Monday, December 22, 2008

2009 Schedule Speculation for Dual LPGA/JLPGA Members

In his profile of Momoko Ueda, Hound Dog wondered how many events we may see JLPGA stars Ai Miyazato, Momoko Ueda, and Shiho Oyama play on the LPGA in 2009. When you consider that Ueda 's winnings were bigger in '08 on the JLPGA than LPGA, that Ji-Yai Shin played in 37 worldwide events in '08, and put the LPGA and JLPGA schedules side-by-side, some interesting possibilities emerge.

It's imperative that Miyazato, Ueda, and Oyama get off to good starts on the LPGA's Asian-Pacific swing through Hawaii, Thailand, Singapore, Mexico, Arizona, and California, culminating in the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April, even if they make like Shin and skip the LPGA's kick-off event in Hawaii for the LET's Women's Australian Open. If they do, they'll have the choice of spending a few weeks in Japan leading up to the Salonpas Cup, the 1st JLPGA major of the season in early May (opposite the Michelob Ultra), or instead committing firmly to the LPGA all the way through the European Swing in late July and early August. Either way, they're likely to spend the 6 weeks after the Women's British Open playing on the JLPGA and getting ready for the JLPGA's 2nd major, the Konica Minolta Cup (opposite the NW Arkansas event) in mid-September. Then they would have another choice: if some of them qualified for the Samsung World Championship, their best bet is to commit to the LPGA for the rest of the fall, but if not, they're probably better off staying in Japan at least through early October for the Japan Women's Open and perhaps even waiting to rejoin the LPGA until the Pacific portion of its fall Asian-Pacific swing begins in Hawaii a couple of weeks later. Depending on how well they play on the JLPGA, I can even imagine some of them staying in Japan the entire fall, letting the LPGA come to them for the Mizuno Classic and only then deciding if they wanted to jeopardize their performance in the final JLPGA major by jetting over to Mexico and Texas for the LPGA's last 2 events before returning to Japan for the Ricoh Cup (assuming they qualified for it by winning on the JLPGA or placing high enough on their money list in '09).

Shin has proven she doesn't mind jet-setting this early in her career, so she's more likely to play more LPGA events and fewer JLPGA ones than her Japanese cohorts (particularly when you consider she'll have to fit some KLPGA events in, as well). But it's conceivable that Miyazato, Ueda, and Oyama could simply decide to play a split season in '09: the 1st half on the LPGA and the 2nd half on the JLPGA. Whether Mika Miyazato will seek JLPGA membership in '09 (she played several events as an amateur there over the last few years, but was never a member) and give herself a similar choice is another story. As is the possible impact of the abbreviated schedule of LPGA rookies Oyama and Miyazato on the 2009 Rookie of the Year race, beyond the obvious fact that it helps Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, and Vicky Hurst (although it still may not be enough to help them overcome Shin).

But without the draw of a season-ending ADT Championship and the chance each half-season to qualify for it, the bottom line in '09 is that those with dual LPGA/JLPGA membership will have a great chance, at the very least, to string together multiple tournaments in Japan. It may be a different story if the ADT comes back as a season-opening event in 2010, but the LPGA will have to finish that deal--and their 2010-2015 TV deal--quickly enough to decide on their qualifying system for it. So the clock is ticking for the LPGA. Miki Saiki's Q-School disappointment may give Japan's next generation of global stars a small pause, but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw double digits of them on the LPGA within 3 years. By then, the LPGA had better get its incentive system in place to get them playing at least 25 events per year.

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