Now that we're heading into the meat of the LPGA's schedule, it's high time to put together my rankings of the classes of 2006, 2007, and 2008 to see who the very best of the Young Guns generation are and what their prospects are for the rest of 2010. Having won 5 of the 1st 7 official events of the season (plus 1 exhibition!), I'd say they're coming of age, wouldn't you?
Simply the Best
1. Ya Ni Tseng: She's the best by almost any measure: the only player in her generation with 2 majors to her name; only 1 win behind Ai Miyazato and Seon Hwa Lee; most top 3s (15 or 25% of her starts); highest winnings per start (close to $60K); highest top 20 rate per finished event (over 72%); and the list goes on. She's got a great shot to end the season #1 in the world.
2. Ai Miyazato: Even with a long slump that neither Tseng nor Na Yeon Choi have yet had to undergo, Miyazato's career stats rival theirs (over $39K per start and top 20s in almost 58% of her finishes). But what moves her from #7 in the last ranking to #2 in this one are the 3 wins she's snapped up so far in 2010 and the leads they've given her on the money list and in the Player of the Year race.
3. Na Yeon Choi: With her putter working well for her this season, there's no reason she can't start winning in bunches again, as she did at the end of last season, and in the process improve on her winnings per start (over $44K) and top 20s per finish (almost 67%) rates. It's starting to get to the point where it's going to take wins and especially majors to move any higher up this list!
4. Seon Hwa Lee: The former #1 in her generation and #1 player in the Class of 2006 has saved much of her worst play for the JLPGA this season, but her key stats have continued their decline (down to about $32K per start and top 20s in 52% of her finishes). As opposed to last season, when there was no obvious statistical culprit for her lack of wins and paucity of winnings, both her driving distance and GIR rate in 2010 are way off her career LPGA norms (by almost 20 yards and 15 percentage points!) and her JLPGA stats are nothing to write home about, either. Still, it's hard to argue against 4 career LPGA wins, her fantastic record of finishing events, and her total career winnings.
5. Morgan Pressel: Decisively winning a JLPGA major in May showed what she's capable of, but her approach shots have been holding her back in LPGA play thus far this season. Her gutty come-from-behind wins in the Sybase Match Play Championship reinforce how tough she is when she gets her putter going, so watch for her to improve her winnings per start and top 20s per finish rates (nearly $28K and 52%, respectively). Having a major is the only thing that's keeping her this high on this list right now, but if she starts winning again on the LPGA, she could just as easily move up it.
6. In-Kyung Kim: Her season-ending LET win in Dubai last December didn't give her quite the momentum I expected her to have in 2010, but she's still making a lot of birdies this season on the LPGA, even without doing much with her approach shots or her putter yet, so look for her to keep improving on her winnings per start and top 20s per finish rates (over $31K and nearly 52%, respectively). She'll have to if she wants to stay ahead of Song-Hee Kim!
7. Song-Hee Kim: Clearly the best player on the LPGA without a win, she's come tantalizingly close in 2010 several times as she's extended her top 10 streak to 9 consecutive events and 13 of her last 15 starts (dating back to 2009). As a result, her winnings per start rate has climbed over $32K and her top 20s per finish rate has soared to over 62%. It's a crime I can't rank her higher than this, but everyone ahead of her has at least 2 LPGA wins....
8. Eun-Hee Ji: She just can't seem to shake the Open jinx and as a result her winnings per start rate has slipped by $2K (down to $35.5K) and top 20s per finish rate has dipped down to 45%. Even though the strength of her pre-'09 Open record means that she's still on a pace to surpass most of those ahead of her on this list, she'll have to start playing--and putting--better in '10 to actually do so.
9. Jee Young Lee: I put her right behind Michelle Wie at the very top of the best on the LPGA with 1 win list. Her winnings per start rate is back over $26K and top 20s per finish rate is approaching 60%, so if she starts bombing her drives again like she has most of her career (where she's averaged in the mid 260s, as opposed to the mid 250s this season), look for her to graduate from that list sometime very soon.
