Tuesday, July 29, 2008

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

It's time again to check in on the LPGA's Junior Mints. I'm curious to see how the 15 3rd-year players in the year's last major respond to the summer heroics of the Super Sophs and rookies. Among the elite in this class, only Seon Hwa Lee has seriously stepped up her game, but there's been a lot of movement lower in the ranks. Let's take a look.

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: In late May, I mentioned that despite Lee's so-so start in 2008, "she could turn it around any week now." Lo and behold, she's won 2 events since then, broken the million dollar barrier in season winnings, and crossed the 3 million dollar rubicon in career winnings. Not bad for a player who still hasn't hit her stride. If history repeats itself, she'll get hot after the European swing. But I wonder if it isn't her time to step up in a major....
2. Morgan Pressel: For awhile there she was neither driving for show nor putting for dough, but she hasn't finished outside the top 25 in her last 7 starts. Could major #2 come this week? Like Lee she doesn't have a good history on the European swing, but she's put in extra preparation this year. Don't put it past her!
3. Jee Young Lee: Hasn't finished outside the top 20 in her last 7 events--oh, except for those 2 missed cuts. That's the story of her season--i-n-c-o-n-s-i-s-t-e-n-c-y! But here's the thing--she has a very good record in the European swing, especially in the WBO. And she's just broken the two million dollar barrier in career winnings. So she's gotta be one of the real favorites this week.

The Contenders

4. Ai Miyazato: Ai-chan is back. I expect her to get her 1st LPGA win before the season is out. Can it come this week? I'm going to sound like a broken record, but the answer is yes. She was playing hurt this time of year last season, but she's healthy now and making birdies at her normal rate. She's got the game and the mindset to make her 1st LPGA win a major.
5. Brittany Lang: She's on pace to outdo her results from her strong rookie season, but the European swing has not been kind to her in the past and she's not coming into the WBO with the kind of momentum she had in late spring.

Quantum Leap Candidates

6. Sun Young Yoo: Should start to get some recognition for her elite-level stats this season. Once she gets more comfortable in the mix, she should start seeing even better results. But even though she has some very good momentum coming off her last 2 events, I don't see the WBO being her coming-out party.
7. Teresa Lu: She's having her best season ever, inspired by Ya Ni Tseng's emergence and Candie Kung's resurgence, but the European swing is fairly new territory for her, so don't expect too much from her this year. However, she did get a top 10 at the U.S. Women's Open, so we know she's capable of playing big in big events.
8. Kyeong Bae: The birdie machine is back! But even though she rocked the State Farm Classic, I don't see that momentum carrying her that far forward this week. The rest of the season, though, should be good.
9. Julieta Granada: She didn't qualify for the WBO for the 1st time in her professional career, so I'm demoting her, as I did Francella last ranking. Isn't it about time for her sophomore jinx to run its course?
10. Meaghan Francella: Continues to struggle despite being healthy for the 1st time in over a year. Made the cut in Evian but didn't make the field for the WBO. Thanks to her win last season, she has time to play her way through this slump, though.
11. H.J. Choi: She's finally turned the corner this season and put her almost-year-long slump behind her. Hopefully that final-round 65 at the Evian Masters will start a run of more consistently great play.
12. Minea Blomqvist: Cooling off after a fast start this season. The bad holes have been outweighing the good ones--and believe me, for a player this inconsistent, we're talking hole-by-hole swings in Sophie Gustafson/Maria Hjorth/Suzann Pettersen territory. If they all could harness their talent, I have no doubt Minea can, too, but it's sure hard to watch while I wait for it!
13. Linda Wessberg: Got a top 10 at the WBO last year, after an indifferent performance in Evian, so she's right on track this season in her 1st-ever full-time LPGA schedule. The WBO will be her 4th LET event of the season and if she does well will improve on her #68 standing, but don't expect her to look back if she can get that 1 more good result she needs to secure her 2009 LPGA card.
14. Katie Futcher: She's already secured her card for 2009 and is on a bit of a run coming into the WBO. If she can improve her iron play to match the other strengths of her game, she has a very bright future on tour.
15. Allison Fouch: Played her way into the WBO this season, her 1st full one on the LPGA. Just in time for her 1st summer-time mini-slump, but who cares? She has her card for next year and can continue working on all aspects of her game as she fights to qualify for the LPGA's Asian swing.
16. Karin Sjodin: Maybe the WBO will help boost her out of slump this season. She needs something good to happen in a season in which she hasn't cracked the top 25 on the LPGA thus far.

On the Bottom Looking Up (exempt, barely)

17. Kim Hall: This Stanford grad keeps hanging onto her LPGA card by her fingernails--all she needs is 1 or 2 more good finishes this summer to get it yet again, despite her terrible overall stats.
18. Danielle Downey: She needs a great rest of the summer to avoid having to repeat her 2007 Q-School feat of snagging a card.

