Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The LPGA's Top Rivalries: Young Guns

It's time for my favorite part of this year's rundown of the LPGA's top rivalries: a look at the LPGA's Young Guns--those players who started their LPGA careers in the last 3 seasons.

Head of the Class? Ya Ni Tseng v. Seon Hwa Lee: Even though she's struggled with her putting the past 2 seasons after a brilliant rookie campaign, Lee has been the paragon of consistent excellence in her generation, heading the 2005 Futures Tour's money list, winning Rookie of the Year in 2006 over much more celebrated players, getting at least 1 win each of her 3 seasons on tour, and averaging over $1M in winnings per season. Last season, Tseng just missed averaging 4 birdies per round and taking the #2 spot on the money list from Paula Creamer--not to mention about 7 more wins--but still managed to win a major, break the $1.75M barrier in season winnings, post a sub-71 scoring average, and beat out an inspired Na Yeon Choi for Rookie of the Year. If she can learn from Lee's ability to close the deal when in contention and match her resilience and consistency--not to mention get healthy and improve her accuracy off the tee--Lorena Ochoa should be watching out for her this season...and for many more to come.

Major Talents: Morgan Pressel v. Inbee Park: Whereas Pressel is the quintessential precision player, Park is an inspired putter. Each has struggled after making her 1st LPGA victory a major, Pressel with swing changes in a quixotic quest for more distance and Park with a sophomore slump in the second half of the past season. While both have been outdistanced and overshadowed by fellow major winner Ya Ni Tseng, only Pressel has gotten win #2--and has failed to break the $1M barrier in season winnings at least once.

Best Without a Win? Na Yeon Choi v. Jee Young Lee v. Angela Park: Yes, Lee has a non-member victory (in the 2005 LPGA event in Korea), so perhaps I should stop putting her in this category, but like Choi and Park, I see her as one of the most likely candidates in her generation to break through to the game's highest levels. They all make over 90% of their cuts, rack up a lot of top 10s and top 20s, and have put themselves in contention multiple times. But they're a study in contrasting styles: Choi is a strong all-around player, Lee is a bomber with great touch on the greens, and Park is a precision player. It'll be very interesting to follow these 3 over the course of their careers.

What Have You Done for Me Lately? Eun-Hee Ji v. In-Kyung Kim v. Ji Young Oh v. Louise Friberg v. Julieta Granada v. Meaghan Francella: They all have 1 career win with varying degrees of other success. Who among them will avoid the 1-hit wonder label? The 1st 2 for sure. The next 2? I hope. The last 2? Stranger things have happened.

The Expectations Game: Amy Yang v. Ai Miyazato v. Brittany Lang v. Song-Hee Kim v. Momoko Ueda v. Jane Park v. Hee Young Park v. Shanshan Feng: Some of them have built up expectations with international victories (Miyazato with 14 on the JLPGA, Ueda with 7 on the JLPGA, Hee Young Park with 4 on the KLPGA, Yang with 2 on the LET), others with domestic success (Lang and Jane Park on the NCAA, Kim on the Futures Tour), and some from carrying the weight of a nation's hopes on their shoulders (Miyazato, Ueda, Feng). So far their LPGA results haven't met such high expectations. But there's plenty of time for them to reach their potential.

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