Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Best of the Young Guns: May 2009 Edition

The LPGA's Young Guns consist of the rookie classes of 2006 (Senior Standouts), 2007 (Junior Mints), and 2008 (Super Sophs). With Ji Young Oh and Ya Ni Tseng both getting their 2nd career wins already this season, Song-Hee Kim, Ai Miyazato, and Brittany Lang playing great, and many highly-ranked players in their generation struggling, my decision to limit this ranking to those who have one million dollars or more in career winnings means that the generation's first ranking of 2009 should have plenty of movement.

1. Ya Ni Tseng: Just not at the top. Tseng's win at the final Corning Classic cements her status as best in her generation and puts her squarely among the LPGA's elite.

2. Seon Hwa Lee: Even though she's off to a slow start in '09 results-wise, her key stats are the same or better than last season, so look for the former top gun in her generation to start finishing higher sooner than later.

3. Na Yeon Choi: I'm calling her the best player in her generation without a win on the LPGA. If she ever gets her putter going, watch out for her! Hound Dog ranks her 75th in total putting this season.

4. Jee Young Lee: She's the best player in her generation without an official LPGA win (she won as a non-member in Korea). Like Seon Hwa Lee, her stats are about the same as ever, but like Choi, her putting has been off in '09, so all signs are pointing to another great run from her soon.

5. Morgan Pressel: Sure, only Seon Hwa Lee has more wins than she does, but she's going to drop down this ranking like Inbee Park did this time around if she can't improve just about every aspect of her game. With a generation this good, even a major can't help you out for long if you can't keep producing.

6. Angela Park: Another very good player in danger of being passed by a lot of fellow Young Guns. She hits an amazing number of greens given how bad she's driving the ball (Hound Dog ranks her below Pressel in this stat--#139 vs. #114) and I'm actually surprised she's making more than 3 birdies per round given how low Hound Dog ranks her in total putting (#70).

7. In-Kyung Kim: Hound Dog puts her at the top of those going up the LPGA Elevator, so it's no surprise she moved up 7 spots in his latest LPGA Top 70 to #11. She makes more birdies per round than Tseng and doesn't have an obvious weakness in her game, so look for her to keep making up ground on Park.

8. Eun-Hee Ji: Although she's been in a mini-slump by her standards the last few events, watch out for her as we approach the anniversary of her win at the Wegmans.

9. Ai Miyazato: She's now ranked in the top 30 by Rolex, the top 25 by Hound Dog, and the top 20 by the GSPI, so it's no wonder she's also taking a fast ride up HD's LPGA elevator. Now that she's got her driver going again (HD ranks her 7th on tour), she's attacking courses like the Ai-chan of old, as her 3.60 birdie rate shows. And she's not even putting well yet by her standards!

10. Brittany Lang: #2 on Hound Dog's LPGA elevator post, she's another great ball-striker (she's tops in HD's total driving stat) who just needs to get her putter going to start winning in bunches.

11. Song-Hee Kim: It's too bad for her Miyazato and Lang have been playing so well. Although she's been making up ground on them steadily for some time now, she still has a ways to go to catch them.

12. Ji Young Oh: Yeah, yeah, she's won twice on the LPGA. But I can't justify placing her any higher on this list.

13. Inbee Park: She remains in a serious slump since winning last year's U.S. Women's Open, despite showing signs of life here and there. We're not talking Julieta Granada territory just yet, but it's past time for her to get it going again!

14. Sun Young Yoo: One of the best drivers on tour this season (according to Hound Dog), this late bloomer just snuck into the million-dollar club. But she's going to have to learn to put herself into contention to move up this list.

15. Julieta Granada: It's looking more and more like she's not going to regain her rookie form any time soon, which means that we may be seeing plenty of her on the LET in the 2nd half of the season in an effort to secure some kind of professional status for 2010 (she's a member there this year by virtue of her strong play in their Q-School). Still, even without that $1M paycheck for winning the 2006 ADT Championship, she'd still be a member of the million-dollar club, so she'll be at the bottom of this pile for a long time to come.

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing this ranking.

2009 LPGA Money List (rank), stroke average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone is playing this season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category (except for birdies, which LPGA.com ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don't include putts per green in regulation here. Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future. I don't include the stats of those in the Young Guns generation who haven't broken into the million-dollar club yet, but I do indicate the gaps in the rankings that result from these omissions.

