Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Professional Debuts

Jennifer Song and Alexis Thompson, fresh off Team USA's Curtis Cup victory, make their professional debuts this week, Song at the Duramed Tour's 1st major, the Tate & Lyle Players Championship and Thompson at the LPGA's ShopRite Classic.

From there, their careers will diverge even further. Song is already a DFT member, having competed in 1 event as an amateur already this season. She'll be shooting for the LPGA via the traditional route of attempting to make the top 5 of their money list at the end of the season, or, failing that, going to LPGA Q-School. (Unless, that is, she wins the U.S. Women's Open, which she was exempt for by virtue of already holding 2 other USGA women's championships.) Thompson, on the other hand, is too young to be a member of any women's professional tour, so she'll rely on sponsor exemptions to attempt what Michelle Wie and Stacy Lewis failed to accomplish--win enough money in no more than 6 of such starts to match or exceed the #80 player on the LPGA's season-ending money list (and then petition for a waiver to their age policy). Or she could just win 1 of those starts--or the U.S. Women's Open, which she qualified for in May.

I'd put the odds for each player avoiding Q-School around 1 in 10. Whereas Song has spotted the #5 player on the DFT money list, Pornanong Phatlum, only about $25K, there are only 9 events left on their 2010 schedule. That's not much time to make up that much ground, considering that last season Pernilla Lindberg made less than $30K in 10 starts and finished 11th on the money list. In fact, from 2000-2009, the only player to get her card with a limited number of starts was Sarah-Jane Kenyon (now Smith) in 2008--she played 10 events, won once, and made almost $50K. This season, though, I doubt it's going to take just 1 win to make the top 5. 1-time winners are strewn from #8 to #14 on the money list, not counting #1 Cindy LaCrosse and #3 Angela Oh--and #2 Christine Song already has 2 consecutive wins. My guess is that it's going to take wins and consistent top 5 finishes. We'll see how ready for prime time Song is very soon. She has the opportunity to play 9 weeks in a row, including the Open.

If the LPGA's schedule weren't so short and there weren't so many limited-field events in it, I would put Thompson's odds of making the top 80 much lower than Song's of making the DFT top 5. But with only 5 obvious chances for sponsor exemptions left on the LPGA schedule, Thompson is going to need to play out of her skull every opportunity she gets. She's already spotted the #80 player on the money list, Nicole Castrale, almost $22K, and will probably need to win at least $75K in all to have a realistic chance. Top 20s in every start would probably do it for her, or even just a few top 10s or 1 top 5. Heck, it could happen this week for her. She was 4-0-1 at the Curtis Cup just up the coast from Atlantic City and is riding a wave of confidence. Or how about the Canadian Women's Open in August, where both she and Song have sponsor exemptions (fortunately for Song, the CWO doesn't conflict with any DFT event). Hey, you never know, right?

All this is easier said than done--for both players. If it doesn't happen for Thompson in regular LPGA events, I wonder if she'll petition to be allowed to compete in Q-School. Hannah Yun's parents decided at the end of last season that it was too soon for her to try for LPGA's Q-School, a pretty wise decision, it seems, as she's barely in the top 50 on the DFT money list right now. Thompson may seem like a can't-miss prospect and the "future of American golf," but it's not easy for a teenager to compete against the best in the wide world of women's golf. Let's see how she and Song do this week and in the coming weeks.

[Update 1 (9:41 pm): Stephanie Wei passes along the news that Thompson has signed a big endorsement deal with Cobra-Puma.]

[Update 2 (6/18/10, 6:13 am): Here's more on Song's debut.]

[Update 3 (7:34 am): So Thompson shows up to Seaview in a stock car and Song opens with a 68 on the Futures Tour.]

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