Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Best of the Young Guns: Top Junior Mints, May 2008 Edition

It's been awhile since I ranked the entire Class of 2006--now known as the Junior Mints, thanks to Hound Dog--although I did check in on their top players last month. So let's see how their careers stack up against each other thus far in 2008.

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: It's definitely problems with her putting that account for her so-so start to the season--she's ranked in the mid-70s in both short-grass stats, about 50 spots worse than any of the key stats I track below, and a far cry from her rookie season when she was one of the best on the tour. So she could turn it around any week now.
2. Morgan Pressel: Just when I was ready to keep her below Jee Young Lee in the rankings, she interrupts a missed cut streak by coming this close to getting her 2nd career win. The pair are so neck-and-neck in career stats that it comes down to Morgan's major vs. Jelly's made-cut rate. I know both major ranking systems as well as Hound Dog's and my own (which combines them) have it the other way around, but I'm moving Pressel back to #2.
3. Jee Young Lee: If she weren't having such an inconsistent season, she would have stayed ahead of Pressel, major or not. I mean, what can you do when she breaks her top-10 streak at 2 with a T55 at the Sybase 2 weeks ago? Hope she worked on her putting in her week off, as she's clearly missing too many par saves and probably 3-putting too many greens she hits in regulation. Her percentage of rounds under par is way down from her previous 2 seasons and her putting stats are the obvious culprit--it's not like her driving accuracy is that different from her average in her first 2 years on tour (although if she ever were to improve on that stat, watch out!).

The Contenders

4. Ai Miyazato: It's been one-step-forward-two-steps-back for Ai-chan this season: miss 2 cuts, get a top 20 at the start of the season; then, after a long dry spell, follow up another top 20 with a MC. There always seems to be 1 high round per tournament that pulls her down. On the bright side, she's hitting more greens and lowering her scoring average, but she needs the birdies to start dropping to return to the LPGA's elite.
5. Brittany Lang: She's making the most money and hitting the most greens of anyone in her very talented class, so it's no surprise that she's been racking up top 20s and top 10s this season. Her runner-up finish at the Sybase was no fluke. And she's poised to pass Ai-chan by the end of July.
6. Julieta Granada: Followed up her first top 20 in what feels like forever (but really was about 5 months) with 2 straight missed cuts. If she keeps that kind of pattern up, she'll get passed by Jee Young Lee on the career money list by season's end, despite that $1M paycheck for her sole victory.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Teresa Lu: Seems to have been inspired by the great play of fellow Taiwanese stars Ya Ni Tseng and Candie Kung. Whatever it is, she's my new top candidate for getting that breakthrough win that most of her classmates are still waiting for!
8. Meaghan Francella: Injuries and illnesses have taken their toll on her game for almost the past year, so I'm demoting her from the contenders list, even though she already has a win. While she's still on a better pace than Bae in her career stats, she is in danger of getting passed, as her RR lead is shrinking and GSPI deficit is growing.
9. Kyeong Bae: Would already have passed Francella if she weren't struggling this season. She's finally started having decent results--and making more birdies--the past few events, so I have high hopes for her despite demoting her from the contenders category this ranking.
10. Sun Young Yoo: Has the lowest scoring average and highest birdie rate in her class this season. Would have moved even further up these rankings if she had gotten her first win last weekend--she came that close to it!
11. Minea Blomqvist: Starting to harness her talent and take advantage of her hot weeks, but still incredibly inconsistent. She has a Jee Young Lee-like game, though, so there's no reason she shouldn't remain the top Euro in her class and move up the rankings the rest of the season.
12. Linda Wessberg: As I predicted, her transition to full-time play on the LPGA has been a learning process, but she'll be the better player and tougher competitor for her current struggles. Once she settles down, she'll go back to giving Blomqvist some real competition for top Euro in her class.
13. Allison Fouch: Too soon to tell whether this Futures Tour graduate has the staying power to build upon her great start to the season, but the signs are promising that she can not only keep up but even improve upon the pace she's setting in her first season in the big leagues.
14. H.J. Choi: Let's hope her top 10 at the Sybase (which would have been yet another missed cut if the tournament organizers hadn't erased Friday's waterlogged scores!) is a sign of things to come for a player who not that long ago was my top candidate for that breakthrough win.
15. Karin Sjodin: What has happened to her this season? If she keeps this up, Katie Futcher has a chance to pass her! She'd better decide fast if she wants her LPGA career to be judged against Blomqvist and Wessberg's or Reis and Stahle's....

