Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yonex Ladies Sunday: Kitada Does It!

Rui Kitada got her 5th career JLPGA win today at the Yonex Ladies, extending her lead to 3 shots on Erina Hara at the turn with a bogey-free 34 and cruising her way on the back to a 69 while the field was collapsing around the leaders. Only Ya-Huei Lu went lower than Kitada (and she needed to birdie 3 of her final 4 holes to post her 68) and only Sakura Yokomine could match her (she carded 4 birdies and a bogey in her final 5 holes to do so). Yup, only 3 players broke 70 this Sunday--tough conditions, even tougher win.

Here are the results:

1st/-9 Kitada (70-68-69)
2nd/-6 Hara (71-69-70)
3rd/-5 Yokomine (70-72-69)
4th/-4 Lu (73-71-68)
T5/-3 Hiromi Takesue (73-70-70), Momoyo Kawakubo (73-70-70), Yuri Fudoh (70-72-71), Jae-Hee Bae (72-70-71)
9th/-2 Maiko Wakabayashi (71-70-73)
T10/-1 Saiki Fujita (69-74-72), Yun-Joo Jeong (73-69-73), Keiko Sasaki (74-67-74), Mie Nakata (70-71-74)

Bae was -4 at the turn after making 3 birdies in a row in the middle of the front side, but lost her momentum at exactly the wrong time. Still, it's a great top 5 for her, Takesue, and Kawakubo--and nice top 10s for Jeong and Sasaki.

T14/E Shinobu Moromizato (71-72-73), Tamie Durdin (71-72-73)
T20/+1 Nikki Campbell (71-74-72), Akiko Fukushima (73-71-73)
T27/+2 Yuki Sakurai (75-71-72), Midori Yoneyama (73-73-72), Eun-A Lim (69-76-73)
T33/+3 Chie Arimura (74-71-74), Mayu Hattori (71-73-75)

This was the week where the JLPGA's B-list struck back. Sure puts things up in the air with the next major only weeks away.

Check out the new money list:

1. Akiko Fukushima ¥81.24M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥68.91M
3. Ji-Hee Lee ¥68.28M
4. Miho Koga ¥67.99M
5. Sakura Yokomine ¥56.88M
6. Erina Hara ¥50.92M
7. Ayako Uehara ¥49.52M
8. Yuko Mitsuka ¥48.88M
9. Eun-A Lim ¥45.00M
10. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥43.70M
11. Shiho Oyama ¥41.12M
12. Shinobu Moromizato ¥40.86M
13. Bo-Bae Song ¥40.26M
14. Chie Arimura ¥39.47M
15. Yukari Baba ¥38.80M
16. Yuri Fudoh ¥38.70M
17. Akane Iijima ¥37.41M
18. Hiromi Mogi ¥37.39M
19. Hiroko Yamaguchi ¥34.63M
20. Miki Saiki ¥34.14M
21. Ji-Woo Lee ¥30.73M
22. Rui Kitada ¥27.31M
23. Esther Lee ¥24.27M
24. Midori Yoneyama ¥22.64M
25. Momoko Ueda ¥19.17M
26. Mie Nakata ¥18.85M
27. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥18.64M
28. Na Zhang ¥18.06M
29. Mayu Hattori ¥17.77M
30. Yun-Jye Wei ¥17.42M

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The KLPGA Is Back!

Check out Eric's report at Seoul on the SBS Ladies Open. Hee Kyung Seo (-8) not only beat Ji-Yai Shin (-2) soundly, but also Inbee Park (-6), So Yeon Ryu (-4), Ha Neul Kim (-4), Birdie Kim (-3), Song-Hee Kim (-3), Gloria Park (-2), Hee Young Park (E), Eun-Hee Ji (+3), and In-Kyung Kim (+3), among other KLPGA and LPGA stars who figured a 2-week layoff was just too long.

Which raises 2 thoughts. First, how can anyone look at the photos Eric posted and think, "these girls have no personality"? Second, where are the Americans taking advantage of the layoff to increase their global exposure? Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis usually play a couple of extra times a year on the JLPGA, but besides them off the top of my head I can only think of Aussie Anna Rawson who's gone East (she got a top 10 at a KLPGA event earlier this year).

Yonex Ladies Saturday: Is Rui Kitada Back?

Rui Kitada fired a 68 to take a 2-shot lead on Erina Hara into the final round of the Yonex Ladies. Kitada, who won 3 times and ended up 3rd on the money list in 2004, hasn't played to that level since, although she did win again in 2007. She got off to a slow start this season, and despite garnering 6 top 20s in her last 9 starts, including 3 of her 4 top 10s, is languishing in 32nd place on the money list. Hara, meanwhile, is looking for her 2nd win in 3 weeks--and to get back on track after a T40 last week broke her 5-tournament top 10 streak. She birdied 5 of her last 10 holes to pull into solo 2nd. With first-round leaders Yasuko Satoh and Woo-Soon Ko both shooting 74s today to fall 4 shots off the pace, however, this is by no means destined to be a Kitada-Hara shootout. Check out the top 10:

1st/-6 Kitada (70-68)
2nd/-4 Hara (71-69)
T3/-3 Keiko Sasaki (74-67), Maiko Wakabayashi (71-70), Mie Nakata (70-71)
T6/-2 Yun-Joo Jeong (73-69), Tomomi Hirose (72-70), Jae-Hee Bae (72-70), Sakura Yokomine (70-72), Yuri Fudoh (70-72), Kayo Yamada (70-72), Junko Omote (70-72), Satoh (68-74), Ko (68-74)

Wakabayashi came back from a double bogey on the 383-yard par-4 5th with 3 birdies in her last 5 holes to close with a 33. Sasaki's 67 is the best round of the week. Nakata won twice in 2006 and is a seasoned veteran. Jeong's closing 32 ties Hara's for the lowest 9 of the week. Meanwhile, Yokomine and Fudoh are lurking. 4 shots is not much of a lead on them, particularly when you take into account how difficult the course has been playing for most of the field:

T15/-1 Shinobu Moromizato (71-72), Tamie Durdin (71-72), Saiki Fujita (69-74)
T24/E Akiko Fukushima (73-71), Mayu Hattori (71-73)
T31/+1 Chie Arimura (74-71), Nikki Campbell (71-74), Eun-A Lim (69-76)
T42/+2 Yuki Sakurai (75-71), Midori Yoneyama (73-73)

Fukushima made 5 birdies but 4 bogeys in her stalled bid to get into contention, while Arimura made 3 birdies in her 1st 6 holes before stumbling over her last 10. The LET's Sakurai did well to make the cut under these conditions, when such a surprising number of top players and promising young guns missed it:

T52/+3 Ritsuko Ryu (74-73), Ayako Uehara (72-75)
T58/+4 Hiroko Yamaguchi (75-73), Miki Saiki (75-73)

Uehara and Saiki doubled the 17th, a long par 4, while Ryu made 2 birdies down the stretch, but needed 3 to offset her double on the short par-4 12th, and Yamaguchi closed with 8 straight pars after her last birdie of the day on the long par-4 10th. When Noriko Aso can go 77-68 and Yoko Maeda 76-69 to make the cut, these results are bitterly disappointing.

Should be interesting to see if Kitada can return to her winning ways, Hara can become the JLPGA's 4th repeat winner of the season, a young gun like Sasaki or Wakabayashi can step up, or a big name like Yokomine, Fudoh, or Fukushima can make a charge from way back.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Yonex Ladies Friday: Will This Finally Be Yokomine's Week?

With many top players on the JLPGA either taking the week off, injured, withdrawn, or struggling, the Yonex Ladies may well represent Sakura Yokomine's best chance for redemption this season. Despite being 1 of only 3 players in the top 15 to fail to birdie the 478-yard par-5 18th, Yokomine is only 2 shots behind dark-horse leaders Yasuko Satoh and Woo-Soon Ko and only 1 shot behind Eun-A Lim and Saiki Fujita heading into the weekend after her bogey-free 70. But Yuri Fudoh, already a 2-time winner this season, birdied her last 2 holes to pull even with Yokomine, while several other highly-ranked players are breathing down their necks. Here are the top 10 and notables:

T1/-4 Satoh, Ko (68)
T3/-3 Lim, Fujita (69)
T5/-2 Yokomine, Fudoh, Mie Nakata, and 8 others (70)

T16/-1 Erina Hara, Shinobu Moromizato, Maiko Wakabayashi, Mayu Hattori, Tamie Durdin, Nikki Campbell (71)
T27/E Ayako Uehara (72)
T38/+1 Akiko Fukushima, Midori Yoneyama (73)

T51/+2 Chie Arimura, Ritsuko Ryu (74)
T67/+3 Hiroko Yamaguchi, Miki Saiki, Yuki Sakurai (75)

Still, this represents Yokomine's best chance for her 1st win of the season since she faded in Kobe. With the 44-year-old Ko looking simply to earn a paycheck (she's only cracked the top 20 once in her 8 made cuts in 2008), the 29-year-old Satoh coming off only her 2nd top 5 of the season, the 25-year-old Lim only garnering 2 top 10s in her last 8 events since her win, and the 22-year-old Fujita coming off a final round 81 that dropped her from 2nd to 23rd last week, this could be Yokomine's week.

The Best of the LPGA: August 2008 Edition

This is my 4th ranking of the LPGA's top players this season. With international dominance all the rage this week, let's see what the numbers say.

June: 8 in top 10, 16 in top 20, 22 in top 30, 24 in top 35.
April: 8 in top 10, 14 in top 20, 20 in top 30, 23 in top 33.
February: 8 in top 10, 12 in top 20, 18 in top 30, 19 in top 31.

The number of ranked players who grew up in non-English-dominant countries grew from 14 to 16 to 19, or 45% to 48% to 54% of the LPGA's best.

And now? 8 of the top 10, 17 of the top 20, 22 of the top 30, and 32 of the top 45 were not born in the U.S.A. Of the ranked players, 26--almost 58%--grew up in non-English-dominant countries. So, yeah, Americans continue to lose ground on the LPGA. Except for 2.

The chase pack is closing on the world #1, but she's not going down without a fight:

1. Lorena Ochoa: #1 money ($2.38M), #1 RR (18.60), #1 GSPI (67.70), #1 HD. Only a player of Ochoa's stature could be said to be "struggling" since my last ranking, but that's what happens when you go from winnng almost every tournament you enter to having trouble contending. Still, she dominates almost every major statistical category, often by a wide margin, and has made enough since June alone to rank just outside the top 50 on the money list, which is to say that in less than 2 months she's done better than 130 of her competitors have done all season. She is so due that I predict multiple wins for her down the stretch.

