Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ricoh Cup Thursday: The JLPGA's Youth Wave Continues Gathering Momentum

For years, the JLPGA was known as a tour where golfers from their teens to their 50s would regularly compete head-to-head, but it appears that the youth movement sweeping the world of women's professional golf is starting to make some serious waves in Japan, as well. On the same day that 20-year-old Kaori Ohe and 21-year-old Kumiko Kaneda took medalist honors in the 3rd stage of JLPGA Q-School--beating LPGAers Shanshan Feng, Meena Lee, Teresa Lu, and Soo-Yun Kang and KLPGA stars Bo-Mee Lee and He Yong Choi--20-year-old Rikako Morita took the lead in the Ricoh Cup, the limited-field, season-ending major, with a 6-birdie 67.

2 shots back is 26-year-old Miki Saiki and 3 shots back is the Japan Women's Open champion, the 21-year-old LPGA regular, Mika Miyazato. Last week's winner, the 24-year-old Na-Ri Kim, is only 4 back, and still within 5 are 23-year-old money-list champion Sun-Ju Ahn, 24-year-old runner-up Sakura Yokomine, 23-year-old Chie Arimura, and 22-year-old dual LPGA-JLPGA member Inbee Park. Sure, billion-yen-woman Yuri Fudoh (34), perennial JLPGA star Mi-Jeong Jeon (28), Hiromi Takesue (28), and ex-LPGAer Young Kim (30) are only 2, 3, 3, and 5 shots behind Morita, respectively, so it's not like the older players on tour are being skunked. But when Saiki Fujita (25), Ayako Uehara (26), and Akane Iijima (27) seem like seasoned vets in comparison to most of the rest of the top of the leaderboard, I think the conclusion is pretty clear that the JLPGA's young guns are starting to really hit their stride.

Here's how the leaderboard looks after round 1:

1st/-5 Rikako Morita (67)
T2/-3 Yuri Fudoh, Miki Saiki (69)
T4/-2 Mika Miyazato, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Hiromi Takesue (70)
T7/-1 Akane Iijima, Na-Ri Kim (71)
T9/E Sun-Ju Ahn, Sakura Yokomine, Chie Arimura, Inbee Park, Young Kim, Ayako Uehara, Saiki Fujita (72)

16th/+1 Nobuko Kizawa (73)
T17/+2 Nikki Campbell, Eun-A Lim, Mie Nakata, Na-Ri Lee, Yoshimi Koda (74)
T22/+3 Ji-Hee Lee, Mayu Hattori (75)
24th/+4 Hyun-Ju Shin (76)
25th/+5 Akiko Fukushima (77)
T26/+6 Yukari Baba, Shinobu Moromizato, Rui Kitada (78)
29th/+7 Yun-Jye Wei (79)

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