Saturday, January 3, 2009

The LPGA's Top Rivalries: Clashes of the Titans

Let's continue this Mostly Harmless series by turning to another facet of the LPGA's top rivalries: how the active Hall of Famers' careers match up. Here's the capsule summary:

Karrie Webb (1996): 35 career LPGA wins (including 1 non-member win), 7 majors, 9 international wins, $14.31M in career LPGA winnings (#2), $.85M in 2008 in 20 LPGA events (#18)
Lorena Ochoa (2003): 24 career LPGA wins, 2 majors, $13.20M in career LPGA winnings (#3), $2.76M in 2008 in 22 LPGA events (#1)
Juli Inkster (1983): 31 career LPGA wins, 7 majors, 1 international win, $12.45M in career LPGA winnings (#4), $.44M in 2008 in 18 LPGA events (#38)
Se Ri Pak (1998): 24 career LPGA wins, 5 majors, 6 international wins, $10.15M in career LPGA winnings (#5), $.37M in 2008 in 17 LPGA events (#52)

With Annika Sorenstam not playing on the LPGA for at least the next season or two, this foursome stands alone. Not only are they the only players in LPGA history besides Sorenstam to have broken the $10M barrier in career winnings, they also notched the most victories during the Sorenstam Era. The only active player in their league is Laura Davies--she has only 1 fewer win in the Sorenstam Era than Inkster, 4 fewer career wins than Ochoa and Pak, and 2 more majors than Ochoa. Cristie Kerr is on track to join them in the 10 Million Dollar Club sometime in 2009, but she would need to double her career win total to even get close to them. And nobody else on the LPGA has gotten to double digits in the win column. (Paula Creamer should be the next one.)

Even though Ochoa zoomed past Pak on the money list in 2007, beating her to the $10M mark, and passed Inkster in 2008 with relative ease, I'm not so sure she'll have such an easy time beating Webb to the $15M mark or passing her in career winnings in 2009. True, since 2002 Webb hasn't been the same player who never finished outside the top 5 on the money list or had fewer than 2 wins and 12 top 10s per season. Even though she hasn't won or cracked the top 15 on the money list the past 2 seasons and can no longer be counted upon for consistent excellence, there's no reason she couldn't have another 2006 in '09. I'm sure she'd love to close out her LPGA career in Babe Zaharias-land, with 40+ wins and 10+ majors. It's not quite now or never for her, but she'll need a special season to make it possible.

While post-Solheim Cup retirement is looming for Inkster and time is running out for her to catch Patty Sheehan (35 wins, 6 majors) and Betsy King (34/6) in total victories, she still has the game to match Betsy Rawls's 8 majors. But it seems likely that Ochoa will pass her in career victories in 2010 if not in the upcoming season.

Pak, meanwhile, is coming off only the 2nd season in her career that she finished outside the top 16 on the money list. Her 2008 wasn't nearly as bad as her meltdown of 2005, but it marks the 5th in a row that she couldn't crack the top 10 on the money list or get double digits of top 10s, raising doubts that she'll ever again be the dominant player she was between 1998 and 2003. But Ochoa still trails her by 3 majors, so it's unlikely she'll be able to pass her in 2009. If maintaining or padding her lead on Ochoa in majors isn't enough motivation for Pak in 2009, she should take note that Cristie Kerr and Mi Hyun Kim are closing in on her on the career money list.

Ochoa, by contrast, is at the peak of her career. The only question is how many more seasons she can extend her reign as the Queen of the Hill in the world of women's golf. With a host of talented Young Guns and the Class of 2009--most notably Ya Ni Tseng, Ji-Yai Shin, Amy Yang, and Michelle Wie--looking to join Creamer, Suzann Pettersen, and Kerr in the lead chase pack, 2009 is likely to be her biggest challenge yet. Until 2010.

[Update 1 (1/22/09, 12:50 pm): Thomas Atkins, a regular commenter at Hound Dog's place, has put together an inflation-adjusted LPGA career winnings top 50. Ochoa still has a ways to go to get to #3 on that.]


Average Golfer said...

I'm rooting for Laura Davies to make the HOF. Always a refreshing interview. One of my favorite woman players.

The Constructivist said...

I think she missed her best chance to do it under the points system at the end of 2007. She played a very limited 2008 schedule on the LPGA and was unimpressive (and not just by her high standards--it was the 2nd-worst of her career). Golf is a crazy game, but while I'd love to see her get those last 2 wins she needs (or 1 major), I'd be shocked if it actually happened.