Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Best of the Young Guns: September 2008 Edition

Well, well, well, a lot has changed since I last ranked the LPGA's Super Sophs and Junior Mints together back at the end of April.

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: The Young Guns' only $3M woman and 4-time winner hasn't been doing anything all that special lately, but she has such a lead on the rest of the Junior Mints and Super Sophs that her indifferent play during the LPGA's summer vacation period isn't a huge cause for concern. But the Class of 2008 is looking really tough, with at least 7 players who look like they'll be among the LPGA's elite for a long time to come, so this is no time to be resting on herlaurels.
2. Angela Park: She's the 2nd-hottest player on tour in the 2nd half of the season, behind only Cristie Kerr in winnings in that stretch. 4 top 6s in your last 10 starts will do that for you. Just good enough to be 2nd in her generation.
3. Eun-Hee Ji: Sure, she has 4 top 8s in her last 10 starts, including her 1st career LPGA win and a T3 at the Women's British Open, racking up winnings on a faster pace than even Seon Hwa Lee, and ranked ahead of Angela Park in both systems, but Park's been outplaying her recently and at this point in her career Ji can't afford a patch of indifferent play as easily as Lee can.
4. Jee Young Lee: She's been pretty much a top 20 machine when she hasn't hiccupped with missed cuts over her last 13 events, but she has no top 10s in that stretch. She's still making a ton of birdies, despite a significantly lower GIR rate than usual in her previous 2 seasons, so there's no reason she can't turn it around. She certainly is due.
5. Morgan Pressel: After showing signs of life in mid-summer, she's been in a bit of a tailspin lately, despite the extra preparation she put into the European Swing this year. Maybe getting her wisdom teeth removed, as she did recently, will change her luck. It's not for lack of effort that her results this season have been for the most part disappointing.
6. Inbee Park: Hasn't been the same golfer since being feted as a national heroine in South Korea after her U.S. Women's Open win, so her decision to skip the Southern Swing makes a certain amount of sense. Unlike Jee Young Lee and Pressel, she qualified for the Samsung World Championship, so we'll see very soon what use she made of her time off.

The Contenders

7. Ai Miyazato: Got 3 top 6s in a 6-event stretch in late summer and seemed poised to make my prediction that her 1st LPGA win was around the corner look positively prescient until she missed 2 cuts in a row on the Northern Swing and decided to spend September in Japan. She's competing in the Japan Women's Open this week after finishing T7 in the JLPGA's previous major, so hopefully she'll regain her momentum and come back to the LPGA ready to improve on her 11th-place standing in the race to qualify for the ADT Championship.
8. In-Kyung Kim: One of the hottest golfers on the LPGA right now, with a 5-event top 20 streak going that includes a pair of top 10s. Even though she's been improving her GIR rate significantly lately, it's still not where an elite golfer's should be, but she still has the 4th-highest birdie rate among the Junior Mints and Super Sophs. If she keeps this up, she could pass Miyazato by the next ranking.
9. Song-Hee Kim: Except for a few hiccups here and there, she's been having a fantastic season. And if her stats are any indication, she's due for it to get even better. Perhaps even this week. Watch out for her!
10. Jane Park: Not quite on a Eun-Hee Ji-like pace, but getting there. Even though her recent play has been indifferent at best, she has a way of getting into contention when you least expect it.
11. Brittany Lang: With 5 missed cuts in her last 10 events and only 1 top 20 in the mix, she's been in a real tailspin lately. And just when it seemed she had finally overcome her sophomore jinx!
12. Ji Young Oh: Took a long break from the LPGA after the European Swing, but picked up right where she left off with another top 20 (her 4th in her previous 5 events and best finish since her win). You know she's hot when the GSPI ranks her 4th among all the Junior Mints and Super Sophs, but this is a career ranking, so she'll have to maintain this pace for a long time to remain in such rarefied company.

