6 JLPGA regulars and 2 irregulars made up almost half my nominees for the coveted Mostly Harmless Best 2010 in Women's Golf award. For irregulars Ji-Yai Shin and Ai Miyazato, the JLPGA took a back seat to their efforts to win the money-list title and Player of the Year on the LPGA, but Shin still won twice on tour. Meanwhile, JLPGA POY and money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn matched Shin and LPGA POY Ya Ni Tseng in worldwide wins with 4, all coming on the JLPGA, 1 fewer than Miyazato and Lee-Anne Pace of the LET. Other multiple JLPGA winners in 2010 included Mi-Jeong Jeon (3), Sakura Yokomine (2), Inbee Park (2), Yuri Fudoh (2), and Akane Iijima (2). So how did their seasons stack up against the rest of the JLPGA? Who made the biggest advances since the end of last season?
This functionally illiterate expert will try to answer these questions. I'll be using the year-end Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, and the current JLPGA money list, along with the previous 2 seasons' money lists, to rank the JLPGA's finest.
We've got a new #1 on tour! But the former #1 still managed to stay ahead of a couple of JLPGA irregulars and her former top rival on tour.
1. Sun-Ju Ahn: #1 2010 money (￥145.07M), #9 GSPI (69.68) , #8 RR (7.25) , n.a. 2009 and 2008 money (not a JLPGA member). 4 golds, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes, 19 total top 10s, and the lowest scoring average among JLPGA regulars in her 27 starts show just how strong she was this season, but it was her run of 10-straight events in which she finished no worse than 5th and won 3 times that cemented her dominance in 2010.
2. Sakura Yokomine: #2 2010 money (￥101.83M), #12 GSPI (69.81) , #13 RR (5.46) , #1 2009 money (￥175.02M), #3 2008 money (￥103.19M). Last year's record-setting money winner played pretty darn well in 2010, actually improving her raw scores in the RR and GSPI and keeping her scoring average below 71 for the 3rd-straight season, but she still lost ground to irregulars Shin and Miyazato and was passed by rookies Ahn and Inbee Park in those ranking systems. With 20 top 10s in 28 starts, what held her back was her inability to regularly put herself in serious contention. She only had 2 golds, a silver, and a bronze all season, a veritable drought for a player of her talents!
3. Ji-Yai Shin: #18 2010 money (￥47.82M), #3 GSPI (68.83) , #1 RR (10.74) , #24 2009 money (￥37.40M), #24 2008 money (￥45.54M). How good was her 2010 campaign on the JLPGA? The #1 player in the Rolex Rankings finished out of the top 5 only once in her 7 starts, won twice, and got a silver and a bronze, to boot. Her scoring average of 69.67 in 2010 and 5 wins in 3 truncated seasons on tour says it all--she loves playing golf in Japan!
4. Inbee Park: #5 2010 money (￥82.04M), #13 GSPI (69.82) , #12 RR (6.57) , n.a. 2009 and 2008 money (not a JLPGA member). Her season-ending Ricoh Cup win capped off a campaign that netted her 2 golds (including that 1 major), 6 silvers, and 10 total top 10s in only 14 starts on tour. Besides her alchemical difficulties, her 2 missed cuts were the only blemishes on her rookie season. Let's see if Hee Young Park, Shanshan Feng, Meena Lee, or Soo-Yun Kang can be as successful in their 1st seasons as dual LPGA-JLPGA members in 2011 as she was in 2010.
5. Mi-Jeong Jeon: #3 2010 money (￥92.31M), #24 GSPI (70.62) , #16 RR (5.15) , #4 2009 money (￥127.29M), #6 2008 money (￥90.85M). Although she won 3 times and came in 3rd twice, this has to rank as a somewhat disappointing season for the 6th-year JLPGA member, because she got only 13 top 10s in 27 starts and saw her scoring average rise by over half a stroke from last year. Even so, it was her 5th-straight season in the top 6 on the money list, so don't feel too bad for her!
In contrast to the Korean predominance in the top 5, Japanese players make up the vast majority in the next 6.
6. Chie Arimura: #6 2010 money (￥79.25M), #22 GSPI (70.33) , #18 RR (4.74) , #3 2009 money (￥140.80M), #23 2008 money (￥47.35M). She came in 2nd to Ahn in the 1st event of 2010 and won 3 events later, but could only manage another silver and a bronze the rest of the season. Still, even though her scoring average rose almost half a stroke from last season's, she finished in the top 10 in 19 out of her 30 starts and 9 of them were top 5s. At 23 years of age, she already has 7 career JLPGA victories. Watch for her to bounce back in a big way in 2011!