10. Angela Park: Even though her free fall continues, she's still averaging over $27K per start and top 20s in around 41% of her finishes, plus she's made the top 3 8 times. I've been underrating her lately because of how quickly and completely her game has unravelled, but it's only fair to put her here at this point in her career.
11. Inbee Park: Despite her missed cut this past week on the JLPGA, she's still #2 on their money list, to go with her 10th-place position on the LPGA's. She's raised her LPGA winnings per start rate to $25K, but her top 20 per finish rate remains far below those ahead of her (just under 38%) and she hasn't put herself in contention all that often. Still, with her irons and putter both on track for her this season, she's a legitimate threat to get her 2nd win soon.
12. Brittany Lang: Although she's off to a slow start this season (thanks to her old nemesis, the flat stick), she's still averaging about $20K per start and getting into the top 20 in over 51% of her finishes. It's a good sign that she's leading the tour in GIR, but her inability to put herself in contention more often must be maddening to this Solheim Cupper.
13. Momoko Ueda: Unlike Ai Miyazato, she's decided to divide her time almost equally between the JLPGA and LPGA the past couple of years. Although she's averaging nearly $22K per start and top 20s in almost 41% of her finishes on the LPGA, all the work she's been putting into her ballstriking has yet to really pay off for her, plus her play on the JLPGA has suffered. Let's see how she does when she's on the same continent for more than a month in a row. Her high birdie rate bodes well for the future.
14. Hee Young Park: Due to problems with her approach shots and putting, she's slipped to $21K per start and top 20s in nearly 46% of her finishes. Although she's virtually eliminated the big numbers that contributed to her gaining the nickname The Rocket, she hasn't been able to go super-low as in previous seasons where she earned her nickname. But she's still making her share of birdies, so it's only a matter of time before she finds that gear.
15. Kristy McPherson: This Solheim Cupper is averaging almost $19K per start and notching top 20s in about 41% of her finishes, so although she's off to a slow start thus far this season, I expect her to straighten out her irons very soon and give herself a lot more birdie chances.
16. Sun Young Yoo: Winning the Sybase boosted her winnings per event rate to $18K and she's now making the top 20 in 39% of the events she's finished. It'll be interesting to see how far this late bloomer can rise up this list.
17. Julieta Granada: Although she's shown some signs of life lately, her winnings per event rate has fallen to $22K and she now makes the top 20 in only 33% of the events she's finished. Right now, she's where Angela Park could be if she doesn't pull out of her nose-dive. Both could fall much further down these rankings soon at the rate things are going for them.
18. Amy Yang: Although she's averaging only around $15K per start and getting top 20s in about 39% of her finishes, she's coming on strong this season. Watch out for her!
19. Ji Young Oh: Yes, she has 2 LPGA wins (her only 2 finishes in the top 3, by the way), but she's averaging only $17K per start and making the top 20 in only 29% of her finishes. So far all the physical training she did with Ji-Yai Shin in the offseason in Australia has only forced her to adjust her swing to her new body, with indifferent results thus far in 2010.
Quantum Leap Candidates
20. Shanshan Feng: Her slump last season dropped her winnings per start rate to $13K and her top 20 per finish rate to 28%, but with a hot putter this season and ballstriking results well below her career norms, all signs point to a serious comeback in 2010.
21. Jane Park: Her back problems have kept her winnings per start and top 20s per finish rates far below what her talent would suggest ($15K and 24% respectively), to the point that she failed to qualify for 3 of the LPGA's 1st 7 official events of 2010. To make matters worse, she hasn't responded well to the start-stop early-season schedule she's been forced into. Let's see what she's capable of when she gets more repetitions.
