Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who Had the Best 2009 in the World of Women's Golf?

Here are the official Mostly Harmless nominees for Best 2009 in Women's Golf, in order of worldwide wins. All 15 players who won more than once this season earned nominations, though I'd predict that only the top half have a real chance of winning the award come 2010. Let the debates begin in comments!

Sakura Yokomine (JLPGA stats: ¥175.02M in 33 starts, 70.43 scoring average, 3.61 birdies per round). Made her 6th win of 2009 her 1st major in the JLPGA's season-ending event. By winning 2 of the JLPGA's last 3 events, she took the money-list title from Shinobu Moromizato (after finishing no worse than 4th on the money list the previous 4 seasons), smashing Shiho Oyama's record for most winnings in a single season in the process.

Shinobu Moromizato (JLPGA stats: ¥165.26M in 34 starts, 71.05 scoring average, 3.22 birdies per round). Won the 1st 2 majors of the season and 4 more events by the middle of September. Even though she was chased down in the end by Yokomine, she's now 4th on the list of most winnings in a single JLPGA season, right behind Oyama and Momoko Ueda. Moreover, she was Team Japan's Mostly Harmless MVP in the Kyoraku Cup, where she was the only one on the team to go undefeated.

Hee Kyung Seo (KLPGA stats: 663.76M won in 18 starts, 70.51 scoring average, 3.86 birdies per round). Won 3 majors and 2 non-majors this season on her way to claiming Player of the Year and the money-list title on the KLPGA. Moreover, she was the Mostly Harmless MVP of the Kyoraku Cup, where she defeated Sakura Yokomine and Chie Arimura in consecutive rounds.

Chie Arimura (JLPGA stats: ¥140.80M in 33 starts, 70.75 scoring average, 3.60 birdies per round). Won once each in May, July, August, September, and November. Her -20 total over 54 holes for her 5th win of the season put her in the running for the JLPGA money-list title. Although she ended the season behind Yokomine and Moromizato, and couldn't pass Oyama and Ueda, she and Yuri Fudoh are the only players besides them to have broken the 140 million yen barrier in a single season in the history of the JLPGA.

Ji-Yai Shin (LPGA stats: $1.81M in 25 starts, 70.26 scoring average, 3.97 birdies per round; JLPGA stats: ¥37.42M in 6 starts, 70.47 scoring average, 3.71 birdies per round). Yeah, she missed her chance to be the 1st simultaneous money-list leader, Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, and Vare Trophy winner on the LPGA since Nancy Lopez, but 2 out of 4 ain't bad, particularly when you beat Michelle Wie and Anna Nordqvist in the process, and, oh yeah, put your name in the record books as the 1st Korean to top the money list in tour history. Top it off with a playoff win late in the JLPGA season over Akiko Fukushima and Yuko Mitsuka, and she has 3 JLPGA wins and 6 LPGA wins over her last season and a half. So why is she an underdog for this award?

Mi-Jeong Jeon (JLPGA stats: ¥127.29M in 29 starts, 70.64 scoring average, 3.71 birdies per round). With 4 JLPGA wins in 2009, she matched her previous peak in 2007 and established new personal bests in winnings and scoring average. But just like last year, she's going to be haunted by the ones that got away. Still, the best may yet be to come for this 27-year-old 5th-year pro.

So Yeon Ryu (KLPGA stats: 597.86M won in 18 starts, 71.02 scoring average, 3.63 birdies per round). Just as Moromizato was challenging Yokomine for JLPGA dominance mid-way through the season, Ryu was taking a run at Seo, snagging 4 wins in rapid succession. But she cooled off fast at the end of the season and added insult to injury when she lost a playoff that would have given her LET membership for 3 years.

Lorena Ochoa (LPGA stats: $1.49M in 22 starts, 70.16 scoring average, 4.18 birdies per round). If this was a down year for her, then she's one of the game's best players ever. Not only did she tie Shin for most wins on the LPGA this season with 3, Ochoa charged past her down the home stretch to take home her 4th-straight Player of the Year award and Vare Trophy. According to Hound Dog, the world #1 was the top dog on tour, outperformed everyone across his 3 key performance stats (she was #1 in total driving, #4 in total putting, and #7 in greens in regulation, with only Shin, Ai Miyazato, and Suzann Pettersen joining her in the top 20 in each), and only Annika Sorenstam had a better decade on the LPGA.

Ai Miyazato (LPGA stats: $1.52M in 22 starts, 70.33 scoring average, 3.90 birdies per round; JLPGA stats: ¥46.43M in 8 events, 70.70 scoring average, 3.26 birdies per round). Neither her breakthrough LPGA-LET win at the Evian Masters nor her 1st win on the JLPGA since 2006 at the Sankyo Ladies are the biggest stories of her season--it's the 11 other times she put herself in a position to win in 2009. But more on that--and what it implies for 2010--later.

