Saturday, July 31, 2010

Women's British Open Saturday: Tseng on Cruise Control

Yani Tseng shot a bogey free 68 to maintain her four shot lead. Katherine Hull, who made birdies on her last five holes, is in solo second at minus eight. The next closest golfers are In-Kyung Kim at minus six, and Brittany Lincicome at minus five.

Morgan Pressel made noise early on Saturday. After making bogey on the first two holes, Pressel rattled off 8 birdies and one eagle only offset by one bogey. Her 65 equaled the course record, a mark held by all the extras required for the movie Ben Hur six participants in the 2005 Women's British Open.

Tseng looked almost flawless today. The only wayward shot I remember Tseng hitting was her second on the par five 17 where she got a lucky bounce back into the fairway. Still could only make par on hole. Tseng made up for it by making an eagle on 18.

At the moment Tseng is one round away from her third major championship. Yani has never won a tournament from the lead during her short LPGA career. Hound Dog wrote:

If today's results were any indication, it would have to be blowing a hurricane to knock Yani Tseng off her perch. She's not known as a front-runner but she's definitely known as a major champion. I expect her to get her third one tomorrow.
I will be greatly surprised if Tseng isn't hoisting the trophy when play is finished tomorrow. The Constructivist will have more thoughts on the third round later today.

[Update 1 (11:31 pm): TC here. I got to watch an hour plus this morning before heading over to Syracuse for the 2nd round of the Futures Tour event. If I can get up early enough tomorrow, I'll catch the last hour I missed on Friday and the rest of Saturday's round before I head back. But that means that I'll be holding off on observations on each round until tomorrow evening. Like Bill and Hound Dog, I think Ya Ni is playing too well to get caught tomorrow, but Ryan Ballengee (who also thinks Tseng will win) made a good point that Hull has caught Tseng before, at the '08 Canadian Open. Given the way Shin, Kerr, and Pettersen struggled when they had chances to make moves on Tseng, maybe it will take someone who doesn't have to worry about the race for #1 in the Rolex Rankings to chase Tseng down. But Hull will have to put together a great final round. I just don't see Ya Ni coming back to the field in any significant way.]

[Update 2 (11:52 pm): Here are's notes and interviews. And check out how cool the final-round pairings are! Early on Sakura Yokomine gets to play with Stacy Lewis, Ai Miyazato with Karrie Webb, Azahara Munoz with Michelle Wie, and Chie Arimura with Amy Yang. And then:

Start Time: 12:55 PM--Top 2 Seoul Sisters right now
Ji-Yai Shin
Na Yeon Choi

Start Time: 1:05 PM--USA! USA!
Morgan Pressel
Cristie Kerr

Start Time: 1:15 PM--Solheim Cup rematch
Suzann Pettersen
Christina Kim

Start Time: 1:25 PM--Pinx/Kyoraku Cup rematch
Momoko Ueda
Hee Kyung Seo

Start Time: 1:35 PM--Bomber vs. precision player
Brittany Lincicome
In-Kyung Kim

Start Time: 1:45 PM--'08 Canadian Women's Open rematch
Katherine Hull
Ya Ni Tseng


[Update 3 (8/1/10, 11:24 pm): Entertaining remarks on the 3rd round by Mike Southern.]

Royal Birkdale and Taiwanese golfers

Yani Tseng from Taiwan leads the Women's British at Royal Birkdale by four shots with 36 holes to play. Should she win, Tseng would already have amassed three of the four major championships in Women's professional golf.

I won't be conceding the tournament to Tseng quite. Just two years ago, Lorena Ochoa was on a roll and was leading the LPGA Championship by one shot after 36 holes. One golf scribe at the time was all but ready to crown Ochoa at that point. Ochoa ultimately finished third, to Yani Tseng.

