Thursday, August 14, 2008

On Wie, Bivens, and LPGA Membership Criteria

What Michelle Wie does over the next 4 days in the Canadian Women's Open can put all the criticism she's received over the past 2 seasons firmly behind her. I'd love to see her play the 6510-yard Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club as well as she did at Panther Creek in the State Farm Classic--and not just because I picked her in this week's Pakpicker at Seoul to finish 4th or because her getting into the mix this weekend would help provide more data for a little research question I'd like to see someone answer. No, I just want her to play golf the way she's capable of so she can become a member of the LPGA's Class of 2009.

For a clear summary of where Wie stands, check out the following by Brent Kelley,'s golf guide (who's also written the definitive pieces on the Women's British Open/Reno-Tahoe controversy and the State Farm DQ). If only Golf Observer's Sal Johnson were as sensible and level-headed as Kelley in his own Wie piece. Instead, he implies the existence of a Bivens-Wie feud:

But the mystery in all of this is still the reaction that the LPGA Tour has given her. Instead of embracing the potential and what Wie could do to grow the LPGA to new levels, she seems to get the cold shoulder of their czar Carolyn Bivens.

Johnson goes on to claim without substantiation that things were different when Laura Baugh was The Next Big Thing. And he agrees with Geoff Shackelford that Bivens showed too little sympathy for Wie's failure to sign her card after her 2nd round in the State Farm. But he also acknowledges that the LPGA was right to DQ Wie, suggests the Wie camp has been dismissive toward the LPGA, and concedes, "At this time I see no way for Biven's [sic] to give any kind of help to Michelle."

So Johnson would have been better off sticking to his conclusion that Wie holds her fate in her hands this week and that a solo 4th or better would pretty much guarantee her full LPGA membership in 2009--and leaving Bivens out of it. But since he did go there, he would have been better off suggesting what Bivens could do in the future to make it easier for Wie (and, for that matter, any other non-member) to join the LPGA. As my previous speculation on these matters didn't pan out, I'll offer a simple list this time:

1. Institute a "battlefield promotion" rule on the Futures Tour: offer immediate exempt status on the LPGA once someone wins her 4th tournament in a season there (if she wasn't already a non-exempt member of the LPGA, the following year would be her official rookie season).

2. Listen to Steve Elling: allow winnings in all events that count toward the LPGA money list for LPGA members to also count for non-members when determining membership eligibility for the following season (while reducing the maximum allowable number of sponsors' exemptions to 5 and requiring the equivalent of a top 70 finish on the money list, in order to make this enough of a challenge for non-members).

3. Open up the 36-hole "U.S. qualifier" for the Women's British Open at the Jamie Farr to everyone in the field (not just LPGA members).

4. Allow 5 exemptions each from the Korean LPGA, LPGA of Japan, and Ladies European Tour into the final qualifying tournament of the LPGA Q-School (each tour would thus get half what the Futures Tour gets).

The effect of these changes would be to level the playing field for non-members and thereby encourage the best women golfers in the world to go for LPGA membership.

Now, should Wie not play well this week, she has until September 9th to submit her entry into Q-School. I've heard that new criteria for LPGA membership are coming down the pike, but this is the first hint I've seen of what they might be:

Purpose of Competition
To determine those who will be offered Tournament Division Membership in the Ladies Professional Golf Association with priority status for the 2009 season. The top 20 qualifiers will receive priority status in Category #11. The top 20 players will alternate with players 81-90 on the 2008 LPGA Official Money List. In addition, qualifiers finishing in position #21-30 will receive priority status in category 16 and qualifiers in position 31-40 in category #20.

I haven't been able to find an explanation of categories 11, 16, or 20 (much less the other 17!). But this much is clear: Wie would have to work out with her professors what to do about her missed classes the week of the CA sectional qualifier (9/16-9/19). And since the final qualifying tournament (12/1-12/7) comes after Stanford's Thanksgiving break and during its End-Quarter Period, she'd have to manage her time well to do well in her finals the following week. (And hope that she has no exams on Monday and Tuesday, as qualifiers must attend a mandatory orientation both days.)

Much better to make like Ji-Yai Shin and win this week. Annika Sorenstam, who opened with a 31 on the back and is -4 through her 1st 11 holes, and Hee-Won Han, who birdied 5 of her 1st 10 holes and is -3 through 14, might just have something to say about that, though....

[Update 1 (8/20/08, 8:28 pm): The LPGA has clarified its membership criteria.]

[Update 2 (8/21/08, 12:31 pm): I revisited some of these issues in an August 18th post on the Class of 2009.]

[Update 3 (9/8/08, 10:24 am): Forgot to mention here that I took a stab at analyzing the new priority status categories on August 21st.]

[Update 4 (9/11/08, 3:06 pm): Here are my initial thoughts on Wie and her top competition at the Mission Hills qualifier.]


Hound Dog said...

