Monday, February 16, 2009

Atsui, Samui, Daijo Bu: A New Mostly Harmless Feature

Ryan Ballengee has started a new regular feature over at Waggle Room, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, in which he turns the spotlight on individual rounds you might otherwise not have noticed or known about. Anyone who regularly reads my round-by-round reports on LPGA and JLPGA tournaments knows I love that sort of thing, so more power to him. He's gotten me thinking about my weekly schedule during the season. Typically, I offer a preview, give my predictions, and comment on pairings on Tuesday and/or Wednesday before an LPGA event, then survey each round in it, as well as in that week's JLPGA event, from Thursday to Sunday. So here's my idea for a regular feature to fill the Monday golf gap at Mostly Harmless: looking at recent trends in the world of women's professional golf to see who are the hottest (atsui) and coldest (samui) players, and who's doing all right (daijo bu). Its name comes from a little song I made up for onechan when she was a baby, sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques," about filling the bathtub and getting it the right temperature, but its purpose is to give a little bit better information than jumps in the Rolex Rankings or Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index indicate. Let's take it for a test run, shall we?

Atsui

1. Angela Stanford: Everyone in the world should know she's won three times in her last 7 events and hasn't finished worse than 6th in that stretch, but thanks to the golf media, they're more likely to think of her as the beneficiary of Michelle Wie's struggles down the stretch on Saturday. It's not quite as impressive a run as Lorena Ochoa's utter dominance for most of the first half of last season, but give Angela time--she's not done yet.

2. Katherine Hull: She decided to start her season at home on the ALPG--and what a great decision it was. She was runner-up to Sarah Oh and Gwladys Nocera in consecutive weeks before running away with the ANZ Ladies Masters and making a great comeback last weekend to finish T6. So in her 14 starts from the Canadian Women's Open to the Women's Australian Open, Hull has 2 wins, 3 runner-ups, 8 top 5s, 11 top 10s, and 13 top 20s (her worst finish? T23!).

3. Paula Creamer: Yes, Paula struggled in the high winds of Hawaii and could only manage a T15 at the SBS Open. Plus, she couldn't beat Johanna Mundy on the SunCoast Series in January, finishing T5. But you know what? She hasn't finished outside the top 20 in any tournament she's played since the very beginning of July '08. In that 13-tournament run, she has 2 wins and 9 top 10s.

4. Cristie Kerr: Her hot streak dates back to last May, for in her last 18 tournaments, she's only finished outside the top 20 twice (her worst being a T34 in China), while garnering 10 top 10s, including a runner-up and a win.

T5. Brittany Lang and Jee Young Lee: Both are riding 6-event top 10 runs, Lang since the Longs Drugs and Lee between the Kapalua Classic and SBS Open. Although Lee has a non-member win, both are on my short list of the most-likely-to-become-Rolex-First-Time-Winners-in-2009.

Honorable Mention: In early international competition, So Yeon Ryu, Hye Yong Choi, Hye Yoon Kim, and Hee Kyung Seo are picking up right where they left off last season. There should be some great rivalries on the KLPGA in '09! Look for Ha Neul Kim and Sun-Ju Ahn to bounce back from their recent struggles off the KLPGA, too.

Samui

1. Brittany Lincicome: She's still plumbing the depths of the worst slump of her career.

2. Julieta Granada: Did great at LET Q-School but terrible in her 1st LPGA start of '09.

3. Inbee Park: She pulled out of the Australian Swing and won't play till Thailand. Hopefully the additional rest and prep time will do her good.

4. Se Ri Pak: Her slump continues. Hopefully she'll play well in Asia.

T5. Ji-Yai Shin and Amy Yang: Both blew up in the wind at Hawaii and missed the cut last weekend. Shin may be having problems with her hands or wrists--she was briefly hospitalized after the second round of the ANZ Ladies Masters. Yang has no such excuse. Neither will be playing till the Showdown in Singapore, so I'm pushing the panic button until we see how they do then.

Dishonorable Mention: Mollie Fankhauser, Haeji Kang, and Anna Rawson squandered their momentum from their strong play in LPGA Q-School last season and on the ALPG this season.

Daijo Bu

1. Ya Ni Tseng: On a 2-event top 5 streak in '09, she seems fully recovered from her late-season struggles last winter.

2. Na Yeon Choi: Also seems to have recovered from her late-season stumbles last winter when she missed out on many chances to take the Rookie of the Year title from Tseng.

3. Eun-Hee Ji: Now has a 20th-, 10th-, and 5th-place finish over her last 3 starts.

4. Johanna Mundy: With 2 wins and a runner-up on the SunCoast Series, her T15 in Hawaii was only slightly disappointing--and part of a great bounce-back from a bad '08.