Royal Birkdale is an interesting place for Tseng to be going for her third major. Thirty-nine years ago, or 1971 to be precise, the Open Championship was played at Birkdale. It was won by Lee Trevino. The golfer who finished second by one shot that week was Lu Liang Huan. Lu, who is still alive today at age 75, is from Taiwan just like Yani Tseng.

Lu, or as Open Championship fans in 1971 nicknamed him Mr. Lu, was an obscure golfer to even knowledgeable golf people at the time. His three career wins were all in Asia before the 1971 Open Championship.

Mr. Lu's obscurity didn't prevent him from being a fan favorite that week in 1971. He didn't speak much English, but through tips of his straw cap and smiles to the gallery, he had many people in England and through television cheering for him that week.

A week after the 1971 Open Championship, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club issued an invitation to Mr. Lu. It said- "come back to this country as often as you like and we hope you'll bring more fine golfers from the Far East."

Many fine golfers have come to the United Kingdom and the United States since then. Unfortunately, the attitude of people has regressed since then. Asian golfers, even Asian American golfers, are seen as a threat by the media and or fans. No one was bothered by Mr. Lu's poor English in 1971, so I have trouble understanding the attitude of some people today.

I wasn't following pro golf in 1971. At the time I was ten-years-old and more interested in New York Mets baseball. What I learned about the 1971 Open Championship is through media accounts at the time. Even these are hard to find.

What I do know about that Open Championship is-

1 Trevino and Mr. Lu were paired together for the last 18 holes.
2 Lee Trevino made double bogey at 17
3 Mr. Lu and Trevino both made closing birdies on 18
4 As he played 18, an errant golf shot of Mr. Lu's struck a person in the gallery injuring the woman. After the Open Championship, Mr. Lu paid for the woman and her husband to visit Taiwan.

Mr. Lu never again seriously contended for a Major Championship. He did however win the French Open the following week and in 1972 partnered with Hsieh Min-Nan to win the World Cup. When his professional career was over, Mr. Lu had at least twenty professional wins to his credit but he is probably still best remembered for his runner-up finish at the 1971 Open Championship.

So far as I know, Mr. Lu is still alive today at age seventy-five.

Futures Tour Road Trip: Day 2 Plans

The tournament organizers reshuffled the pairings for the 2nd round of the Alliance Bank Classic, so everybody's grouped by score on Saturday. That leaves me with an interesting choice. I could go early and watch amateur and Manlius native Jillian Fraccola try to recover from today's disastrous finish on the easier front side of Drumlins East. Or I could follow Carolina Llano and Esther Choe who go off the front at the same time. But that means another early-morning wake-up and drive--and more tape-delayed Women's British Open viewing. Since all the leaders are going off in the afternoon, and Tiffany Joh and Christina Song are conveniently paired together at 1:20 (along with Garrett Phillips), with new pro Jennifer Johnson playing right behind them and the rest of the leaders afterwards, I'm leaning toward heading out for Syracuse at noon rather than 7 am. Plus it'll give my back that much more rest. That's the ticket!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Futures Tour Road Trip: Day 1 (Hannah Yun, Lori Atsedes, Virada Nirapathpongporn, Pornanong Phatlum, Jane Rah)

Joely Pique has the rundown of the 1st round of the Alliance Bank Golf Classic. As you can see, scoring was pretty low, with 12 players breaking 70, led by rookie Dolores White's fine 66, and 28 players shooting par or better. So let me tell you about what you can't see from the scorecards. I was at Drumlins East for about 8 hours today--having gotten up around 4:15 am (that was a lot of fun) yet not leaving for Syracuse until after 5:20 (I was moving in slow motion), I didn't get there until 8:10 (I was driving fast)--so I got to see a lot of golf and many golfers (even if I was yawning all day). I'll focus on the ones I paid the most attention to.