Even as the chase pack is closing, it's also fragmenting. There are only 2 other players in the top 5 in all 4 systems and only 4 in the top 10:

2. Annika Sorenstam: #2 money ($1.59M), #2 RR (10.79), #4 GSPI (69.05), #2 HD. Like Hound Dog, I can't picture her getting LPGA victory #73. I'll go further and worry publicly that my prediction that she'd end the season at #5 may have been a bit too generous. Does she have anything left in the tank for the home stretch? She skipped the Midwest swing to prepare for the European swing. Will she even play September's Southern swing? And would even that much rest help her all that much in October and November?
3. Paula Creamer: #3 money ($1.48M), #5 RR (8.62), #2 GSPI (68.85), #3 HD. I'll tell you, I was tempted to put Creamer ahead of Sorenstam. She's already ahead in top 10 percentage and greens in regulation rate--and right behind in scoring average, birdies per round rate, and rounds under par percentage. Do you realize she's had only 4 finishes outside the top 16 all season? (Sorenstam's had 7.)
4. Ya Ni Tseng: #4 money ($1.41M), #3 RR (8.79), #8 GSPI (69.53), #4 HD. At the same time, if Tseng had turned any of her 4 silvers and 1 bronze this season into just 1 gold, I would have strongly considered making her my #2. Her disappointing missed cut at the Safeway Classic is only her 6th finish outside the top 16. With her nagging triceps problem, the LPGA's late-summer vacation couldn't have come at a better time for her physically. She still could end the season at #2. As great as Creamer's been playing this season, I think Tseng is the only 1 on tour who has a real chance at taking Player of the Year away from Ochoa. She's the only other player on tour averaging above 4 birdies per round, so she has the gunslinger's mentality--and talent to back it up--that's needed to take on the challenge. And she's recently joined the elite group of players that Lorena mentions by name, following a similar compliment from Annika.
5. Cristie Kerr: #9 money ($882.3K), #6 RR (6.42), #6 GSPI (69.22), #5 HD. Amazing what a win will do for your year, isn't it? With it, she jumped back to where she started the season after dropping to #9 in June. But with 10 straight finishes of 21st or better (and only 8 worse than 16th all season), she's punched her ticket for the ADT Championship, given herself a great shot at her 5th straight million-dollar season, and established herself as 1 of the hottest players on tour. It'll be very interesting to see how the multiple weeks off in August and September will affect her momentum.

Don't look now, but the trio with a trio of top 10s is due to break out:

6. Suzann Pettersen: #11 money ($868.9K), #4 RR (8.78), #3 GSPI (68.94), #9 HD. You know, I'm sure she's not terribly happy with her results this season, but I have to say I've been impressed with her mental toughness. Her worst finish all season has been a T34 at the LPGA Championship--it's her only finish outside the top 30. So even when she hasn't had her A-game, she's proven that her B-game is pretty damn good. If she can get half as hot at the end of this season as she did at the end of 2007, she'll not only make it 2 years in a row that the Class of 2003 has a pair of million-dollar winners, but also give herself a chance to catch Annika.
7. Na Yeon Choi: #8 money ($1.00M), #27 RR (3.56), #7 GSPI (69.44), #6 HD. Although she recently matched her worst finish on the LPGA from the 1st event of the year at the Canadian Women's Open (T32) and hasn't medalled as often as Rookie of the Year race leader Tseng, she could still finish at the top of her class. She's got a better top 10 rate, after all, and is hanging with Tseng in just about every other category. This could be the best ROY race in LPGA history....
8. Seon Hwa Lee: #7 money ($1.06M), #10 RR (5.22), #13 GSPI (70.40), #7 HD. Talk about the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx: Lee has gotten each of her wins this season soon after I complained about her short game in April and her inconsistency in June. So it's time to complain about her hangover since that NW Arkansas victory. Time to snap out of it, Seon Hwa!

The rest of the chase pack has fallen back a bit and can be found in the top 10 in only 2 of the 4 systems (and/or in the top 20 in all):

9. Jeong Jang: #10 money ($874.3K), #11 RR (4.87), #9 GSPI (69.89), #11 HD. Ouch--her taking that break to rest her wrist that I recommended back in June hasn't helped. Expect her to have surgery in the off-season. But also look for her to break the million-dollar mark this season. That's how tough she is.
10. Inbee Park: #5 money ($1.10M), #12 RR (4.74), #33 GSPI (71.02), #8 HD. You know, it's sad to see that the U.S. Women's Open jinx is even stronger than the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx. Or is it? Only time will tell if this attempt to trigger the latter can overcome the former. And if noting that she had a worse start to the season and a similar rough patch in the middle weakens the latter too much. How about this? I think the GSPI is a more accurate indicator of her chances the rest of the season than the other systems.
11. Helen Alfredsson: #6 money ($1.10M), #9 RR (5.43), #49 GSPI (71.58), #17 HD. You know, I just love to see the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx in action. In June I wrote, "don't expect to see her back here in August." Instead, she moves from #30 almost into my top 10! Still, I'd be shocked to see her finish in my top 20. There. She'll probably win the ADT Championship now.
12. Eun-Hee Ji: #12 money ($819.8K), #15 RR (4.57), #15 GSPI (70.46), #12 HD. Had a great Midwest swing and European swing, but cooled off up north, so the LPGA's summer break is coming at a good time for her. I would not be surprised to see her win again this season, perhaps even in the Southern swing. Nor would I be surprised to see her pass fellow Super Soph Inbee Park on the money list by season's end. What can I say? She reminds me of Seon Hwa Lee.
13. Hee-Won Han: #17 money ($683.8K), #19 RR (4.21), #10 GSPI (69.95), #13 HD. Now that's more like it! If she can continue the pace she's been setting of late--4 top 10s in her last 5 events--she'll validate her pre-season ranking of #8 from me.
14. Karrie Webb: #14 money ($711.9K), #8 RR (6.05), #11 GSPI (70.01), #14 HD. Hey, I finally got a call right back in June: "Don't expect her to remain in the top 10 next ranking. There are too many hungry young guns behind her playing better and more consistent golf than she has been the past 2 years." If she doesn't turn it around soon, my pre-season #21 ranking will prove to be prescient.
15. Angela Park: #13 money ($784.9K), #13 RR (4.68), #17 GSPI (70.60), #16 HD. Movin' on up! 4 top 6s in your last 7 events will do that for you.

Surprisingly, there's only 1 player with top 20s in 3 of the 4 systems.

16. Jee Young Lee: #18 money ($561.4K), #17 RR (4.43), #18 GSPI (70.61), #21 HD. The good news: she has 8 top 20s in her last 10 events. The bad news: she's missed the cut twice and has no top 10s in that same span. Come on, Jee Young!

And there are only a couple of golfers with 2 top 20s:

17. Song-Hee Kim: #15 money ($709.6K), #44 RR (2.56), #29 GSPI (70.94), #15 HD. Has the opportunity to turn a great season into a fantastic one if she can recapture that mid-season form. Taking a rest before the European swing didn't help her, so we'll have to see how she handles these 2 weeks off after a very good and a solid finish on the Northern swing. Here's hoping the Super Soph heats up in the South.
18. Karen Stupples: #25 money ($522.7K), #33 RR (3.20), #12 GSPI (70.32), #18 HD. Cooling off fast, but less fast than those behind her.

So of course there are a lot with 1 top 20 (or 4 top 30s):

19. Maria Hjorth: #26 money ($500.9K), #14 RR (4.67), #20 GSPI (70.63), #26 HD. Hasn't played all that much or all that well lately, but see what I said about Stupples.
20. Laura Diaz: #20 money ($550.9K), #26 RR (3.58), #22 GSPI (70.71), #19 HD. She's coming off her best 4-tournament string of the season, at least since its very beginning. Still, it's hard to believe she's the 4th-ranked American (behind Anela Park) this time around.
21. Ji Young Oh: #21 money ($541.6K), #54 RR (2.02), #30 GSPI (70.95), #20 HD. If you had told me in January that she'd get her 1st win before Angela Park, In-Kyung Kim, Jane Park, and Song-Hee Kim, I would have looked at you like you were a crazy person. I still can't believe she did it. But great for her!
22. Jane Park: #19 money ($560.9K), #40 RR (2.78), #36 GSPI (71.20), #23 H.D. Now the 6th-ranked Super Soph here, I jinxed her when I wrote in June that "she's put herself in contention a few times already this season and is likely to do it several more times before the year is out." Sure, she got a T2 when Seon Hwa Lee won in Arkansas, but she hasn't come close since. Consider this complaint an attempt to activate the Mostly Harmless reverse jinx.
23. Mi Hyun Kim: #42 money ($376.5K), #23 RR (3.88), #14 GSPI (70.41), #30 HD. She's admitted her knee is bothering her. Made the right call to avoid the Northern swing after suffering in Europe. Hopefully the time off and the return to hot climates will heat up her game.
24. Katherine Hull: #16 money ($692.3K), #43 RR (2.62), #70 GSPI (72.04), #28 HD. A bigger Cinderella story than Oh, Hull followed up her CWO win with a 4th at the Safeway Classic, making it 3 top 6s in her last 6 events. If she can keep up this pace after the break, I'll be even more impressed.
25. Morgan Pressel: #29 money ($448.4K), #20 RR (4.09), #39 GSPI (71.24), n.r. HD. Not only did her extra preparation for the European swing not pay off, she had a disappointing Northern swing, as well. Gotta work on those approach shots. She's still not hitting nearly as many greens as she should for such an accurate driver of the ball, which is putting a lot of pressure on her putting.
26. Juli Inkster: #36 money ($412.0K), #21 RR (4.06), #16 GSPI (70.54), n.r. HD. Yup, I hit the nail on the head with June's "never count this Hall of Famer out!" Got a top 10 out of nowhere at Evian and followed it up with a top 15 at the Women's British Open. After another long break, she's poised to contend on the Southern swing.
27. Candie Kung: #33 money ($437.8K), #51 RR (2.17), #19 GSPI (70.62), n.r. HD. Disappointing results after a top 12 at the Evian Masters. Another player who stands to benefit from the chance to recharge her batteries.
28. Momoko Ueda: #38 money ($393.8K), #16 RR (4.44), #23 GSPI (70.71), n.r. HD. What a terrible August for Momo-chan! Not only did she play badly by her standards in the 2 JLPGA events she entered, but she also lost an entire fingernail in a gory accident at a photo shoot with a seeing eye dog on the eve of the Yonex Ladies this week. So much for charging up the JLPGA money list during their major season before rejoining the LPGA in Hawaii. She might still stick to that schedule, but how well she'll play while she's healing is another question entirely.

