Looking over the final field list for the LPGA Championship, I was disappointed to see my earlier suspicions confirmed: Ai Miyazato is indeed playing the JLPGA's Suntory Ladies Open instead of the LPGA's 2nd major. I know she's missed the last 2 cuts at the LPGA Championship, but she did finish in a tie for 3rd at Bulle Rock her rookie season, just 1 shot out of that playoff between Se Ri Pak and Karrie Webb. So why is she doing this?
Yes, the Suntory has one of the largest purses on the JLPGA, Ai-chan won its inaugural playing in 2004 (one of her 1st professional victories), she has been in contention to win her last 3 events in Japan, and she no doubt wants to get back in the winner's circle there for the 1st time since 2006. BUT, she's on a roll on the LPGA, with 5 straight top 20s, 5 top 10s in 10 starts (7th-best on tour), the 11th-best scoring average, the 12th-best birdie rate, the 10th-best rounds-under-par rate. So it's no surprise she sits 17th on the money list; in fact, all her key LPGA stats suggest that she should be higher on it. More important, she's this close to her 1st LPGA win--and probably playing the best of anyone on tour without one. When even the defending Suntory champion, Momoko Ueda, who gave herself a great birthday present when she chased down Shiho Oyama in the final round, has chosen to join Oyama and Mika Miyazato at Bulle Rock, you have to wonder why the hottest member of the Japanese contingent on the LPGA isn't playing on it in 1 of its biggest events.
I don't see Ai-chan on the field list for the Nichirei PGM Ladies next week, even though the LPGA doesn't restart until the Wegmans the week after (where she'll be rejoining the U.S. tour), so it doesn't seem like this is an attempt to make a serious run up the JLPGA money list. Thus, I have to conclude that her sponsorship deal with Suntory is the biggest factor in this decision. Either that, or she really misses Kobe beef.
I'm a huge Ai-chan fan, but I really have problems with her choice. All I can say is, she'd better come back with a win! And I'd better be able to watch it on Japanese TV!
[Update 1 (2:24 pm): Just noticed Ai-chan passed the $2M mark in official LPGA winnings.]
[Update 2 (8:27 pm): Miyazato explains her decision: as the Full Metal Archivist translated for me, Ai-chan has always felt bad for missing the event run by one of her sponsors since she's joined the LPGA, so she wanted to return this year to serve as a hostess for it. I respect her decision, of course, but still disagree with it.]
[Update 3 (6/10/09, 6:12 pm): The LPGA's list of players on the web is useful, to be sure, but it's certainly not complete. They don't even have Momoko Ueda's or Ji-Yai Shin's sites on it. And why list Ai-chan's site but not her blog?]