But first let me set the scene. The weather was perfect for watching golf. It was already in the high 60s when I arrived at the course and it stayed in the 70s the rest of the time I was there. It was sunny, with increasing clouds as the day wore on, but it never got even mostly cloudy. We had a light breeze in the early morning, but by 11:30 it had become a pretty serious wind. Especially on the back, which got pretty elevated from the 11th green to the 16th tee, it became a major headache for the players. So on the whole it was a better day for watching than playing. Drumlins had gotten some rain last week, so everything was very green, but the greens started the day firm and got firmer as the sun and winds did their work. Combined with narrow, undulating fairways, the small, quick, often elevated greens made scoring very difficult. I would have been happy to break 80 today (assuming I hadn't hurt my back and had been playing all week instead of recovering) and overjoyed to have a chance to break 75. It's funny, because my 2-decades-old memories of Drumlins East are of a pretty easy course, but I think that's because I remembered the easier front side much better than the much more difficult back. Until I walked every hole except the 2nd and 3rd today, that is.

All right, so what sticks out in my short-term memory about the course now? Well, the 15th is a tough, tough par 4: a blindish tee shot with a fairway that pitches left and pinches in exactly where you want to leave your drive; a tough, blind 2nd shot uphill to a green that's elevated and runs sharply right to left yet sits in a little valley, surrounded by trees, with a cliff about 50 yards short right to catch any really bad mishits (they even have a chain-link fence for about 50 feet to block you from the edge!); and, oh yeah, the nastiest pin of the day, tucked in the front-left corner of the green (hard to reach with a long or mid-iron, hard to reach with a pitch or run shot if you miss the green, hard to keep your putt on the green if you're anywhere above it). Tough par 3s: the 6th is long and has trees all down the left side; the 8th is short but goes straight uphill so that you can't even see the bunker guarding the front right of the green, much less the green itself; the 12th is long and a little uphill, but it's the deep valley and shrub-tree trouble right that make it even harder; the 16th is medium length and straight downhill, but it was really tough to club yourself, particularly with the wind gusting to 20 mph. Plus you can make the short pars 4s tough just by putting the pins way in the front (as on 3, 10, and 17) or way in the back (as on 9, 11, and 14). If the greens were soft, it wouldn't be a problem, but I saw a lot of players have a lot of trouble holding them today. And trying to bounce the ball in from short of the greens was no picnic either. Some landing areas were very firm, some even sounded like drums when the ball would land on then, but a lot had soft spots.

So it was definitely hard to get the ball close to the pin today. And there weren't many spots to leave your ball near the greens that would leave you with easy chips or short pitches. If your irons weren't on, it was going to be a long day. And you could be hitting your approach shots really solid and still run into trouble: via misjudging, misclubbing, bad trajectory, bad bounces (from off or on the green), too much or too little spin.... And I don't recall seeing a putt longer than about 8 feet actually fall. What I'm trying to get at it that it was a tough day on which to go low.

And yet people did. Hannah Yun opened with a bogey-free 33 on the front, and it could have been much better. She failed to birdie either of the opening par 5s and she had legitimate birdie chances on the 4 other holes she parred. I caught up to her group as they played the 4th hole, so I missed her birdie on 3, but I got to chat with her mom off and on for the rest of the front side and see her consistently leave approach shots in smart places. All in all it was a tantalizing side, because she never made a putt longer than about 8 feet and she never had a putt longer than about 18 feet. (Even though playing partner and Ithaca native Lori Atsedes had her share of birdie chanes on the front, as well, she wasn't as precise with her irons or her putter and could only manage a 37. She didn't pick up her game when her folks showed up on the back, either. But the mere fact that she's playing at all after the parked car she was in got hit by a drunk driver in June impressed the heck out of me.)

Now, I didn't get to witness the 32s on the front by Dolores White, Cindy LaCrosse, or Laura Crawford from the morning groups, but I was most impressed by Jane Rah's and Virada Nirapathpongporn's from the afternoon pairings. Both had frustrating back 9s to start their day, although for different reasons.