Right behind them is a trio with 3 top 30s:

29. Christina Kim: #24 money ($526.7K), #39 RR (2.85), #21 GSPI (70.70), #22 HD. Disappointing European and Northern swings lead me to believe that the summer break couldn't have come at a better time for her. Hopefully will get her groove back down South.
30. Stacy Prammanasudh: #31 money ($443.8K), #28 RR (3.55), #24 GSPI (70.78), #25 HD. Showed what she's capable of at the State Farm Classic, but went right back to the blahs afterward. Another American looking for the rebound in Dixie.
31. Sophie Gustafson: #22 money ($533.7K), #30 RR (3.44), #40 GSPI (71.25), #29 HD. Just got a T2 out of the blue--she took a little longer than I expected for her to bounce back from giving away the Sybase, but now that she remembers what it's like to be in the hunt, look for her to get back into it more often.

And close on their heels is a big group with 2 top 30s:

32. Angela Stanford: #27 money ($463.9K), #31 RR (3.32), #26 GSPI (70.91), n.r. HD. Hmm, back in June I wrote that she's "In a real tailspin since making Hound Dog's top 10 in May, but she's too good for it to last." Well, with 3 missed cuts to 1 top 10 after starting the season with the reverse, she's got a 50-50 chance of turning it around in the final third of the year.
33. Nicole Castrale: #28 money ($450.8K), #25 RR (3.59), #31 GSPI (71.00), n.r. HD. Cooled off fast up North, so she's yet another American looking for some heat next month in the South.
34. Sun Young Yoo: #23 money ($531.4K), #71 RR (1.62), #32 GSPI (71.01), #24 HD. A T4 at the CWO shows she can still jump into contention any given week, but her other results from the European and Northern swings suggest such leaps don't come all that often. Having skipped 3 of the 1st 7 events on the 2008 schedule and a grand total of 0 since week 7, the 2 weeks off since the Safeway will be much deserved--and appreciated. But will they be enough?
35. Catriona Matthew: #40 money ($388.0K), #24 RR (3.74), #38 GSPI (71.21), n.r. HD. Made her 1st (and only) cut of the year in a major at the WBO and celebrated with a strong Northern swing. Can she regain her momentum after taking 2 weeks off?
36. In-Kyung Kim: #30 money ($446.9K), #38 RR (2.99), #47 GSPI (71.57), n.r. HD. Inexplicably skipped the Safeway Classic after notching 3 straight top 20s for the 1st time all season. She still has a chance to turn this year around. It's go time for the former #2 in her class.
37. Se Ri Pak: #46 money ($332.8K), #22 RR (3.88), #80 GSPI (72.30), n.r. HD. Went MC-2nd-MC in her last 3 events. On the one hand, this shows what kind of talent this Hall of Famer still has. On the other, it raises questions about her focus and motivation. Maybe she can rekindle the fire in her belly in preparation for the Asian swing.
38. Lindsey Wright: #44 money ($372.7K), #45 RR (2.42), #25 GSPI (70.82), n.r. HD. Has cooled off a lot since the early spring, but still relatively close to being a top 20 player. It's a very big surprise to me that Hull got her 1st win before she did, though. Hopefully her 1st top 20 since the LPGA Championship last week at the Safeway Classic will remind her of her early-season play.

And here are the best of the rest:

39. Teresa Lu: #32 money ($441.9K), #56 RR (1.97), #34 GSPI (71.15), n.r. HD.
40. Ai Miyazato: #37 money ($393.8K), #35 RR (3.09), #87 GSPI (72.41), n.r. HD.
41. Meena Lee: #34 money ($435.2K), #65 RR (1.82), #43 GSPI (71.50), n.r. HD.
42. Natalie Gulbis: #53 money ($266.2K), #34 RR (3.12), #54 GSPI (71.64), n.r. HD.
43. Brittany Lang: #39 money ($389.0K), #55 RR (2.00), #60 GSPI (71.74), n.r. H.D.
44. Leta Lindley: #35 money ($415.3K), #69 RR (1.66), #59 GSPI (71.73), n.r. HD.
45. Shi Hyun Ahn: #52 money ($289.9K), #37 RR (3.03), #77 GSPI (72.24), n.r. HD.

As always, I get these figures by combining the most recent results from the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the LPGA Official Money List, and Hound Dog's Top 30. We'll revisit them at the end of October.

[Update 1 (9/6/08, 6:33 pm): Hound Dog has rolled out his advanced rating system that allows him to rank the LPGA's top 70! If I can find the time, I'll update this top 45 with his new rankings!]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Abort, Retry, Fail?

Given that there's talk of legal action and boycotts in response to the LPGA's new policy making command of conversational English a condition of membership, the tour's options are increasingly limited. It's down to Abort, Retry, Fail?

Hit "A" to abort the operation: Don't expect a commissioner known for sticking to her guns to back down. The push for international players to learn more English will continue. But the fact that the policy was floated before being fully formulated suggests that the LPGA brass is open to revising it and to tweaking its implementation.

Hit "R" to try reading the data again: What the LPGA ought to do is discuss the policy with all its players (yes, with translators), analyze the data they're getting, along with new data from media and golfosphere responses, and decide on what needs to be changed. Here's a preliminary list:

1) Universalize the rule. If you really want to make the argument stick that communication skills are a crucial component of a golfer's overall professional development and drive home the point that the LPGA is a global tour, then require every player to demonstrate minimal conversational competence in 2 languages. And make sure that the standards players will be held to in English are the same as those for Spanish, French, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.

2) Clarify the quiz. Let all the players know what the oral exams for demonstrating that minimal competence will consist of and how they will be evaluated. Give them opportunities to take practice tests.

3) Suspend the suspension. Most everyone agrees suspending a player's membership on the first failure is much too harsh a penalty. Anyone who fails a test should be required to hire a tutor during the next season and take mandatory classes in the off-season (either through an LPGA program or an accredited college or university). Allow each player 2 fails before membership is suspended.

Hit "F" to attempt to proceed without the necessary data: Go ahead and don't hit "R." Just don't be surprised if you get taken to court, lose players to the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET, lose sponsorships from international, multinational, and transnational corporations, and lose fans from all over the world (including the U.S.).

Better to listen to the wiki gods: "The only option that offered any hope of a solution was Retry."

[Update 1 (11:12 pm): Bivens is reportedly on vacation, so she has plenty of time to digest Golfweek's coverage: Baldry, Rothman, Martin, Ferguson.]

[Update 2 (8/29/08, 5:33 am): Daniel Wexler asks the Commissioner, "Why risk the monopoly?" Good question.]

[Update 3 (12:16 pm): has codified this into a pro/con debate format, but what gets lost in the shuffle is whether it's good business or not, on the one hand, and whether there's a moral justification or not, on the other.]

[Update 4 (12:38 pm): Perhaps the Commissioner should wonder whether she needs any enemies, what with friends like these.]

[Update 5 (12:41 pm): Not much insight or analysis from the Sports Law Blog, either.]

[Update 6 (12:48 pm): Eric Baković at Language Log is barely better. But Ted Lieu is a little funny--for a politician.]

[Update 7 (12:52 pm): Bill Imada at Advertising Age calls for the "A" option. Come on, academic bloggers! Can't you be as coherent as a PR analyst?]

[Update 8 (12:58 pm): Lisa Mickey pens another thoughtful and well-reasoned essay from her Futures Tour office. Required reading for anyone who thinks "A" is the right button to hit--the best case I've yet seen for "F".]

[Update 9 (9/1/08, 3:48 am): I was remiss in not linking to this Jason Wulterkens piece earlier.]

[Update 10 (9/4/08, 2:40 am): Here's some free advice I emailed Lisa Mickey. What do you all think of it?

Bottom line: it's the suspension that worries me. Na Yeon Choi's only rookie blog was translated, I just noticed. So there's a possibility the LPGA's 2008 ROY could get suspended at the end of the 2009 season. That would be a fine mess for the LPGA and for Choi. I hope someone's already made that clear to Choi and the Commissioner. Will there be extra efforts on behalf of those on the "watch list" before the exam? Will they even know they're "on the clock," so to speak? How soon?

A suspension after 2 years seems too soon and too harsh to me.

Many fewer international players are going to find themselves in the top 20 in their first 2 years on tour than will be struggling to stay in the the top 80 or 100. For those in the latter group, fines should be enough of an added incentive to keep them working on their English after their second season. I find it hard to believe that the future of the LPGA really depends on someone who may not even stay on tour for more than a handful of years anyway. Why not craft the policy, instead, to create extra incentives for the few individuals in each rookie class who can get a win in their first 2-4 years on the LPGA--most likely 5-10 people per rookie class, if history is any guide--to get their English up to speed?

Let's take the Classes of 2006 and 2007 as an example. We already know Eun-Hee Ji is on the clock. But what about Jee Young Lee, Ai Miyazato, In-Kyung Kim, Song-Hee Kim, Sun Young Yoo, Kyeong Bae, H.J. Choi, Jin Joo Hong, and Na On Min? It's all very murky for them now. (I assume the other international players are fine.) That's at most 10 players in 2 rookie classes who might need work.

If the policy were formulated in the following way, the expectations and timetable would be a lot clearer for all LPGA members, but particularly for those with the potential to become the face of the tour:

You go on the clock after your 3rd top 10 or your 1st win, whichever comes 1st. You then have, say, 30 events to get your English to a certain very minimal standard or face fines, 60 events to get it to a more adequate standard or face probation, and 90 events to get it to where it ought to be or face suspension.

With clear criteria and clear benchmarks, the players could craft their own timetables for learning English and adjust their playing schedules in light of their actual progress.

I also think there are lessons to be learned from the Patti Rizzo story.]

Babelfish Poetry: For Momo-chan

Just want to make a small point about the beauty that can come from non-standard English--in this case, the babelfish translation of a Japanese news report of Momoko Ueda's painful fingernail accident. I've just removed some words and punctuation marks, inserted some line and stanza breaks, changed some capitalizations, and voila: a pretty damn good imagist poem.

The seeing eye dog surprised
the flash of the cameraman of the multitude produced
to run, suddenly.