On the Bottom Looking Up (exempt, barely)

16. Katie Futcher: Just learned how to pronounce her name correctly watching the Corning Classic at my parents' place last weekend. Would have a brighter future if she could get better at nailing those top 20 opportunities when they arise and turning them into top 10s.
17. Kim Hall: Broke a 5-event missed cut streak last week at Corning, but this may be the year that her ability to secure that 1 great finish will not be enough to keep her card--I hear only the top 80 on the money list will keep their cards this season.
18. Danielle Downey: Not taking advantage of her exempt status so far this spring, but then again, she's a New Yorker, so expect her to play better this summer.

On the Outside Looking In (non-exempt and struggling)

19. Virada Nirapathpongporn: If I were her, I'd be petitioning to use my special exemption on the Futures Tour as often as possible, because her performance in her 5 LPGA events thus far has not been encouraging in the quest for the top 80. At worst, she keeps growing as a player by continuing to get competitive experience; at best, she not only avoids going to Q-School but gets some momentum that carries over to her remaining LPGA appearances.
20. Nina Reis: Played terribly in 2 LET events this season but somehow nailed a top 10 on the LPGA in 1 of only 2 cuts she's made here this season, which pulls her even with Sjodin in that category and ahead of Futcher in top 20s. Still, she's hitting greens and making birdies at a much lower rate, which helps explain why she has the worst scoring average in her class. Wonder if her 4-event missed cut streak will drive her back to the LET regularly? She's joining Michelle Wie, Louise Stahle, and Veronica Zorzi in Germany this week.
21. Louise Stahle: The LET's Rookie of the Year last season has played in more LPGA events than I expected this season and only 2 so far in Europe--good enough for #17 on their money list, though, so she may be tempted to play there more the rest of the season if she continues to struggle as she has during her return to the LPGA.
22. Na Ri Kim: Struggling on the Futures Tour; missed the cut in her only LPGA appearance last week.
23. Ashley Johnston: Not yet played on the LPGA in 2008. Will move up once she takes advantage of her medical exemption and begins playing regularly again on tour.
24. Veronica Zorzi: Not yet played on the LPGA in 2008 and has only played in 3 LET events, finishing well enough to be #22 on their money list.


For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the May ranking.

2008 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone is playing this season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category. (I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I won't include putts per green in regulation here.) Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future.

1. Brittany Lang, $323.1K (#13), 71.53 (#17), 2.77 (#24), 68.7% (#20)
2. Jee Young Lee, $308.1K (#14), 71.80 (#26), 3.40 (#4), 67.0% (#35)
3. Teresa Lu, $295.7K (#15), 72.00 (#32), 2.63 (#29), 67.3% (#34)
4. Seon Hwa Lee, $266.3K (#18), 71.63 (#21), 2.85 (#21), 68.2% (#24)
5. Minea Blomqvist, $255.9K (#21), 72.12 (#36), 3.33 (#25), 62.2% (#99)
6. Sun Young Yoo, $242.4K (#25), 71.49 (#16), 3.57 (#8), 66.5% (#39)
7. Morgan Pressel, $210.7K (#31), 72.14 (#37), 3.00 (#57), 65.3% (#31)
8. Alison Fouch, $194.2K (#33), 72.28 (#42), 3.14 (#50), 63.1% (#86)
9. Ai Miyazato, $99.3K (#56), 72.85 (#69), 2.18 (#84), 63.6% (#79)
10. Linda Wessberg, $81.7K (#66), 72.69 (#62), 3.03 (#40), 62.7% (#92)
11. H.J. Choi, $81.6K (#67), 74.00 (#121), 2.28 (#67), 56.9% (#145)
12. Kyeong Bae, $73.6K (#75), 73.06 (#78), 2.89 (#33), 64.1% (#70)
13. Katie Futcher, $65.8K (#82), 72.38 (#51), 3.24 (#46), 68.2% (#26)
14. Julieta Granada, $52.9K (#89), 73.64 (#104), 1.85 (#113), 60.3% (#114)
15. Karin Sjodin, $45.1K (#100), 73.44 (#94), 2.93 (#73), 64.0% (#72)
16. Danielle Downey, $41.3K (#106), 73.64 (#106), 2.60 (#78), 63.5% (#81)
17. Kim Hall, $39.8K (#107), 73.42 (#?), 2.27 (#119), 61.1% (#98)
18. Meaghan Francella, $39.8K (#108), 74.47 (#136), 2.03 (#113), 63.3% (#90)
19. Nina Reis, $33.9K (#115), 75.20 (#152), 2.60 (#146), 54.2% (#156)
20. Louise Stahle, $23.0K (#132), 74.88 (#?), ?, ?
21. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $19.2K (#139), 74.61 (#142), 2.72 (#133), 58.0% (#134)
22. Na Ri Kim, $0 (#182), 73.50 (#?), ?, ?

