Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Best of the Young Guns: Junior Mints, July 2009 Edition

Just about every recent rookie class has a dominant player as queen of the hill: Paula Creamer is head and shoulders above the rest of the Class of 2005, Seon Hwa Lee stands above the Senior Standouts, Ya Ni Tseng is outpacing the Super Sophs, and Ji-Yai Shin is the clear favorite to win Rookie of the Year. But not so the Junior Mints. They have multiple players with 2 wins, a couple of U.S. Women's Open champions, and some of the top players without a win on tour, so how do they stack up, now that we're in the middle of the LPGA's summer vacation?

Simply the Best

1. Eun-Hee Ji: The 2nd U.S. Women's Open champion among the Junior Mints has had an on-again off-again season, but I doubt she'll suffer the same kind of Open hangover from which Inbee Park has only recently recovered. Sure, her DQ at the Women's British Open, the 3rd of her career, makes it harder for her to break the $1M barrier in season winnings, but she's the 3rd player in her class to pass the $2M mark in career winnings--and she did it in her 47th LPGA event (not counting the 2 tournaments she played in Korea before joining the tour, which aren't counted toward her totals). The scary thing is, she still has some room for improvement with her approach shots and putting. Despite her great accuracy off the tee (she's hitting 77.5% of her fairways, 10th on tour), her greens in regulation and birdie rates (68.1%/3.26) are only better than average, while her 1.797 putts per green in regulation rate puts her just outside the top 30 on tour. If she comes back from summer vacation having improved in these areas, she could put herself smack dab in the middle of the Player of the Year race.
2. In-Kyung Kim: She's having the best year of anyone in her class and is a legitimate contender for Player of the Year. Having broken the $1M barrier in season winnings for the 1st time in her career and become the 2nd Junior Mint to pass the $2M mark in career winnings, she's at the top of her class in both categories. But I can't put my favorite Junior Mint in the #1 spot here just yet: Ji's accomplished about as much as she has in 20 fewer events. So she'll need to pass Ji in total wins and extend her leads in top 3s, top 10s, and top 20s on Ji if she wants to take the top spot away from Ji
3. Angela Park: It's great to hear that she's not retiring, after all (thank Larry the Looper for that rumor!). And I think she made the right call to pull the plug on the European Swing. She'd only made 1 cut in her previous 7 starts. Hopefully she's had time to rest and recover from whatever it is that's been bothering her. Even though she's fallen from her #1 spot last ranking, every player goes through a rough spot at least once in her career. There's no reason she can't be back among the game's elite again.

The Contenders

4. Song-Hee Kim: She's having a great year that could turn awesome if she finally breaks through for that 1st LPGA win. To do it, she'll need to improve on her ballstriking, accuracy, and precision (she only hits 70.8% of her fairways, which puts her in 57th place on tour, and 68.4% of her greens in regulation, but still averages 3.88 birdies per round and 1.742 putts per green in regulation--imagine how much better she'd be scoring if she were just giving herself a couple more good looks for birdies per round).
5. Inbee Park: Her slump is over. She's made 7 cuts in a row and even got a top 20 in that run (at the LPGA Championship, no less). If she keeps it up, she'll move back into the top 50 on the money list and qualify for the Asian Swing.
6. Ji Young Oh: Even with 2 wins (tied for most in her class), I can't justify putting her any higher on this list. Call her the Rodney Dangerfield of her class!
7. Kristy McPherson: All signs suggest she's the #4 player in her class this season, but I just can't justify putting the 7th player in the class to join the Million Dollar Club in career winnings any higher than this just yet.
8. Jane Park: Back problems sabotaged her Solheim Cup run-up, so she'll have to wait another couple of years to make the U.S. team. She put some good rounds together on the European Swing and got a top 20 at the Women's British Open, so let's hope she carries that over to the Safeway and beyond. She's on the bubble to make the Asian Swing.

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Na On Min: Yes, she's been struggling big-time over her 1st 2 full seasons on the LPGA and she hasn't played on the LPGA since the Corning Classic, but her career record still outshines those below her. I wonder if her very low GIR rate this season suggests she'd been trying to play through an injury and decided to rest it? Even more to the point, I wonder if she'll be back for the Safeway?
10. Jin Joo Hong: She'll need to play well in her last few events to stay in the top 100 on the money list--and even better if she wants to crack the top 80. She's WDed from 3 of her last 7 events, so I suspect she's been trying to play through an injury. If I'm right, the LPGA's summer vacation might be just what the doctor ordered.
11. Irene Cho: She's the only on in this group playing at all well, but will need to make a move if she wants to play on the Asian Swing. She's certainly making enough birdies per round (3.33) to do it.
12. Charlotte Mayorkas: She's only made 2 cuts all season, but at #135 on the priority status list, will get into the last few regular-season events. Still, she'll need to make a real charge to avoid Q-School, much less qualify for the Asian Swing.