7. Yukari Baba: #4 2010 money (￥90.36M), #21 GSPI (70.33) , #26 RR (4.00) , #9 2009 money (￥60.06M), #26 2008 money (￥44.14M). If 2009 was a very good year, 2010 was a career year for the 8th-year pro. She improved on her consistency from last season, missing only 1 cut in 33 starts (down from 2) and getting 15 top 10s (up from 12). But where she really improved was in putting herself in contention more often. Even though her 3rd career win proved elusive, she garnered 4 silvers and 5 bronzes. Twice in the 2nd half of the season she finished no worse than 3rd in a 3-tournament run. She moves up 7 spots from last year's ranking on her birthday today--not a bad gift the 28-year-old gave herself in 2010. Let's see whether she can keep rising in 2011.
8. Yuri Fudoh: #7 2010 money (￥69.70M), #25 GSPI (70.77) , #27 RR (3.79) , #17 2009 money (￥43.98M), #5 2008 money (￥91.86M). With 2 wins, 7 top 5s, and 10 top 10s in 24 starts, the JLPGA's only Billion Dollar Woman bounced back from probably the worst season of her career last year. But it's not a good sign that her scoring average actually went up almost a fifth of a stroke from 2009 to 2010. With even more international competition coming to her back yard next season, the JLPGA's most dominant player will have to dial up the intensity in 2011 if she wants to remain among the tour's super-elite!
9. Miki Saiki: #8 2010 money (￥69.56M), #38 GSPI (71.05) , #39 RR (3.09) , #18 2009 money (￥43.33M), #20 2008 money (￥50.84M). 2010 was the best season in this 4th-year pro's career, all because of how well she bounced back from her only missed cut of the year around its mid-way point; not only did she get her 2nd-ever win on the JLPGA, she added a silver and 8 other top 10s in her last 16 starts (out of 32 in all). Like last season, she still had 10 finishes outside the top 20 (in addition to her MC), but she still managed to return to the top 10 on the money list for the 1st time since her rookie year. Let's see if the 26-year-old can keep improving in 2011!
10. Ji-Hee Lee: #14 2010 money (￥52.88M), #34 GSPI (71.00) , #30 RR (3.37) , #6 2009 money (￥79.70M), #2 2008 money (￥119.65M). The JLPGA's #1-ranked player in 2008 slips another 2 spots lower from last year's ranking, but if it weren't for a 4-week stretch in the middle of the season when she finished 5th, 7th, 2nd, and 1st, she would have fallen much farther. Sure, she added 4 more top 10s, including a bronze, on either side of that stretch, but couldn't get another over her last 10 starts, ending up with 7 fewer than in 2009 and 13 fewer than in 2008, despite getting 28 starts in all in 2010. My guess is that the back injuries she sustained at the end of last season when Team Korea dropped her during a celebratory captain toss at the Kyoraku Cup bothered her for most if not all of this season. Here's hoping she's completely recovered for next season!
11. Akane Iijima: #9 2010 money (￥64.88M), #78 GSPI (71.96) , #53 RR (2.56) , #20 2009 money (￥42.63M), #19 2008 money (￥51.40M). It was either feast or famine for this 6th-year pro: after missing the cut in 3 of her 1st 6 starts and getting only 2 top 10s in her 1st 13, she bounced back with 2 wins and 4 other top 10s in her next 9 starts, but could manage only 5 top 20s over her last 12 starts. All in all, she had 2 golds, a silver, and 10 top 10s in 34 starts to bring her career total to 6 wins on tour, despite the fact that her scoring average went up a quarter of a stroke from last season. Let's see if the 27-year-old can play better more consistently in 2011.
The next group of JLPGA regulars, including some newcomers from the LPGA, benefitted from relatively disappointing seasons by the rest of the irregulars.
12. Saiki Fujita: #10 2010 money (￥64.50M), #73 GSPI (71.84) , #65 RR (2.30) , #34 2009 money (￥26.39M), #29 2008 money (￥31.72M). She bounced back from a terrible start to her 6th season on the JLPGA--5 missed cuts and a WD in her 1st 14 starts--with an impressive win at the Konica Minolta Cup and ended the year with 2 bronzes and 10 top 10s in 32 starts. That's why she jumped 17 spots from last year's ranking.
13. Rui Kitada: #12 2010 money (￥59.33M), #68 GSPI (71.75) , #66 RR (2.28) , #19 2009 money (￥43.00M), #28 2008 money (￥36.34M). A win, 2 bronzes, and 3 other top 5s highlighted her season, but even though she had 11 top 10s in her 34 starts, she had 14 finishes outside the top 20 and missed 3 cuts. Still, she moves up 8 spots from last year's ranking.
