Thursday, August 7, 2008

Looking Ahead, Part 1: The End of the Season

As I mentioned before, there are only 6 full-field and 5 limited-field events on the LPGA schedule before the ADT Championship. Here are some things I'm looking forward to during that span of events.

The Million Dollar Club: There were 11 players in the million-dollar club in 2006, by far the best year in LPGA history. This year, we're probably an event or 2 away from matching or surpassing the second-best year ever, the last one, when 7 players made it and another 4 came within $50K or so of doing so. I think Na Yeon Choi will be the next to enter the club--making Ya Ni Tseng and her the 1st-ever pair of classmates to accomplish the feat in their rookie year and only the 2nd-ever to do it at all (after Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Pettersen last season)--before August is out. Helen Alfredsson may take until September. After that, we'll need Jeong Jang's wrist to hold up, Eun-Hee Ji to keep contending, and Suzann Pettersen to make a closing push somewhere close to last year's for the tie, and strong finishes from someone halfway there or better--or a surprise ADT winner--for the record. With 5 cut-less events in the last 12 and a million-dollar winner's check to go, the odds are good for the tie and decent for the win.

Personal Bests: In terms of season winnings, all the rookies plus Inbee Park, Helen Alfredsson, Eun-Hee Ji, Song-Hee Kim, Jane Park, Ji Young Oh, Teresa Lu, Sun Young Yoo, Leta Lindley, Minea Blomqvist, Jin Joo Hong, and Kristy McPherson have them already, among those in the top 50, at least. Paula Creamer and Seon Hwa Lee ought to establish theirs (they've already done so in terms of wins in a season) next, followed by Lindsey Wright, Jimin Kang, Christina Kim, and maybe even Brittany Lang (again among those in the top 50). Others will need great finishes to do it. Cristie Kerr had better get it going if she wants to extend her consecutive-$1M-season streak to 5. Can Lorena Ochoa get her 7th, 8th, and 9th wins before 2008 ends? I say yes. Can she break the $5M mark in season winnings? I don't think so. Can she finish with a sub-69 scoring average? No way.

Youth Movement: I expect to see the LPGA's youth movement continue to pick up steam. The season's home stretch favors healthier and fitter golfers, so don't be surprised if Ochoa, Creamer, Seon Hwa Lee, Tseng, or Ji gets another win or 3, Angela Park, Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, or Jane Park gets the 1st of her career, Jee Young Lee or Momoko Ueda follows up her non-member win with her 1st official one, and Pettersen or Pressel gets her 1st of the season. The Rookie of the Year race will go down to the wire, while Creamer, Tseng, and Lee have the best odds of pushing Ochoa for Player of the Year. I agree with Hound Dog's call in a recent podcast that Annika won't go beyond the nice round number of 72 career LPGA wins. I'm curious to hear his assessment of Michelle Wie's and Stacy Lewis's odds of avoiding Q-School, as well--but more on them and other actual and potential members of the Class of 2009 next post.

ADT Championship: So far this half-season, Eun-Hee Ji, Helen Alfredsson, and Ji-Yai Shin have qualified for the ADT Championship, joining the 15 1st-half qualifiers. That leaves 11 spots open (or 12 if someone already in wins the Canadian Women's Open), with 16 players within $100K of Giulia Sergas at #11. This race is wide open. Of those at the top of the list, only Angela Park is really safe, although Cristie Kerr and Ji Young Oh can breathe pretty easy. I'm rooting for Han, In-Kyung Kim, Miyazato, and Jane Park to stay in the top 11/12 and Stacy Prammanasudh, Momoko Ueda, Christina Kim, Mi Hyun Kim, and Morgan Pressel to join them! Of course there are 2 wild cards for the top 2 players on the pre-ADT money list who haven't already qualified and it would be totally cool if Junior Mints Teresa Lu and Sun Young Yoo got them, although it's hard to root against vets like Juli Inkster, Sophie Gustafson, Angela Stanford, and Candie Kung.

The Race for the Card: I've heard big changes in the way the LPGA handles membership and eligibility for tournaments are in the works, but haven't heard many firm details. As far as I know, members who finish in the top 90 on this year's money list get their card for next year and those who finish in the top 40 get it for the next 2 years. It's more complicated than that, though, as Hound Dog explains, so I'll let him sort the new rules out when they're announced....

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