I got to see Nirapathpongporn play her 1st 2 holes solidly if unspectacularly in +1 after a failed sandie attempt on 11, but when I left to chase down the Llano-Pornanong-Rah pairing a few holes ahead of them, I missed seeing her bogey 12, triple the par-5 13th (after somehow hitting her drive so far left she had to take an unplayable from the right of the 12th!), and follow up a birdie on the short par-4 14th with a bogey on the tough 15th, but I did have time to loop back and see her make a good par save on 17 and an acceptable bogey from the sand on the 18th, which was playing long into the wind. For her to bounce back from an opening 41 with a bogey-free 32 on the front was simply amazing. All it took was an eagle on the 1st par 5 on the front, a birdie on the 2nd, a bunch of pars, and a birdie on the 8th. No problem. Even when things were looking grim on the back, she kept her cool and kept plugging away.

Rah, by contrast, was an emotional wreck on the back, even though she ended up with an even-par 35. She was agitated from the 1st moment I saw her, when she hit her approach on 14 a little thin and it ran all the way to the back of the green. I figured she had had a big number, maybe on the short, tight, uphill par-4 11 or the hazardous par-3 12th or the tricky par-5 13th, but as it turned out she went birdie-bogey-birdie on those holes. She made a good comebacker to save par there, but when she bogeyed 15 after a perfect drive, she stared off into the woods to the right of the 16th tee for a long time to calm herself down. Well, she calmed down enough, as she made good par saves on each of the next 3 holes. When I left her after a good drive on 1, I figured she had shot anywhere from a 36 to a 39 on the back and was too mad at herself to take advantage of the front. Shows what little I know: she only started out with 3 straight birdies, offset a bogey on the 4th with a birdie on the 5th, and made her 5th birdie of the front on the 7th. I guess for some people getting mad at themselves is a good motivator!

The player who impressed me the most today, however, was Pornanong Phatlum. She played the back with the winds up and controlled her irons on the 14th through 18th as well as Yun did on the comparatively less breezy front, parring every hole. I was particularly impressed because Yun found it much harder to give herself birdie chances on the back, while Phatlum had 1 on every hole I saw except the 18th (where she made a great up and down to save par). It's true that Yun caught some bad breaks on the back--she hit perfect wedges in on 14 and 17 that landed a few feet short of the pin and kicked hard, well past the hole (and added insult to injury when she 3-putted the latter) and hit a 7-iron so flush from the left rough on 18 that it powered through the wind and trickled off the back of the green, ending up lying against the surprisingly heavy rough right off the fringe (she ended up making a good bogey save there)--but Phatlum was just sharper on the tougher 9. Plus she controlled the speed of her putts better than Yun did on that side. Whereas Yun was ramming her putts by the hole and leaving herself a lot of 3- to 6-foot comebackers, Phatlum was making a lot of routine pars. Yes, a bogey midway through the front ended her momentum from 2 early birdies, forcing her to accept a 72, but Phatlum's overall game impressed me as LPGA ready right now. Not having seen her go bogey-bogey start to her round on the back, I assumed she was going to be well under par today. Well, there's always tomorrow!

There's much more to be told, but too little time (and energy). I'm calling it a night!

Women's British Open Friday: Tseng Shoots 2nd-Straight 68

Ya Ni Tseng fired a 2nd consecutive 68 today at the Women's British Open to open up a 4-shot lead on Cristie Kerr, Brittany Lincicome, and Amy Yang. By now you've already read Hound Dog's overview and's notes and interviews, so you know that Tseng's made 1 bogey in 36 holes, that Pettersen is still hitting the ball much better than she's scoring, and that Kerr is back in the hunt after a 6-birdie 67.

I haven't read more than that and I have 2 days of ESPN coverage to fast forward through. So I'll be back with my own observations in a flash. Or by tomorrow morning! (I got up at 4:18 this morning but still couldn't make it to Drumlins until 8:20, so I missed Hannah Yun's 1st 3 holes. But I got to see the other 15. Which reminds me, I also have to write up my Futures Tour road trip observations. It was a great day to be walking the course, although I wouldn't have liked to have had to deal with the wind. More on that soon--or later! It's making me tired just thinking about trying to encompass such a cool day.)

