Thursday, November 22, 2007

On the LPGA Hall of Fame

Doug Ferguson, who somehow still manages to keep his job covering the LPGA for AP, just came out with a bizarre piece suggesting that it's too easy to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame and that the rapid entries of Sorenstam, Webb, Pak, and Ochoa show the LPGA has a thinner talent pool in the last decade than in the late 1970s and 1980s. Apparently he missed Mulligan Stu's excellent piece at Waggle Room a few weeks ago in which he listed the PGA Hall of Famers who wouldn't have gotten in under the LPGA's points system. Well, hopefully Ferguson won't miss his latest. Even Ron Sirak, who pays fitful attention to the LPGA, understands how tough the LPGA's entrance criteria are. So I think we can easily put the "too easy entry" meme to rest, hopefully before it propagates.

Now, the thinner talent pool issue even comes up among the best-informed LPGA fans, such as the 200-plus members of the Seoul Sisters discussion board. So let's take a look at career LPGA Wins/Majors among the highest earners on the LPGA who started their careers during the Sorenstam Era (for comparison, I include the totals during this time period of players whose careers began earlier, in brackets for those who are still active and in double brackets for those who are retired).

Annika Sorenstam (1994) 69/10

Karrie Webb (1996) 35/7

Se Ri Pak (1998) 24/5

Lorena Ochoa (2003) 17/1
[Juli Inkster 16/4]
[Laura Davies 15/3]
[Meg Mallon 12/1]
[[Liselotte Neumann 11/0]]

[[Dottie Pepper 10/1]]
Cristie Kerr (1997) 10/1

[Kelly Robbins 8/1]
Rachel Hetherington (1997) 8/0
[[Rosie Jones 8/0]]
Mi Hyun Kim (1999) 8/0

[Michelle McGann 7/0]
Grace Park (2000) 6/1
[Sherri Steinhauer 6/1]
[Beth Daniel 6/0]
Hee-Won Han (2001) 6/0

Suzann Pettersen (2003) 5/1
Pat Hurst (1995) 5/1
[[Betsy King 5/1]]

[[Patty Sheehan 4/2]]
[[Donna Andrews 4/1]]
[Helen Alfredsson 4/0]
Paula Creamer (2005) 4/0
Dorothy Delasin (2000) 4/0
[[Tammie Green 4/0]]
Sophie Gustafson (1998) 4/0
Lorie Kane (1996) 4/0
Wendy Ward (1996) 4/0

[Danielle Ammaccapane 3/0]
Wendy Doolan (1996) 3/0
Maria Hjorth (1998) 3/0
Emilee Klein (1995) 3/0
Candie Kung (2002) 3/0
[Barb Mucha 3/0]

Among the 5 most recent generations of LPGA stars, then, Webb, Pak, and Ochoa are the only ones besides Sorenstam herself to rack up more wins in the Sorenstam Era than already-established stars at its start like Inkster, Davies, Mallon, and Neumann. Going down the list, we then have rough equivalences between veterans and newbies, like Pepper-Kerr, Robbins-Hetherington, Jones-Kim, McGann/Steinhauer-Park, Daniel-Han, King-Hurst/Pettersen, Sheehan/Andrews-Creamer, Alfredsson-Gustafson, and Green-Kane/Ward/Delasin. And there are more newbies with 3 wins since the '94 season than veterans. So I think those who want to diss the newbies are letting nostalgia get in the way of the facts. Many of the 1980s stars did continue playing well into the Sorenstam Era, and didn't do particularly well against the three most recent additions to the Hall of Fame.

Certainly, time is on the newbies' side when it comes to building a better record during the Sorenstam Era (which may well not yet be over), but it's by no means inevitable that we'll see another Big 3 or 4 on the LPGA any time soon. While no one would be surprised if veterans Inkster, Davies, or Steinhauer returned to the winners' circle more than once in the next few years, I think you'd see a lot of shocked people if Delasin, Doolan, Kane, or Klein were to win again, and only a bit less surprise if Hetherington, Kung, or Park were to return to form. So the hopes of the non-Hall of Famers among the newbies really rest on the shoulders of Ochoa, Kerr, MH Kim, Hurst, Han, Pettersen, Creamer, Gustafson, and Hjorth--not to mention those with a pair of wins, such as Catriona Matthew, Jeong Jang, Angela Stanford, Stacy Prammanasudh, Christina Kim, Meena Lee, and Seon Hwa Lee (but of course even those without a victory yet, particularly with less than 4 years' experience on the tour, could still go on future tears). This could take awhile, though: Pettersen and SH Lee have been averaging exactly 1 win per season, Creamer just more, and Kerr, Kim, Han, and M Lee just less over the course of their careers to date. Nobody else whom I've named is close to 1 win per season.