5. Anja Monke: Sure, her T32 in the SBS Open was nothing special, but with 2 wins, 5 top 10s, and nothing worse than a T24 in her last 7 starts on the LET since last August and a convincing performance at LPGA Q-School, she remains among the hottest players on the planet.

6. Ai Miyazato: Not only did she get a top 5 in Hawaii--her 1st on the LPGA since contending at the Women's British Open--a T12 in Australia, and 2 top 3s at the end of the JLPGA season after a terrible Mizuno Classic, she's currently riding a streak of 9 straight rounds of par or better dating back to the very end of last season (her worst in her last 14 was a 73). She's hitting greens and making birdies like the Ai-chan of old. Watch out for her this season!

T7. Natalie Gulbis and Sarah Lee: Last weekend was Natalie's 1st top 10 since the 2008 Women's British Open and Sarah's since the 2007 ADT Championship, which suggests they're both healthy and ready to compete at elite levels again.

Honorable Mention: Encouraging starts from Grace Park, Candie Kung, Hee-Won Han, and most of the LPGA's rookies.

[Update 1 (2:52 pm): Chigger at Seoul Sisters.com wished Stacy Lewis a happy birthday today, so let me add my own best wishes for a great year she's beginning!]

[Update 2 (2:54 pm): Here's why I blog, in a nutshell.]

[Update 3 (6:33 pm): Jamie at Crosscourt Birdies puts in his $.02 for Angela Stanford as the hottest player in the world of women's golf. Anyone disagree with him?]

[Update 4 (8:29 pm): Jason Sobel's Weekly 18 is always a decent barometer for me of how much LPGA news crosses over to the big-time golfy media; well, this week it was Wie, the new Korean TV deal, and Stanford who made his cut. I would have thought he'd have tried to find a way to get Laura Davies's win down under on the average ESPN golf fan's radar. And since his theme was youth, looking at the rookies and young guns who shone last weekend would probably have been appropriate, as well.]

[Update 5 (9:48 pm): Hey, check out the new Rolex Rankings! Michelle Wie's silver moved her into the top 90 in the world. When you've played as few events as she has in the last 2 years, and done as badly as she has in most of them, a very good recent result like last weekend's makes a big difference. The hard part will be continuing to move up: Laura Davies had a terrible '08, too, but only moved up 4 places with her win (to #64) and Sarah Lee did even worse but only moved up 6 spots (to #71) with her top 10. Anja Monke and Johanna Mundy also made big moves, but the weight of all their past events means this week counts for less. As Wie accumulates events, she's going to find it harder to move up--unless she can get as many top 3s and top 10s as, say, Ya Ni Tseng did in her rookie season. Speaking of Tseng, she's almost within 5 points of Ochoa--still a chasm, but a shrinking one....]

[Update 6 (2/17/09, 1:07 pm): Here's Alan Shipnuck on Wie's near-miss. Can't wait for him and Sirak to broaden their focus!]

[Update 7 (5:06 pm): Armchair Golfer has a nice little feature on Stanford.]

[Update 8 (5:16 pm): It's Lisa Mickey to the rescue with a feature on the new American Big 3--Wie, Lewis, Hurst. Shin deserves being left out of the picture for missing the cut. From a quick look at the LPGA.com stats page, it looks like putting was a big part of Shin's problems, so that second round of hers could have just been a wind-induced flat stick nightmare day than anything to do with her health. But it's worth noting that it was her putting that suffered in Australia, as well.]

[Update 9 (2/19/09, 4:30 pm): Jay Busbee is asking the right question about Angela Stanford.]

[Update 10 (5:22 pm): Jimmy Burch suggests the answer may not be "hot streak." But let's face it--she had a streaky 2008 and she has a bad shoulder. I'm rooting for her to prove me wrong again this year--I put her down in the 20s in my preseason predictions....]

[Update 11 (2/21/09, 12:36 am): Stina Sternberg brings the glam while profiling "America's Angels" (Wie, Hurst, Lewis). Well played, Stina!]

3 comments:

Ryan Ballengee said...

Love the idea! Feel free to put it up as a FanShot at Waggle Room anytime you want, too.

diane said...

re: Update 8

Actually JiYai Shin deserved to be left out of Lisa's article because it was about American rookies only. Otherwise I'm sure she would have made the "cut" even if she didn't make the cut. 8-)

Great work!

The Constructivist said...

Yeah, that was not well put. What I should have said was that Lisa would have found a way to get Shin in if she had actually played well--or Oyama, for that matter.