Being flurried, tries probably to grasp the lanyard
“the painful [tsu]!” with voice was increased
being caught to the cord which was pulled

It peeled the nail of the left hand middle finger
the nail which peels off even cruelly fell to the land
the blood dripped from the finger

For a while holding down the finger
at that place
which it cannot move

It is painful
the face was twisted with pain
the tear floated in the eye

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

News Flash! Momoko Ueda Injury

The Full Metal Archivist called me over my lunch break to tell me about a grotesque accident that befell Momoko Ueda recently. Apparently something happened in a photo shoot that ripped the fingernails completely off at least one hand. I'll try to get confirmation on this and details when I get home. I haven't seen this story hit the English-language media or golfosphere. Anyone read/hear anything about it?

[Update 1 (7:13 pm): All right, this is the basic story coming out of the Kyodo News Service. Ueda was in a photo shoot for the Yonex Ladies event this week on the JLPGA when a flash startled the service dog (seeing-eye dog?), causing it to lunge away. Ueda reached out with her left hand to grab the dog's leash, but lost at least a few fingernails when she couldn't stop the dog. (Itai!!--now I know why those extra-long fingernails of hers have always worried me.) She's withdrawn from the tournament. More later when I can get a working translation of Ueda's latest blog post from the Full Metal Archivist.]

[Update 2 (7:47 pm): Ah, nothing special, just a quick note to her fans saying she hopes nobody gets the wrong impression about service dogs from her accident. Gotta keep those sponsors happy (according to the FMA)....]

[Update 3 (8:02 pm): From what I can understand of the babelfish translation of a Japanese web site that Go-Kimmie-Go provided at Seoul, Ueda only lost 1 nail, on the middle finger of her left hand. BTW, do you think babelfish could pass the Bivens test?]

No, Tell Us What You Really Think

I'll be the first to admit I was dodging some key issues yesterday by attempting a humorous response to the LPGA's new non-golf-based membership criterion for non-native English speakers, namely, that they must prove themselves able to hold a casual conversation with a native speaker in a pro-am or meet-and-greet and do interviews and victory speeches in English without the aid of a translator--or face suspension until they can.

Let's dispense with the obvious ironies quickly. The policy was introduced in universalist terms, at least in the way Beth Ann Baldry summarized it at the start of her Golfweek article, but its targets are only those international players deemed at risk of being incomprehensible to their pro-am playing partners. (Double the pleasure, double the fun: it's selective and arbitrary, high-stakes and nebulous....) If multilingualism is such a great thing, why not make it a requirement for all players? Next, Commissioner Bivens floated the trial balloon in a mandatory meeting with South Korean players last week at the Safeway Classic, but apparently her communication skills are so bad she left many players with the mistaken impression that they would be kicked out of the tour if they couldn't pass an oral exam. No, no: there's an extra level of tutoring during the suspension period--apparently, there will be list of Tour-approved golf cliches to be memorized. Finally, the effort to make monolingual American sponsors happy may produce a backlash among international sponsors. Apparently the LPGA values tournament hosts, sponsors, and fans from non-English-dominant countries for everything but their language(s).

There are subtler ironies to be enjoyed as well. Like confirmed Bivens-haters getting so outraged against this policy that they've helped to give the LPGA the best publicity it could possibly have hoped for at the start of its 2-week summer break (on the principle that any publicity is good publicity, at least). How often do Deadspin and ESPN (or even Golfweek) make anything LPGA-related one of their featured stories? Tenured radicals like me must be finding the spectacle of Main Street Republicans ("what's good for American business...") and Wall Street Republicans ("full speed ahead! globalize away!") duking it out, so to speak, as intensely as America Firsters ("English ONLY! English ONLY!") are duelling with Color-Blind Conservatives ("the ball knows no language! be like the ball!") intensely funny and eerily familiar. Just another practical seminar in the meaning of multiculturalism and globalization--popular culture and new media are once again the venue for individual and collective values-clarification.

But that's not all. Consider the potential impact on the Class of 2009. Women's British Open champion Ji-Yai Shin already has membership on the KLPGA, JLPGA, and LET, so she could put together whatever schedule she pleases next season. Before she won the WBO, her plans were to compete full-time on the JLPGA for a year or 2 before trying for the LPGA. How will this new requirement affect her scheduling plans for the next few seasons? If she isn't confident she could pass or pass out of the LPGA's oral exam by the end of the 2011 season, what's stopping her from playing fewer events than the number the LPGA will eventually have to specify to count as "being on tour" in 2009? Playing fewer events means fewer showdowns on American soil (and in front of American tv cameras) with Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Suzann Pettersen, Ya Ni Tseng, Seon Hwa Lee, Cristie Kerr, and the rest of the top LPGA players in the post-Sorenstam Era. It means no real Rookie of the Year race with Stacy Lewis, Vicky Hurst, Mindy Kim, and a host of other talented young guns--maybe including Michelle Wie. It means less drama, less competition, and less attention for everyone on tour.

Let's say the LPGA remains the only tour in the world with this rule instead of prompting a series of similarly protectionist measures the golf world over. Doesn't this then put the LPGA at a competitive disadvantage for attracting the world's best women golfers? With the U.S. dollar depreciating against the Japanese yen, for instance, the time may not be too far away when the JLPGA not only has more tournaments than the LPGA (that's already happening this year), but also more single-season millionaires (easier to write and understand than "100 mill-yen-aires"). You can bet that as even more Korean golfers try out the JLPGA and succeed on it, more Korean sponsorship money will flow that much shorter trip eastward than all the way to Florida.

The LPGA has had a horrible time attracting more top Japanese golfers to the U.S. more regularly. When Sakura Yokomine, Miho Koga, Erina Hara, Miki Saiki, Ayako Uehara, Yuko Mitsuka, Chie Arimura, Akane Iijima, and Yukari Baba get wind of this requirement, do you think it will make them more or less likely to try the LPGA's Q-School this year? And what about Momoko Ueda (who's having about as much success in her 1st year on tour as Ai Miyazato had in her rookie season)? Do you think she's really eager to take an oral exam at the end of the 2009 season--when she may have won less money in that time than she won in 2006 alone on the JLPGA?

China, you ask? While the opening ceremonies to the Beijing Olympics suggest that a little conversational English will be no obstacle, the new LPGA policy again tips the scales in favor of emerging Chinese stars following Na Zhang and trying the KLPGA and/or JLPGA 1st. Which means more big money the LPGA could potentially lose from new sponsors there.

Heck, if the various Asian tours ever decided to get together and model themselves after the LET rather than trying to produce smaller LPGA-style national tours, the best tour in the wide world of women's golf could end up being such a "Ladies Asian Pacific Tour." Yup, the LPGA could get LAPT.

On the bright side, though, for the time being at least, Australia and New Zealand will become the temporary homes of even more young Korean golfers, immigration to the U.S. may pick up a bit from Asia and Latin America, expensive American golf academies will have to hire more ESL teachers, U.S. colleges and universities with good golf programs will see an increase in applications, enrollments, and donations, and the international golfers who don't play well enough to keep their LPGA cards will come away from their time on tour with a foundation in English that they could develop and parlay into a post-golf career as an agent, consultant, youth golf program coordinator, translator, or caddy.

So it's all good. Right?

[Update 1 (1:20 am): Geoff Shackelford and the other golf writers he's checked out suggest not. Which makes me rethink the one analogy I could come up with that would have lead me to offer qualified support for the new policy. When I taught American Studies and American literature on a Fulbright for a year in Fukuoka, Japan, I was kind of like an honored guest, so the fact that I never quite achieved a pre-schooler's grasp of Japanese after a full semester of an intensive language course at Kyushu University (in which my reawakened student survival instincts allowed me to pass with something close to an A-) was greeted with a polite "at least he's trying." But if I were, say, to try to join the faculty of a Japanese university full-time and live in Japan for more than a couple of years, wouldn't it be fair to expect my Japanese to improve to the point where, even if I were predominantly teaching American Studies in English, I'd be able to attempt explanations and clarifications to my students in Japanese and fumble my way toward participation in department and faculty meetings? Well, sure, but those are core skills for a professor. Do LPGA sponsors and tournament organizers in places with few or poor Latin American and Asian immigrant and citizen communities really believe the LPGA can convince golf media and fans that schmoozing is a core skill for a professional golfer? Oh, sorry, was that Yiddish? But you knew what I meant, right? (Really, was it? My grandparents arrived here in the midst of the 100% American movement, so made quite sure not to pass on any language but their own acquired English to their children. People will adjust, but at what cost? I learned more Yiddish from Seinfeld than my own family.)]

[Update 2 (2:15 am): Here's Ryan Ballengee's second take--precisely the qualified support for the policy I am still struggling over internally.]

[Update 3 (4:40 pm): In comments, Jennifer from Mixed Race America offers a brilliant and wide-ranging analysis of the policy and Ryan's and my responses to it. It's virtually a post of its own--a must-read.]

[Update 4 (7:26 pm): Ryan's been thinking this through further and has withdrawn even his qualified support.]

[Update 5 (8/28/08, 9:30 am): Geoff Shackelford covers the media response so I don't have to. Actually, it's pretty thoughtful. And at times very funny.]

[Update 6 (9:48 am): OK, I will link to Ron Sirak's overview of the issues.]

[Update 7 (2:46 pm): Here's Brent Kelley's take.]

[Update 8 (8/29/08, 12:20 pm): Here's a helpful study guide from Kiel Christianson.]

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why Stop with English?

Ryan Ballengee at Waggle Room has passed along Beth Ann Baldry's Golfweek report on a new condition for LPGA membership: "beginning in 2009, all players who have been on tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills."

Well, not all players. As Baldry puts it, "The tour will rely on its communication staff to help identify players who need to be evaluated. International players who already demonstrate English proficiency will not be approached."

And the English skills to be evaluated?

Betsy Clark, LPGA vice president of professional development, said the players will be evaluated by a core team on communication skills such as conversation, survival (i.e. “I’m going to the store.”) and “golfspeak.” Players must be able to conduct interviews and give acceptance speeches without the help of a translator.

LPGA members are encouraged to use the support systems already in place such as the Kolon-LPGA Cross-Cultural Professional Development Program and the Rosetta Stone online language program. In addition to helping players grasp the language, the Kolon program also helps bridge cultural differences and focuses on the LPGA’s Five Points of Celebrity: Appearance, Relevance, Approachability, Joy/Passion and Performance.

And the penalty for failing such a test?

Failure would result in a suspended membership.

“Hopefully what we’re talking about is something that will not happen,” said Libba Galloway, the tour’s deputy commissioner, of possible suspensions. “If it does, we wouldn’t just say, ‘Come back next year.’ What we would do is work with them on where they fell short, provide them the resources they need, the tutoring . . . and when we feel like they need to be evaluated again, we would evaluate.”

