Thursday, June 18, 2009

The College Kids Are Alright

Anna Nordqvist's surprise win at the LPGA Championship got me rethinking something I've believed for a long time: that NCAA success is not much of a predictor of LPGA success. For every Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa, who, after short adjustment periods, went on to LPGA greatness, it seems there are a couple of dozen players who rocked it in college but aren't able to make that adjustment to life and competition on the big tour. For a long time, I've believed that those who turned pro early (like Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, and Vicky Hurst) or who had great success on other tours (like Se Ri Pak, Mi Hyun Kim, Hee-Won Han, Ai Miyazato, and Ji-Yai Shin) had much better chances of LPGA success than those who played college golf. Sure, turning pro early is no guarantee (just ask Esther Choe and Hannah Yun), and success on other tours doesn't always translate quickly on the LPGA (just ask Amy Yang and Momoko Ueda), but over the years I've been closely following the LPGA, it's seemed that the ballyhooed NCAA stars coming onto tour have never met expectations.

Now, it's true that Nordqvist didn't play 4 years of college golf. And that Mina Harigae, who has won 2 in a row on the Futures Tour, left Duke even earlier than Nordqvist left Arizona State. So it's something of a stretch to point to their early success and identify a trend. But consider this: Cindy LaCrosse got a top 10 in her 1st pro event two weeks ago on the Futures Tour and followed it up with a top 25 last week, Pernilla Lindberg finished T10 in her 2nd pro event that same week (following up on a top 30 the previous week), Amanda Blumenherst got a top 25 in her 1st pro event last week, Jane Chin did the same in her 2nd, Jennie Lee got a top 30 in her 2nd, and Maria Hernandez made her first professional cut. Sure, they have a ways to go to catch Alison Walshe, who's in the top 10 on the FT money list, but they're off to solid starts.

Yes, this is only on the Futures Tour. But given Nordqvist's learning curve--you may recall she was one of the biggest Q-School disappointments in my book last December--not to mention the fact that Stacy Lewis just got her 1st top 10 as an LPGA member, I'm wondering if the new pros coming out of the NCAA ranks are going to be able to figure out how to compete at a top level in the big leagues quicker than such fantastic ex-NCAAers as Angela Stanford, Lindsey Wright, Brittany Lang, and Kristy McPherson have done. In that respect, I really like seeing how high Blumenherst finished in her U.S. Women's Open sectional qualifier--reminds me of how Nordqvist won the LET's Q-School in January to bounce back from her December disappointment. Blumenherst tees it up again on the FT tomorrow before her LPGA debut next week at the Wegmans, so we'll get to plot some more points on her early learning curve very soon. And if Harigae makes it a hat trick....

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