Monday, October 20, 2008

More on the Relative Strength of the JLPGA and KLPGA

So, Ji-Yai Shin beat a star-studded field in the Hite Cup, as Eric reported over at Seoul

1st/-13 Ji-Yai Shin (68-67-68) [#1 KLPGA money list, 6 wins on tour in '08]
2nd/-11 Soo Yun Kang (71-66-68) [#77 LPGA money list]
3rd/-9 Sun Ju Ahn (67-69-71) [#6 KLPGA money list, Mission Hills medalist]
T4/-6 He Yong Choi (70-69-71) [#5 KLPGA money list; ROY #2 right now]
T8/-3 Soo Young Moon (70-70-73) [ex-LPGA player], Song-Hee Kim (69-71-73) [#11 LPGA money list]

T11/-2 H.J. Choi (71-73-70) [#58 LPGA money list], Mi-Jeong Jeon (73-68-73) [#5 JLPGA money list]
T14/-1 Ha Neul Kim (76-72-67) [#3 KLPGA money list], Ji-Hee Lee (72-72-71) [#1 JLPGA money list]
T17/E Se Ri Pak (71-73-72) [#49 LPGA money list], So Yeon Ryu (72-68-76) [#4 KLPGA money list, ROY #1 so far]
T25/+2 Hee Kyung Seo (75-72-71) [#2 KLPGA money list, 4 wins on tour this season], Hee Young Park (69-78-71) [#36 LPGA money list; LPGA ROY #3 right now]
T37/+4 Joo Mi Kim (76-74-70) [#176 LPGA money list], Ran Hong (72-75-73) [#7 KLPGA money list]
T57/+8 Inbee Park (73-74-77) [#6 LPGA money list]

With LPGA journeywomen Kang and Moon finishing in the top 10, Super Soph Kim finishing just in it and Junior Mint Choi just out of it, living legend Pak barely making the top 20, and U.S. Women's Open champion Park finishing out of the top 50, it suggests what a hair's breadth of talent, judgment, focus, momentum, and health separates the best of the Korean women's golfers any given week.

Ji-Hee Lee and Mi-Jeong Jeon, 2 of the hottest players on the JLPGA, were unable to crack the top 10 on the KLPGA last week. To be fair to them, they tied or beat the #2 and #3 players on the KLPGA in their 1st try on that tour this season, so they most likely would be top 5 material were they to play on the KLPGA full-time. Almost three times as many JLPGA players as KLPGA players have scoring averages of 72 or better in 2008, so the fact that Lee and Jeon have won only twice each on the JLPGA this season compared to 4 and 3 wins for Hee Kyung Seo and Ha Neul Kim on the KLPGA shouldn't be counted against them. Nothing that I've seen recently makes me doubt my earlier claim that the top 10-15 players on the JLPGA would do just fine on the LPGA, while the same could be said of about half that number from the KLPGA.

Still, with Miki Saiki missing the cut and Shiho Oyama getting a 6th place finish at the Fujitsu Ladies but remaining stuck in 16th place on their money list, it's clear the KLPGA has the advantage right now in future LPGA stars Shin and Ahn. As Ai Miyazato (T40 this week at Kapalua) and Momoko Ueda (T25) have barely passed the $400K mark and sit at the 39th and 40th positions on the LPGA money list, it seems fairly unlikely that Oyama or Saiki will be top 30 players in 2009 (assuming they breeze through Q-School in the 1st place). Ueda has 2 wins in 8 tries on the JLPGA this season and remains well ahead of Saiki and just behind Oyama on the JLPGA money list, while Miyazato has 2 top 10s (and 1 runner-up) in 2 starts (both majors) and is just outside the top 40. By comparison, if Shin's winnings from her non-member win on the JLPGA were counted toward her total for this season's money list, she'd be right behind Saiki--in only 4 events played on that tour! I would be shocked if Shin wasn't at least as good as Miyazato and Ueda in 2009 on the LPGA--and disappointed if she didn't maintain or improve her top 10 standing in the Rolex Rankings, where she's currently #7.

At the same time, the fact that Oyama and Saiki could hang with a hot Ahn at Mission Hills despite having lackluster seasns on the JLPGA suggests that there are many JLPGA players who could make a real bid for the kind of top 50 status that I expect from Ahn in her rookie season. Assuming older players who have tried a limited LPGA schedule before like Yuri Fudoh and Akiko Fukushima are not looking to try it again--and that Jeon and Lee have committed to staying in Asia--that leaves Miho Koga, Sakura Yokomine, Hyun-Ju Shin, Yuko Mitsuka, Erina Hara, Ayako Uehara, and Bo-Bae Song as the most likely candidates to follow Oyama and Saiki in following Ai-chan and Momo-chan to the States in the coming years. I'll definitely be rooting for one of them to win the Mizuno Classic in November!

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