Galloway said the policy takes effect immediately, but the “measurement time will be at the end of 2009.”

I only have time to make a couple of observations today, but feel free to chime in. I hope the LPGA has explored how the JLPGA, KLPGA, and especially the LET handle related language issues. If mainly monolingual countries like Japan and Korea don't require this kind of proficiency of their international players, I wonder why a multilingual nation like the U.S. needs such a policy. Does the LET have an "official language"? Or do European education systems already do a better job of educating multilingual speakers than here, so every LET winner would be capable of passing an LPGA-style interview exam in any country that hosts an LET event?

Apparently the LPGA policy is being implemented in the name of "the sponsors."

Kate Peters, executive director of the LPGA State Farm Classic, supported the news. “This is an American tour. It is important for sponsors to be able to interact with players and have a positive experience.”

Perhaps tournament directors and the LPGA could do a better job in seeking out a more diverse array of immigrant and citizen sponsors and pro-am participants (some of whom may actually be fluent in Spanish, Korean, Japanese, etc.).

“This should be a priority in their professional development just the way working on their short game is a priority,” Galloway said. “We just wanted to be clear about our expectations.”

That makes a lot of sense to me. But hey, why stop with English? Why not require all LPGA members to be able to hold a casual conversation and give a short speech in the main language of any nation that hosts an LPGA event? (Hey, maybe there's a reason Michelle Wie is studying Japanese at Stanford!) Put that policy in place and I guarantee we'd see the end of skipping college golf. Perhaps the LPGA could help fundraise for American colleges and universities' modern language departments. (Lord knows, my colleagues could use the support!)

“The bottom line is, we don’t have a job if we don’t entertain,” Lunke said. “In my mind, that’s as big a part of the job as shooting under par.”

But entertain whom? If the goal is to entertain fans around the world, particularly those who may attend a tournament, join in a pro-am, or commit their companies to LPGA sponsorship, then the LPGA's next step is clear.

[Update 1 (2:25 pm): Brent Kelley has a much more considered and thoughtful response than my tongue-in-cheek one. But he does raise similar issues as I do.]

[Update 2 (4:27 pm): And here are Golf Girl's pointed questions. Bob Harig doesn't like the policy.]

[Update 3 (10:33 pm): Brian Hewitt ain't too enthusiastic about the new policy, neither, Huck Finn reported.]

[Update 4 (10:39 pm): Ah, and Jason Wulterkens, in the best Swiftian tradition, offers Commissioner Bivens a few modest proposals.]

[Update 5 (10:44 pm): Meanwhile, Geoff Shackelford pulls no punches (or punchlines). And the ever-polite and balanced Hound Dog argues that the LPGA is barking up the wrong tree.]

[Update 6 (11:34 pm): Michael Walker and Michael Ventre don't like it one bit. Hat tip to willyc and Dennis at the Seoul thread on the new policy.]

[Update 7 (8/27/08, 2:06 am): Rick Tosches is actually pretty funny this time. But this story has officially gone beyond the golfosphere. The new policy is getting even harsher reviews from Eugene Cho, Dewey Hammond, Shaw Moore, John Ochwat, L. Russell Allen.... I give up. Even just googling/blogsearching "LPGA" gives you pages of hits. These were just some of the more interesting ones. See today's post for my own post-spit-take reaction.]

Monday, August 25, 2008

Safeway Classic Sunday: Kerr Breaks Through

Hound Dog has been saying for months that Cristie Kerr is having a better season this year than last--and she got her win to prove it this week at the Safeway Classic. With Helen Alfredsson and Sophie Gustafson breaking 70 for the 3rd straight time, Kerr needed to go out and put pressure on them, and she did with the lowest round of the week. It was so good both veteran Swedes needed to birdie the 18th to force a playoff and did. I'll leave the play-by-play to Hound Dog, as I have only my mom's recap and Kerr's detailed answers to interview questions to go by. But I'll offer my congratulations to the winner!

Quick congrats as well to last week's winner Katherine Hull, Hee-Won Han, and Dorothy Delasin for their good tournaments. And to the LPGA's Big 3 who all tied for 6th. Small condolences to Inbee Park and big ones to Kelli Kuehne, but at least her good friend won. Talk about the difference 18 holes can make! Kuehne just broke the $105K barrier in season winnings, while Kerr has moved close to $900K. With Alfredsson joining the Million Dollar Club and Na Yeon Choi some spare change short, it's up to Kerr, Jeong Jang, Suzann Pettersen, Eun-Hee Ji, and Angela Park to pick up the pace. It's about time to break that 2006 record of 11 LPGA millionaires.

[Update 1 (1:22 am): Verdant Garden followed Jee Young Lee, Inbee Park, and Leta Lindley. Go-Kimmie-Go followed Seon Hwa Lee, Morgan Pressel, and Audra Burks.]

[Update 2 (12:44 pm): Heeeere's Hound Dog!]

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CAT Ladies Sunday: Clash of the Titans

With the leaders still on the course, the CAT Ladies JLPGA event is coming down to the wire. Mi-Jeong Jeon and 1st-round leader Yuko Mitsuka tied 2nd-round leader Miho Koga at -9 when they birdied the par-5 13th hole. Koga bogeyed 2 of 3 holes in the middle of the front to open the door for her chase pack, but few others have made or sustained a concerted move.

Yasuko Satoh made 4 birdies on the front but only picked up 2 shots on Koga, as she went double bogey-bogey in the same stretch on which the leader struggled. She's -7 with 2 to play. Sakura Yokomine was there after a 33 on the front, but 2 bogeys on the back dropped her out of contention. And mistakes have limited the ground Ji-Hee Lee has made up on Koga, as she's all-but-offset 4 birdies with 3 bogeys and finds herself 3 back with 4 to play.

Still, they're doing better than most of the field. Playing in the final threesome, Saiki Fujita knocked herself out of contention by going +5 in her 1st 13 holes, matching the LPGA's Momoko Ueda (+5 through 16), who's going to endure her 2nd straight disappointing finish on the JLPGA to go along with Ai Miyazato's 2 straight missed cuts on the LPGA. A bitter August for 2 of Japan's finest women golfers.

The only players really happy with their rounds today thus far are Ji-Woo Lee, the leader in the clubhouse at -5 after recovering with 4 birdies in her final 7 holes to salvage a 72, and Bo-Bae Song, who fired a solid 70 to get to -2 and a tie for 14th so far.

More when the final round is complete.

[Update 1 (4:38 am): I should have mentioned that Mayu Hattori is another player who put herself in contention early, getting to -7 with a birdie on the par-3 5th hole, but she also faltered as she hit the back, making 3 straight bogeys to fall off the pace. And Ji-Hee Lee made 2 bogeys down the stretch to fall out of contention a bit later. Mitsuka's own pair came a little later, with the killer coming on the par-3 17th. So it came down to a face-off at the finish between Mi-Jeong Jeon and Miho Koga, who had been making pars since Koga's birdie on the 10th and Jeon's on the 13th. Playing in the penultimate pairing, Jeon was the 1st to close out her round, but she made her 1st bogey since the 4th hole on the par-5 18th. Koga followed up with a clutch par to secure her 2nd victory of season.

1st/-9 Koga (69-68-73)
2nd/-8 Jeon (69-71-71)
3rd/-7 Mitsuka (66-73-73)
4th/-6 Ji-Hee Lee (73-68-72), Satoh (71-70-72)
T6/-5 Ji-Woo Lee (68-74-72), Hyun-Ju Shin (72-69-73), Yuko Saitoh (72-69-73)
T9/-4 Mumi Ohkubo (72-71-72), Yokomine (71-71-73), Hattori (72-69-74)

12th/-3 Esther Lee (73-70-73)
T13/-2 Song (76-71-70), Midori Yoneyama (71-73-73), Hiromi Mogi (75-68-74)
T19/E Chie Arimura (72-69-78), Mie Nakata (69-72-78)
T23/+1 Eun-A Lim (74-72-74), Miki Saiki (73-73-74)
T29/+2 Ayako Uehara (73-74-74), Maiko Wakabayashi (73-72-76), Ueda (72-70-79)
T34/+3 Yun-Jye Wei (76-71-75), Kaori Higo (72-72-78)
T40/+4 Akane Iijima (71-76-76), Erina Hara (73-73-77)
T44/+5 Ritsuko Ryu (76-70-78)
48th/+6 Hiroko Yamaguchi (70-74-81)]

[Update 2 (8:22 am): So here's how the new money list looks:

1. Akiko Fukushima ¥80.67M
2. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥68.91M
3. Ji-Hee Lee ¥68.28M
4. Miho Koga ¥67.99M
5. Sakura Yokomine ¥52.68M
6. Ayako Uehara ¥49.52M
7. Yuko Mitsuka ¥48.88M
8. Erina Hara ¥45.52M
9. Eun-A Lim ¥44.51M
10. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥43.70M
11. Shiho Oyama ¥41.12M
12. Bo-Bae Song ¥40.26M
13. Shinobu Moromizato ¥40.04M
14. Chie Arimura ¥39.07M
15. Yukari Baba ¥38.80M
16. Akane Iijima ¥37.41M
17. Hiromi Mogi ¥37.39M
18. Yuri Fudoh ¥36.37M
19. Hiroko Yamaguchi ¥34.63M
20. Miki Saiki ¥34.14M
21. Ji-Woo Lee ¥30.73M
22. Esther Lee ¥24.27M
23. Midori Yoneyama ¥22.15M
24. Momoko Ueda ¥19.17M
25. Na Zhang ¥18.06M

Maybe Ueda will stick around for a few more JLPGA events heading into major season. With 2 weeks off on the LPGA and 2 small-purse events in September, she wouldn't miss much if she missed both August and September in the States. But what an unproductive start for her. It's clear there's a real Big 4 in 2008 that she just can't catch. As for the rest, well, she'll need to win a few. We'll see!]

Safeway Classic Saturday: By the Numbers

There are 24 players who have strung together 2 rounds under par at Columbia Edgewater, but only 5 of them have broken 70 twice in the Safeway Classic, led by Helen Alfreddson, who shot her 2nd straight 67 but made her 1st and only bogey of the tournament on the par-5 7th to get to -10. The other 4 are Sophie Gustafson (-9), whose only 2 bogeys in the tournament came on the 16th and 17th holes to drop her from 1-up to 1-down to her counterywoman, Kelli Kuehne (-7), who's made plenty of mistakes this weekend but even more birdies, Paula Creamer (-7), whose 3rd bogey of the tournament came in the midst of a 5-birdie run in her last 12 holes, and Leta Lindley (-6), who's also only made 3 birdies all tournament.