[Update 1 (7/31/10, 12:06 am): OK, here are the links to my day 1 experiences at Drumlins East and my day 2 plans. And here's a WBO 2nd-round recap from the LET to tide you over until much later in the morning!]

[Update 2 (11:00 am): Couldn't fast forward quite fast enough, but got to see a good amount of Thursday's and Friday's coverage this am. Going to have to stop watching today's soon to get ready to go to Drumlins. So I'll leave you with Mike Southern's take on Tseng's run!]

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Will Waggle Room's Ryan Ballangee please pick up the red courtesy phone

Is there a GWAA award for factual mistakes per word written? In a fan shot today, Ryan wrote-

Tim Jackson set the 36 hole scoring record at last year's US Senior Open at Broadmoor, and is again in contention on day one of the Sahalee edition of the USSO.
Two factual errors in 31 words is pretty terrible blogging. What are those mistakes? Ryan linked to an article on the 2009 USSO.

CARMEL, Ind. (AP) — Tim Jackson has tied the U.S. Senior Open 36-hole scoring record, shooting a 5-under 67 in the second round for a 11-under 133 and a two-shot lead over Fred Funk.

1- Carmel Indiana is Crooked Stick, not Broadmoor. Ryan has fixed this mistake.


Isn't Snagit wonderful?

Ryan's 2nd(Or 3rd if you count his dismal failure to wipe out all trace of his latest golfwriting blunder.) mistake also stems from his poor reading comprehension.

2- Jackson didn't set the record for 36 holes. Dave Stockton set the record in 1992 and it has been tied or equaled since. One of which was by Jackson. The article used the word tied.

One error per 15.5 words is downright terrible. Brian Wacker formerly of Golf World needed 450 to make his six. If Ryan picks up the page, I'll suggest he take some remedial reading lessons.

LPGA Tour Championship to be played in Orlando Florida Dec. 2-5

The last event of the 2010 LPGA season is set. 120 players will tee it up at the Grand Cypress Resort. Grand Cypress is no stranger to the LPGA. It has hosted tour events in the past, the last of which was the 2001 YourLife Vitamins LPGA Classic. Golfweek has the details.

With luck, I will be able to blog the tournament in person but it will most likely only be Saturday and Sunday. It is great to see the LPGA back playing in Florida.

[Update 1 (8/5/10, 2:48 pm): Here's the official announcement.]

[Update 2 (8/6/10, 3:48 pm): Ron Sirak does a good job listing the problems with the timing and the format of the event, but would you rather not have one at all?]

Futures Tour Road Trip: Da Plan

Well, my back is feeling pretty normal a week after I injured it, so I'm headed out early tomorrow morning to get to Drumlins East and follow Hannah Yun in the 1st group off the 1st tee at the Alliance Bank Golf Classic. After Yun finishes, I'll backtrack to catch Tiffany Joh's last few holes (she starts at 9 am), wait at 18 to see Jennifer Song and Cindy LaCrosse finish (they're 2 groups behind Joh), and take a little break. With luck, I'll be able to catch Esther Choe and Ayaka Kaneko as they make the turn and tee off on the 1st hole, but I think I'll follow Carolina Llano, Pornanong Phatlum, and Jane Rah in the group behind them. 2 groups behind them is Angela Oh's pairing and right after them is Virada Nirapathpongporn, so after they finish I'll definitely stick around by the 9th green. But that's probably a long enough day, so when I get tired of hanging around the putting green and the restaurant, I'll hit the road to Clinton and rest up for the weekend.

[Update 1 (7:24 pm): Hmm, my folks want to have lunch at the club house at noon, so backtracking to find T-Joh tomorrow is probably out.]

