Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Best of the Young Guns: Senior Standouts, Final 2009 Edition

I've been following the careers of the LPGA's rookie class of 2006 for most of my blogging career. This is my 2nd year-end ranking of their career accomplishments. So what has changed from 2007 (not to mention 2008, when I ranked their top players with the best of the Young Guns generation)?

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: As Hound Dog pointed out, there's nothing that jumps out stats-wise to explain why her 3-year streak with at least 1 LPGA win ended or why she couldn't even make half a million dollars on the course in 2009. Even a 63 in the 2nd round at the Farr followed by 2 more sub-70 rounds wasn't enough to put her over the top this season for her 5th career LPGA victory. My best guess is that she is the kind of player who was hurt most by the LPGA's abbreviated schedule. She's consistent, persistent, and seems as fresh and as sharp in her 30th event as in her 10th. Given time, she'll wear down the field 1 week or another. But time is what she doesn't have on the LPGA in 2010. No wonder she decided to join the JLPGA, as well, next season!
2. Morgan Pressel: She quietly put together one of the best 2009s of all the Senior Standouts, which is especially impressive when you consider that it took her half the season to get her driver and her putter working at the same time. Even so, it took some real bad weather to put the skids on her attempt to chase down Ji-Yai Shin at the Wegmans and some real heroics for Eunjung Yi to deny her at the Farr, while Suzann Pettersen went low to keep her out of the winner's circle at the Canadian Open and Michelle Wie stole the show at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. My point? Pressel is due in 2010.
3. Ai Miyazato: When I'm right, I'm right. Back at the end of June I noted that she'd been playing better than she'd been scoring and upon her return to the LPGA would be "ready to contend from now on." That's just about what she did over the rest of the season. With 13 real chances to win on the LPGA and JLPGA combined, I'm actually surprised she won only once on each tour in 2009. I'm still not convinced she ever scored as well as she was playing all season. And I don't think she was ever playing out of her skull. I'm thinking that her 64 in her final competitive round of the season is a sign of things to come in 2010.
4. Jee Young Lee: This was easily the worst season of her LPGA career, thanks to a stretch from June to October when she played terribly. Still, she closed out November with 3-straight top 20s, so if that marks the end of her slump, then just about everyone else in the class ought to very jealous--and very worried.

The Contenders

5. Brittany Lang: I said it before and I'll say it again: "she could win any week her putter gets hot. It wouldn't hurt to work on her irons, too. She should be making a lot more birdies than she has been this season and it can't all be her putter's fault." Turns out she had her best chances for her 1st LPGA win at the very start and very end of 2009. It's only a matter of time: not counting Lee, who has a non-member win the jointly-sponsored late fall LPGA-KLPGA event, she's my top-ranked player on tour without one!
6. Sun Young Yoo: You could make a strong case she had a better 2009 than Lang. Even so, she's got a lot of ground to make up on her, career-wise, particularly when it comes to getting top 10s and top 3s. Still, she distanced herself from those behind her on the list and showed she's very close to her 1st LPGA win over the course of the 2009. Will she be ready to chase down the cream of the crop in 2010?

