Monday, December 28, 2009

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

The race to be the best of the LPGA rookie class of 2006 is heating up, as Morgan Pressel and Ai Miyazato leapfrogged Jee Young Lee and made up ground on #1 Seon Hwa Lee this season, but it's nothing compared to the sparks generated by the best of the '07ers! So how do they stand at the end of 2009? And what's been happening to the rest of the Junior Mints?

Simply the Best

1. Eun-Hee Ji: When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Last time, I wrote that "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." Well, Hound Dog is absolutely right that she was in the throes of the Open jinx over the 2nd half of the season. By season's end, she didn't even crack the top 40 in any of his key performance stats, so the fact that she still broke the $2M barrier in career winnings and almost won $1M in 2009 is amazing. Given how many fewer LPGA events she's played as a member than most others in her class, though, she holds onto the #1 spot for another ranking.
2. In-Kyung Kim: But my favorite player among the Junior Mints is coming on strong. Even though she, too, struggled by her standards after getting her 2nd career LPGA victory (at the State Farm Classic)--missing 4 cuts in her last 15 events and dropping out of the Player of the Year race in the process--she still played great in the other 11, with her worst other finish being a T24 to go with 5 top 10s and 10 top 20s in that run. She capped it off with a convincing win in Dubai over a charging Michelle Wie. So her prospects for 2010 are fantastic, especially if she can improve her driving distance and accuracy just a little bit.
3. Song-Hee Kim: With Brittany Lang, she's a top contender for best on the LPGA without a win. Even without 1, she broke the $1M barrier in 2009 and learned what it feels like to be in the thick of things in her 3rd season on tour, following a celebrated start to her career on the Futures Tour. Like Lang, she's long and straight off the tee, but unlike Lang, she's a great putter. So it stands to reason that if she can improve her iron play in the offseason, that 1st win won't be too far away.
4. Angela Park: The '07 Rookie of the Year started 2009 off with a bang: 2 bronzes and another top 10 in her 1st 4 starts. But come April, she dropped off a cliff, prompting rumors that she was planning to end her professional golfing career. Whatever she's been wrestling with since then is bigger than golf. I wish her the best in 2010, on and off the course.

The Contenders

5. Inbee Park: Just after I proclaimed her post-Open slump to be over, she missed 3 cuts in her next 4 starts. But she ended the season with a T7 in Korea and a T5 in Japan. If she can get her driver straightened out and start hitting more greens, she can take real advantage of being one of the best putters on the LPGA in 2010.
6. Ji Young Oh: She got her 2nd career win at the Sybase and broke the $500K barrier in winnings, despite the fact that she averaged less than 3 birdies per round. If she improves her iron play and putting in 2010, watch out for her! The only thing keeping her behind Inbee Park right now is the size of the Open purse.
7. Kristy McPherson: Another leading candidate for best on tour without a win, she's a great ballstriker. If she ever really gets her putter going in 2010, she could become a superstar.
8. Jane Park: After a great start to the season, her back gave out, and except for some bright spots on the European Swing, the rest of 2009 was a big disappointment. Even caddying for Tiffany Joh at LPGA Q-School backfired; not only did she get waterlogged, but her good friend didn't play well at all and has to settle for the Futures Tour next season. Here's hoping that both players make a big comeback in 2010 and are Solheim Cup teammates in 2011!

Quantum Leap Candidates

9. Na On Min: Turns out I was right that she was dealing with injury issues in the spring--after shutting down her season at the end of May, she finds herself back in Category 1 for 2010, on a medical exemption.
10. Jin Joo Hong: After finishing 103rd on the 2009 money list, she finds herself at #148 on the priority status list for 2010. At least she started making cuts and finishing events again in the fall. Here's hoping that means that she's put whatever injury issues that were the likely cause of her bad play this season behind her. And that she can put together a full schedule next season.
11. Irene Cho: A T68 at the LPGA Tour Championship was just good enough to secure her the last spot in Category 1 for 2010, so she'll get plenty of opportunities to improve her approach shots and give herself more birdie chances--something she'll need to do if she wants to move up this list.

On the Bottom Looking Up

12. Paige Mackenzie: After getting her 1st career top 10 at the Safeway Classic, she made another 5 cuts in a row and ended up with quality ballstriking stats and a very good birdie rate (3.42). Let's see if she can build on her Category 1 status in 2010. If she ever figures out that she could have a Cristie Kerr-Angela Stanford-Brittany Lang quality game with a little more practice around and on the greens, who know how good she could get?

On the Outside Looking In

13. Charlotte Mayorkas: Ouch! Her game absolutely deserted her in 2009 and she couldn't find the magic in this year's Q-School like she did at the end of 2008. So it's looking like the Futures Tour is in her future in 2010.
14. Sophie Giquel: Playing a split schedule in 2009, she made 2 of 12 cuts on the LPGA but finished #56 on the LET money list in only 7 starts. Guess where she'll be playing in 2010.
15. Seo-Jae Lee: She had a chance to win her LPGA card back via a top 10 finish on the Futures Tour money list, but she ended up at #14 and chose not to punch her ticket to LPGA Q-School. Wondering if she's headed for the KLPGA?
16. Su A Kim: After ending up #62 on the 2009 FT money list, I'm wondering if she's also KLPGA-bound in 2010.
17. Becky Lucidi: After making only 1 LPGA cut in 2009, it's unclear what her future holds in 2010.
18. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke: Ditto.
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent: Ended up #68 on the 2009 FT money list, but will she be back in 2010?
20. Cindy Pasechnik: Going for her MBA at the University of Calgary.

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the final 2009 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 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 and are worth comparing to Hound Dog's final 2009 total driving and total putting stats.

