Monday, December 8, 2008

Looking Ahead, Part 6: The LPGA Class of 2009

Back in mid-November, I wrote:

If Michelle Wie, Stacy Lewis, Alison Walshe, Sun-Ju Ahn, Anna Nordqvist, Shiho Oyama, Miki Saiki, and Mika Miyazato join Ji-Yai Shin and Vicky Hurst (among others) in the Class of 2009--and '08ers like Amy Yang get full playing privileges on the LPGA next season--we may look back on that year as the real changing of the guard in the world of women's golf.

Well, of that list, only Lewis, Wie, Oyama, and Miyazato met my expectations this past week at Q-School. And let's not forget the LETers and other Europeans who showed they're nowhere near Amy Yang's level: Martina Eberl, Melissa Reid, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Tania Elosegui, and Beatriz Recari. Of them, only Elosegui joined Nordqvist with some kind of LPGA status next season.

So the Class of 2009 is not going to be nearly as deep as I had hoped. But in terms of players who can make an immediate impact at the highest levels on tour, I think it has to be considered one of the best ever. Just look at this list (mostly culled from the official results page from Final Qualifying School), ranked in order of how I expect to see them finish in the Rookie of the Year race next year:

Simply the Best
Ji-Yai Shin
Shiho Oyama
Stacy Lewis
Michelle Wie
Vicky Hurst
Mika Miyazato

The Contenders
[high priority status]
Mindy Kim
M.J. Hur
Chella Choi

On the Bottom Looking Up
[high priority status but...]
Jeehae Lee

On the Outside Looking In
[low priority status]
Anna Nordqvist
Tania Elosegui
Song Yi Choi
Haeji Kang
Pornanong Phatlum
Jessica Shepley
Nontaya Srisawang
Sunny Oh
Sarah Oh [Class of '08, anyway]
Angela Oh
Kim Welch
Samantha Richdale
Garrett Phillips

While the ROY race will be wide open, I also think it'll be interesting to see how many LPGA events those in the last category get into next season, as several players on it have more immediate upside than those with higher priority status in '09. We'll probably be seeing many of them on the Futures Tour--they would certainly be in the running for that battlefield promotion that comes with their 3rd win there--although the 1st 2 on the list might decide it's in their best interest to focus on the LET in '09.

It's way to soon to guess how good the Class of 2009 will be. As we saw with the Classes of 2006 and 2007, you have to wait until everyone gets a chance to play at least one and usually 2 full seasons on tour before the best players start to separate themselves out. In the Class of 2008, for instance, now that Amy Yang, Anna Rawson, Ashleigh Simon, Anna Grzebien, and Leah Wigger will be getting into most every event, we'll get a much better sense of how they stack up against Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Hee Young Park, Momoko Ueda, Shanshan Feng, and Louise Friberg--not to mention Sandra Gal and Carolina Llano--by the end of '09.

But I don't think any class has a top 6 with as high expectations on them as the Class of 2009's. Here's hoping they live up to them!

[Update 1 (12/9/08, 6:01 am): Eric Adelson seems to agree with me that it's going to be tough for Wie to get ROY in '09.]

[Update 2 (6:36 am): I've corrected my list of rookies above to be in accordance with's announcement.]

[Update 3 (12/9/08, 5:10 pm): Hound Dog asks why they had a matching of cards to knock Phillips out of Category 20 but a playoff to include 2 more in Category 11. It's a good question.]

[Update 4 (12/10/08, 5:51 pm): Well, the LPGA made an interesting choice of photos for some members of the Class of '09!]

[Update 5 (7:23 pm): Mika Miyazato gets a little AP love. I'm curious to see if she can outplay Lewis in '09.]

[Update 6 (12/14/08, 2:34 am): Ron Sirak offers capsule profiles of 20 of the 22 players who made it through Q-School. Although he misses the chance to report that Louise Stahle was an LET Rookie of the Year, Amy Yang has won twice this year on the LET, and still gets the whole keeping/losing your "card" thing wrong, it's worth a read.]

[Update 7 (2:39 am): Beth Ann Baldry's post is more entertaining, but even less well-informed. Not mentioning Oyama as a favorite for ROY? Priceless.]

[Update 8 (1/13/09, 11:44 am): The LPGA has begin a series of rookie profiles. The first looks at the two Chois, Elosegui, and Hur.]

[Update 9 (1/16/09, 2:54 pm): Well, Anna Nordqvist just won LET Q-School and announced that she wants to qualify for the Euro Solheim Cup team. So her LPGA schedule will be even more curtailed than I expected, as she takes the Amy Yang route to world domination. So with Shiho Oyama likely playing close to 10 events on the JLPGA and Michelle Wie playing a limited schedule in '09 (at least according to her "team"), looks like Shin's top competitor for Rookie of the Year will be Stacy Lewis.]


PW said...

I think Wie will end up higher in the ROY battle, 1st or 2nd. Shin has to be the favorite, but if Wie is near her 2005/6 form she'll be up there for the same reason she was 2nd in the Rolex rankings for a while, consistency. Remember that she finished in the top 5 in something like 9 LPGA events in a row (if you include the Samsung). Depends on how much she plays, but GC said she plans to play 20+ LPGA events in 2009.

So, my ranking is:

1. Shin - proven winner in LPGA/xLPGA
2. Wie - consistant if back to old form or better
3. Oyama - proven winner in JLPGA
4. Lewis - great competitor
5. Hurst - hasn't done all that well in LPGA events, at least not yet

The Constructivist said...

I agree with you that Wie has the most upside of them all. But she has the least tournament experience and has never played a full schedule, so I figure she's going to have more of an adjustment, particularly with the media going crazy around her. That's why I put her where I did. But she could just as easily end up ROY.

diane said...

Battle Field Promotion???

I believe that's a Nationwide Tour ==> PGA Tour thing. I don't recall that ever being a way for FUTURES Tour players to get LPGA status.

The Constructivist said...

Hey Diane, it's a new rule, part of that switch to the category-based priority status system that Hound Dog and I--and few others--have been writing about.