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events entered/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/cuts made (made cut rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately the Junior Mints haven't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt every year or who have chosen to focus more on other tours. What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now. I include these other ways of seeing how the Junior Mints finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. So here's how they stand:

1. Seon Hwa Lee, $2.28M (#73), 70/0/2/7/18/37/66 (.943)
2. Julieta Granada, $2.10M (#77), 69/0/1/5/10/20/50 (.725)
3. Jee Young Lee, $1.85M (#92), 61/0/0/5/19/32/59 (.967)
4. Morgan Pressel, $1.65M (#98), 59/1/1/5/19/32/50 (.847)
5. Ai Miyazato, $1.42M (#113), 56/0/0/4/14/21/46 (.821)
6. Brittany Lang, $1.21M (#132), 66/0/0/3/12/26/48 (.727)
7. Kyeong Bae, $.67M (#212), 65/0/0/2/6/10/48 (.738)
8. Sun Young Yoo, $.60M (#226), 62/0/0/1/4/14/45 (.726)
9. Meaghan Francella $.55M (#234), 41/0/1/1/4/8/23 (.561)
10. Teresa Lu, $.55M (#235), 54/0/0/1/4/12/38 (.704)
11. Minea Blomqvist, $.42M (#262), 45/0/0/1/3/6/26 (.578)
12. H.J. Choi, $.39M (#274), 40/0/0/0/4/8/25 (.625)
13. Karin Sjodin, $.37M (#281), 51/0/0/0/3/9/31 (.608)
14. Katie Futcher, $.27M (#324), 51/0/0/0/2/3/32 (.627)
15. Linda Wessberg, $.25M (#340), 25/0/0/0/4/5/17 (.680)
16. Nina Reis, $.23M (#352), 51/0/0/0/3/4/28 (.549)
17. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.21M (#363), 45/0/0/0/1/4/23 (.511)
18. Kim Hall, $.20M (#365), 42/0/0/0/2/3/16 (.381)
19. Alison Fouch, $.20M (#366), 9/0/0/1/1/1/6 (.667)
20. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#460), 16/0/0/0/0/1/13 (.813)
21. Danielle Downey, $.06M (#502), 21/0/0/0/0/1/6 (.286)
22. Louise Stahle, $.05M (#509), 22/0/0/0/0/1/10 (.455)
23. Na Ri Kim, $.05M (#517), 28/0/0/0/0/1/9 (.321)
24. Ashley Johnston, $.05M (#524), 13/0/0/0/0/0/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 5/26/08) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 5/26/08) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2007 season): This is a way of seeing how those Junior Mints who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Jee Young Lee, 4.49 (#9), 70.61 (#11), 2
2. Morgan Pressel, 4.04 (#13), 71.62 (#35), 0
3. Seon Hwa Lee, 3.52 (#20), 70.91 (#17), 3
4. Ai Miyazato, 3.08 (#28), 73.19 (#105), 14
5. Brittany Lang, 2.29 (#47), 72.23 (#60), 0
6. Julieta Granada, 1.79 (#56), 73.71 (#143), 0
7. Teresa Lu, 1.66 (#62), 72.44 (#69), 0
8. Meaghan Francella, 1.61 (#67), 73.67 (#141), 0
9. Minea Blomqvist, 1.58 (#69), 73.12 (#101), 5
10. Linda Wessberg, 1.32 (#81), 72.06 (#53), 6
11. Sun Young Yoo, 1.10 (#98), 72.14 (#56), 0
12. H.J. Choi, 1.08 (#100), 73.87 (#154), 1
13. Kyeong Bae, .93 (#114), 72.96 (#88), 3
14. Karin Sjodin, .82 (#128), 73.76 (#146), 1
15. Allison Fouch, .81 (#131), 73.33 (#121), 0
16. Louise Stahle, .69 (#148), 72.88 (#81), 0
17. Kim Hall, .62 (#171), 73.67 (#139), 0
18. Veronica Zorzi, .53 (#183), 73.94 (#159), 2
19. Nina Reis, .36 (#246), 75.14 (#270), 5
20. Virada Nirapathpongporn, .28 (#277), 74.32 (#187), 0
21. Katie Futcher, .38 (#243), 73.11 (#100), 0
22. Danielle Downey, .19 (#330), 74.90 (#248), 0
23. Na Ri Kim, .14 (#375), n.r. [too few events in database], 0
24. Ashley Johnston, .11 (#408), n.r. [not in database], 0

So there you have it. I'll be checking back in on these rankings on the following schedule:

February: Junior Mints
March: Super Sophs
April: both
June: Super Sophs
July: Junior Mints (pre-British Open)
August: Super Sophs (post-Safeway)
September: both (post-Navistar)
October: Junior Mints (pre-Korea Championship)
November: Super Sophs (post-ADT)
December: the Young Guns, including the Rookies (post-Q School)