Anna Nordqvist (LPGA stats: $.87M in 17 starts, 70.78 scoring average, 3.48 birdies per round; LET stats: 100.97K euros in 6 starts, 70.87 scoring average, 3.91 birdies per round). The LET's Rookie of the Year made a good run at the LPGA's ROY, as well, but couldn't outdo Shin in the end. But she did win twice on the LPGA, whereas she wasn't able to follow up on her taking medalist honors in 2009 LET Q-School. And those 2 LPGA wins were huge: playing spoiler at the LPGA Tour Championship wasn't even the biggest. No, securing full membership with her win at the LPGA Championship in June outshone even her running down a determined Ochoa with 7 birdies in 8 holes in the last round of the last LPGA event of 2009.

Na Yeon Choi (LPGA stats: $1.34M in 26 starts, 70.51 scoring average, 3.77 birdies per round). Nabbed 2 impressive late-season wins, beating Ai Miyazato on the final hole of the Samsung World Championship and following it up with an impressive win in Korea over Ya Ni Tseng and Maria Hjorth during the LPGA's late-fall Asian swing. Even though her own made-cut streak is much longer than Nordqvist's (neither have missed a cut in their LPGA careers), it's an open question which of them had the better year.

Bo-Bae Song (JLPGA stats: ¥72.92M in 27, 71.27 scoring average, 3.13 birdies per round). Her 2 JLPGA wins this season came against the toughest fields on tour, in the Japan Women's Open (where she ended Moromizato's Grand Slam hopes, denied Miyazato her 1st win on tour since 2006, and beat Yokomine in a playoff) and the Mizuno Classic (where she held off a charging Lorena Ochoa). Moreover, she defeated last year's JLPGA money-list queen Miho Koga in back-to-back matches in the Kyoraku Cup, clinching the title for Team Korea last Saturday.

In-Kyung Kim (LPGA stats: $1.24M in 25 starts, 71.00 scoring average, 3.92 birdies per round). She saved her best golf of the season for the last week, beating Michelle Wie in the LET's Dubai Ladies Masters yesterday for her 2nd win of 2009. Not only did she become the 3rd-straight Korean winner on the LET, she erased the bad taste that her last several weeks on the LPGA must have left in her mouth, when she had a great chance to become a serious contender in the Player of the Year race.

Marianne Skarpnord (LET stats: 203.35K euros in 17 starts, 71.54 scoring average, 3.26 birdies per round). She lived up to my October prediction that she'd cruise at LPGA Q-School, where she finished T2 in tough conditions. And she finished 4th on the LET's money list, despite a disappointing performance in Dubai.

Diana Luna (LET stats: 185.91K euros in 17 starts, 71.89 scoring average, 3.20 birdies per round). She won 2 LET events in a row in late June and early July and went 1-0-1 for Team Europe in the Solheim Cup, but didn't do too much over the rest of the season.

[Update 1 (1/12/10, 6:15 am): Happy Fan has more on Hee Kyung Seo's 2009 in his 1st of several "Seoulies" awards over at the Seoul Sisters blog. I'm thinking the Mostly Harmless award for Best 2009 is coming down to Seo, Shin, Yokomine, and Ochoa. How about you?]


courtgolf said...

WHAT ?? The savior-ette of "women's golf" finally gets a win and she doesn't make the list ? :-)

The Constructivist said...

She came close! If it had been Kim putting her approach on 18 in the water instead of her, MW could have gotten her 2nd win of '09 last Saturday!

I guarantee MW will be on this list in '10. She still hasn't straightened out her driver and she's been putting herself in contention pretty regularly over the 2nd half of the season....

courtgolf said...

but it WAS Wie missing her shot and not IK. Never underestimate the importance of intelligent play.

Did you really decide your list based on the second shots of the last tournament of the year ?

Don't get too far ahead of yourself. Nobody knows what Wie will do next season. It's going to be fun to watch, though.

The Constructivist said...

Heh! Wie was 2 down--she needed an eagle. Her decision to take advantage of her length was a good one--it was the execution that was the problem. Certainly a better decision than Ai Miyazato's at the Samsung, and her bad shot didn't even cost her a lead. Just ended her hopes of catching Inky.

Since anyone who won more than once made my list, yes, either Wie or Kim would have been on it depending on the outcome on the 18th. I'm glad it was Inky--behind Ai-sama, Moira Dunn, and Seon Hwa Lee, Inky's probably my next-favorite player in all of golf.

As for Wie's '10, I've already guaranteed it'll be better than '09. We'll see if I'm right this time next year.

courtgolf said...

Yep - execution is always the key.

Who will ever forget John Robinson back when he coached the Tampa Bay Buckaneers ? Asked what he thought about his team's execution that day...he said he was all for it !