Part of the reason for this is that as the low-level and mid-level players get better and better on the LPGA, it gets harder for the good players to distinguish themselves from the pack, even harder for very good players to rack up wins, and particularly difficult for great players to emerge. And anyone who wants to break through like Ochoa and now Pettersen have has to go through them. Thus, it's going to be a huge challenge for any of the people averaging close to a win per season thus far to consistently outdo the rest, much less outduel Sorenstam, Webb, Inkster, Davies, Steinhauer, and Hurst and outdistance their contemporaries and those from younger generations who have not yet found the winner's circle with any regularity. That's just a lot of very good and great players to beat each week; for it to happen all that often will take something truly special. But that's just what someone from that "most likely to succeed" group has to do to pass, say, Liselotte Neumann, much less have a chance to someday join Ochoa in the Hall of Fame after she qualifies for it next season.

So I would conclude that it's precisely because the talent pool on the LPGA is deeper now that it's so much harder to rack up wins as the generations of the late 1970s and early 1980s that Ferguson harkens back to did. This is no reason to change the entry criteria for the Hall of Fame, but it does call attention to how difficult it is to get into it.


The Constructivist said...

Yup, I Waggle Roomed this one, too.

spyder said...

One could make an argument from out of the sports realm for the efficacy of the LPGA formula. Nearly 40 years ago groups of rock aficionados began to develop the ground rules for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And with all that time and discourse the final result isn't much different than most of those for professional sports: committees (and committees equal politics).

The Foundation’s nominating committee, composed of rock and roll historians, selects nominees each year in the Performer category. Ballots are then sent to an international voting body of more than 500 rock experts. Those performers who receive the highest number of votes - and more than 50 percent of the vote - are inducted. The Foundation generally inducts five to seven performers each year.

Non-Performers include songwriters, producers, disc jockeys, record executives, journalists and other industry professionals--
The special selection committee elects the inductees in the Non-Performer category.

Early Influences
The special selection committee elects the inductees in the Early Influences category.

Side Men includes all the session musicians assigned to recording studios and/or w/ independent label/independent band contracts (as well as those contracted to perform on tours)
A separate committee, composed primarily of producers, selects the inductees in this category.

So a group of historians (and that does not necessarily include academic-trained and academe-employed historians by any means) interprets the general thematic constructs for a nomination, then creates a pool (largely through consensus) of nominees, and passes that along to a whole bunch of people invested in the business of rock-n-roll.

Gosh, how dare the LPGA ask that players win tournaments and rank high on annual and career money-lists generated by playing consistently well over multiple years. I mean they should just let the heads of the corporations involved in the golf business select who they want, right??

hound dog said...

While I took the Thanksgiving holidays off, I see you and the Waggle Room guys have been minding the store nicely!

Include me in with the anti-Ferguson sentiments. I agree that he probably started with some notion that Ochoa clinching HOF status at age 26 will be a bad thing, and went blindly onward.

Great idea to group the players by rookie season proximity and compare career money. I was surprised to see Pettersen third in her class and Lorie Kane too!

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, Hound Dog! The two biggest surprises for me, in both $$ and wins, were Lorie Kane (wow, she has had a very very good career!) and Candie Kung (I wasn't following the LPGA all that closely in 2003, but 3 wins?? Wow, that's a better year than Creamer's in 2007! And it took Gulbis until this year to pass her. Wonder if she'll get her game back and challenge Natalie for best in class?). Oh, and I had no idea Hetherington had so many wins.

Looking forward to your next installment in your top 30 profiles series! Going to be blogging the Kyoraku and Lexus Cups?