The 1st LPGA rookies of the new decade, the class of 2010, have made it to the big leagues in, shall we say, interesting times. And in response, many of them are taking interesting approaches to their 2010 schedules. Here's my 1st attempt to project what this will mean to the coming season's Rookie of the Year race.
Simply the Best
[high priority status, fantastic records]
Amanda Blumenherst: The medalist at LPGA Q-School may well have been the NCCA Player of the Decade, when you look closely at Ryan Herrington's nominees. Although she didn't rock the Futures Tour in the 6 events that she entered last season (finishing 30th on their money list), she played solidly in the LPGA events she got into via sponsor exemptions, even coming off a relatively down year at Duke in her senior season. She's 1 of many rookies this year that have me thinking that recent NCAA grads may make a much bigger splash on the LPGA than most of their recent predecessors did early in their careers.
Azahara Munoz: Also making Herrington's All-Decade list, this Arizona State grad already has an LET win under her belt and finished T5 at LPGA Q-School, so she'll be 1 of many players dividing her time between 2 tours in 2010. Given how many gaps there are in the LPGA's schedule, she could actually have an advantage on Blumenherst if she stays sharp and builds up momentum on the LET. She has a great chance to outdo Anna Nordqvist and win ROY on both tours this coming season.
Pernilla Lindberg: Even with big let-downs at LPGA and LET Q-Schools, where she finished T16 and T23, respectively, she's already a step ahead of where fellow Annika protege Anna Nordqvist was heading into her rookie season. Another legitimate threat for a double ROY, she played 10 events on the Futures Tour in 2009, finishing 11th on the money list and garnering the lowest scoring average on tour.
[high priority status, very good records]
Marianne Skarpnord: A 2-time winner on the LET, she was 1 of only 4 players to break the 200K-Euro barrier on their money list in 2009. And she followed it up with a T2 at LPGA Q-School. Looks like she made a quantum leap in 2008 and hasn't looked back; I wonder if, like fellow Norwegian Suzann Pettersen, she had to fight through some early injury problems?
Gwladys Nocera: A legitimate LET superstar, she broke 70 3 times in LPGA Q-School, including twice on the last marathon day, to secure T16. She hasn't often played her best off the LET, but strong performances at the Solheim Cup and during the LET's Asian swing suggests she may have reached a new level.
Mina Harigae: Yes, I know she rocked the Futures Tour, winning 3 events, finishing 1st on their money list, and declining her battlefield promotion to rest and prepare for the 2010 LPGA season. But her stats were not nearly as impressive as Vicky Hurst's were in 2008 and I think it's harder for precision players to make the transition to LPGA competition as opposed to a bomber like Hurst--plus, Harigae didn't even make the top 15 in driving accuracy or greens in regulation in '09, so it's not like she was even an exceptional precision player on the FT. Hence, while only Pernilla Lindberg had a lower scoring average than she did in FT play, I'm not expecting her to be a serious factor in the ROY race--but I'm open to being pleasantly surprised. If she improves her ballstriking in the offseason and putts like she did in '09 on the FT (despite hitting greens at a rate below 69.5%, she made birdies at a rate of 3.30 per round), she could surprise on the upside.
Maria Hernandez: The 2009 NCAA Player of the Year in women's golf had a little bit of a struggle adjusting to competition on the Futures Tour, finishing 85th on their money list in only 6 events, but she roared back at the end of the year, finishing T5 at the LPGA's Q-School and T8 at the LET's.
Mariajo Uribe: Yet another Spanish-speaker with dual LPGA-LET membership, this Colombian superstar finished T12 at LPGA Q-School and 3rd at the LET's. Plus she's a friend and former UCLA teammate of Tiffany Joh's, so I'll be rooting for her in 2010.
Beatriz Recari: She won on the LET in August and finished 22nd on their money list, making 2009 the best season of her 4 as a professional. Her stats weren't quite as impressive as Skarpnord's, but there's nothing like experience.
Quantum Leap Candidates
[high priority status, question marks]
Misun Cho: Won twice on the Futures Tour in 2009, finishing 3rd on their money list, she's a classic precision player, hitting over 86% of her fairways and 81% of her greens, but she'll need to improve her birdie rate (3.10) if she wants to contend on the LPGA.
Jean Reynolds: She played the Stacy Lewis role in the U.S. Women's Open this past season, but doesn't have Lewis's game. Still, making 3.40 birdies per round, hitting over 74% of her greens in regulation, winning twice, and finishing 2nd behind Harigae on the Futures Tour in '09 are good signs for her on the LPGA in '10.
Il Hee Lee: Happy Fan, the founder of Seoul Sisters.com, characterized her as a 2nd- or 3rd-tier KLPGA player. Beth Ann Baldry noted that she turned 21 on December 13th. That's all I've heard about her. She beat Christi Cano for the last spot in Category 11 in a 3-hole playoff, so we know she can handle pressure.