1. In-Kyung Kim, $1.24M (#8), 71.00 (#13), 3.92 (#4), 72.2% (#7)
2. Song-Hee Kim, $1.03M (#11), 70.52 (#8), 3.80 (#7), 69.6% (#28)
2. Eun-Hee Ji, $937.3K (#13), 71.94 (#35), 3.18 (#24), 67.4% (#54)
4. Kristy McPherson, $816.2K (#16), 71.25 (#17), 3.27 (#16), 71.3% (#16)
5. Ji Young Oh, $558.3K (#24), 71.90 (#34), 2.96 (#31), 68.1% (#48)
6. Inbee Park, $271.3K (#50), 72.55 (#67), 3.16 (#35), 58.8% (#138)
7. Angela Park, $253.4K (#53), 73.71 (#117), 2.78 (#108), 60.4% (#128)
8. Jane Park, $194.9K (#60), 72.82 (#84), 2.81 (#80), 62.5% (#107)
9. Paige Mackenzie, $140.7K (#69), 72.23 (#45), 3.42 (#78), 70.6% (#19)
10. Irene Cho, $118.3K (#80), 72.78 (#80), 3.27 (#63), 67.0% (#56)
11. Jin Joo Hong, $69.4K (#103), 73.21 (#102), 2.67 (#104), 63.2% (#99)
12. Na On Min, $41.7K (#116), 73.29 (n.r.), 3.24 (n.r.), 59.1% (n.r.)
13. Becky Lucidi, $17.9K (#136), 74.50 (#138), 2.75 (#137), 61.6% (#117)
14. Charlotte Mayorkas, $13.8K (#144), 74.35 (#134), 2.59 (#130), 58.4% (#139)
15. Sophie Giquel, $9.0K (#148), 74.78 (#142), 2.22 (#144), 61.6% (#116)
16. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $2.6K (#159), 75.21 (#146), 2.18 (#138), 53.5% (#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 and a Top 50 ranking over at Hound Dog's place (and recently updated it to a Greatest 100 LPGA Players ranking). 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, $2.47M (#76), 77/0/2/7/22/34/0/0/13/64 (.831)
2. Angela Park, $2.11M (#92), 73/0/0/8/18/25/3/0/11/59 (.808)
3. Eun-Hee Ji, $2.10M (#93), 56/1/2/5/15/22/0/3/7/46 (.821)
4. Song-Hee Kim, $2.09M (#94), 69/0/0/5/19/31/0/0/15/54 (.783)
5. Inbee Park, $1.79M (#110), 76/1/1/3/11/19/1/1/19/55 (.724)
6. Ji Young Oh, $1.39M (#132), 76/0/2/2/8/17/0/0/21/55 (.724)
7. Kristy McPherson, $1.30M (#139), 68/0/0/3/12/21/0/0/17/51 (.750)
8. Jane Park, $.89M (#202), 57/0/0/3/6/11/4/0/10/43 (.754)
9. Jin Joo Hong, $.58M (#252), 60/0/0/0/2/7/6/0/17/37 (.617)
10. Na On Min, $.50M (#272), 52/0/0/1/2/6/0/0/20/32 (.615)
11. Irene Cho, $.36M (#307), 61/0/0/0/2/4/3/0/23/35 (.574)
12. Charlotte Mayorkas, $.28M (#345), 56/0/0/0/0/4/1/0/22/33 (.589)
13. Paige Mackenzie, $.27M (#350), 52/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/25/27 (.519)
14. Sophie Giquel, $.12M (#453), 39/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/21/17 (.436)
15. Becky Lucidi $.10M (#469), 35/0/0/0/0/2/0/1/25/9 (.257)
16. Su A Kim, $.07M (#508), 26/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/13/12 (.462)
17. Seo-Jae Lee, $.07M (#512), 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 (#599), 34/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/29/4 (.118)
20. Cindy Pasechnik, $.02M (#620), 19/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/14/5 (.263)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 12/21/09) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 12/20/09) and rank; International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2009 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, 6.11 (#11), 70.30 (#15); 1
2. Song-Hee Kim, 4.88 (#14), 69.75 (#11); 0
3. Eun-Hee Ji, 4.01 (#19), 71.23 (#35); 4
4. Kristy McPherson, 3.93 (#21), 70.37 (#18); 0
5. Ji Young Oh, 2.61 (#41), 71.63 (#47); 0
6. Inbee Park, 2.60 (#42), 72.24 (#74); 0
7. Angela Park, 2.12 (#54), 73.66 (#165); 0
8. Jane Park, 1.47 (#78), 72.04 (#62); 0
9. Paige Mackenzie, .96 (#115), 72.47 (#88); 0
10. Irene Cho, .92 (#119), 72.68 (#106); 0
11. Jin Joo Hong, .83 (#125), 73.02 (#127); 2
12. Na On Min, .43 (#204), 73.23 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
13. Sophie Giquel, .26 (#268), 74.99 (#267); 1
14. Becky Lucidi, .24 (#280), 75.77 (#330); 0
15. Charlotte Mayorkas, .23 (#284), 75.34 (#297); 0
16. Seo-Jae Lee, .08 (#411), 73.63 (#164); 0
17. Su A Kim, .07 (#421), ? (n.r.); 0
18. Sarah Lynn Sargent, .01 (#686), 75.92 (#338); 0
19. Cindy Pasechnik, .00 (#695), ? (n.r.); 0
20. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, ? (n.r.), 76.18 (#361); 0


Next up: the Super Sophs!

[Update 1 (1/14/10, 1:08 pm): BC Card has announced who they're sponsoring in 2010 and among them is none other than Jin Joo Hong, according to Happy Fan at Seoul Looks like she'll be spending most of the season on the KLPGA.]

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