Quantum Leap Candidates

13. Sun Young Yoo: Got her 4th top 10 of the season in the midst of an otherwise indifferent stretch, but her 3rd-ranked birdie rate among the Junior Mints and Super Sophs suggests it can happen again almost any time.
14. Teresa Lu: Just as I predicted, the European Swing cooled off her game, but at least she stopped her missed cut streak at 2 this past week. Having the 2nd-lowest birdie rate among those in this ranking doesn't bode well for the rest of her season.
15. Minea Blomqvist: After winning on the LET, she hasn't impressed all that much on the LPGA, particularly with this past week's missed cut. The worst GIR rate in this ranking doesn't bode well for her the rest of the season, but she can make birdies in bunches, so could always surprise.
16. Julieta Granada: I didn't include her season stats because they're so bad. She wouldn't even be in this ranking if it weren't for her rookie season. I've heard of sophomore jinxes, but this is ridiculous!
17. Meaghan Francella: After top 30s in the Northern Swing, she missed both cuts on the Southern Swing. Looks like her game hasn't recovered from her early-season injuries. Like Granada, her win has earned her the time to play through her extended slump. Looks like she'll need all the time she can get.
18. Kristy McPherson: Followed up her top 10 at the Bell Micro with a missed cut at the Navistar. It's too bad, as her stats suggest she should have a good fall finish.
19. H.J. Choi: Has shown some real signs of life lately, but couldn't capitalize on her 65 at Evian and sandwiched a top 10 between 2 missed cuts in her last 3 events.
20. Kyeong Bae: Missed 4 straight cuts right after I proclaimed that "The birdie machine is back!" At least she's still very likely to finish in the top 80 this season. Hopefully he can work ut her ballstriking problems during the fall finish, although I don't know if she'll be invited to participate in many Asian swing events.
21. Jin Joo Hong: Needs to get out of her post-Evian funk if she wants to qualify for the Asian Swing this season. A good season could become a great one if she gets hot in the fall. But her stats are not promising.
22. Na On Min: Once a lock to keep her card, she's now on the bubble after getting MCitis this summer. But 2 near-top 20s on the Southern Swing have given her a little bit of breathing room. She's due for something to start going right for her in this sophomore-jinxed season.

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

2008 LPGA Money List (rank), stroke 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 (except for birdies, which LPGA.com ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don'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. Inbee Park, $1.10M (#5), 71.29 (#15), 3.55 (#15), 62.8% (#88)
2. Seon Hwa Lee, $1.08M (#7), 71.26 (#14), 3.16 (#15), 67.7% (#14)
3. Eun-Hee Ji, $824.8K (#12), 71.21 (#13), 3.26 (#28), 65.4% (#55)
4. Angela Park, $812.8K (#13), 71.51 (#23), 3.48 (#11), 65.4% (#54)
5. Song-Hee Kim, $786.2K (#14), 70.91 (#9), 3.69 (#23), 69.0% (#4)
6. Jane Park, $581.5K (#19), 71.46 (#22), 3.27 (#32), 68.2% (#9)
7. Jee Young Lee, $574.6K (#20), 71.44 (#20), 3.65 (#5), 65.8% (#48)
8. Ji Young Oh, $569.0K (#21), 71.43 (#17), 3.31 (#13), 66.3% (#39)
9. Sun Young Yoo, $542.4K (#25), 71.45 (#21), 3.63 (#3), 66.2% (#40)
10. In-Kyung Kim, $500.1K (#29), 71.62 (#31), 3.59 (#20), 62.6% (#95)
11. Morgan Pressel, $452.2K (#32), 71.69 (#36), 3.26 (#44), 66.2% (#41)
12. Teresa Lu, $451.4K (#33), 72.23 (#53), 2.74 (#50), 63.6% (#74)
13. Brittany Lang, $409.2K (#38), 72.03 (#45), 2.99 (#31), 67.8% (#13)
14. Ai Miyazato, $393.8K (#39), 72.00 (#43), 2.94 (#58), 62.2% (#101)
15. Minea Blomqvist, $389.1K (#43), 72.27 (#55), 3.31 (#36), 60.2% (#130)
16. Kristy McPherson, $341.3K (#48), 71.61 (#28), 3.32 (#38), 65.9% (#46)
17. Jin Joo Hong, $306.5K (#50), 72.21 (#51), 2.90 (#76), 62.5% (#97)
18. H.J. Choi, $236.6K (#56), 72.58 (#68), 2.80 (#37), 60.9% (#119)
19. Kyeong Bae, $158.5K (#69), 72.99 (#94), 3.09 (#47), 60.8% (#120)
20. Na On Min, $142.5K (#75), 73.08 (#100), 2.71 (#57), 61.4% (#111)

