Wednesday, January 21, 2009

LPGA Prognostication Derby Blues

So I've been thinking off and on lately about how to improve on my 3rd-place finish in the competition to identify 2008's best 30 golfers on the LPGA. For 2009, it seems to me I'm doing all right if I get 10 picks about right, 10 a bit off, and 10 wildly off. It's pretty rare for an acknowledged top 10 player to fall all the way out of the top 30, so I'm not too worried about the 1st two of those challenges. But how to minimize that last number? Well, I have to figure out how to approach the following problems:

  • Schedule Speculation. Not that many golfers are as decisive--or transparent--about their 2009 schedules as Lorena Ochoa. It's an open question, for instance, how many JLPGA starts Ji-Yai Shin, Momoko Ueda, Ai Miyazato, and Shiho Oyama will make this coming season. Team Wie is spreading the word not to expect her to make more than 14 LPGA starts in her rookie season on the LPGA. How to factor in known or suspected limited schedules among the top/up-and-coming players on tour?
  • Hot Streak or Quantum Leap? When you look at the LPGA's 2008 Performance Chart, it's clear that Shanshan Feng, Sun Young Yoo, Laura Diaz, Ji Young Oh, Karen Stupples, Brittany Lang, Katherine Hull, and Angela Stanford joined Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen, Jeong Jang, Seon Hwa Lee, Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Hee-Won Han, Jee Young Lee, and Meena Lee in finishing last season off in style. The 1st group of names are those who surprised me by doing this, while the 2nd group either stayed at or played up to my preseason expectations. That's 19 players right there (minus Sorenstam) who are fantastic top 30 candidates for 2009. But who among them (aside from the usual suspects) have really made a quantum leap? And how many are due to cool off or go cold?
  • Bounceback Time: Whether it's from injury, swing changes, or life-changing events (like death in the family, getting engaged or married, or having a baby), a significant portion of the candidates for the top 30 will have some serious bouncing back to do in 2009. Who will be as successful at coming back from an injury as Helen Alfredsson or Candie Kung were last season? I expect a youngster like Ya Ni Tseng to come back fully healed from her triceps injury, but are Natalie Gulbis's back problems and Jeong Jang's wrist problems as chronic and serious as, say, Grace Park's have been? Will Han, Stupples, and Catriona Matthew prove as adept at infant/toddler wrangling and elite golfing as Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst? How will engagement affect Ochoa's game and marriage Mi Hyun Kim's? Will Morgan Pressel finally groove her new swing?
  • Blip or Trend? Will a healthy Alfredsson remain among the game's elite for the next few years, or was 2008 her swan song? Has Se Ri Pak put her worst season since 2005 behind her? Have we seen the last of Inkster, Laura Davies, Sherri Steinhauer, Hurst, Carin Koch, and Rachel Hetherington in the top 30? And what about other players who have fallen on hard times lately like Grace Park, Gloria Park, Jennifer Rosales, and Dorothy Delasin? And how about players in their prime like Young Kim, Shi Hyun Ahn, Sarah Lee, and Brittany Lincicome who are coming off rather (or very) disappointing seasons?
  • Young Gun/New Blood Mysteries. Sure, the very best in the rookie classes of 2006 through 2009 are pretty well known, but how will former rookies playing their 1st full season like Amy Yang, Anja Monke, Anna Rawson, and Ashleigh Simon do in '09? Will Ai Miyazato and Brittany Lang be better than ever in 2009? Should we write off Julieta Granada and Meaghan Francella? Should we trust that the improved 2008 stats of players like Song-Hee Kim, Sun Young Yoo, Ji Young Oh, and Teresa Lu will result in even better results in 2009? And who among this year's rookies will step up and surprise?

And that's just the known unknowns. What about the unknown unknowns? I'm not looking for your best What Would Don Rumsfeld Do lines (although they would be much appreciated), but if you have other things I should be plugging into that 100-yen Nishijin crystal ball I'm using next week, let me know in comments!

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