Lisa Meldrum: This Canadian surprised me at LPGA Q-School by finishing T5; I guess her win and 15th-place finish on the Futures Tour money list in '09 were no flukes, but her 2.77 birdie rate doesn't inspire confidence for her future on the LPGA in 2010.
Lucy Kim: She played on the Futures Tour as Moon Su, according to Baldry. She finished 59th on their money list in a nearly-full schedule this past season, so I'm not expecting much from her on the LPGA in 2010, despite her T12 finish at Q-School and 76.1% greens in regulation rate on the FT (2nd to Cho).
Katie Kempter: I'll be rooting for this English major from the University of Denver, but her T2 finish at LPGA Q-School took me completely by surprise and my expectations are pretty low for her in the coming season.
On the Bottom Looking Up
[mid priority status but how many events will they really get into?]
Paola Moreno (#230 on the priority status list): I was surprised that she played so few Futures Tour events (7) this year, but she did well to finish 39th on their money list. I was quite surprised to see that she didn't enter LET Q-School after finishing T22 on the LPGA's. Looks like there are many more Futures Tour events in her future, at least for next season.
Dewi Claire Schreefel (#241): Having won once on the Futures Tour and finished 10th on their money list, she's yet another LPGA rookie with dual membership on the LET (she finished 7th at their Q-School thanks to a pair of closing 69s), but she may well be making the LPGA her "other" tour in 2010.
Alison Walshe (#240): Having gotten full membership on the LET thanks to a T19 finish at their Q-School, this Ireland-born American will get plenty of opportunities to explore her European roots in 2010.
Whitney Wade (#237): Even though she won once on the Futures Tour, Song Yi Choi knocked her down to the 6th spot on their money list in their final event of the season (where Choi had ended in 2008, ironically enough).
Christine Song (#239): She finished 8th on the Futures Tour money list, but didn't stand out in any single statistical category.
Gerina Mendoza (#236): Look for her to improve on her 12th-place standing on the 2009 Futures Tour money list in 2010. Her T30 finish at Q-School was just good enough to knock Libby Smith down to Category 20 on the priority status list. Golfgal's rooting for her to make the most of her early LPGA opportunities. She averaged over 257 yards off the tee on the FT in '09, so she has the power to play with the big girls.
Nannette Hill (#232): I only knew her as a fellow New Yorker and teammate of Cheyenne Woods at Wake Forest before she finished T22 at LPGA Q-School. Now I'm eager to see how she does on the Futures Tour and the few LPGA events she gets into in 2010.
Tanya Dergal (#234): Yet another Spanish speaker in this year's rookie class, she joined Hill at T22 in Q-School; let's see if she makes more of her LPGA opportunities than fellow Mexicans Violeta Retamoza and Sophia Sheridan made of theirs.
Cathryn Bristow (#233): This top New Zealand amateur tied Dergal for 22nd at Q-School.
Adrienne White (#235): She also joined the big group at T22 in Q-School. Beyond that, I know nothing about this Canadian.
On the Outside Looking In
[low priority status; lots of Monday qualifiers for this bunch, when they choose to attempt to compete on the LPGA, that is]
Mallory Blackwelder (#333): Got full LET status with a T16 at their Q-School in December, so we'll be seeing a lot more of her on the other side of the Atlantic than this side.
Jane Chin (#332): We'll be seeing a lot more of this 2009 NCAA Player of the Year contender on the Futures Tour in 2010 than on the LPGA; I guarantee she improves on last season's 88th-place finish on their money list, as she played only 8 events there this past season.
Cindy LaCrosse (#330): Finished 31st on the Futures Tour money list in 11 events in 2009, so should join those ahead of her on this list as FT front-runners and may be able to take advantage of having a fuller schedule there in 2010 than many others with partial LPGA status.
[Update 1 (1/5/10, 10:44 pm): Hound Dog just ranked the 30 greatest rookie seasons on the LPGA. If anyone in the '10 rookie class makes the top 10, I'll be very impressed--and surprised.]
[Update 2 (1/12/10, 1:14 am): Here's the 1st set of the LPGA's mini-profiles of the rookies, covering Blackwelder, Blumenherst, Bristow, Chin, Cho, and Dergal.]
[Update 3 (1/15/10, 7:25 am): Here's how Hound Dog ranks his top 15 among the '10ers. He's right to call me out on my diss of precision players in my comments on Harigae; what I should have emphasized more is her room for improvement on the precision front.]
[Update 4 (1/19/10, 3:29 pm): Here are LPGA.com's profiles of Harigae through LaCrosse.]
[Update 5 (1/28/10, 5:35 pm): Here are profiles of Lee through Munoz from LPGA.com and a revised rookie preseason ranking from Hound Dog.]
[Update 6 (2/2/10, 1:20 am): Regular commenter courtgolf will be interested in the profile of Jean Reynolds up at LPGA.com--the only American between Nocera and Skarpnord in this segment!]
[Update 7 (2/8/10, 10:54 pm): Here are Song through White on LPGA.com.]