Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Mostly Harmless Guide to 2009 JLPGA Q-School

In certain circles, speculation has abounded over who in the world will be trying to secure JLPGA membership for 2010 (a sensible economic decision for many non-Japanese players, given that the JLPGA is almost certain to have more tournaments than the LPGA next season and might even end up with a larger total purse for the year). The LPGA of Japan has a complex qualifying system, with 4 stages of qualifying tournaments and different exemption procedures into each stage. If you want to skip all the details and find out who's entered JLPGA Q-School, head on down to the bottom of this post. I've buried my lede on purpose.

Now, for those with more patience, you can track all the Q-School results (in Japanese only, sorry) by clicking on the "Qualify" link on the left sidebar of the main JLPGA page, then clicking on the blue tab. For the even more detail-oriented, you can also wade through, in English, the extensive lists of rules and regulations and deadlines and fees, not to mention the descriptions of the post-2nd-stage rules test and post-3rd-stage orientation. Bottom line: no tattoos.

By the way, I was able to get the normally reticent JLPGA site to display the full URL for all these pages by starting from the Pro Test blue tab off the "How to Be a Member" link on the left sidebar. Don't ask me why. And don't ask me to explain the relation between the results of that late-July tournament and JLPGA Q-School proper, either. The best I can figure is that the top 20 and ties from the field of 81 moved on to the 1st stage of JLPGA Q-School.

What I do know is that the 1st stage, for Japanese amateurs and professionals and others without an exemption into a later stage who can get a recommendation into Q-School, was completed in late August at 3 different sites. Go ahead and try google translation technology if you want a good laugh, but the only names I recognized (and I didn't even need the translator to do that) were Onnarin Sattayabanphot's (who came in T3 in a field of 94 at Shiga) and Na Ri Kim's (who was co-medalist in a field of 99 at Chiba). A pair of non-Japanese golfers (perhaps Korean and Chinese?) were co-medalists in a field of 91 at Gunma.

So it's looking like 69 players have advanced to the 54-hole 2nd stage, where they'll be joined by anyone from the LPGA who ended the 2008 season between 51st and 90th on the money list and anyone from the top 10 of the 2008 KLPGA money list who decided to enter JLPGA Q-School. Phone inquiries by the Full Metal Archivist didn't result in any disclosure of who's actually entered this stage, but we won't have long to find out: the 4 tournaments are all being played the 1st week of November. It's unclear how many from each event, in Ibaraki, Gunma, Kyoto, and Hyogo prefectures, will be advancing to the 3rd stage; apparently the players will be the 1st to find out. But the JLPGA is planning for 102-player fields in this stage's 2 54-hole tournaments, in Tochigi and Mie prefectures, at the end of November, which could also consist of players from several new exemption categories: #21-50 on the 2008 LPGA money list, #11-20 on the 2008 LET Order of Merit, the top player from their Step-Up Tour, plus a subset of current JLPGA members that I can't quite figure out how to specify. What I can identify is who beyond the qualifiers from the 3rd stage make it into the 102-player field in the 72-hole Final Qualifying Tournament during the 1st week of December: anyone who finished in the top 50 in this event the previous year; #1-20 on the 2008 LPGA money list; #1-10 on the 2008 LET Order of Merit; anyone from the JLPGA who lost her membership at the end of the 2009 season; and anyone from anywhere who won a JLPGA tournament this season but is not already a member for 2010. But the JLPGA is being cagey about how many players from the final qualifying tournament get membership on their Step-Up Tour and how many make it to the big leagues.

There's a lot I'd like to find out more about, from what it takes for a 2009 JLPGA member to have to go back to Q-School to why there aren't 2010 memberships reserved for the top Step-Up Tour players (a la the Futures Tour and the LPGA). But a few patterns emerge: the JLPGA is heavily recruiting American and European players (or at least players from the LPGA and LET), while forcing Korean golfers to go through 3 or 4 stages of qualifying. It appears that winning on the JLPGA as a non-member doesn't give you immediate membership any more, as it did for Ji-Yai Shin last season. And the Full Metal Archivist confirmed that you need a certain level of fluency in either Japanese or English to become a JLPGA member in 2010. She also found a 9 October article from Golf Digest Online that publicized a JLPGA press release identifying LPGA players exempt into the 3rd stage (Meena Lee, Young Kim, Teresa Lu, and Shanshan Feng) and into the final qualifying tournament (Na Yeon Choi, Candie Kung, Eun-Hee Ji, Seon Hwa Lee, Inbee Park, and Amy Yang). Barring absolute meltdowns, then, these players, along with Na Ri Kim and Onnarin Sattayabanphot (who should sail through the next 3 stages of Q-School) and any other LPGAers who have signed up for the 2nd stage the 1st week of November, will be JLPGA members in 2010. I don't know of any other year when so many LPGA members were seeking dual membership on the JLPGA. Marty Evans and her successor as LPGA commissioner had better find ways of synchronizing their 2010 schedule with the JLPGA's, so they minimize opportunities for some of their top players to choose a JLPGA over a LPGA event.

[Update 1 (8:36 am): Going by Tim Maitland's foggy memory of a casual conversation with Shin's caddy, Dean Herden, awhile back, it's possible that the non-member winners having to go to Q-School is not a new policy. Apparently a non-member win gets you into JLPGA events you want to play in that year, but you don't automatically become a member for the following year unless you win again (or perhaps finish high enough on the money list?). Hopefully someone will clarify this for us!]

[Update 2 (10/23/09, 12:27 am): Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for the link love; he unburied my lede, without including my last sentence!]

[Update 3 (12:32 am): Also appreciate the Devil Ball Golf linkage from Jay Busbee, but it's doubtful any of the players I listed will leave the LPGA for the JLPGA, or even play half as many events in Japan as in the, uh, various countries the LPGA plays in.]

[Update 4 (1:06 am): Ron Sirak does a great job putting my news in context--including in the context of the ongoing commissioner search--over at Local Knowledge. My only quibble with his post is with his title (see update 3); I'd also add that exchange rates and shorter tournaments are other reasons that JLPGA purses will be attractive relative to LPGA ones. The clear message for those who run the major women's tours is this: the time for cross-tour collaboration (in marketing the game's global stars), coordination (of schedules), and co-sponsorship (of more events) is now.]

[Update 5 (10/25/09, 6:44 am): I've been on the road this weekend, so have had limited time to read around, but I wanted to offer some belated thanks to Randall Mell for the attribution in his recent Americans in Japan post at the Shag Bag blog. But it was someone who already has dual JLPGA-JLPGA membership who won this week. Nope, not Momoko Ueda. Ji-Yai Shin!]

[Update 6 (7:36 am): Good profile of Candie Kung, who defends her title in Korea next week. Not her explanation of trying out JLPGA Q-School.]

2 comments:

Vince Spence said...

Bruce,

Has the JLPGA ever set or adjusted their schedule to avoid conflicts with the LPGA schedule? For example, in July when two LPGA majors are played within three weeks of each other, etc?

Could you tell me where Creamer, Pressel, Stanford and Gulbis stand if they chose today to attempt to qualify for the JLPGA's next season?

The Constructivist said...

Vince, entries closed on 10/13/09, so unless players have already contacted the JLPGA, they can't get into 2009 Q-School on the JLPGA. I can't remember exactly where everyone you mentioned finished on the LPGA money list last year, so I'll just answer you in a generality: #51-90 have to play 3 stages of qualifying tournaments; #21-50 have to play 2 stages; and #1-20 can skip straight to the final stage.