Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Take Advantage of Membership on the LPGA and Another Tour

Looking at the latest edition of the Rolex Rankings, it strikes me that there are even more benefits to what I've been calling dual membership--active status on both the LPGA and another major women's professional golf tour--than I'd previously thought.

#3 Ji-Yai Shin, #4 Suzann Pettersen, and #5 Ai Miyazato--all between .71 and 1.29 points of catching Lorena Ochoa--are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to Anna Nordqvist at #7, In-Kyung Kim at #13, Catriona Matthew at #17, Inbee Park at #19, Sophie Gustafson at #21, Maria Hjorth at #26, and Momoko Ueda at #27 make it 10 of the top 30 who hold dual memberships--twice as many who hold a single membership off the LPGA. Last week's JLPGA winner Chie Arimura moved up only 2 spots to #16 (1 behind Sakura Yokomine, the highest-ranked player without LPGA membership, 2 ahead of Hee Kyung Seo, the highest-ranked KLPGA-only member, 4 ahead of Shinobu Moromizato, and 8 ahead of the JLPGA's Mi-Jeong Jeon). It's fairly easy to translate fantastic play on a non-LPGA tour into a rapid rise up the Rolex Rankings--just witness the JLPGA's leading money winner Sun Ju Ahn's ascent from #69 at the start of the year to #33 right now (ahead of all other JLPGAers), or Bo Mi Lee's rise to #49 from #87 in the same span--but you have to be in contention quite often to break into the top 30 and winning quite a bit to break into the top 20.

Sure, dual membership hasn't been great for Seon Hwa Lee (she's dropped from #32 to #41) or Young Kim (she's only moved up from #92 to #80), but neither has lit it up on the JLPGA quite yet. And there are certainly any number of LETers who haven't made a successful transition to the LPGA as their primary tour. But if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best, so it's still in the interest of top 10 players on any other tour to also seek LPGA membership in the coming years.

What I'm wondering is whether the reverse will hold true: will we see young Asian players like Ya Ni Tseng or Na Yeon Choi try for JLPGA membership down the road? Will Michelle Wie start a trend of young Asian-Americans giving the JLPGA a try? Will any other Americans look west toward the JLPGA rather than east toward the LET? So far it seems mostly Europeans to seek out and prosper from dual LPGA-LET memberships, but will we see more mid-level American LPGAers trying to augment their income on another tour as they fight to stay in the top 80 on the LPGA? It's too soon to track the fortunes of all the LPGA's dual members, mostly because the LET's schedule isn't all that different than the LPGA's, but I'll check in on developments periodically over the course of the season.

For now, with Ji-Yai Shin playing the next 3 weeks on the JLPGA, it'll be interesting to see how often she can contend and win--and what effect it'll have on her world ranking.

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