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Teresa Lu: 2010 will be a crossroads year for her, as she couldn't sustain her great play over most of 2008 and had a pretty big let-down in 2009. Neither her irons nor her putter were her friends this season; if she can improve in either 1 of those areas significantly in 2010, watch out for her to make that quantum leap.
8. Kyeong Bae: Talk about getting up for the big events: after failing to qualify for the season's 1st major, she followed up with a 4th-place finish at the LPGA Championship, a T9 at the U.S. Women's Open, and a T17 at the Women's British Open. Good thing for her she did, as she made about 2/3 of her total 2009 winnings in those 3 events, mostly because her driver and putter were off most of the season and her irons weren't much better. If she could average 3.25 birdies per round in that kind of year, I wonder how many she could make in a good season? Maybe we'll find out in 2010.
9. Meaghan Francella: Lu and Bae beat her to the $1M mark in career winnings, but Francella showed that even with worse-than-average putting and disappointing iron play in 2009, she still belongs on the LPGA. It'll be interesting to see what she's capable of when she starts a season completely healthy, as she should for the 1st time in a while in 2010.
10. Hye Jung Choi: When last we left her, she was enduring one of her worst runs in her career, but that made cut at the Wegmans was a sign of things to come--with her card on the line, she didn't miss a cut over her last 9 events of 2009.
11. Allison Fouch: While her comeback from a terrible mid-season run wasn't as consistent as Choi's, she did what she needed to in her last 3 events of 2009 to keep her card. Let's see what she makes of the opportunity in 2010.
12. Julieta Granada: Despite her record of futility on the LPGA, she only played 6 events on the LET in 2009 even though she had full membership there, finishing #73 on their money list. But thanks to a great LPGA Q-School performance, she'll be able to spend most of her time on the LPGA in 2010 again if she wants to, although I'm wondering if she'll join the younger Spanish-speaking dual LPGA-LET members in crossing the pond fairly often.
13. Minea Blomqvist: Went into a nosedive the 2nd half of the season, but swinging around a growing bun in the oven can have that effect. At #127 on the LPGA's priority status list and #69 on the LET money list in 7 events, she'll be able to play both tours again in 2010 after she recovers from giving birth.
14. Katie Futcher: I'm putting her ahead of Sjodin on the grounds that she makes a lot more cuts. Let's see if she can build on that consistency and start finishing higher next season. I keep waiting for her to make that quantum leap that Junior Mint Kristy McPherson made this season. Maybe 2010 will be her year.
15. Karin Sjodin: Not much to say about her 2009 except that at #117 on the priority status list, she'll be back full-time on the LPGA in 2010.

On the Bottom Looking Up

16. Sarah Jane Smith: At #149 on the priority status list, the odds are good she'll play a virtually full schedule on the LPGA in 2010.
17. Louise Stahle: At #121 on the priority status list, she'll be playing full-time again on the LPGA, but this former LET Rookie of the Year had better practice hard in the off-season.
18. Danielle Downey: My guess last time that she was injured was right, as she had to sit out 5 months in 2009 and got a medical exemption for 2010, putting her at #142 on the priority status list.
19. Na Ri Kim: She's going to be trying her luck on the JLPGA next season, but at #152 on the LPGA priority status list, she actually has pretty good odds of getting into a good number of LPGA events in 2010. It'll be interesting to see how she puts together her schedule next season.
20. Libby Smith: At #327 on the 2010 priority status list, she'll be lucky to get into any LPGA events next season. More time on the Futures Tour for one of my dad's favorite players, looks like.

On the Outside Looking In

21. Linda Wessberg: My guess that she would stay in Europe for the 2nd half of the season proved correct. It was a good choice for her, as she got 1 win in 13 LET starts and moved up to #27 on their money list. So she'll definitely be playing there full-time in 2010.
22. Virada Nirapathpongporn: Recovering from shoulder surgery, she spent some time on the Futures Tour in 2009, where she played 9 events and finished #102 on their money list. In their Q-School, she finished T32, so she'll be back there in 2010, as she failed in her bid to return to the LPGA, finishing T64 in their Q-School.
23. Nina Reis: Played the LET full-time in '09 and ended up #57 on their money list in 16 events.
24. Veronica Zorzi: Didn't play a single LPGA event for the 2nd straight year, finishing #29 on the LET money list in 14 events.
25. Kim Hall: She just couldn't make it a 3-peat of getting into the top 125 via 1 good event per season. I wonder if this Stanford grad will be exploring other options than professional golf in 2010.
26. Ashley Johnston: I wonder if she's done with professional golf entirely--the LPGA has zeroed out all her old records on her player profile.