If any of them can put together another sub-70 round Sunday, the tournament is likely to be theirs. 54 holes is a lot to play without coming closer to the tournament average in number of birdies per round, which has to be extraordinarily high this week. If none of them can overcome the law of averages, they'll get passed like, well, like Angela Park (-5), whose 66 yesterday is still has the low round at Columbia Edgewater of the week, but who dropped from 1st to T12 with her roller-coaster 73, which included 4 birdies, 3 bogeys, and a double bogey. Park's example looms before the 3 precision players and perhaps even more the 2 bombers among the top contenders. If even she can go from flawless to shaky, what of them?

So if these 5 can't warp probabilities in their favor, the winner will come from someone who's already played well this week but who gets a very hot hand tomorrow. That's potentially very good news for Karrie Webb, who's made a double bogey each round, including 1 on her final hole yesterday that dropped her to -5 for the tournament, and Lorena Ochoa, who bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes to stall out 5 back. Maybe even a bomber like Jee Young Lee (-6), who's only made 1 bogey and 1 double the entire tournament, could step up if the 2 ahead of her fall down. Or perhaps Na Yeon Choi (-4), who's made fewer mistakes than many of the leaders but has been held to only 6 birdies in her 2 rounds thus far, could figure out how to go low at Columbia Edgewater. We'll see how she responds to the uncharacteristic absence of Rookie of the Year race leader Ya Ni Tseng, who birdied 3 holes in a row late on the front but fell 1 shot below the cut line as she couldn't find another the rest of her round.

That's the beauty of 54-hole tournament golf: there are 11 players within 4 shots of the lead, 20 players within 5 shots, and 30 within 6 on a day the leaders have no margin for error. So while the odds of a back 9 free-for-all are much higher than the final 4 pulling away from the chase pack, literally anything can happen!

Let's take a quick look at a few other numbers.

Million-Dollar Club: Alfreddson and Choi are making strong bids to join it this week. Jeong Jang (-1), Suzann Pettersen (-2), and Eun-Hee Ji (-2) will need strong moves tomorrow to get significantly closer.

ADT Championship: With 11 qualifying spots left, only #1 Angela Park (-5), #2 Cristie Kerr (-6), and #3 Hee-Won Han (-4) are consolidating their claims. #4 Ji Young Oh, #5 In-Kyung Kim, and #16 Momoko Ueda didn't enter the field (Ueda is playing right now in Japan), #10 Jin Joo Hong didn't start the tournament, #7 Meena Lee withdrew after a 1st-round 78, and #6 Nicole Castrale, #8 Ai Miyazato, #9 Se Ri Pak, #12 Giulia Sergas, #14 Stacy Prammanasudh, #17 Shi Hyun Ahn, and #18 Christina Kim all missed the cut. So Sunday represents a great opportunity for #11 Jane Park (-1), #13 Sun Young Yoo (-1), #20 Morgan Pressel (E), and especially #15 rookie Hee Young Park (-5), #21 rookie Shanshan Feng (-4), and #19 Junior Mint Kristy McPherson (-4) to make up some serious ground on those ahead of them.

Asian Swing: The top 50 on the money list will be eligible for the LPGA's second season of limited-field events in Asia this fall. Making a bid to go travelling are #60 Shanshan Feng (-4), #58 Diana D'Alessio (-4), #54 Allison Fouch (-2), and #57 Pat Hurst (-1). If Feng can put her 3rd blistering Sunday of the season together, then, this will be a fantastic week for her. To get in the top 50 this season, you'l definitely have to make more than $300K, probably more than $350K, and maybe even more than $375K. The good news for those already above these marks is that there's a huge drop-off of over $100K between #53 Natalie Gulbis and Feng. The bad news is that with 4 full-field events to go, $100K is not that much money for someone with a hot hand.

Category 1: It's the priority status everyone wants--guaranteed access to just about any event on the 2009 schedule (barring majors and limited-field ones). #80 Marisa Baena didn't help her cause when she pulled a Michelle Wie and got DQed yesterday for failing to sign her scorecard. #81 Meredith Duncan bogeyed her last hole to fall back to E, but fortunately for her her 75 was just good enough to keep her playing later today. #82 Na On Min fired a bogey-free 68 to also make the cut on the number. #87 Dorothy Delasin birdied 2 of her last 3 holes to get to -3 (T31), while #88 Eva Dahloff made 4 birdies in an 11-hole stretch in the middle of her round to do the same. But none of them are in as good shape as #86 Kelli Kuehne, who has a legitimate chance to win this thing. Everyone is looking to break that magic $150K barrier, which still looks pretty safe to me. We'll see who gets there--and whether that's good enough--soon enough.

Category 11: Finishing between #81 and #100 on the money list is roughly the equivalent of making the top 20 at Q-School, so there's little incentive for players even at the bottom of that span to move up. But what a difference between #100 and #101 (Category 15)--less so in 2009, as only those who get battlefield promotions on the Futures Tour or who choose an unattractive 1-time career exemption, than afterwards, when those who didn't make the top 80 in the previous season but did make the top 40 2 seasons before fall down the priority totem pole from Category 1A to Category 12. #106 Julieta Granada (-3) can make a nice move this week if she plays as well Sunday as she did in her bogey-free 68 Saturday. #108 Charlotte Mayorkas (-1) and #109 Kim Hall (E) are also looking to move up the money list in a week in which many near them missed the cut. The magic number here may well be $100K, although it could go as high as $125K if a lot of people get hot at the end of the season.

There are always races within races as the number of full-field events dwindles. It'll be interesting to see who best handles the pressure tomorrow and the next 2 months.

[Update 1 (5:02 am): Go-Kimmie-Go from Seoul followed Eun-Hee Ji and shows how much of a difference putting makes on tour, while Verdant Garden followed Jimin Kang, Jee Young Lee, and Karrie Webb before switching to Hee Young Park, Song-Hee Kim, and Kelli Kuehne. Much better reading than the AP story from both.]

[Update 2 (10:43 am): For a concise yet comprehensive overview of where things stand after 36 holes, Hound Dog's 2nd-round recap can't be beat.]

Saturday, August 23, 2008

CAT Ladies Saturday: ...Other Cats Will Play

With her bogey-free 68, Miho Koga takes a 2-shot lead into the final round of the CAT Ladies over 1st-round leader Yuko Mitsuka (who could only manage an even-par 73 today) and dark horse Saiki Fujita (who matched Mitsuka's 66 from yesterday). But the trio shouldn't look over their shoulders, for close on their heels are a gaggle of great golfers, led by #3 on the money list Mi-Jeong Jeon (-6 after a solid 71) and #2 Ji-Hee Lee (-5 after a bogey-free 69, capped off by a closing 33).

1st/-9 Koga (69-68)
T2/-7 Fujita (73-66), Mitsuka (66-73)
3rd/-6 Jeon (69-71)
T5/-5 Lee (73-68), Hyun-Ju Shin (72-69), Chie Arimura (72-69), Mayu Hattori (72-69), Mie Nakata (69-72), and 3 others

Shin and Hattori both had bogey-free rounds, but it was the latter who had the 2nd-lowest front-side score, a 32, which was outdone only by Fujita's sizzling 31.

Lurking at -4 are Momoko Ueda (who shot a bogey-free 70) and Sakura Yokomine (who came back with 3 birdies in her last 6 holes for her 2nd straight 71).

T13/-4 Ueda (72-70), Yokomine (71-71), Ji-Woo Lee (67-74)
T17/-3 Hiromi Mogi (75-68), Esther Lee (73-70)
T21/-2 Kaori Higo (72-72), Midori Yoneyama (71-73), Hiroko Yamaguchi (70-74)
T27/-1 Maiko Wakabayashi (73-72)
T31/E Ritsuko Ryu (76-70), Eun-A Lim (74-72), Erina Hara (73-73), Miki Saiki (73-73)
T40/+1 Bo-Bae Song (76-71), Yun-Jye Wei (76-71), Ayako Uehara (73-74), Akane Iijima (71-76)

Lee was right in the hunt until making 3 bogeys in her closing 8 holes--she keeps having trouble completing her metamorphosis from JLPGA mouse to cat. Mogi followed up her 32 on the front more solidly to vault into the top 20. Lim, meanwhile, went out in 33, but couldn't maintain the pace. While Song and Wei both went just enough under par in their closing holes to make the cut, they couldn't match Ryu's back-9 33, which tied Ji-Hee Lee for the best score on the side. By contrast, Uehara shot a 40 on the back but just made the cut, as did Iijima, who bogeyed 2 of her last 3 holes.

Others were not so fortunate:

T51/+2 Michiko Hattori (74-74)
T58/+3 Yukari Baba (78-71)
T63/+4 Yuki Ichinose (73-77)
T89/+8 Na Zhang (78-76)

Who will be more fortunate after tomorrow's round? Will Mi-Jeong Jeon find a way to become the JLPGA's 1st 3-time winner of 2008? Will Miho Koga, Yuko Mitsuka, Ji-Hee Lee, Hyun-Ju Shin, or Chie Arimura become the 4th repeat winner on tour this season? Will Saiki Fujita, Mie Nakata, or Mayu Hattori join the JLPGA's big cats? Will Sakura Yokomine find a way to successfully defend her title? Or will Momoko Ueda get her 2nd win of the season?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Safeway Classic Friday: Survival of the Fittest Time

It's survival of the fittest time at the Safeway Classic. On a day filled with thrills and spills for most of the field, 3 players are making it look easy as they head into their final holes. Angela Park is -6 through 15 bogey-free holes, while Sophie Gustafson is -5 with 2 holes on the front left to play to extend her own bogey-free streak and Helen Alfreddson is -4 with 3 left to do the same.

But bogey-free rounds have been the definite exception today. 2 rounds in particular--one fantastic and one disappointing--exemplify the scoring trends, with their exaggerated form standing in for less dramatic swings. Co-leader in the clubhouse Kelli Kuehne started the day double bogey-par-bogey but bounced back with 8 birdies in her final 13 holes for a gritty 67. Rookie of the Year race leader Ya Ni Tseng, meanwhile, twice followed up a double bogey with a bogey, but birdied 3 of her final 7 holes to salvage a scrappy 76. With Tseng playing for nothing but pride tomorrow and Kuehne playing to advance up the money list into the top 80 that will get their pick of tournaments in 2009 (she currently sits at #86 with just over $101K in winnings to her name thus far this season), we'll definitely see what these 2 are made of.