On the Bottom Looking Up

13. Paige Mackenzie: A Category 15er, but at least she's made 4 cuts this season, which has moved her up to #158 on the priority status list and given her a shot to move into the top 100 on the money list.
14. Sophie Giquel: She's a Category 11 player, but has only made 1 cut this season. At #126 on the priority status list, though, she'll still have a good number of chances to play her way out of anotherv trip to Q-School.
15. Becky Lucidi: Another Category 15er, but has made only 1 cut all season, so she's fallen to #161 on the priority status list and will need some luck to get into enough regular-season events to avoid another trip to Q-School.
16. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke: She got Category 11 status in Q-School, but has just made 1 cut this season. Still made more from it than from her recent win on the SunCoast Ladies Series, but hopefully that's a sign that better play is on the way on the LPGA for her later this month when her 141st place on the priority status list starts getting her into the last few regular-season events.

On the Outside Looking In

17. Seo-Jae Lee: Making a move on the Futures Tour, she's now #10 on their money list.
18. Su A Kim: Up to #54 on the FT money list.
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent: #58 on the FT money list now.
20. Cindy Pasechnik: She's listed as a Futures Tour member with Category D status, but hasn't played in any events this season. Will she be the 1st in her class to retire from competitive golf?

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

1. In-Kyung Kim, $1.06M (#3), 70.85 (#10), 3.85 (#4), 74.0% (#2)
2. Eun-Hee Ji, $862.9K (#7), 71.67 (#24), 3.26 (#18), 68.1% (#31)
3. Song-Hee Kim, $681.1K (#11), 70.69 (#6), 3.88 (#3), 68.4% (#27)
4. Kristy McPherson, $624.3K (#14), 71.35 (#17), 3.22 (#14), 70.1% (#14)
5. Ji Young Oh, $485.1K (#18), 71.95 (#36), 3.12 (#27), 66.3% (#48)
6. Angela Park, $246.3K (#40), 73.18 (#89), 2.85 (#92), 62.8% (#92)
7. Jane Park, $168.1K (#50), 72.83 (#66), 2.85 (#59), 62.0% (#99)
8. Inbee Park, $152.4K (#54), 73.02 (#80), 2.96 (#31), 57.5% (#138)
9. Irene Cho, $100.0K (#67), 72.86 (#67), 3.33 (#52), 65.9% (#55)
10. Jin Joo Hong, $62.7K (#92), 73.30 (#97), 2.54 (#94), 61.9% (#100)
11. Na On Min, $41.7K (#105), 73.29 (#95), 3.24 (#124), 59.1% (#127)
12. Paige Mackenzie, $40.8K (#107), 73.19 (#90), 3.22 (#101), 68.0% (#33)
13. Becky Lucidi, $17.9K (#132), 74.42 (#131), 2.79 (#125), 61.4% (#105)
14. Charlotte Mayorkas, $11.1K (#137), 74.68 (#137), 2.82 (#128), 58.1% (#134)
15. Sophie Giquel, $9.0K (#143), 74.84 (#140), 2.10 (#144), 62.2% (#98)
16. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $2.6K (#152), 74.79 (#138), 2.04 (#141), 53.3% (#146)

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events entered/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/withdrawals/disqualifications/missed cuts/finished events (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 Junior Mints 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 over at Hound Dog's place. In any case, I include these other ways of seeing how the Junior Mints 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. So here's how they stand midway through the 2009 season. Many thanks to the LPGA for updating their 2009 Performance Chart after every event!