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

19. Virada Nirapathpongporn: Getting into a good number of events this season and putting up half-decent stats, but the scoring isn't happening and the results aren't pointing in the right direction. Looks like it's back to Q-School unless lightning strikes late this summer.
20. Nina Reis: Not playing in the WBO this season, hasn't made a cut since April, struggling about as much on the LET in her 7 events there this season (#84 n their order of merit): this split-season thing isn't working out for her. She should stick to the LET until she gets her game back.
21. Na Ri Kim: Since the U.S. Women's Open has gotten into another 3 events and made the cut in all of them, including her 2nd-career top 20, but she'll need to get into even more and play even better if she wants to avoid Q-Schol. (The Futures Tour hasn't been kind to her this season, either.)
22. Louise Stahle: Last season's LET rookie of the year has climbed to #14 on their order of merit this season, but she returns to the LPGA this week for the WBO. Expect her to stay in Europe the rest of the season.
23. Veronica Zorzi: Playing in her 1st LPGA event this week, as she's been concentrating on the LET (not that it's done her a whole lot of good, as she's languishing at #37 on their order of merit).
24. Ashley Johnston: Hasn't yet used her medical exemption for 2008--guess she's still not healthy.


For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the July 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. Seon Hwa Lee, $1.01M (#6), 71.24 (#15), 3.03 (#22), 70.6% (#14)
2. Jee Young Lee, $475.5K (#22), 71.56 (#24), 3.56 (#9), 68.8% (#31)
3. Teresa Lu, $433.8K (#24), 71.97 (#43), 2.81 (#48), 67.8% (#42)
4. Morgan Pressel, $429.7K (#26), 71.54 (#23), 3.25 (#41), 67.8% (#39)
5. Sun Young Yoo, $424.9K (#27), 71.38 (#19), 3.56 (#2), 70.3% (#16)
6. Brittany Lang, $389.0K (#32), 71.78 (#35), 2.97 (#24), 69.7% (#20)
7. Minea Blomqvist, $334.1.9K (#40), 72.30 (#58), 3.30 (#46), 63.8% (#99)
8. Ai Miyazato, $305.4K (#42), 72.02 (#44), 2.85 (#46), 66.7% (#53)
9. Alison Fouch, $227.8K (#52), 72.83 (#83), 3.06 (#72), 62.9% (#113)
10. H.J. Choi, $185.5K (#57), 72.68 (#75), 2.68 (#41), 64.3% (#93)
11. Kyeong Bae, $158.5K (#59), 72.59 (#69), 3.17 (#27), 63.2% (#109)
12. Katie Futcher, $141.8K (#65), 71.69 (#30), 3.50 (#45), 69.6% (#22)
13. Linda Wessberg, $113.7K (#76), 72.90 (#88), 3.10 (#52), 63.3% (#108)
14. Karin Sjodin, $85.1K (#91), 73.31 (#111), 2.89 (#85), 66.0% (#65)
15. Julieta Granada, $71.0K (#103), 73.35 (#115), 2.27 (#89), 57.8% (#151)
16. Kim Hall, $69.0K (#105), 73.13 (#107), 2.35 (#109), 63.8% (#100)
17. Meaghan Francella, $66.6K (#107), 73.96 (#142), 2.22 (#109), 63.6% (#105)
18. Danielle Downey, $54.2K (#119), 73.20 (#109), 2.85 (#104), 65.4% (#78)
19. Na Ri Kim, $34.2K (#138), 72.42 (#?), ?, ?
20. Nina Reis, $33.9K (#139), 75.18 (#158), 2.53 (#161), 53.9% (#162)
21. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $27.4K (#146), 74.31 (#146), 2.69 (#127), 61.1% (#129)
22. Louise Stahle, $23.0K (#151), 74.88 (#?), ?, ?