Good catch on the Q-school status info. Those mysterious category numbers offer more proof that the LPGA's status page will look a little different in 2009. And that excerpt you highlighted is the first official statement I've seen on the subject of Top 90 changing to Top 80.

Evidently Category 11 will equate to full-exempt status (20 qualifiers from Q-School is a lot!), Category 16 equates to non-exempt and 20 replaces conditional status. I'm not sure changing these labels to numbers is going to make any of it clearer to us lay-people!

Which brings up another point. Say Michelle Wie earns enough money to finish only 85th on the money list. Does she get Category 16 status? I guess you'll find out that answer the same time I do.

The Constructivist said...

It's interesting, isn't it, that Category 11 seems to relegate the Q-School qualifiers to the bottom of the exempt pile? I wonder if that's a new policy or something that's already been done.... And if #s 81-90 on this year's money list are only "kind of" exempt, I also wonder if there will be other levels set up within the top 80. It's more than a little annoying how much in the dark the LPGA is keeping us (I hope they're keeping their players better informed). If I were #100 on the money list right now, I'd sure want to know if I was exempt into the final qualifying tournament or if I needed to be sending in my application for sectional qualifying. The deadline for entry into the last phase of Q-School is 10/28/08 (if I remember right)--so basically anyone not headed to China and not in the top 80 or 90 after the Kapalua event should be seriously considering sending in that application.

courtgolf said...

I'd have to call the WCO a big OOPS on Wie's part. She didn't play particularly poorly, but nothing she had out there looked like she has what it takes to put up a low round on an LPGA course - much less survive three stages of Q-school. (which, personally, I think she'll skip)

What you're saying is that the LPGA and The Biv should take a knee, go back to kissing Michelle Wie's backside, give her everything on a silver platter, and change the rules of major qualifying JUST for the girl who has been spitting in their collective face the last four years?

Not a chance. At this point, SOMEone in her life has to act like an adult around this girl and draw a line in the sand,

I think Hollywood got it right in "Hoosiers" when Coach Norman Dale confronted Jimmy Chitwood. Coach told Jimmy that his gift is his and his alone - and because of that, "I don't care if you play on the team or not."

Sekar said...

Couple of corrections (my reference is Priority List for entering standard eligibility LPGA tournaments in 2009 dt 7/3/2008):

"1. Institute a "battlefield promotion" rule on the Futures Tour: ....."

This has been implemented for the 2009 season. This is category 13. The requirement is 3 wins

2.Category 11 - Alternate order of Q School top 20 & money List #81 - 100 (Not 90)

3. "Evidently Category 11 will equate to full-exempt status (20 qualifiers from Q-School is a lot!), Category 16 equates to non-exempt and 20 replaces conditional status. I'm not sure changing these labels to numbers is going to make any of it clearer to us lay-people!"

Actually these are not for lay people, these are for LPGA members. As an aside, I think this is a very positive step and is very much in line with PGA tour.

These are the explanations for some of the categories you were confused about:
11 - Top 20 Q-School/Nos 81 -100
16 - Q School 21 - 30
20 - Q School 31 - 40

Also there are a total of 21 categories.

All of the above info is available on the LPGA site, but not easily accessible.

The Constructivist said...

sekar, thanks for digging up the info. The LPGA made some of this more easily accessible yesterday (finally), but I didn't know about--and am psyched that--they put in a battlefield promotion rule! Wonder when they'll announce that one....

I still think they're wrong to exclude any winnings for non-members that would count for members.

CG, my proposed changes actually have little to do with Wie and more to do with how the LPGA handles membership for everyone. (My second and third proposals would have benefitted Stacy Lewis if they had been implemented at the start of this season, not MW. My 4th has nothing to do with Wie unless she decides to attempt qualifying abroad rather than here. And my 1st only applies as incentive for her to at least try out the Futures Tour.)

I totally disagree on the CWO--Wie came back from a bad 1st round and played solid golf the rest of the way. She's still not the most accurate of drivers (and probably never will be), so handling the rough and getting a top 15 is not bad for someone who blew up in the U.S. Women's Open with a similar set-up not too long ago. She's been making incremental improvements this summer and is poised for a good 2009.

I'd be shocked if she didn't go for the 2-stage qualifying process--sectionals and final 90-hole tournament--and finish outside the top 5. Unlike someone like, say, Cheyenne Woods, who definitely needs all 4 years of college golf to improve her game, Wie already has the game to compete at the top level of the LPGA, as her 3 rounds at the State Farm show, and she's only going to get better between now and next February.

And, no, I'm not advocating that the LPGA Championship once again make an exception for Wie. You oughtta be a member to play in that 1--it was a dumb decision to let her in before.

Read my post again, CG--I was pointing out the inconsistencies in Johnson's piece and criticizing his incoherent advice to the LPGA in the 1st half, then trying to offer some more constructive and coherent advice in the 2nd half.

Chus said...

This is what I think: Cheyenne Woods