eun-Hee Ji, Sun Ju Ahn, and Hyun-Ju Shin of the KLPGA, Shiho Oyama, Momoko Ueda, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Sakura Yokomine, Yuri Fudoh, Na Zhang, Shinobu Moromizato, Ji-Hee Lee, and Miki Saiki of the JLPGA, and Gwladys Nocera, Trish Johnson, Becky Brewerton, Linda Wessberg, Karine Icher, and Sophie Giquel of the LET--were playing on the LPGA on a regular basis.

Be that as it may, my current rankings give me reason to be more optimistic about my early season predictions than I was in mid-May. The only person I've lost hope in is Meena Lee, although I'll need late charges from most of my picks, but particularly Webb, Sorenstam, and Gulbis, for Creamer, Pressel, Pettersen, JY Lee, Lincicome, Prammanasudh, and Inkster to be displaced from the top 11 by the end of the season.

[Update: Just as I was turning this into a shorter diary entry over at Waggle Room, I found out that Hound Dog has updated his own LPGA Top 30 rankings. His are much better than mine, so go check them out!]


hound dog said...

This must be the week for getting post-trumped. I was just starting on a Solheim Cup teams piece when Mulligan Stu posted his good one at Waggle Room.

Thanks for the compliments, but you keep on ranking them too. The more methods we have out there, the more chance we have of really figuring out who the best players are. At least yours acknowledges the international players. I have yet to figure out a good way of doing that.

The Constructivist said...

Yeah, I really liked Mulligan's piece. But no reason not to post yours--same logic as you gave me on mine.

And I haven't figured out a way to do a real world ranking, either. If the GSPI could get KLPGA stats incorporated into it, and someone kept track of worldwide earnings in women's golf like they do for men's, I could see doing for the world of women's golf what I did for the LPGA. But no way I'm going to do that legwork when someone should be getting paid (and making money) doing it.

What I do like about my system is that the groupings fall kind of naturally out, but I can rank the people within each sub-group using more subjective methods--which I haven't fine tuned.

What I don't like about it is how much it differs from my Super Soph rankings. There's no way in the world Seon-Hwa Lee should be ranked behind Ai Miyazato--and I acknowledge that in my Super Soph rankings but can't in these ones. That's just one example, but it makes me wonder what others I could come up with if I had time!

The Constructivist said...

Speaking of the Solheim Cup, Hound Dog's comment made me decide to post my own thoughts on how to improve it as a diary at Waggle Room rather than a new thread on the Seoul Sisters message board.