Women's British Open Thursday: Will Anyone Break 70 in the Winds at Royal Birkdale Today?

On a day that started windy, Juli Inkster and Ji-Yai Shin were the 1st to post under-par scores at the Women's British Open. The LET has details on their 71s, which were recently matched by Brittany Lang. With Gwladys Nocera -2 through 8 holes of bogey-free golf, Amy Yang -2 with 4 holes to go, Anne-Lise Caudal -2 with 3 holes to play, and In-Kyung Kim -2 with 1 left, I'm guessing that the winds have died down a little in the afternoon. But will any of them be able to break 70?

[Update 1 (10:29 am): Among those playing well today, I'm seeing a lot of red numbers between the 3rd and 8th holes. Inkster, for instance, was -4 on that stretch. And even several who couldn't go under par did well there. Karrie Webb went out in 32 after having gone -3 in that stretch. Jeong Jang birdied 3 holes in a row there on her way to an opening 34. But guiven how both of them fell apart on the back (neither birdied a hole on the way to a 41 for Webb and a 40 for Jang), the players who failed to take advantage of those holes had a long round ahead of them. Only 1 player who finished at +3 or worse today outdid Karen Lunn (75), the only player in that group to shoot an even-par 37 on the back. It wasn't Ai Miyazato (76), who was +5 in her 1st 13 holes and -1 over her last 5. Nor was it Morgan Pressel (77), who almost made as many bogeys (7) as greens she hit in regulation (8). Not Angela Stanford (76), Vicky Hurst (76), Mika Miyazato (77), Amanda Blumenherst (77), Melissa Reid (77), or Kristy McPherson (79). Nope, it was Haeji Kang (75), who had a chance to shoot a bogey-free 34 on the back with a birdie on the par-5 18th, but instead bogeyed it for a 36. So, yeah, scoring is tough today.]

[Update 2 (10:36 am): The other place at which the leaders seems to be distinguishing themselves are Royal Birkdale's 2 closing par 5s. Maria Hjorth birdied both of them to offset a double bogey on the par-3 12 and finish her day at +1 (T26 right now). Anna Nordqvist also closed her round with 2 straight birdies (and picked up another pair on the oar-3 14th and par-5 15th, although she bogeyed 13 and 16) on her way to an even-par 72 (T10 right now). If In-Kyung Kim had followed up her birdie on 17 with another on 18, she would have been the 1st player to break 70 this week, but she could only manage a par.]

[Update 3 (10:39 am): Stacy Lewis birdied 17 and 18, too, matching Hee-Won Han's bogey-free 34 on the back by matching her feat of making 3 birdies in her last 5 holes. At 71 and 72, respectively, both have put themselves in great position heading into Friday's round.]

[Update 4 (10:44 am): Nocera bogeyed 9 to settle for a 34 on the front. Caudal needs a birdie on 18 to break 70. Yang needs to go -1 or better over her last 2 holes to break 70.]

[Update 5 (10:45 am): Ya Ni Tseng is -1 through 12 and has a bogey-free round going thus far!]

[Update 6 (10:48 am): Inbee Park only hit 9 greens in regulation, but she saved a 72 on the strength of only 27 putts. Laura Davies did her 1 worse in GIR and 1 better in putts to match her 72. Brittany Lincicome opened with a double bogey and a bogey, but she birdied 3 in a row late on the front and is E with 5 holes to go.]

[Update 7 (10:54 am): Momoko Ueda and Mariajo Uribe have the only eagles of the day thus far, both on the par-5 6th. After a birdie on 10, Ueda is +3 with 5 to go, having made a double and 4 bogeys on the front. Uribe's eagle is the lone bright spot early in her round, as she's bogeyed 4 of her 1st 7 holes.]

[Update 8 (10:57 am): My bad--Lee-Ann Pace, who's won on the LET this season, eagled the 18th to salvage a 74.]