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. In any case, 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, $3.02M (#54), 76/0/4/9/21/41/72 (.947)
2. Julieta Granada, $2.12M (#81), 77/0/1/5/10/20/53 (.688)
3. Jee Young Lee, $2.02M (#86), 68/0/0/5/19/37/64 (.941)
4. Morgan Pressel, $1.87M (#94), 65/1/1/5/21/36/56 (.862)
5. Ai Miyazato, $1.63M (#103), 63/0/0/4/16/25/52 (.825)
6. Brittany Lang, $1.28M (#129), 73/0/0/3/12/27/53 (.726)
7. Sun Young Yoo, $.78M (#202), 70/0/0/1/5/17/52 (.743)
8. Kyeong Bae, $.75M (#208), 72/0/0/2/7/12/53 (.736)
9. Teresa Lu, $.69M (#218), 59/0/0/1/5/14/42 (.712)
10. Meaghan Francella $.58M (#239), 48/0/1/1/4/8/27 (.563)
11. Minea Blomqvist, $.50M (#256), 50/0/0/1/3/7/30 (.600)
12. H.J. Choi, $.49M (#259), 47/0/0/0/5/10/32 (.681)
13. Karin Sjodin, $.41M (#277), 57/0/0/0/3/9/34 (.596)
14. Katie Futcher, $.34M (#295), 57/0/0/0/3/5/36 (.632)
15. Linda Wessberg, $.28M (#328), 31/0/0/0/4/5/20 (.645)
16. Alison Fouch, $.24M (#353), 15/0/0/1/1/2/9 (.600)
17. Kim Hall, $.23M (#355), 49/0/0/0/2/3/20 (.408)
18. Nina Reis, $.23M (#358), 52/0/0/0/3/4/28 (.538)
19. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.21M (#365), 52/0/0/0/1/4/25 (.481)
20. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#464), 16/0/0/0/0/1/13 (.813)
21. Na Ri Kim, $.09M (#468), 33/0/0/0/0/2/13 (.394)
22. Danielle Downey, $.07M (#487), 27/0/0/0/0/1/8 (.296)
23. Louise Stahle, $.05M (#517), 22/0/0/0/0/1/10 (.455)
24. Ashley Johnston, $.05M (#532), 13/0/0/0/0/0/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 7/28/08) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 7/27/08) 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. Seon Hwa Lee, 5.11 (#8), 70.57 (#15), 3
2. Jee Young Lee, 4.36 (#15), 70.73 (#20), 2
3. Morgan Pressel, 4.24 (#17), 71.41 (#37), 0
4. Ai Miyazato, 2.94 (#37), 72.68 (#89), 14
5. Brittany Lang, 2.12 (#49), 71.45 (#38), 0
6. Teresa Lu, 1.98 (#56), 71.46 (#39), 0
7. Minea Blomqvist, 1.68 (#67), 71.87 (#54), 5
8. Meaghan Francella, 1.49 (#75), 73.85 (#178), 0
9. Julieta Granada, 1.39 (#81), 73.52 (#148), 0
10. Sun Young Yoo, 1.35 (#83), 71.38 (#36), 0
11. H.J. Choi, 1.27 (#87), 73.06 (#117), 1
12. Linda Wessberg, 1.24 (#88), 72.30 (#78), 6
13. Kyeong Bae, .95 (#112), 72.69 (#91), 3
14. Allison Fouch, .93 (#115), 73.26 (#133), 0
15. Karin Sjodin, .81 (#132), 73.67 (#162), 1
16. Katie Futcher, .68 (#149), 72.51 (#83), 0
17. Louise Stahle, .63 (#159), 72.80 (#97), 0
18. Kim Hall, .55 (#182), 73.60 (#156), 0
19. Veronica Zorzi, .39 (#225), 74.12 (#191), 2
20. Na Ri Kim, .26 (#273), 74.05 (#181), 0
21. Nina Reis, .26 (#277), 74.88 (#277), 5
22. Virada Nirapathpongporn, .24 (#285), 74.43 (#226), 0
23. Danielle Downey, .27 (#272), 74.18 (#200), 0
24. Ashley Johnston, .09 (#433), 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
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)


The Constructivist said...

Waggle Roomed the sweet 16....

The Florida Masochist said...

SH Lee is clearly the best of this group. Pressel the most overrated, but has to be given the nod as #2 because of Jelly's failure to bring it home other than the 2005 LPGA Korea tournament.

What's going on Granada? I heard swing changes on a tv broadcast. Then if its swing changes, why did she skip a Mexico event earlier this year that she had placed 2nd at twice before?

Karen Sjodin was picked by Ron "I have the memory of a gnat" Sirak at the beginning of the year as a top 30 player. As you said, she can't get in the top 25 for a tournament. Maybe that's what brilliant Ron meant. Oh in 2007 he called Granada a clear top 10 player too.


The Constructivist said...

I haven't heard a thing about Granada. All I know is that every part of her game is suffering! It's gotten so bad that even though she can get up-and-down like crazy to save pars and bogeys (cf. how many greens she misses and how few overall putts she takes), she can't sink birdies (note birdie rate and putts per green in reg). It's not just this year--it's most of last year.

I'm wondering if she's wearing down physically--she's played more events than anyone in her class.... Maybe she missed that Mexico event b/c the injury occurred or got worse around then?

It's too bad, b/c she's a real web surfer, or so HSBC claimed when they gave her a blog for the Match Play event last year. I hope if she reads this she enlightens us!

I don't blame Sirak for picking Sjodin. She's definitely in that Blomqvist/Gustafson/Hjorth/Pettersen mold. It just hasn't been her year quite yet. It surprises me a bit that Blomqvist has done so well and she's done so badly, but maybe the former's gung-ho personality suits her game better than the latter, who seemed kind of shy and homesick when interviewed at the Wegmans last year.

Hey, you going to start doing the Pakpicker again? Maybe you can make a bet with any and all the golf writers you often critique to see who does better in the 2nd half of the season!