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. Ai Miyazato, $1.52M (#3), 70.33 (#4), 3.90 (#8), 71.6% (#13)
2. Brittany Lang, $675.1K (#19), 71.08 (#15), 3.36 (#9), 72.5% (#5)
3. Morgan Pressel, $630.3K (#21), 71.38 (#20), 3.22 (#19), 69.0% (#37)
4. Sun Young Yoo, $614.9K (#22), 71.16 (#16), 3.49 (#11), 72.4% (#6)
5. Seon Hwa Lee, $458.3K (#28), 71.49 (#25), 3.13 (#25), 68.5% (#40)
6. Jee Young Lee, $358.7K (#37), 71.88 (#33), 3.40 (#18), 65.7% (#75)
7. Kyeong Bae, $324.5K (#41), 72.65 (#72), 3.25 (#47), 66.2% (#69)
8. Meaghan Francella, $292.3K (#48), 72.51 (#63), 2.85 (#53), 66.5% (#65)
9. Teresa Lu, $242.5K (#54), 72.57 (#68), 2.95 (#40), 65.7% (#74)
10. Hye Jung Choi, $155.0K (#66), 72.89 (#88), 2.62 (#67), 63.5% (#96)
11. Allison Fouch, $131.9K (#71), 73.39 (#107), 3.09 (#50), 68.3% (#44)
12. Katie Futcher, $128.7K (#72), 73.16 (#100), 2.60 (#58), 64.3% (#89)
13. Karin Sjodin, $97.1K (#88), 72.51 (#64), 3.20 (#81), 70.0% (#23)
14. Louise Stahle, $95.3K (#90), 73.50 (#112), 2.59 (#111), 66.4% (#67)
15. Minea Blomqvist, $86.5K (#96), 73.21 (#103), 3.10 (#65), 57.5% (#142)
16. Sarah Jane Smith, $67.6K (#105), 73.13 (#98), 2.96 (#98), 67.8% (#50)
17. Julieta Granada, $65.2K (#107), 73.94 (#126), 2.69 (#101), 61.0% (#123)
18. Na Ri Kim, $57.9K (#111), 72.50 (#62), 3.34 (#120), 68.1% (#48)
19. Kim Hall, $17.0K (#137), 74.39 (#135), 2.42 (#125), 61.7% (#114)
20. Danielle Downey, $16.7K (#138), 74.72 (#141), 2.48 (#142), 60.4% (#129)
21. Linda Wessberg, $8.1K (#150), ? (n.r.), 2.10 (n.r.), ? (n.r.)

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 Senior Standouts 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 every season (although that in itself is an indication of how someone's career has been going!). 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 the other ways of seeing how the Senior Standouts 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. Many thanks to the LPGA for updating their 2009 Performance Chart after every event! [Note: *=non-member win]

