Thursday, July 1, 2010

Recommended Reading: On Song-Hee Kim and Alexis Thompson

Since I picked the Best Golfer on the LPGA Without a Win to break through this week at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, I have to link to Happy Fan's great overview of Song-Hee Kim's career. (It's in the Mostly Harmless bylaws.) I just have a couple of footnotes to add to his post, taken from my Best of the '07ers ranking (where she's #2) and Best of the LPGA ranking (where she's #8) and then a comparison to make with Alexis Thompson.

First, it's worth repeating that the player whose game Kim's most resembles is...Cristie Kerr. Both are "straight shooters" in my taxonomy (they both average just over 255 yards off the tee, although Kim's driving accuracy is down a bit from her career norms to 67.5%, well below Kerr's 72.4%) and both are great putters in anyone's book (Kerr leads the tour with 1.71 putts per green in regulation while Kim is averaging 1.75). So it should be no surprise that they're in the top 5 on tour in greens in regulation (Kim is hitting 73.7% and Kerr 72.2%), that they're #3 and #4 on tour in birdies per round (Kerr is averaging 4.20 while Kim is averaging 4.18), and that they're #1 and #2 in scoring average (only Suzann Pettersen joins them below 70).

My second footnote connects to Alexis Thompson's chances of making it big on the LPGA. Happy Fan points to how Kim exceeded expectations as an unheralded teenager from Korea starting her professional career in the United States, then played below expectations in her rookie season on the LPGA, then began to play up to them over the next couple of seasons on tour and has finally gotten people raising them on her yet again. If a straight shooter and a good putter can go through such ups and downs in her brief career, then I'd expect even more of a roller-coaster from a player like Thompson, who seems to have become much more of a bomber than she was as a younger player. And that's where Hound Dog's posting of a clip from the Golf Channel coverage of the ShopRite Classic comparing her swing at ages 9 and 15 is so interesting. What strikes me when you put the 2 swings side by side, as Golf Channel did, is not how similar they are, but how much more powerful Thompson's swing as a 15-year-old is. The angle isn't great, but if I'm right she's taking the club back on a much less flat plane, she's coiling a lot more at the top, and she's delaying her release until much later in her downswing than she used to. All that, when combined with her growth in height and strength in those 6 years, adds up to a lot more distance off the tee. She, Michelle Wie, and Laura Davies seemed to be the only players trying to bomb it around the Bay Course at Seaview--to little avail.

Now, if Thompson can harness her distance, improve her approaches with her short irons and wedges, and work on her recovery shots, chipping, and putting, she'll have a long and successful LPGA career ahead of her. She's definitely taken the Michelle Wie track, so I hope she realizes where Wie has been focusing her improvement efforts lately. On that path lies the kind of greatness that straight-up bombers like Annika Sorenstam in the 1st half of the 2000s and Lorena Ochoa in the 2nd half of the 2000s were able to achieve and sustain. Right now, Ya Ni Tseng and Suzann Pettersen are the closest among the current crop of bombers to achieve that status, although I have my eyes on Vicky Hurst and Amy Yang for the future.

For Kim, it's clear she has all the tools to contend week in and week out. Will this be her week? She's off to a slow start today, but many players high on the leaderboard from the morning pairings did most of their damage on the back (check out Na Yeon Choi's 33 and Katherine Hull's 32--and Brittany Lincicome's hot start in the afternoon--on the par-37 side!). We'll see....


courtgolf said...

Alexis is a 15 year old high school girl who is playing for experience and hoping to cash a few checks along the way. She isn't even eligible for a card for almost 3 more years.

I agree with you - it takes a bubble brained xxx Golf Channel employee to make comments that raise immediate expectations on this girl before they should be.

(but no - I wouldn't be surprised at all if she put up some top 10's or even pushed for a win in the next couple of years)

The Constructivist said...

She's definitely got the talent! In the end, though, golf is a precision game, no matter how much power you have. She's tall and will have plenty of the latter; it's the former I hope she concentrates on.