14. Young Kim: #15 2010 money (￥49.89M), #36 GSPI (71.04) , #54 RR (2.49) , n.a. 2009 and 2008 money (not a JLPGA member). A silver, 2 bronzes, and 3 other top 5s showed her talent, but she couldn't break through for a win in her rookie season on the JLPGA and could manage only 8 top 10s in her 28 starts. Let's see if she can improve on this solid foundation in her sophomore campaign.
15. Nikki Campbell: #13 2010 money (￥55.22M), #45 GSPI (71.37) , #46 RR (2.76) , #10 2009 money (￥50.67M), #33 2008 money (￥27.04M). 4 silvers were the highlight of her season--particularly in big-time events like the Suntory Ladies and Konica Minolta Cup--but she got only 8 top 10s in 28 starts and was passed by Ji-Hee Lee on Sunday in the NEC Karuizawa 72, her best chance for a win in 2010. Still, she improved on her winnings and scoring average from last season (her previous bests) and has finished in the top 20 on the money list in 5 of her last 6 seasons on the JLPGA.
16. Na-Ri Kim: #11 2010 money (￥59.36M), #66 GSPI (71.73) , #29 RR (3.51) , n.a. 2009 and 2008 money (not a JLPGA member). She missed the cut in 3 of her 1st 6 starts as a rookie on the JLPGA and her best finish in her 1st 10 was only a T11, but she got her sea legs under her after that, getting 2 silvers and a bronze midway through the season and breaking through for her 1st win in its next-to-last event. All in all, she got only 6 top 10s in 33 starts, but has a lot of momentum heading into her sophomore season on the JLPGA.
17. Shinobu Moromizato: #20 2010 money (￥43.34M), #35 GSPI (71.02) , #34 RR (3.32) , #2 2009 money (￥165.26M), #12 2008 money (￥64.37M). Her silver in the opening event of the 2010 season on her home island of Okinawa seemed to augur that she'd pick up where she left off in 2009, when she was the #2 golfer on the JLPGA, but even though she went on to open the Konica Minolta Cup with a 66 and ended up with 11 top 10s in 29 starts, she never really put herself in contention the rest of the season.
18. Ai Miyazato: #48 2010 money (￥16.91M), #8 GSPI (69.67) , #6 RR (9.61) , #14 2009 money (￥46.56M), #32 2008 money (￥27.89M). Even though she finished outside the top 10 only once in her 6 JLPGA starts, it came at the worst possible time: while rival Ji-Yai Shin was winning the Mizuno Classic, Ai-sama's 2nd-round 79 dropped her to the bottom of the leaderboard. Combined with an uncharacteristically over-par 73 on a Sunday in the NEC Karuizawa 72 that dropped her from 1st to 4th and the lack of any top-3 finishes, 2010 may well be her most disappointing season on the JLPGA ever--not as bad as 2007, to be sure, but definitely the biggest let-down.
The following players had some real bright spots in 2010, but they were relatively few and far between.
19. Ayako Uehara: #16 2010 money (￥48.70M), #60 GSPI (71.59) , #60 RR (2.41) , #12 2009 money (￥47.30M), #14 2008 money (￥63.31M). Even a 2nd-round 63 in the Golf5 Ladies couldn't get this 8th-year pro her 3rd career JLPGA win, but she did have 2 silvers and 3 other top 5s in a season when she garnered 8 top 10s in 34 starts. Although she improved in winnings and scoring average from last season, I'm still waiting for a breakthrough year from her!
20. Mayu Hattori: #17 2010 money (￥48.62M), #72 GSPI (71.83) , #62 RR (2.39) , #15 2009 money (￥44.48M), #15 2008 money (￥58.72M). 6 missed cuts by this 4th-year pro in the 1st half of the season nearly overshadowed her 2nd career JLPGA win, but the 22-year-old played steadier in the 2nd half of the season and ended up with 8 top 10s in 33 starts.
21. Eun-A Lim: #22 2010 money (￥42.09M), #67 GSPI (71.75) , #61 RR (2.40) , #11 2009 money (￥47.77M), #9 2008 money (￥73.41M). She got her 3rd win on the JLPGA in her 3rd year as a member, but with only a bronze to keep it company and 7 top 10s in 30 starts offset by 4 missed cuts and a WD, she took a significant step backwards in 2010.