[Update 9 (11:02 am): OK, so how have some of the biggest names in the field whom I haven't yet mentioned done today? Paula Creamer bogeyed 3 of her 1st 5 holes but hung in there for a 74. Na Yeon Choi bogeyed 4 of her 1st 6, but surrounded the latter pair with birdies and hung on for a 74 of her own. Suzann Pettersen has a chance to outdo them; she's +2 with 3 to play. Song-Hee Kim uncharacteristically made 6 bogeys today on the way to her 75. Cristie Kerr has already made 5 in her 1st 14 hole--and 2 in her last 3 that dropped her to +3 thus far--so she's in danger of doing worse.]

[Update 10 (11:03 am): Caudal did it! She birdied 18 for the 1st 69 of the day! Here's more on her from her LET Profile page.]

[Update 11 (11:08 am): Another eagle on 18, this from amateur Danielle McVeigh! Even though she made 4 bogeys on the back, her birdie on the par-3 14th combined with her walkoff eagle allowed her to post a 74.]

[Update 12 (11:10 am): How about Candie Kung's day? She opened with a double and closed with a triple but only shot a 75, thanks to 3 birdies in a row late on the front.]

[Update 13 (11:12 am): Lincicome continues to play great golf after her tough start. She made a trio of birdies on the front in a row and added a pair of consecutive birdies on the back. She's now -2 with 3 holes left.]

[Update 14 (11:14 am): Jee Young Lee birdied 3 of her last 5 holes to post a 72.]

[Update 15 (11:18 am): Defending champion Catriona Matthew parred her last 7 holes in a row to salvage a 75 today. Right now that's good enough for T71, outside the WBO cut line of the top 65 and ties, but there's a lot of golf yet to be played before the cut is made and she's not likely to be more than 7 off the lead at worst.]

[Update 16 (11:24 am): Yang birdied 18 to join Caudal at -3.]

[Update 17 (11:26 am): Ueda is now -2 on the back and +2 overall after a birdie on the par-5 15th.]

[Update 18 (11:28 am): I knew from the LET article that Natalie Gulbis didn't start, but just noticed that neither did the JLPGA's leading money-winner thus far this season, Sun-Ju Ahn.]

[Update 19 (11:30 am): Walkoff eagle for Janice Moodie to secure her 72!]

[Update 20 (11:33 am): Just a heads-up that Tseng is still bogey-free and is now at that stretch with 3 par 5s in the last 4 holes. She and Lincicome have a huge chance to make an early statement, with their length.]

[Update 21 (11:36 am): Good thing for Eun-Hee Ji that she birdied 17 and 18, given that she had 2 doubles and 2 bogeys on the back alone. Her 77 ties her with Chie Arimura and Na On Min, among the others I listed earlier in this post. Just because the leaders are playing great doesn't mean that Birkdale lacks teeth.]

[Update 22 (11:38 am): Michelle Wie enters the 2 closing par 5s having made 15 straight pars. Let's see if she can take advantage of her length!]

[Update 23 (11:39 am): Speaking of length, Sophie Gustafson doubled her 1st hole and foillowed it up with 2 bogeys in her next 4, but since then she's played bogey-free golf and with a birdie at 18 would end up with a 72.]

[Update 24 (11:41 am): One of my favorite players, Seon Hwa Lee, saved a 75 with her walkoff birdie, the 1st of the tournament for her.]

[Update 25 (11:49 am): Here are the longest completed bogey-free streaks of the day: Caudal (17), Yang (16), In-Kyung Kim (16), Shin (16), Koch (14), Davies (11), Han (11), Lunn (11), Sarah Lee (10). All of them except Koch have a chance to extend them tomorrow. It'll be interesting to see where Tseng, Wie, and Lincicome end up on this list.]

[Update 26 (11:50 am): Nocera's back to -1 after a birdie on the par-5 15th.]

[Update 27 (11:51 am): Wie birdied 17 to get back to E on her day.]

[Update 28 (11:53 am): Kerr birdied 17 to fight back to +2.]