But that's true of most everyone in the field. Whether fighting to qualify for the ADT Championship, the Asian Swing, the top 80, or the top 100 of the money list, a lot is at stake for everyone, not just those trying to catch Lorena and Annika at the top of the leaderboard or join the million-dollar club. More on the lesser-known players after I put my girls to bed.

[Update 1 (8/23/08, 6:38 am): While we're waiting for Hound Dog's 1st-round recap, I'll note that Annika's webmaster has a funny post on her -1 round yesterday, which really captures the excitement of attending your 1st professional tournament. Verdant Garden gives a veteran's insight into Jeong Jang's, Hee-Won Han's, Jane Park's, and Angela Park's rounds over at Seoul]

[Update 2 (6:48 am):'s notes and interviews are interesting, as always. Didn't know Stephanie Louden was one of the tour's new moms, for instance. Hee Young Park is excited to be going to Korea next week. Sophie Gustafson and Liz Janangelo both had bad driving range sessions but played well anyway. Paula Creamer mentions that the putting greens were much slower than the actual greens.]

[Update 3 (6:45 pm): Whoops, imoto turned off the computer just as I was finishing off a long update, so I lost it (blogger doesn't save automatically when you're just editing a post). Then we had to get ready to go to onechan's Japanese school in Buffalo. So I think I'll just link to Hound Dog and try to recapture what was lost in my Saturday post.]

Paging Sal Johnson

Via Jason Wulterkens at The Primary Cut, I came across the latest from Sal Johnson of Golf Observer on Michelle Wie. Unlike last week, when Johnson had a terrible point about the LPGA's treatment of Wie and muddled his way to a retraction of it, this week he has an eminently sensible point--Wie should submit her entry to 1 or more sectional qualifiers for the LPGA's Q-School--but managed to muddy it with errors of fact and logic, not to mention ignorance of the new criteria for entry into LPGA tournaments for 2009. In fact, Wie has more options than Johnson thinks.

But first, Johnson's gaffes:

1) "What is odd about Reno was the fact that Wie could of [sic] flown over to England instead and tried to qualify for the Ricoh Women's British Open. 18 spots were open and the way Wie was playing the odds were in her favor. But she chose not to and basically wasted a week by going off to Reno." Untrue. As Brent Kelly of has documented, Wie had withdrawn from the WBO pre-qualifying tournament after she made the cut at the Jamie Farr LPGA event. Thus she wasn't eligible to play in the final qualifier the week of the Reno-Tahoe PGA event. Johnson should stop peddling misinformation.

2) "She could play in Europe, they have two dozen events over the year but in most cases the average pure [sic] is under a $1 million dollars so first place pays just around $100,000, small under LPGA standards." Heck, she could play on sponsor exemptions into the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET if she wanted, in the process getting a lot of appearance fees in addition to her winnings abroad, learning how to deal with global travel and different playing conditions, and building her global brand on a firmer foundation of solid golf rather than, well, human lightning rod. It would be harder than making your home on a single tour, but it could be done for a year, especially by someone her age. And if all goes well it could generate more value for Nike and Sony than her doing what U.S. fans and media want her to do. I'm not advocating this one--I'm just saying the global route is a better option than Johnson makes it out to be.

3) "Wie could play in some Future [sic] Tour events, but those are really sparse in prize money." Yeah, but with the battlefield promotion rule the LPGA has just put into place, Wie could get her 3 wins on the Futures Tour and basically be low girl on the high-priority totem pole--she'd be able to get into more events than just by sponsor exemptions and give herself more chances to win (which would give her the option of applying for immediate LPGA membership or waiting till 2010 to exercise the non-member win option should she not do well enough to end up inside the top 80 of the 2009 LPGA money list). Plus, if it takes her 6 FT tournaments to get those 3 wins, even better, as the top 5 from the FT money list are a little higher on the priority totem pole than non-member top 80 finishers.

4) "No matter what, the LPGA could really use a figure like Wie. The Tour has a lot of dark clouds in [sic] the horizon, first in tournaments not being able to get sponsors, thus some are leaving the LPGA. On top of that it's [sic] star base is also leaving...." Certainly, the LPGA would benefit from Wie being on tour as a regular member. But new sponsors and stars always turn up. And it's not like Ochoa is going away tomorrow. 5-6 years is an eternity in golf.

5) "Another problem that is hurting the LPGA is winners from Asia that don't have the appeal value that Michelle Wie has because of language barriers. Since the first of June, Asian's [sic] have won seven of the ten events and this doesn't help drive the LPGA bus in getting not only more fans interested but new sponsors and television networks." Put the adjective "American" in front of Johnson's closing nouns and you might have grounds for an argument, at least. But as it reads, his statement refutes itself. The LPGA's best TV deals are coming out of Asia. LPGA winners like Ji-Yai Shin, Inbee Park, and Eun-Hee Ji are treated like national heroes upon their return to Korea. There are rumors the communist regime in China would love to see a Chinese Se Ri Pak emerge in the next decade. Ai Miyazato is--wait for it--a "rock star" in Japan, while Yuri Fudoh may well be the most significant golfer in Japanese history. Women's golf is tied to national pride, economic development, regional rivalries, and corporate growth across Asia. What's not to like about Asian winners?

Besides, there are plenty of talented and successful young Americans on tour beyond the Blonde Brigade (and how could Johnson have forgotten Morgan Pressel?)--not just the overhyped Brittany Lincicome and Nicole Castrale, but Asian Americans like Stacy Prammanasudh, Christina Kim, and Jane Park, as well. With Stacy Lewis (yay, another blonde!) coming in 2009 and Amanda Blumenherst and Tiffany Joh among others coming in 2010, there's nothing to worry about with respect to the American pipeline to the LPGA. What Johnson should be focusing on is the LPGA's youth movement. It's hot young stars who drive more girls to the game, which is the bottom line for future American success on tour. Wie is a part of that--a big part--but not even close to the only part. And the whole is bigger than any part.

6) "We just have to hope that Wie, her parents and anyone with influence (Ms. Bivens are you reading this) will be able to bring this to light and help Michelle through this tough time. Yes Q-School is a painful moment for anyone, but in reality it's a split second in time and even a failure would not be a drastic setback for Wie who does have other options like being a student at Stanford." What's so painful about Q-School? (Besides, well, everything about it.) Seriously, Johnson shouldn't give in to the notion that it's demeaning to go through Q-School. Ai Miyazato did just fine there, setting a record matched only by Jane Park last year. If Wie were to break their record, it would put an exclamation point on her return to the top rank of the women's game.

Jason adds on his own misguided addendum to Johnson's post when he claims the LPGA is in "dire financial straits." Sure, the LPGA is having a hard time filling out its domestic schedule, not very good news when they're also trying to negotiate a new tv contract. But as Geoff Shackelford and Ryan Ballengee have both noted, following an article by Bill Huffman, the PGA is in potentially bigger trouble, given the struggles of the U.S. financials sector. And the LPGA has a better relationship with existing Asian tours than the PGA does, which gives it a leg up on becoming a truly global tour (and following the money around the globe).

But the bottom line is that Wie should think through her options--Q-School now, Futures Tour for at least part of next year, or global jetsetter in '09--and talk them out with those she trusts. And she shouldn't let anyone else--not her parents, her agent, her coach, or her sponsors--make the final decision for her. Much less Sal Johnson.

U.S. Women's Softball Feels U.S. Women Golfers' Pain

Check out the tone of the AP story on Japan's amazing upset of the U.S. Women's softball team, denying the powerhouse their 4th straight Olympic gold on the strength of pitcher Yukiko Ueno's heroics.

The U.S arrived in China determined to put on a show of power, precision and poise. And except for a tense, nine-inning 4-1 win over Ueno and Japan in the semifinals, the Americans had done just that. That game was by far their toughest test in the tournament--until they met Ueno again in the final.

"She just beat us," U.S. starter Cat Osterman said. "I'm not hanging my head too much about it."

One of the few players in the field who could win a roster spot on the U.S. squad, Ueno stopped the Americans on a cool, drizzly night. The day before, she had pitched 21 innings--the equivalent of three complete games--to get her team to the gold-medal match.

Less than 24 hours later she was back on the mound and appeared no worse for it. The 26-year-old Ueno was handed the ball again by coach Haruka Saito, who didn't have many other options against the U.S. team's relentless top-to-bottom attack.

Though it's rare for a pitcher at this level to work consecutive days, Ueno's performance can stand with any in these games. Not only was it physically demanding in China's thick air, but she couldn't afford a misstep in two matchups with the U.S. or against the free-swinging Aussies, who won bronze.

"This isn't how it was supposed to end," said one U.S. player. Maybe by the time softball returns to the Olympics, the next generation of U.S. softballers won't enter international competition with that kind of presumption of dominance. Tell Morgan Pressel about it. (Or, for that matter, tell the Brazilian women's soccer team. The U.S. upset them for the gold. Globalization makes domination all the more difficult to maintain. For anyone.)

CAT Ladies Friday: When Some Cats Are Away...

Actually, there are several big cats away from the CAT Ladies JLPGA event this week--most notably, 2008 money-list leader Akiko Fukushima and career money-list leader Yuri Fudoh. That doesn't mean that 1st-round leader Yuko Mitsuka is a mouse--she only has the 2nd-lowest winning score on the JLPGA this season, -16 at the Nichirei PGM Ladies to Erina Hara's -21 last week. What mouse could make as many eagles as bogeys (2) on its way to a 65? Mitsuka is #8 on the JLPGA money list, but #3 Mi-Jeong Jeon and #4 Miho Koga are looking for their 3rd and 2nd wins of the season, respectively, and they're only 2 back. If they're mice, they're definitely roaring this week. As is Ji-Woo Lee, who's been showing signs of wanting to morph into a cat the last month or so. They're certainly happy that Mitsuka's bogeys came on the 17th and 18th--otherwise, her lead would be almost insurmountable. Imagine how happy big cats like Momoko Ueda and Sakura Yokomine are to be only 5 and 6 back, respectively.

Let's take a look at the top 10 and notables to see who else is roaring, and why.