1. Ya Ni Tseng, $631.9K (#3), 70.08 (#2), 4.11 (#1), 72.7% (#8)
2. In-Kyung Kim, $458.5K (#8), 71.00 (#10), 4.20 (#3), 75.4% (#2)
3. Ji Young Oh, $393.4K (#9), 71.76 (#27), 3.12 (#27), 67.2% (#40)
4. Song-Hee Kim, $377.4K (#11), 70.77 (#7), 3.77 (#5), 68.6% (#32)
5. Na Yeon Choi, $311.3K (#14), 71.03 (#11), 3.40 (#9), 71.7% (#12)
8. Ai Miyazato, $258.7K (#20), 71.14 (#14), 3.60 (#10), 70.3% (#19)
9. Angela Park, $246.3K (#21), 71.96 (#32), 3.07 (#45), 69.6% (#23)
10. Brittany Lang, $245.6K (#22), 71.08 (#13), 3.18 (#11), 73.7% (#5)
11. Sun Young Yoo, $179.0K (#24), 71.27 (#16), 3.50 (#24), 68.7% (#30)
12. Eun-Hee Ji, $172.8K (#25), 71.81 (#28), 2.97 (#33), 66.7% (#44)
13. Seon Hwa Lee, $167.2K (#26), 71.42 (#18), 3.19 (#31), 67.7% (#37)
14. Jee Young Lee, $159.2K (#28), 71.56 (#22), 3.64 (#6), 69.8% (#21)
20. Morgan Pressel, $99.3K (#43), 71.94 (#30), 2.97 (#35), 62.3% (#103)
32. Inbee Park, $40.0K (#83), 74.00 (#107), 2.61 (#59), 57.1% (#140)
? Julieta Granada, $3.8K (#143), 77.28 (#150), 1.78 (#136), 45.4% (#152)

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events entered/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/cuts made (made cut rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately the Young Guns haven't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt both years. What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins has posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Top 50 ranking over at Hound Dog's place. In any case, I include these other ways of seeing how the Young Guns finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. Many thanks to the LPGA for updating their 2009 Performance Chart after every event!

1. Seon Hwa Lee, $3.19M (#52), 95/0/4/10/25/50/88 (.926)
2. Jee Young Lee, $2.50M (#69), 88/0/0/6/26/50/82 (.932)
3. Ya Ni Tseng, $2.38M (#74), 37/1/2/10/16/27/36 (.973)
4. Morgan Pressel, $2.25M (#83), 82/1/2/6/24/39/71 (.866)
5. Julieta Granada, $2.15M (#87), 90/0/1/5/10/21/57 (.633)
6. Angela Park, $2.10M (#88), 64/0/0/8/18/25/58 (.906)
7. Ai Miyazato, $1.99M (#91), 78/0/0/4/21/32/64 (.821)
8. Brittany Lang, $1.76M (#103), 91/0/0/4/20/37/69 (.758)
9. In-Kyung Kim, $1.69M (#107), 61/0/1/5/15/23/52 (.852)
10. Inbee Park, $1.56M (#112), 61/1/1/3/9/16/45 (.738)
11. Song-Hee Kim, $1.44M (#123), 53/0/0/4/11/18/40 (.755)
12. Na Yeon Choi, $1.41M (#124), 37/0/0/5/12/24/37 (1.000)
13. Eun-Hee Ji, $1.34M (#131), 41/0/1/4/13/18/37 (.902)
14. Sun Young Yoo, $1.23M (#143), 88/0/0/1/10/25/68 (.773)
15. Ji Young Oh, $1.22M (#146), 60/0/2/2/7/14/44 (.733)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 6/1/09) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 5/31/09) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2008 season): This is a way of seeing how those Young Guns who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA). Again, I omit those Young Guns outside the million-dollar club for the purposes of this ranking.

1. Ya Ni Tseng, 9.64 (#2), 69.64 (#7); 0
2. In-Kyung Kim, 4.36 (#10), 70.06 (#12); 0
3. Seon Hwa Lee, 3.86 (#12), 70.69 (#23); 3
4. Song-Hee Kim, 3.84 (#13), 70.36 (#16); 0
5. Na Yeon Choi, 3.67 (#14), 70.05 (#10); 4
6. Angela Park, 3.40 (#17), 70.82 (#24); 0
7. Eun-Hee Ji, 3.35 (#19), 70.05 (#11); 4
8. Ji Young Oh, 3.26 (#20), 71.25 (#35); 0
9. Jee Young Lee, 3.21 (#22), 70.64 (#22); 2
11. Ai Miyazato, 2.84 (#28), 70.56 (#19); 14
12. Brittany Lang, 2.81 (#29), 70.93 (#26); 0
13. Inbee Park, 2.80 (#30), 71.09 (#34); 0
15. Morgan Pressel, 2.62 (#33), 71.32 (#39); 0
17. Sun Young Yoo, 2.35 (#39), 71.31 (#38); 0
? Julieta Granada, .40 (#179), 74.67 (#258); 0

FYI, here's the rest of my 2009 schedule:

June: Class of 2006 (post-Wegmans)
July: Class of 2007 (pre-WBO)
August: Class of 2008 (post-Safeway)
September: Young Guns (post-Longs Drugs)
October: Class of 2006 (post-Korea)
November: Class of 2007 (post-Stanford)
December: Class of 2008 (post-Q School)
January '10: Young Guns (final 2009 ranking)

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