1. Seon Hwa Lee, $3.64M (#43), 112/0/4/11/28/53/2/0/9/101 (.902)
2. Ai Miyazato, $3.25M (#53), 91/0/1/8/30/44/1/0/13/77 (.846)
3. Morgan Pressel, $2.78M (#65), 98/1/2/9/28/46/0/0/12/86 (.878)
4. Jee Young Lee, $2.70M (#70), 104/0/1*/7/27/54/5/0/8/91 (.875)
5. Julieta Granada, $2.21M (#89), 100/0/1/5/10/22/0/1/36/63 (.630)
6. Brittany Lang, $2.19M (#90), 107/0/0/6/24/44/0/0/23/84 (.785)
7. Sun Young Yoo, $1.67M (#114), 104/0/0/3/13/31/1/0/20/83 (.798)
8. Kyeong Bae, $1.09M (#166), 95/0/0/2/9/16/4/0/27/64 (.674)
9. Teresa Lu, $1.03M (#175), 91/0/0/1/6/20/1/0/21/69 (.758)
10. Meaghan Francella, $.92M (#193), 74/0/1/1/6/14/0/0/28/46 (.622)
11. Hye Jung Choi, $.72M (#228), 74/0/0/0/8/12/1/0/21/52 (.703)
12. Minea Blomqvist, $.67M (#236), 79/0/0/1/3/8/1/1/29/48 (.608)
13. Karin Sjodin, $.52M (#262), 81/0/0/0/3/11/0/0/33/48 (.593)
14. Alison Fouch, $.51M (#264), 51/0/0/1/4/8/0/0/18/33 (.647)
15. Katie Futcher, $.51M (#269), 85/0/0/0/4/7/0/1/25/59 (.694)
16. Kim Hall, $.35M (#308), 74/0/0/1/3/4/0/0/44/30 (.405)
17. Linda Wessberg, $.34M (#316), 43/0/0/0/5/6/0/0/17/26 (.605)
18. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.23M (#373), 56/0/0/0/1/4/0/0/28/28 (.500)
19. Nina Reis, $.23M (#375), 51/0/0/0/3/4/0/0/23/28 (.549)
20. Sarah Jane Smith, $.17M (#408), 35/0/0/0/1/4/0/0/20/15 (.429)
21. Na Ri Kim, $.15M (#424), 49/0/0/0/0/0/3/0/24/22 (.449)
22. Danielle Downey, $.15M (#425), 41/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/27/14 (.342)
23. Louise Stahle, $.15M (#427), 39/0/0/0/1/2/1/0/21/17 (.436)
24. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#492), 16/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/3/13 (.813)
25. Ashley Johnston, $.05M (#550), 13/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/7/6 (.462)
26. Libby Smith, $.02M (#604), 21/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/17/3 (.143)

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 Senior Standouts 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. Ai Miyazato, 6.68 (#8), 69.54 (#8); 15 [up from #27/#16 at the end of June]
2. Morgan Pressel, 3.75 (#23), 70.75 (#23); 0 [up from #37/#44]
3. Brittany Lang, 3.61 (#27), 70.13 (#13); 0 [up from #31/#26]
4. Seon Hwa Lee, 3.27 (#31), 70.83 (#25); 3 [down from #16/#23]
5. Sun Young Yoo, 3.17 (#35), 70.37 (#16); 0 [up from #38/#31]
6. Jee Young Lee, 2.49 (#46), 71.19 (#33); 2 [down from #20/#21]
7. Kyeong Bae, 1.64 (#71), 72.17 (#70); 3 [biggest jump up of everyone]
8. Teresa Lu, 1.53 (#76), 71.68 (#48); 0
9. Meaghan Francella, 1.33 (#82), 72.11 (#64); 0
10. Allison Fouch, 1.13 (#99), 73.50 (#157); 0
11. Hye Jung Choi, 1.06 (#102), 72.14 (#67); 1
12. Minea Blomqvist, .97 (#114), 73.25 (#140); 5
13. Katie Futcher, .80 (#129), 72.44 (#87); 0
14. Louise Stahle, .62 (#160), 73.78 (#179); 0
15. Linda Wessberg, .60 (#170), 74.71 (#246); 7
16. Karin Sjodin, .60 (#172), 72.42 (#86); 1
17. Julieta Granada, .56 (#181), 73.96 (#197); 0
18. Sarah Jane Smith, .50 (#189), 73.72 (#170); 0
19. Na Ri Kim, .48 (#192), 72.87 (#118); 0
20. Veronica Zorzi, .44 (#198), 73.49 (#152); 2
21. Kim Hall, .35 (#226), 75.04 (#273); 0
22. Danielle Downey, .25 (#274), 74.65 (n.r. [too few events in database]); 0
23. Nina Reis, .21 (#302), 74.75 (#250); 5
24. Virada Nirapathpongporn, .06 (#447), 76.53 (n.r. [too few events in database]); 0
25. Libby Smith, .06 (#464), 75.90 (#336); 0


This is the 1st post in a series in which I'll lead up to my rankings of the top players in the LPGA's Young Guns generation, the rookie classes of 2006-2008. That'll provide a baseline for my assessment of the 1st rookie class in the New Blood generation, the class of 2009.

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