1. In-Kyung Kim, $2.29M (#83), 68/0/2/7/19/29/0/0/10/58 (.853)
2. Angela Park, $2.10M (#90), 68/0/0/8/18/25/2/0/9/57 (.838)
3. Eun-Hee Ji, $2.03M (#94), 48/1/2/5/15/20/0/3/5/40 (.833)
4. Song-Hee Kim, $1.74M (#108), 60/0/0/5/13/24/0/0/14/46 (.767)
5. Inbee Park, $1.67M (#112), 69/1/1/3/9/17/1/1/16/51 (.739)
6. Ji Young Oh, $1.31M (#135), 67/0/2/2/7/16/0/0/19/48 (.716)
7. Kristy McPherson, $1.11M (#162), 61/0/0/2/10/17/0/0/17/44 (.721)
8. Jane Park, $.86M (#202), 52/0/0/3/6/11/2/0/10/40 (.769)
9. Jin Joo Hong, $.56M (#249), 57/0/0/0/2/7/6/0/17/34 (.596)
10. Na On Min, $.50M (#268), 52/0/0/1/2/6/0/0/20/32 (.615)
11. Irene Cho, $.34M (#314), 55/0/0/0/2/4/3/0/21/31 (.564)
12. Charlotte Mayorkas, $.27M (#342), 51/0/0/0/0/4/1/0/18/32 (.627)
13. Paige Mackenzie, $.17M (#404), 46/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/25/21 (.457)
14. Sophie Giquel, $.12M (#448), 35/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/17/17 (.486)
15. Becky Lucidi $.10M (#466), 33/0/0/0/0/2/0/1/23/9 (.273)
16. Su A Kim, $.07M (#506), 26/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/13/12 (.462)
17. Seo-Jae Lee, $.07M (#510), 25/0/0/0/0/0/2/0/13/10 (.400)
18. Sarah Lynn Sargent, $.05M (#547), 26/0/0/0/0/0/14/12 (.462)
19. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $.02M (#598), 29/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/25/4 (.138)
20. Cindy Pasechnik, $.02M (#620), 19/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/14/5 (.263)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 8/10/09) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 8/9/09) and rank, Hound Dog Top 70 rank (as of 8/5/09); and International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2008 season): This is a way of seeing how those Junior Mints 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).

1. In-Kyung Kim, 6.29 (#9 RR), 69.83 (#7 GSPI), #6 HD; 0
2. Eun-Hee Ji, 4.69 (#12 RR), 70.67 (#18 GSPI), #11 HD; 4
3. Song-Hee Kim, 4.64 (#13 RR), 70.04 (#9 GSPI), #13 HD; 0
4. Kristy McPherson, 3.86 (#18 RR), 71.12 (#27), #18 HD; 0
5. Ji Young Oh, 3.18 (#28 RR), 71.66 (#46 GSPI), #20 HD; 0
6. Angela Park, 2.87 (#33 RR), 72.04 (#62 GSPI), #54 HD; 0
7. Inbee Park, 2.68 (#38 RR), 72.45 (#80 GSPI), #55 HD; 0
8. Jane Park, 1.96 (#54 RR), 71.97 (#52 GSPI), #50 HD; 0
9. Irene Cho, 1.11 (#84 RR), 72.49 (#83 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0
10. Jin Joo Hong, .96 (#98 RR), 73.16 (#130 GSPI), n.r. HD; 2
11. Na On Min, .53 (#153 RR), 73.18 (#133 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0
12. Paige Mackenzie, .41 (#184 RR), 74.02 (#196 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0
13. Charlotte Mayorkas, .37 (#195 RR), 74.11 (#202 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0
14. Becky Lucidi, .33 (#210 RR), 75.32 (#307 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0
15. Sophie Giquel, .32 (#212 RR), 73.72 (#78 GSPI), n.r. HD; 1
16. Su A Kim, .12 (#324 RR), 75.16 (#292 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0
17. Seo-Jae Lee, .11 (#326 RR), 73.79 (#183 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0
18. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, .01 (#610 RR), 76.70 (#408), n.r. HD; 0
19. Cindy Pasechnik, .01 (#654 RR), 76.78 (n.r. GSPI [too few events]), n.r. HD; 0
20. Sarah Lynn Sargent, .01 (#674 RR), 75.80 (#346 GSPI), n.r. HD; 0

FYI, here's the rest my 2009 schedule:

August: Class of 2008 (post-Safeway)
September: Young Guns (post-Longs Drugs)
October: Class of 2006 (post-Korea)
November: Class of 2007 (post-Tour Championship)
December: Class of 2008 (post-Q School)
January '10: Young Guns (final 2009 ranking)

[Update 1 (8/12/09, 4:32 am): Here's a profile on Ji, in advance of her return to the KLPGA this week. Some interesting details I hadn't seen before there. Weird that she fired her caddie after the WBO. Hate to say it, but the article confirmed for me that I just don't like her as much as Inky, Jane Park, or Kristy McPherson. Yeah, even though she got her 1st win at the Wegmans.]

[Update 2 (8/13/09, 12:50 am): None at Seoul Sisters.com linked to an article saying Ji's caddie has been rehired. Good for her and him.]

No comments: