Friday, January 9, 2009

2000-2008 LPGA Break Points, Revisited

Last October I looked at the season-by-season winnings of the #1, #2, #5, #10, #20, #30, #50, #80, #100, and #125 players on the LPGA from 2000 to 2008. Here are the final results from this past season, along with a little bit of contextualization and analysis:

1. Lorena Ochoa $2.76M
2. Paula Creamer $1.82M
5. Helen Alfredsson $1.43M
10. Cristie Kerr $1.11M
20. Laura Diaz $809.5K
30. Brittany Lang $630.3K (1.045% of the total purse for the season)
50. Allison Fouch $375.3K (.622%)
80. Wendy Doolan $137.5K (.228%)
100. Julieta Granada $101.1K (.168%)
125. Young-A Yang $68.8K

Why these positions on the money list? The top 50 on the money list typically get into the late-season Asian Swing; the top 80 get Category 1 status the following season; #100 is the cut-off for Category 11 status; and #125 is the cut-off for Category 15 status. While it used to be the top 90 who got fully exempt status (roughly equivalent to Category 1 in the current membership system), I thought it would be interesting to track the top 80 trends here--plus it would help us look ahead and try to figure out where the upcoming season's "cut line" will fall.

What I was originally looking for when compiling the decade's stats was evidence that the talent pool on the LPGA has been getting deeper. I was a little surprised to find that Doolan's takings this past season were mid-to-low for a #80 player: while they were the best in recent years, they were nowhere close to Silvia Cavalleri's peak of .288% in 2004; whereas 4 of the 1st 5 #80 players got over .250% this decade, nobody has come close since 2004. In comments, Hound Dog suggested that the increasing number of limited-field events may help account for this trend. To test his hypothesis, let's see if the #30 players have been taking home even more than the #50, #80, and #100 players over the 2nd half of the decade.

#30 takings: .767% (2000), .825% (2001), .881% (2002), .984% (2003), .978% (2004), 1.002% (2005), .757% (2006), .857% (2007); 2000-2008 average: .900%; 2000-2004 average: .887%; 2005-2008 average: .915%

#50 takings: .472% (2000), .515% (2001), .481% (2002), .521% (2003), .555% (2004), .546% (2005), .529% (2006), .484% (2007); 2000-2008 average: .525%; 2000-2004 average: .509%; 2005-2008 average: .545%

#80 takings: .275% (2000), .252% (2001), .263% (2002), .214% (2003), .288% (2004), .227% (2005), .224% (2006), .214% (2007); 2000-2008 average: .243%; 2000-2004 average: .258%; 2005-2008 average: .223%

#100 takings: .203% (2000), .148% (2001), .158% (2002), .159% (2003), .183% (2004), .144% (2005), .144% (2006), .135% (2007); 2000-2008 average: .160%; 2000-2004 average: .170%; 2005-2008 average: .148%

The gap between the #30 and #50 player on tour had been growing steadily between 2000 and 2003, from .295 to .310 to .400 to .463, and only dropped slightly in 2004 to .423; from 2005 to 2006, however, the gap declined sharply from .456 to .228, and only went back up to .373 and .423 in the past 2 seasons. That averages out to a .378 gap in the 1st half of the decade and a .370 gap the past 4 seasons. So while a lot depends on the size of the gap this coming season before we can draw any definite conclusions, the data suggests that with most of the top 50 players getting into most of the limited-field events, there hasn't been a sharper separation between the #30 and #50 players over the course of the decade; if anything, the #50 players have been making up a little ground on the #30 players over the second half of the decade.

Similarly, the gap between the #30 and #80 players grew steadily from 2000 to 2003 (from .492 to .573 to .618 to .770) and dropped slightly in 2004 (to .690); where the data departs from the #30-#50 gap, however, is from 2005-2008 (moving from .775 to .533 to .643 to .817): the average gap in the 1st half of the decade was .629, while in the 2nd half of the decade (so far) it grew to .692. 2009 will have to buck this trend in a serious way to make a dent in that increasing separation between the #30 and #80 players. Meanwhile, the gap between the #50 and #80 players is widening even further, from .251 in the 1st half of the decade to .322 in the 2nd (thus far). That's a 22% increase compared to a 9% increase--pretty serious.

It seems clear, then, that the increase in limited-field events in the 2nd half of this decade is benefitting the top 50 players over the next 30 players on the LPGA in a fairly significant way. I see no reason for this trend not to continue. But as the #50 player tends to be doing better relative to the #80 player than the #30 player over time, I also see evidence that the talent pool on the LPGA is deepening.

This trend becomes even clearer when you bring the #100 player into the picture. Just as before, the gap between the #30 and #100 players has been widening from the 1st half (.717) to the 2nd half of the decade (.767), but the separation has been even sharper between the #50 and #100 players (from .339 to .397). Again, the #50 player's takings relative to the #100 player are increasing faster than the #30 player's, although the difference is a bit smaller (a 14.6% increase compared to a 6.5% increase). What this suggests is that the bottom of the 2nd 50 on the LPGA have been holding the line a little better than the top, despite being similarly shut out of most limited-field events. In fact, the distance between the #80 and #100 players actually shrunk from .088 in 2000-2004 to .075 in 2005-2008--almost a 15% drop!

Here's further evidence that the talent pool on the LPGA has been deepening this decade. With the #100 players closing the gap on the #80 players, the competition for those last Category 1 spots has been getting more intense (or would have, if the current rules had been in place all decade). If this trend continues, we're likely to see more years like last one, where Granada had the 3rd-best takings of the decade among the #100 players, coming very close to the decade's average, while Doolan's were only the 5th-best among the #80 players, significantly behind both the 4th-best and the decade's average. And I see little reason for it not to continue, as the vast majority of the 56 players I just profiled are top 80 material for 2009, which leaves only 30-35 more spots for the players whose careers to date have been only slightly less successful than those of the LPGA's elite. When you consider that 3 of the 2008 money list's top 30, 10 of the top 50, 30 of the top 80, and 56 of the top 100 have not had careers that warranted inclusion on my list, you're likely to join me in concluding that the competition for those spots is only going to heat up in 2009.

So if you figure that taking home 1% of the total 2009 purse gets you top 30 status, .5% gets you into the top 50, and .25% gets you into the top 80, then the numbers everyone will be shooting for this coming season are something like $550K, $275K, and $137.5K (assuming the total purse is $55M). With Annika Sorenstam out of the picture, that puts another $1-2M on the table for everyone else next season, when you take into account her winning percentages and winnings percentages and rates. It'll be interesting to see how it gets divvied up. Will anyone outside the top 30 see any of it?

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