1st/-7 Mitsuka (66)
2nd/-5 Lee (68)
T3/-4 Jeon, Koga, Mie Nakata (69)
T6/-3 Hiroko Yamaguchi, Tomoko Kusakabe, Yoko Inoue, Kaori Aoyama (70)
T10/-2 Yokomine, Akane Iijima, Midori Yoneyama, and 4 others (71)

T17/-1 Ueda, Hyun-Ju Shin, Chie Arimura, Kaori Higo, Mayu Hattori (72)
T30/E Ji-Hee Lee, Hara, Ayako Uehara, Miki Saiki, Esther Lee, Maiko Wakabayashi, Yuki Ichinose (73)
T45/+1 Eun-A Lim (74)

T62/+2 Hiromi Mogi (75)
T65/+3 Bo-Bae Song, Yun-Jye Wei, Michiko Hattori, Ritsuko Ryu (76)
T82/+5 Na Zhang, Yukari Baba (78)

There were a lot of eagles out there today (including 1 by Yokomine) but only 1 bogey-free round (Inoue's), so there's likely to be plenty of volatility on the leaderboard this weekend. With Shiho Oyama and Shinobu Moromizato also sitting this one out, the cat-and-mouse games will be even more intense among those with a chance to win this thing on Sunday!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The LPGA's Tournament Eligibility Priority List for 2009

Thanks to recent commenter Sekar, and picking up where Hound Dog and Brent Kelley left off, I was able to track down and now share the 3 July 2008 memo laying out the priority list for entering standard eligibility LPGA tournaments in 2009.

There are 21 categories, most of which seem designed to mirror the rules and results for this season. Sure, the top 90 has been winnowed down to a top 80 who get first dibs on any non-major/non-limited-field event they want to enter in 2009. And, starting in 2010, those who finished in the top 40 2 seasons before will drop from very high on 2009 priority list (category #1a) to almost the bottom of the high-priority categories (category #12). But much remains the same. Major winners (category #3) still will get very high priority for the next 5 seasons after their wins; those who win 3 times in the same year (category #5a) still will get 5 seasons and only slightly lower priority-standing; anyone who wins even 1 event still will get high priority for the next 3 seasons (category #6--although starting in 2010 it'll go down to 2); and any member who gets a top 10 still will get into the next standard event, even if their priority-standing wouldn't otherwise have gotten them into it.

Still, there are a few innovations and reorderings apparently designed to reward members playing well in 2009 who didn't have that great a 2007 or 2008 (as well as non-members and those who weren't playing professionally in previous seasons).

1) There is now a battlefield promotion for players who get their 3rd win in the same season on the Futures Tour (category #13). I wonder if those who get priority status this way would be considered LPGA members (and potentially LPGA rookies) in that season or not? I assume not--that their rookie year would come the following year if it hadn't already come--but haven't seen anything official to that effect.

This one would have benefitted Vicky Hurst and Mindy Kim. They would still have had to watch their position on the Futures Tour money list and do their best to ensure they came in the top 5 at the end of the FT season (category #9), but they could definitely have entered more LPGA events than they actually were able to get into. And if they had done well and these rules were in place, they could have gotten even higher-priority standing--not just by finishing in the top 80 on the money list, but with an LPGA win at any time in the season.

2) Anyone who wins gets high priority for the rest of the season (category #5)--even non-members who join the LPGA will benefit from this priority-standing. Non-members who choose not to join the year of their win still get high priority in the following year (category #7). And by becoming LPGA members, they get the same category #6 bonus as everyone else gets in the following years, as I read the rules, at least.

Even this year, Ji-Yai Shin could have applied to become an LPGA member after her Women's British Open win, but under the soon-to-be-superseded rules, she would have had very low standing when it came to actually trying to get into events. If the new system had been in place this season, she'd have found it quite easy to get into just about as many events as she wanted if she joined the LPGA immmediately after her WBO win. This category would have been open to Hurst and Kim from the Futures Tour and to unaffiliated professionals like Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie who wanted to get immediate high priority into LPGA events following a win, provided they were willing to become LPGA members.

3) Any LPGA member in the top 40 on the money list right after the 7th, 14th, and 21st events of the season gets fairly high priority (category #8) for entering any of the next 7 events on the schedule. Those in the top 40 right after the 28th event are basically guaranteed to get into all the standard events for the rest of the season from the 30th on.

What's nice about this category is that LPGA members can get into as many events as they want so long as they can get and stay in the top 40. It wouldn't have benefitted non-members like Hurst, Kim, Lewis, and Wie had it been implemented this season, but it gives anyone from the top 125 of the LPGA money list, top 10 of the Futures Tour money list, and top 40 from Q-School a fighting chance to finish in the top 80 on the 2009 money list.

4) Any LPGA member who's won at least twice in the previous 4 seasons (category #4) gets very high priority (right behind major winners and just ahead of current-year winners).

This one replaces the 4-year exemption for anyone who wins twice in a single season, so more players are eligible for it, but it ends up being a shorter time on the high-priority list, as eligibility ends 4 years after their 1st win. So Seon Hwa Lee gets 4 years of high-priority standing for her 2 wins this season. Mi Hyun Kim and Brittany Lincicome got 1 win each in 2007 and 2006, so they'll be in this high-priority category through the 2010 season--good for them, as Kim is dealing with injuries and Lincicome is mired in a terrible slump. Hee-Won Han, who won twice in 2006, also has insurance in case of a bad 2009. Stacy Prammanasudh, who won in 2005 and 2007, has the same insurance, but because of category #6. Pat Hurst and Meena Lee, who won in 2005 and 2006, are thus in for the 2009 season, no matter how badly they do in 2008 (although with over $200K in winnings already, Hurst is already a lock for the top 80, while Lee is just outside the top 30 already).

Now, if Louise Friberg, Leta Lindley, Eun-Hee Ji, Ji Young Oh, Helen Alfreddson, or Katherine Hull were to notch a 2nd win this season, she, too, would have very high-priority status, regardless of her place on the money list, over the next 4 seasons. But if Meaghan Francella, Silvia Cavalleri, Young Kim, Nicole Castrale, Natalie Gulbis, Maria Hjorth, or Momoko Ueda were to win this season, they'd only have high priority for 3 more seasons, because their first win came in 2007. And if 2006 winners Joo Mi Kim, Meena Lee, Juli Inkster, Sung Ah Yim, Jin Joo Hong, or Julieta Granada were to win in 2008, they'd really be benefitting from category #6, which gives them fairly high priority for the 3 seasons following a win. And for those whose last win came in 2005--Jennifer Rosales, Wendy Ward, Carin Koch, Jimin Kang, Marisa Baena, Heather Young, Soo-Yun Kang, Nicole Perrot, Jee Young Lee, or Christina Kim--the same holds, although everyone except Perrot is already inside the top 80 on the money list (but Young, Rosales, and Baena have their work cut out to stay there). So basically this category offers an extra benefit only to those who get their 2 wins in the same season, at least until 2013, when you could have won in 2009 and 2010 but had terrible years in 2011 and 2012 and still get into just about any standard tournament you were interested in playing.

5) Those who fall between #81 and #100 on the 2008 money list get roughly equal status with the top 20 2008 Q-School qualifiers (category #11). The Q-School winner gets top priority in this category, then #81 on the money list, then the Q-School runner-up, then #82 on the money list, and so on.

Only very rarely would those at the bottom of the ensuing priority list not get into a standard tournament from this category. You'd need 25 players to enter under categories #2 through #10 for the 40th player in this category to get knocked out of a usual 144-player field. This levels the playing field for the "bottom 20" LPGA players and "top 20" Q-School graduates.

6) Those who fall to #101 through #125 on the 2008 LPGA money list (category #15) and who get into #6 through #10 on the 2008 Futures Tour (category #17) thus have every reason to enter the 2008 Q-School. If they do decently and finish 21st through 30th (category #16), the Futures Tour players at least have moved up a category. But if they do well and finish in the top 20, they move up to category #11.

Here's why that matters a lot for these players in particular: all the players in categories #14 through #20 get their priority status reordered based on their money list position after the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th events of the 2009 season. But the highest they can rise is having a lower priority than those who win a Futures Tour battlefield promotion (category #13). That is, unless they get all the way into the top 40 of the current money list at these checkpoints and enter category #8 (see #3 above), they'll always have lower standing than Q-School grads, those between #81 and #100 on the previous season's money list, and even those with hot hands on the Futures Tour that season. As it should be.

7) The new rules place an incentive (category #2) and disincentive (category #14) for those players who are considering applying for a 1-time exemption based on their position on the career money list. Those in the top 20 can still get 2 years of very high-priority status, but those in the top 40 who exercise their option won't be able to use their top 20 exemption and will only get lower priority than Futures Tour players with battlefield promotions, with no chance to go higher unless they win or fight their way into the top 40 of the money list during that season and only that season to improve their standing by finishing in the top 80, top 100, or top 125 of the money list.

The effect is to give incentives to those outside the top 20 on the career money list who have hit hard times to give the Futures Tour and even Q-School a try before exercising their 1 lifetime exemption. If you see any hope at all of breaking into the top 20, you're better off saving the top 40 exemption as a last resort, to be used only after you've exhausted your FT and Q-School options.

8) Those who have won a tournament in the last 20 years will get even lower priority than those who exercise the 1-time top 40 career money list exemption (category #15a is being phased out after 2010 and will be replaced by category #19--which comes after those who finish 31st through 40th in Q-School [category #18]--and category #21, the lowest-priority one).

So besides the usual 2 spots for sponsor exemptions, the open invitation to Hall of Famers, and the chance for local qualifying, those on the downside of a long career will have little incentive or ability to get into more than a few events a year. This, too, will help open up more spots for players in the LPGA pipeline, young guns, and mid-career vets who have a legitimate chance to compete at a higher level for the first time or again.

9) There is a cool little loophole that I had speculated about in July. Tournament organizers may open their local qualifiers to non-members.

If this rule had been in place this year, I wonder if any of the closing tournaments of the year after the Canadian Women's Open would have encouraged Michelle Wie to take another shot at getting into the top 80 of the money list as a non-member (category #10). Or if Stacy Lewis would be trying Monday qualifying of the rest of the season and not hoping for more sponsor exemptions than what remains on her plate already.

So what do you all think of this priority list?

[Update 1 (8/28/08, 10:52 pm): Hound Dog likes it.]

[Update 2 (1/12/09, 3:41 pm): I'm still not convinced the tournament organizers at Q-School interpreted them correctly. I'd like to see a rewrite of certain parts of the rules.]

[Update 3 (4/11/09, 12:44 am): Since this page is still getting a lot of hits, it's worth updating it again to note that Hound Dog has recently offered a great clarification of how the priority list reordering after the 7th event of the season could play out after the Corona.]