22. Mie Nakata: #19 2010 money (￥46.06M), #52 GSPI (72.31) , #77 RR (1.92) , #44 2009 money (￥16.52M), #31 2008 money (￥28.33M). 2 silvers--1 early and 1 late in the season--were the highlights of this veteran's 2010, but she also got a bronze and 2 other top 5s on her way to 7 top 10s in 31 starts.
23. Miho Koga: #25 2010 money (￥34.53M), #113 GSPI (72.70) , #67 RR (2.26) , #8 2009 money (￥72.11M), #1 2008 money (￥120.85M). If 2009 was a frustrating season for 2008's money-list leader and 4th-ranked player on the JLPGA, 2010 was pretty close to disastrous. Despite an early win and a silver a few events later, she got only 2 more top 10s the rest of the season (for 4 in 26 starts), missed a bunch of cuts, and had to cut her year short due to injuries that no doubt had been affecting her play for a long time. Here's hoping she's healthy in 2011!
24. Akiko Fukushima: #30 2010 money (￥30.83M), #94 GSPI (72.40) , #64 RR (2.37) , #13 2009 money (￥46.56M), #4 2008 money (￥96.50M). Her 18th season on the JLPGA was nothing to write home about, except for a 2-week mid-season stretch when she got a silver and a gold. Time is running out on her attempt to follow Yuri Fudoh and become the 2nd-ever Billion Yen Woman on the JLPGA.
25. Hyun-Ju Shin: #24 2010 money (￥36.76M), #90 GSPI (72.21) , #81 RR (1.81) , #33 2009 money (￥26.41M), #11 2008 money (￥64.63M). She still hasn't been the same player since she got injured midway through the 2008 season. Despite notching her 5th career win in 6 seasons on the JLPGA in the middle of this season and augmenting it with a silver earlier in the year, she ended up with only 4 top 10s in 33 starts. But 5 MCs and 1 WD helped contribute to the highest scoring average of her JLPGA career. Here's hoping she's healthy in 2011!
26. Rikako Morita: #28 2010 money (￥32.63M), #129 GSPI (73.01) , #96 RR (1.53) , #27 2009 money (￥30.39M), n.a. 2008 money (not a JLPGA member). This JLPGA super soph continued to have trouble making cuts--she missed 9 in all this season--but she fired a 62 to get her 1st win on tour late in the year, got a bronze midway through it, and ended up with 5 top 10s in 34 starts.
No wins for the rest of the players in this year's ranking, but plenty of potential winners in 2011.
27. Momoko Ueda: #39 2010 money (￥21.77M), #51 GSPI (71.48) , #44 RR (2.84) , #21 2009 money (￥42.38M), #17 2008 money (￥54.62M). Injuries took their toll on her performance on both the LPGA and JLPGA this season, but she still grinded out 17 starts in Japan in 2010. Despite her tenaciousness, she garnered only 3 T4s for her efforts, and even missed 2 cuts late in the season.
28. Tamie Durdin: #35 2010 money (￥27.00M), #82 GSPI (72.01) , #82 RR (1.75) , #23 2009 money (￥37.77M), #55 2008 money (￥14.65M). This dual member had to abandon the LPGA late in the season to fight to keep her JLPGA card for 2011. She made it interesting, missing 3 cuts in a 4-event stretch, but rallied for her 2 best finishes of the year--a silver and a 4th--in her last 3 starts to go with her 3 other top 10s in the 20 JLPGA tournaments she played in 2010.
29. Hiromi Mogi: #26 2010 money (￥34.17M), #44 GSPI (71.35) , #85 RR (1.71) , #26 2009 money (￥32.35M), #18 2008 money (￥52.62M). 8 top 10s in 30 starts wasn't bad, but her best finish was a T5 and she got only 1 of them. Still, with only 2 missed cuts, her scoring average was actually her lowest in her 8 years on the JLPGA. Will she become a top-20 player again in 2011, as she was from 2004 through 2008, or will the JLPGA's young guns push her even further aside?
30. Hiromi Takesue: #21 2010 money (￥42.43M), #96 GSPI (72.42) , #86 RR (1.70) , #41 2009 money (￥17.59M), #48 2008 money (￥16.52M). She came on strong at the very end of the season, with 3 straight top 10s, an even more impressive burst than the middle of the season when she got 3 top 10s in 4 starts--including her only silver and bronze of 2010. Unfortunately, she ended the season with only 8 top 10s in 31 starts and had just as many missed cuts, which also came in bunches. Still, 2010 was her best year since her rookie season in 2003.