22. Teresa Lu: Although she has a decent LPGA record ($11K per start and top 20s in 29% of her finishes), she's only played 3 events on tour this season and has spent most of her time on the JLPGA (3 missed cuts in 6 starts there). Let's see what she can do when she's back to playing on the LPGA regularly. She's entered in the State Farm Classic this week.
23. Kyeong Bae: Although she's played 4 more LPGA events that Lu this season, she's still made barely more than her, despite hitting more greens and making birdies at a healthy rate (3.30 per round). If she can improve both her driving and her putting, she'll improve on her $11K per start and 25% top 20 per finish rates.
24. Sandra Gal. A very slow start to the season has seen her winnings per start and top 20s per finish rates plunge (down to $10K and 33%).
25. Meaghan Francella: Here's hoping her win in the Brazil exhibition is just the sprak this NYer needs to improve her winnings per start and top 20s per finish rates (currently at $12K and 27%).
For your reference, here's how the top 25 Young Guns stack up, stats-wise.
STARTS/MAJORS/WINS/TOP 3/TOP 10/TOP 20/WD/DQ/MC/FINISHES (RATE)
[Note: *=non-member win (not counted toward other stats).]
1. Ai Miyazato, $3.87M (#41), 98/0/4/11/33/48/1/0/14/83 (.847)
2. Seon Hwa Lee, $3.70M (#43), 116/0/4/11/28/55/2/0/9/105 (.905)
3. Ya Ni Tseng, $3.58M (#48), 60/2/3/15/28/42/0/0/2/58 (.967)
4. Jee Young Lee, $2.93M (#62), 111/0/1*/8/31/58/5/0/8/98 (.883)
5. Morgan Pressel, $2.92M (#64), 105/1/2/9/30/48/0/0/12/93 (.886)
6. Na Yeon Choi, $2.65M (#74), 60/0/2/8/23/40/0/0/0/60 (1.000)
7. In-Kyung Kim, $2.63M (#75), 84/0/2/7/24/37/0/0/14/70 (.833)
8. Song-Hee Kim, $2.45M (#80), 76/0/0/7/26/38/0/0/15/61 (.803)
9. Brittany Lang, $2.27M (#88), 114/0/0/6/25/46/0/0/24/90 (.789)
10. Julieta Granada, $2.23M (#91), 104/0/1/5/10/22/0/1/37/66 (.635)
11. Eun-Hee Ji, $2.14M (#95), 62/1/2/5/15/23/0/3/8/51 (.823)
12. Angela Park, $2.12M (#96), 78/0/0/8/18/25/4/0/13/61 (.782)
13. Inbee Park, $2.05M (#99), 82/1/1/4/14/23/1/1/19/61 (.744)
14. Sun Young Yoo, $1.95M (#106), 111/0/1/4/15/34/1/0/23/87 (.784)
15. Ji Young Oh, $1.42M (#130), 83/0/2/2/8/17/1/0/23/59 (.711)
16. Kristy McPherson, $1.40M (#133), 75/0/0/3/12/24/0/0/17/58 (.773)
17. Hee Young Park, $1.24M (#148), 60/0/0/2/11/21/0/0/14/46 (.767)
18. Kyeong Bae, $1.14M (#163), 102/0/0/2/9/17/4/0/29/69 (.676)
19. Teresa Lu, $1.07M (#168), 94/0/0/1/6/21/1/0/21/72 (.766)
20. Meaghan Francella, $.97M (#187), 81/0/1/1/6/14/0/0/29/52 (.642)
21. Momoko Ueda, $.94M (#195), 43/0/1*/1/6/15/0/0/6/37 (.860)
22. Jane Park, $.92M (#199), 61/0/0/3/6/11/4/0/11/46 (.754)
23. Shanshan Feng, $.68M (#234), 53/0/0/1/7/9/1/0/20/32 (.604)
24. Amy Yang, $.55M (#255), 37/0/0/1/5/12/0/0/6/31 (.838)
25. Sandra Gal, $.54M (#260), 52/0/0/0/2/13/2/0/10/40 (.769)