Friday, December 12, 2008

A Solution to the LPGA's Playoff Problem

Now that the priority status memo that disappeared from the site a few weeks after Hound Dog and I had blogged about it has resurfaced, we've been trying to figure out, with some of our regular commenters, the logic of the decision to have that 4-way playoff between the players who tied for 21st at the end of Q-School.

After all, the memo clearly stated that Category 11 consists of:

In alternating order, top 20 from the previous year’s LPGA final Qualifying Tournament and Nos. 81-100 on the LPGA Official Money List at the end of the last official LPGA tournament of the previous year, with (in the case of the Qualifying Tournament players) any ties broken on the basis of the lowest most recent round in the final and sectional Qualifying Tournament, except that in the event of a tie for 20th place at the Qualifying Tournament, the 20th place shall be determined through a play-off held at the Qualifying Tournament.

I pointed out the significance of the alternating order clause last Thursday; what I never expected was that a tie for 21st place could be considered equivalent to a tie for 20th place. But that's apparently what the LPGA officials on-site determined, once it became clear that 2 players' names appeared twice in Category 11. Charlotte Mayorkas and Mollie Fankhauser were already in Category 11 by virtue of their #97 and #98 finishes on the official money list; by finishing T10th and 9th at Q-School, they added their names to the category a second time, this time around the middle of the priority list for Category 11 rather than near the bottom.

Category 11 is the only category out of all 21 of them where it's possible for the same player to show up twice on it. Sure, a player can show up in multiple categories. Take Julieta Granada, who's in Category 11 for finishing 100th on the money list, Category 6 for her 2006 win at the ADT Championship, and Category 1a for finishing in the top 40 of the 2007 money list. But the solution in that case is simple. A player's name can only appear once on the actual priority status list, so Granada's would appear somewhere in the mid-80s--right behind Brittany Lincicome (#13 2007, #92 2008), Sarah Lee (#20, #124), Laura Davies (#21, #95), Sherri Steinhauer (#24, #121), and Meaghan Francella (#29, #88)--and nowhere else. So when you get further down the list and you see these players' names, you erase them. Erasing their names doesn't let anyone else into the spaces they've vacated, however. Taking Francella out of Category 11 doesn't magically turn the player who finished 101st on the money list into someone who finished between #81 and #100, as much as Karin Sjodin may wish it did.

So why does erasing Mayorkas and Fankhauser from the bottom of Category 11 turn someone who finished outside the top 20 at Q-School into someone who did? It's not like their Q-School scores were thrown out--it's their #97 and #98 finishes on the money list that were erased from the priority status list. Plus, if they're going to throw out money list results from Category 11 when someone moves up the list within the category, why not also open up spots from Q-School for 4 additional players, who would take the spots vacated by erasing Francella, Lincicome, Davies, and Granada from Category 11 by virtue of their Category 1a status? The conclusion is inescapable: either there should have been no playoff, or the playoff should have been between those who finished T25.

Clearly by next year the LPGA needs to clarify how the 2010 priority list will be generated. It's a good thing that Category 1a disappears and Category 12 replaces it starting in 2010, but there are still several ways for players to end up in both Category 11 and a higher priority status category. And it will still be possible for the same player to show up twice in Category 11, based on her finish on the 2009 money list and in 2009 Q-School. So it's essential that they clarify whether money list results will be erased for everyone who ends up in Categories 2 through 6 and whether that opens up more spots for Q-School qualifiers under Category 11 than the hard 20 that the current memo seems to lock them into.

But that doesn't remove the fact that the LPGA has a big problem on its hands right now: either Chella Choi and Leah Wigger get knocked down to Category 16 and Sarah Oh gets knocked out of Category 20, or Na Ri Kim, Allison Hanna-Williams, Anna Nordqvist, Angela Buzminski, Samantha Richdale, and Sarah Kemp get added to Category 11 (as it's too late for that T25 playoff, after all), and 6 more players--from Garret Phillips to Eunjung Yi--get added to Category 20.

Why does a decision for Category 11 affect Categories 16 and 20? Note that Category 16 depends on a determination of that 20th-place Q-School finisher:

From the previous year’s LPGA Qualifying Tournament, the 10 players finishing after the player who finished in 20th place, with priority based on the order of their finish at the Qualifying Tournament (and any ties broken on the basis of the lowest most recent round in the final Qualifying Tournament).

Note that we already have another weirdness here: Choi and Wigger show up in both Category 11 and Category 15. Which means that Sarah Oh would be out of Category 20 no matter what. In any case, Category 20 is made up of the "next 10 players after the 10 players eligible" under Category 16:

(regardless of whether they have a priority higher than that category), with priority based on the order of their finish at the Qualifying Tournament (and any ties broken on the basis of the lowest most recent round in the final Qualifying Tournament).

All of a sudden, the LPGA decides to single Category 20 out as an exclusive one? Wouldn't that 1st parenthetical statement have simplified everything for everyone if it had been put in Category 16 and Category 11? Clearly, it was used for Category 16; otherwise, Garrett Phillips would have been announced as a member of the Class of 2009, because Sarah Kemp was already in Category 15 by virtue of her #122 finish on the money list.

So what should the LPGA do? I would argue for inclusiveness this year and exclusiveness next. Admit you misinterpreted your own rules this time and be generous with Categories 11, 16, and 20 as a result of your mistake. Then, rewrite the 2008 memo so things are clearer for 2010 membership. Move that "regardless of whether they have a priority higher than that category" language to become part of an introductory statement that clarifies how the priority list is generated and specifically addressing Category 11; otherwise, keep the language of the memo exactly the same. There should be no problem with a player showing up in multiple categories or twice in Category 11; disregarding a player's lower appearances on the priority list should not affect which categories any other player shows up in.

If you don't keep your categories exclusive and the boundaries between them hard, we'll be right back in this mess this time next season.

[Update 1 (1/7/09, 2:18 pm): Here's the 2008 priority category list. Hat tip to Hound Dog for the find.]

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