31. Bo-Bae Song: #29 2010 money (￥31.16M), #57 GSPI (71.55) , #51 RR (2.63) , #7 2009 money (￥72.92M), #13 2008 money (￥63.47M). A tough year for one of the best young Koreans on tour was highlighted by a bronze and 6 total top 10s in 26 starts. This was the 1st time in her 4 years on tour that she failed to make the top 20 of the money list and only the 2nd time her scoring average was over 72. 3 missed cuts late in the season sealed her fate. Let's see if she can bounce back in 2011.
32. Na-Ri Lee: #23 2010 money (￥37.13M), #74 GSPI (71.86) , #83 RR (1.74) , #29 2009 money (￥28.29M), #82 2008 money (￥6.10M). A silver and bronze in the last third of the season were the highlights of a year that saw this 22-year-old 3rd-year JLPGAer notch 6 top 10s in 34 starts.
33. Asako Fujimoto: #27 2010 money (￥33.25M), #79 GSPI (71.97) , #73 RR (2.04) , #120 2009 money (￥1.15M), n.a. 2008 money (not a JLPGA member). This 20-year-old acquitted herself well in her 1st full season on the JLPGA. She had 5 top 10s in 33 starts, including a silver in her 7th event of the season. Her last 2 top 10s came in a mid-season stretch where she also missed 3 of her 4 cuts of the year, which shows she has pretty good bounce-back abilities. While she wasn't a world-beater like some of her fellow JLPGA rookies, she still did better than some of the LPGAers who tried their luck on the JLPGA in 2010.
34. Ji-Woo Lee: #31 2010 money (￥30.60M), #102 GSPI (72.51) , #108 RR (1.33) , #31 2009 money (￥27.04M), #22 2008 money (￥47.63M). She missed a lot of cuts at the start and end of the season, but managed to snag a silver and 5 other top 10s in 31 starts.
35. Maiko Wakabayashi: #32 2010 money (￥28.00M), #98 GSPI (72.46) , #114 RR (1.22) , #30 2009 money (￥28.16M), #21 2008 money (￥50.06M). She got a bronze and 4 other top 10s in her last 15 starts of 2010, but her 1st 15 didn't provide all that much to write home about. Let's see if the 22-year-old can put together a complete season in her 4th full year on tour.
36. Ah-Reum Hwang: #33 2010 money (￥27.96M), #92 GSPI (72.36) , #110 RR (1.31) , #22 2009 money (￥40.09M), #44 2008 money (￥18.28M). The 23-year-old got an early silver but followed it up with only 2 other top 10s in her 28 starts.
Look for the following players to make some serious comebacks in 2011.
Yuko Mitsuka: #50 2010 money (￥15.65M), #5 2009 money (￥89.79M), #7 2008 money (￥83.56M). She got an early silver and 2 other top 10s pretty soon after it, but after walking off the course during a major to protest a slow-play penalty and sitting out almost half the season, she just wasn't the same player on her return. She missed the cut or WDed in 10 of her 22 starts in 2010. Here's hoping she comes back with a better attitude and a better game in her 5th year on tour.
Shiho Oyama: #57 2010 money (￥11.58M), #146 2009 money (￥.57M), #8 2008 money (￥75.04M). Dual membership on the LPGA and injuries cut her 2009 JLPGA campaign sadly short, and she couldn't come back from elbow surgery until late this season. She got 3 top 10s in 10 starts, but couldn't crack the top 50 on the money list and had to go back to Q-School, where she placed 5th. If she's healthy in 2011, watch out for her!
Teresa Lu: #58 2010 money (￥11.11M). In her 13 JLPGA starts in her 1st year of dual membership, she got a bronze and 2 other top 10s, but missed 5 cuts and only placed 33rd in Q-School, which means that the 23-year-old might not get into every JLPGA event she would want to in 2011.
Erina Hara: #82 2010 money (￥5.23M), #25 2009 money (￥35.26M), #10 2008 money (￥65.87M). She only made 11 cuts in 32 starts with a best finish of T15, so she was also back in Q-School, where she finished 18th and will basically have full playing privileges in her 5th year on tour. Let's see if the 23-year-old can bounce back!
Yuki Ichinose: #44 2010 money (￥19.10M), #39 2009 money (￥19.21M), #49 2008 money (￥15.92M). The 22-year-old came on strong in the last third of the season with 4 top 10s to keep her card via the money list for the 3rd-straight season. Let's see if she can do more than that in 2011!
Ritsuko Ryu: #37 2010 money (￥22.21M), #100 2009 money (￥2.58M), #69 2008 money (￥9.75M). This was the 1st season the 23-year-old 4th-year pro kept her card via the money list. She got a bronze and a 6th-place finish midway through the season, but didn't too much of note otherwise. Let's see if she can kick-start her career in 2011.