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 Super Sophs and 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 throughout their careers. 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 young guns 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, $3.09M (#53), 81/0/4/9/21/42/77 (.951)
2. Julieta Granada, $2.13M (#81), 81/0/1/5/10/20/55 (.679)
3. Jee Young Lee, $2.12M (#82), 73/0/0/5/19/40/68 (.932)
4. Morgan Pressel, $1.89M (#94), 69/1/1/5/21/36/59 (.855)
5. Angela Park, $1.80M (#97), 49/0/0/6/14/20/45 (.918)
6. Ai Miyazato, $1.71M (#101), 66/0/0/4/17/26/53 (.803)
7. Inbee Park, $1.48M (#111), 47/1/1/3/9/15/33 (.702)
8. Brittany Lang, $1.30M (#128), 78/0/0/3/12/27/55 (.705)
9. Eun-Hee Ji, $1.07M (#155), 25/0/1/4/8/10/21 (.840)
10. In-Kyung Kim, $.95M (#179), 45/0/0/2/9/16/37 (.822)
11. Sun Young Yoo, $.90M (#189), 75/0/0/1/6/18/56 (.747)
12. Song-Hee Kim $.86M (#194), 46/0/0/3/8/15/32 (.696)
13. Kyeong Bae, $.75M (#209), 76/0/0/2/7/12/53 (.697)
14. Ji Young Oh, $.72M (#215), 44/0/1/1/4/8/30 (.682)
15. Teresa Lu, $.70M (#219), 64/0/0/1/5/14/45 (.703)
16. Jane Park, $.65M (#228), 32/0/0/3/4/8/26 (.813)
17. Meaghan Francella $.61M (#233), 52/0/1/1/4/8/29 (.558)
18. Minea Blomqvist, $.55M (#243), 55/0/0/1/3/8/34 (.618)
19. H.J. Choi, $.54M (#245), 52/0/0/0/6/11/35 (.673)
20. Jin Joo Hong, $.47M (#265), 40/0/0/0/2/6/25 (.625)
21. Na On Min, $.45M (#269), 43/0/0/1/2/5/27 (.628)
22. Kristy McPherson, $.42M (#275), 37/0/0/0/5/8/25 (.676)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 9/29/08) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 9/28/08) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2007 season): This is a way of seeing how those Super Sophs 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, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Seon Hwa Lee, 4.98 (#10), 70.28 (#13), 3
2. Inbee Park, 4.63 (#12), 70.75 (#26); 0
3. Eun-Hee Ji, 4.48 (#16), 70.43 (#16); 4
4. Angela Park, 4.47 (#17), 70.64 (#22); 0
5. Jee Young Lee, 4.21 (#18), 70.74 (#25), 2
6. Morgan Pressel, 3.80 (#22), 71.27 (#40), 0
7. In-Kyung Kim, 2.92 (#35), 71.09 (#35); 0
8. Ai Miyazato, 2.84 (#37), 72.07 (#74), 14
9. Song-Hee Kim, 2.75 (#41), 70.40 (#15); 0
10. Jane Park, 2.65 (#42), 70.81 (#28); 0
11. Ji Young Oh, 1.98 (#55); 70.61 (#20); 0
12. Teresa Lu, 1.93 (#56), 71.15 (#36), 0
13. Brittany Lang, 1.92 (#57), 71.43 (#43), 0
14. Minea Blomqvist, 1.88 (#59), 71.56 (#48), 5
15. Sun Young Yoo, 1.57 (#72), 71.05 (#33), 0
16. Kristy McPherson, 1.43 (#79), 71.76 (#65); 0
17. Jin Joo Hong, 1.42 (#81), 71.80 (#66); 2
18. Meaghan Francella, 1.41 (#83), 73.62 (#172), 0
19. H.J. Choi, 1.35 (#85), 72.46 (#91), 1
20. Na On Min, 1.25 (#88), 73.00 (#128); 0
21. Julieta Granada, 1.14 (#94), 73.36 (#148), 0
22. Kyeong Bae, .82 (#127), 73.05 (#130), 3

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
May: Junior Mints
June: Super Sophs
July: Junior Mints
August: Super Sophs
October: Junior Mints (pre-Korea Championship)
November: Super Sophs (post-ADT)
December: all the Young Guns, including the '08 rookies (post-Q School)

No comments: