5 JLPGA regulars and 2 irregulars made up almost half my nominees for the coveted Mostly Harmless Best 2009 in Women's Golf award. For Ji-Yai Shin and Ai Miyazato, late wins on the JLPGA augmented already-impressive LPGA seasons. Meanwhile, JLPGA Player of the Year and money-list leader Sakura Yokomine and Shinobu Moromizato won more often than anyone else in the world of women's golf, Chie Arimura was matched only by the KLPGA's Player of the Year and money-list leader Hee Kyung Seo, and Mi-Jeong Jeon ended up with the same number of worldwide wins as POY runners-up Shin from the LPGA and So Yeon Ryu from the KLPGA. Even Bo-Bae Song, who won only twice on the JLPGA this season, did so against arguably the 2 strongest fields of the season, in the Japan Women's Open and the Mizuno Classic. So how did their seasons stack up against the rest of the JLPGA? Who made the biggest advances since mid-October? The end of last season?
Those are questions for this functionally illiterate expert. As usual, I'll combine the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the current JLPGA money list, and 2008 JLPGA money list to rank the JLPGA's finest.
1. Sakura Yokomine: #1 2009 money (￥175.02M), #14 GSPI (70.28) , #15 RR (4.90) , #3 2008 money (￥103.19M). Did she do well enough this season to move up from #2 last season? Only if breaking the single-season winnings record on the JLPGA and winning 2 of her last 3 events--bringing her totals to 6 wins and 1 major for 2009 in the process--count as significant improvements in your book. Oh, and in 33 starts, she snagged 4 silver medals, 3 bronzes, and 3 other top 5s (2 more than last season) and ended up with 21 top 10s (1 more than last season). If she hadn't had a short mid-season slump, she would most likely have broken the 200-million yen mark. An apt goal for 2009's JLPGA Player of the Year in 2010.
2. Shinobu Moromizato: #2 2009 money (￥165.26M), #27 GSPI (70.87) , #17 RR (4.21) , #12 2008 money (￥64.37M). It's a good thing she didn't take my advice from last November to build "more off-weeks into her 2009 schedule." She only won 5 more times this season than last and gave herself a chance for a Grand Slam heading into the JLPGA's 3rd major, the Japan Women's Open. Even though she wasn't meant to have another major (Song won that week and Yokomine beat her in the final one of the season, the Ricoh Cup, to take the money title away from her, as well), she still had an historic season, coming within about a million yen of the winnings record set by Shiho Oyama in 2006 and nearly matched by Momoko Ueda in 2007. As if that wasn't enough to move her up 13 spots from last year's final ranking, she ended up with 13 top 5s and 20 top 10s in 34 starts.
3. Chie Arimura: #3 2009 money (￥105.21M), #28 GSPI (70.88) , #21 RR (3.97) , #23 2008 money (￥47.35M). -20. That's what she shot in only 54 holes while taking her 5th title of 2009 in the penultimate event of the year. She was right in the mix for the money-list title for most of the following week, but came up a few shots shy in the end. Still, by snagging 5 silvers, 1 bronze, 14 top 5s in all, and 21 top 10s in 33 starts, she advanced a whopping 23 spots in this year's ranking. That's what coming close to matching Yuri Fudoh's best season will do for you!
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon: #4 2009 money (￥127.29M), #19 GSPI (70.39) , #22 RR (3.95) , #6 2008 money (￥90.85M). This was arguably the best season in her 5-year JLPGA career. Most wins, most winnings, lowest scoring average, 2nd-highest finish ever...the list goes on (including 11 top 5s and 20 top 10s in 29 starts). The most I can move her up, though, is 5 spots from last year's ranking. The culprit? Those 4 silver medals and 1 bronze--most of them were definite wins that got away. Let's hope she can completely escape the fallout from her +3 finish over her final 2 holes of 2008--the only reason 2009 wasn't her 4th-straight season in the 100 Million Yen Club--in 2010!
Among the best players who haven't racked up multiple wins or made it into the 100 Million Yen Club this season, I have to put the JLPGA's irregulars at the top of the list.
5. Ji-Yai Shin: #24 2009 money (￥37.40M), #2 RR (9.27) , #6 GSPI (69.43) , #24 2008 money (￥45.54M). A gold, a silver, 3 top 5s and 5 top 10s in 6 JLPGA starts this season is enough for me to make her my #5 on tour for the 2nd-straight season. Her worst finish was in her 1st event: T15. She clearly would have been a POY candidate if she had played a full season on tour.
6. Ai Miyazato: #14 2009 money (￥46.56M), #8 GSPI (69.54) , #8 RR (6.74) , #32 2008 money (￥27.89M). She ended up with a gold, a silver, a bronze, and 5 top 10s in 8 JLPGA starts in 2009, but had trouble making birdies in Japan (3.26 per round vs. 3.90 per round on the LPGA). If this season featured her return to her 2004-2006 JLPGA form without the wins in bunches (she put herself in contention 13 times but walked away with only 2 worldwide wins), I wonder what next season has in store for her? Here's hoping that final-round 64 of hers in the Kyoraku Cup is a sign of things to come in 2010.
7. Momoko Ueda: #21 2009 money (￥42.38M), #24 GSPI (70.80) , #26 RR (3.65) , #17 2008 money (￥54.62M). She switches places with Miyazato from last year's list, mostly because in 12 JLPGA starts she could only manage a gold, a silver, 4 top 5s, and 8 top 10s. To add insult to injury, Annika's former caddie Terry McNamara was on In-Kyung Kim's bag when she won in Dubai last Saturday. I wonder if Momo-chan's trial run with him is over. I wouldn't be too concerned if it is, though. She seemed to be pressing all season. Here's hoping things click for her in 2010.
8. Ji-Hee Lee: #6 2009 money (￥79.70M), #22 GSPI (70.64) , #29 RR (3.37) , #2 2008 money (￥119.65M). 2008's #1-ranked player slips all the way down here in 2009, but a putt not dropping here or there was all the difference between her 2 seasons. In 25 starts (2 down from last year), she won only once and had to settle for 3 silvers, 10 top 5s (5 down), and 15 top 10s (6 down). What's more, she had a WD and 4 finishes outside the top 20, as opposed to last season, when she came back from an opening MC with 25 of 26 top 20s. Here's hoping Team Korea's victorious captain in this year's Kyoraku Cup has a breakthrough season next year--and that the injuries she suffered when her team dropped her during a celebratory captain toss afterwards quickly heal.
9. Yuko Mitsuka: #5 2009 money (￥89.79M), #30 GSPI (71.02) , #38 RR (2.90) , #7 2008 money (￥83.56M). Maybe I'm letting her waterlogged LPGA Q-School performance unduly influence me, but it certainly brought out her inconsistency this season. Yes, she won the 1st event of the season and got a bronze in its last, but in between she didn't win another, missed 2 cuts, withdrew from 2 events, finished outside the top 20 5 other times, racked up only 2 silvers and 2 more bronzes, and ended up with 10 top 5s and 16 top 10s in 30 starts. So the most I can do is move this 3rd-year pro up 2 spots from last season's final ranking. If she continues to improve in her 4th season like she did between each of her 1st 3, watch out for her in 2010.
10. Miho Koga: #8 2009 money (￥72.11M), #32 GSPI (71.18) , #40 RR (2.83) , #1 2008 money (￥120.85M). It was a frustrating 2009 for 2008's money-list leader and #4-ranked player on the JLPGA. She went winless for the 1st time since 2005 and only the 2nd time since breaking into the top 10 on the money list in 2003. Sure, she extended her streak in money-list top 10s to 4 in a row and 6 in her last 7 seasons, but just when it seemed she was finally building up some momentum mid-season, she stumbled a bit at the end. In 31 starts, she got 3 silvers, 3 bronzes, 7 top 5s, and 17 top 10s--a career season for most people but not for a player of her caliber.
Tough seasons for the top 2 players on the JLPGA's career money list. But still very hard for the up-and-comers to catch them, much less pass them.
11. Bo-Bae Song: #7 2009 money (￥72.92M), #44 GSPI (71.45) , #32 RR (3.23) , #13 2008 money (￥63.47M). Her 2 wins--in the Japan Women's Open and the Mizuno Classic--came against arguably the strongest fields of the season on the JLPGA, so I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt in this year's ranking. In 27 starts, she had 2 MCs and a whopping 4 WDs, which almost offset her 7 top 10s. Maybe there's a reason she's not listed in the LPGA's Class of 2010 (yet?). A 2-spot jump from last year's final ranking is the most I can give her--and most of that comes because her peers in the lead chase pack had tough 2009s.
12. Yuri Fudoh: #17 2009 money (￥43.98M), #34 GSPI (71.20) , #33 RR (3.23) , #5 2008 money (￥91.86M). She's another player you're shocked to see didn't win on the JLPGA this season. Even opening with a 63 mid-way through the season was only enough for her 2nd silver in 20 starts--and she only added 2 other top 5s and 9 other top 10s. Not bad, but when you consider that the dominant player on tour in the 1st half of the decade missed a cut and finished outside the top 20 5 other times, you'll understand why she dropped 9 spots from last year's final ranking. Can the 33-year-old come back in 2010 like she did in 1999 and 2007, the only 2 other seasons in her 13-year career that she's had to? I wouldn't put anything past the JLPGA's only Billion Dollar Woman.
13. Yukari Baba: #9 2009 money (￥60.06M), #49 GSPI (71.70) , #60 RR (1.85) , #26 2008 money (￥44.14M). Although she didn't win in 2009, she got a silver, 4 bronzes, and 12 top 10s in all, but the real secret to this 7th-year pro's best season on the JLPGA was her consistency--in 34 starts, she missed only 2 cuts. Quite a leap for a career-mid-20s player--up 11 spots from last year's ranking.
14. Akiko Fukushima: #13 2009 money (￥46.56M), #69 GSPI (72.16) , #52 RR (2.22) , #4 2008 money (￥96.50M). This was the 1st time she made up ground in winnings on Fudoh in many years, but in 23 starts she missed 3 cuts and finished outside the top 20 8 other times, so she squandered a lot of opportunities to move herself closer to that billion yen mark this season. It was truly feast or famine for her in 2009. Her 2 silvers and 2 bronzes can't mask the fact that she only had 1 other top 5 and 6 top 10s in all. But after 17 seasons on the JLPGA--a good number including a significant LPGA schedule, as well--can you blame her for dropping 6 spots from last season's final ranking?
15. Eun-A Lim: #11 2009 money (￥47.77M), #80 GSPI (72.31) , #57 RR (2.03) , #9 2008 money (￥73.41M). Although her scoring average was better than last season's by far, and she got her 2nd career JLPGA win this season, she only had 2 other top 5s (including a silver) and ended up with 10 top 10s in 28 starts against 6 missed cuts. It'll be interesting to see if her 3rd year on the JLPGA vaults her among the tour's top Koreans.
16. Nikki Campbell: #10 2009 money (￥50.67M), #85 GSPI (72.38) , #106 RR (1.03) , #33 2008 money (￥27.04M). She picked up where she left off last season and ended 2009 with 3 top 5s and 10 top 10s in 29 starts. But what made this the best season of her JLPGA career--and helped move her 17 spots higher than last year's ranking--was a 50-footer that defeated Ai Miyazato in a playoff. Way to ruin my birthday, Nikki!
17. Ayako Uehara: #12 2009 money (￥47.30M), #93 GSPI (72.55) , #82 RR (1.37) , #14 2008 money (￥63.31M). Although she got a silver in the 1st event of the season and a gold in the 2nd, this was a bit of a disappointing year for her. In 30 starts, she missed 6 cuts, finished out of the top 20 13 other times, and got only one other top 5 (another silver) and 8 top 10s. Even though she ended up 2 spots higher on the money list and 1 spot higher in this ranking than last season, it wasn't the breakthrough year I was expecting from her. Maybe in 2010?
18. Miki Saiki: #18 2009 money (￥43.33M), #81 GSPI (72.32) , #75 RR (1.53) , #20 2008 money (￥50.84M). In 32 starts, this 3rd-year pro got 10 top 10s, but only a silver, a bronze, and 1 other top 5 against 4 missed cuts and 10 finishes outside the top 20. 2009 is her 3rd-straight top 20 on the money list, although she still hasn't followed up on her 9th-place finish in her rookie season or gotten another win since her 1st that year. She moves up 3 spots from last year's ranking mostly because other players had worse 2009s than she did.
19. Mayu Hattori: #15 2009 money (￥44.48M), #119 GSPI (72.87) , #76 RR (1.52) , #15 2008 money (￥58.72M). This 3rd-year pro got her 1st and only career JLPGA win late last season, but she had zero momentum early in this one, missing 8 cuts and withdrawing from 1 event in her 1st 16 starts, and getting only 3 top 20s for her efforts. Yet she came on strong over her last 15 events, with 2 silvers, a bronze, and 3 other top 5s to go with 1 other top 10. Her T2 at the Ricoh Cup ensured her move up 1 spot from last season's ranking.
The next set of players includes those who have cooled off after a fast start to the season and vice versa.
20. Akane Iijima: #20 2009 money (￥42.63M), #114 GSPI (72.79) , #115 RR (.90) , #19 2008 money (￥51.40M). Like Hattori, this 5th-year pro did most of her damage at the end of the season, when she finished outside the top 20 only once in her last 9 events and got a silver, bronze, 1 other top 5, and another top 10. Her 1st 25 events were nothing to write home about, though, as she offset 4 top 10s (including 1 top 5) with 9 MCs, a WD, and 8 finishes outside the top 20. As a result, she fell 1 spot from last year's ranking, switching place with Hattori.
21. Rui Kitada: #19 2009 money (￥43.00M), #97 GSPI (72.59) , #101 RR (1.08) , #28 2008 money (￥36.34M). 2 early bronzes and 1 late one were the highlights of her season, but this 7th-year pro notched only 5 other top 10s (including 1 other top 5) in her other 31 starts. Still, 2009 was the 1st time since her sophomore campaign, when she finished 3rd on the money list, that she reentered the top 20. As a result, she improved on last year's ranking by 5 spots.
22. Yuko Saitoh: #16 2009 money (￥44.33M), #121 GSPI (72.90) , #99 RR (1.08) , #34 2008 money (￥25.87M). The 1st newcomer to this ranking, she was ranked higher for most of the season, but failed to notch even a single top 20 over her last 11 events. So she was left with the gold, silver, bronze, and 1 other top 10 she earned in her 1st 19 starts. Still, 2009 was definitely her best season since she 1st started playing on the JLPGA in 1991.
23. Ah-Reum Hwang: #22 2009 money (￥40.09M), #105 GSPI (72.68) , #96 RR (1.11) , #44 2008 money (￥18.28M). Another fast starter in 2009, she got a silver in her 2nd event and a gold in her 3rd. But she could manage only 2 more top 10s the rest of the season and went through a horrible stretch in its middle when she missed 7 cuts in 11 starts and her best finish and only top 20 was a T17. Still, the 22-year-old bounced back and didn't miss a cut in her last 9 events, finishing in the top 30 every time but once in that run. Not bad for a player in her 1st full season on the JLPGA and the 2nd newcomer on this list.
24. Tamie Durdin: #23 2009 money (￥37.77M), #100 GSPI (72.63) , #111 RR (.94) , #55 2008 money (￥14.65M). An early win wasn't her only bright spot of 2009, as she came on strong at the end of the season after some serious mid-season hiccups. With a top 5 and another top 10 coming in her last 9 events--after going through a stretch after her win where she missed 5 cuts in 14 starts and finished outside the top 20 another 4 times--she ended the season with 2 top 5s and 5 top 10s in 28 starts. Not the kind of numbers that would suggest to you she'd make any noise at LPGA Q-School, but the 5th-year pro hung in there in bad weather and got herself dual LPGA-JLPGA membership in 2010.
25. Erina Hara: #25 2009 money (￥35.26M), #148 GSPI (73.44) , #85 RR (1.28) , #10 2008 money (￥65.87M). I had high hopes for this 3rd-year pro after her fast start to 2009--2 silvers and a bronze in her 1st 5 starts. But that missed cut in her 2nd start turned out to be a better harbinger of things to come--she missed 11 cuts in a 21-event run midway through the season. Yes, she got 2 other top 5s and another top 10 in that run, too, for totals of 5 and 6 in 34 starts, but to not even notch a top 20 in her last 10 events has to be demoralizing for this 22-year-old, even if she did close out her 2009 by making 5 cuts in a row. If injuries played a role in this swift and extended fall down 9 spots from last year's final ranking, here's hoping she comes back healthy and rested in 2010.
26. Hiromi Mogi: #26 2009 money (￥32.35M), #90 GSPI (72.52) , #88 RR (1.20) , #18 2008 money (￥52.62M). 2009 was the 1st time in 6 seasons that this 7th-year pro didn't make the top 20 on the money list. The reason she, too, dropped 9 spots from last year's final ranking? 5 MCs and 8 finishes outside the top 20 hurt, but no medals and only 3 top 5s and 6 top 10s over her 30 starts were just as influential.
27. Hyun-Ju Shin: #33 2009 money (￥26.41M), #99 GSPI (72.60) , #74 RR (1.56) , #11 2008 money (￥64.63M). She hasn't been the same player since she got injured midway through last season. In 30 starts in 2009, she missed the cut 7 times and finished outside the top 20 8 times, more than offsetting her 1 top 5 and 6 top 10s.
28. Rikako Morita: #27 2009 money (￥30.39M), #153 GSPI (73.50) , #94 RR (1.14) , n.a. 2008 money [not on JLPGA]. This rookie didn't get her 1st top 20 until her 10th event--after missing the cut in 7 of her 1st 9 starts--but once she found her sea legs, she did just fine. In her next 18 starts, she didn't miss a cut and got a bronze, 2 other top 5s, and 4 top 10s in all. But fatigue played a factor at the end of the season, as she followed up an 8-event top 20 run midway through the season with a 13-event end run in which she notched her last top 10 early in it and failed to even break into the top 20 the rest of the way. To add insult to injury, she missed the cut in 3 of her last 4 starts. So there's plenty of room for improvement in 2010.
29. Saiki Fujita: #34 2009 money (￥26.39M), #111 GSPI (72.74) , #104 RR (1.04) , #29 2008 money (￥31.72M). A bronze, 1 other top 5, and 5 top 10s in all may not sound that impressive over 30 starts for this 5th-year pro, but she cut down on her MCs and WDs to 3 each. Still, 2 of those WDs came after her last top 10 and she followed them up with 4 straight finishes outside the top 30 to end her season, so she, too, has lots of room for improvement in 2010.
30. Maiko Wakabayashi: #30 2009 money (￥28.16M), #135 GSPI (73.15) , #93 RR (1.15) , #21 2008 money (￥50.06M). Even though her 2009 doesn't compare to her sophomore campaign in 2008, she actually dropped only 1 spot from last year's ranking, despite getting only 2 bronzes and 2 other top 10s in her 33 starts against 10 missed cuts and 11 finishes outside the top 20. Better luck in 2010?
Here are the best of the rest in 2009.
31. Ji-Woo Lee: #31 2009 money (￥27.04M), #120 GSPI (72.90) , #107 RR (1.02) , #22 2008 money (￥47.63M).
32. Midori Yoneyama: #32 2009 money (￥26.91M), #129 GSPI (73.04) , #100 RR (1.08) , #25 2008 money (￥45.29M).
33. Li-Ying Ye: #36 2009 money (￥25.01M), #116 GSPI (72.79) , #103 RR (1.05) , n.a. 2008 money [not on JLPGA].