[Update 29 (11:55 am): Sun Young Yoo is -1 with 3 to play and Stacy Prammanasudh is -1 with 5 holes left to go.]

[Update 30 (11:57 am): Libby Smith is -2 over her last 8 holes of bogey-free golf and has fought back to +1 overall after starting par-double bogey-bogey.]

[Update 31 (11:58 am): How about that?! Wie finished birdie-eagle and takes a 17-hole bogey-free run into tomorrow's round after firing a 70 today!]

[Update 32 (12:01 pm): On the other end of the spectrum, Karen Stupples had eagled the par-4 3rd and was -1 through 5, but ended up with a 77.]

[Update 33 (12:02 pm): Pettersen birdied 18 for a respectable 73.]

[Update 34 (12:04 pm): If Ueda can birdie 18, she'll have shot a bogey-free 33 on the back and battled back to E on her day!]

[Update 35 (12:07 pm): Hee-Kyung Seo's 9-hole bogey-free run ended with a double on 15. She's +3 with 3 to play.]

[Update 36 (12:09 pm): Lincicome birdies 18 to extend her bogey-free run to 16 holes and counting and joins Yang and Caudal at the top of the leaderboard with only the 3rd 69 of the day.]

[Update 37 (12:13 pm): A double on the par-4 16th and no birdies on the closing par 5s means that Christina Kim had to settle for an opening 74.]

[Update 38 (12:14 pm): Katherine Hull birdied 2 of her last 3 holes to close out the front and open with a 34.]

[Update 39 (12:18 pm): Finally some good news to report over at Michelle Wie LPGA!]

[Update 40 (12:21 pm): I wonder if these pics are from the practice rounds or from today?]

[Update 41 (12:23 pm): Tseng birdied 17! She's noiw -2 and bogey-free heading into the final hole.]

[Update 42 (12:29 pm): Ueda did it! She came back from her opening 39, where her only bright spot was an eagle on the par-5 6th, and finished with a bogey-free 33 on the back. She's low Japanese on the day, unless Sakura Yokomine can finish with a birdie and an eagle.]

[Update 43 (12:30 pm): Hull's birdied 3 of her last 4 holes to get to -2 after 10.]

[Update 44 (12:32 pm): Anja Monke was -1 on the back with just the closing par 5s to play, but doubled 17. She's now +4.]

[Update 45 (12:35 pm): Nice 34 for Meaghan Francella on the front. She's got an 8-hole bogey-free run going and has birdied 2 of her last 4 holes.]

[Update 46 (12:36 pm): Helen Alfredsson is tough. Even after tripling the par-5 15th, she finished par-birdie-birdie to salvage a 75.]

[Update 47 (12:39 pm): Walkoff eagle for Ya Ni Tseng to shoot the only 68 and only bogey-free round of the day!]

[Update 48 (12:40 pm): Wow! I love closing par 5s! So you know I love 3 in the last 4 holes. Seems like anything can happen at Birkdale!]

[Update 49 (12:43 pm): Nordqvist and Ueda have been the only players to birdie all 3 of them. Tseng and Wie have been the only ones to finish birdie-eagle. Thus far.]

[Update 50 (12:45 pm): If Sun Young Yoo can eagle 18, she'll tie Tseng for the lead. Birdie will have her join Yang, Lincicome, and Caudal. Par will have her join In-Kyung Kim and Wie.]

[Update 51 (12:54 pm): Here's Louise Friberg on her 76 today and after-round plans.]

[Update 52 (1:00 pm): New completed bogey-free streak rundown: Tseng (18), Wie (17), Lincicome (16), Gustafson (13), Ueda (9). Libby Smith has 11 and counting, Sarah-Jane Smith 10 and counting, Prammanasudh 8 and counting, Hull 7 and counting.]

[Update 53 (1:01 pm): Yoo birdied 18 to become the 5th player to break 70 today.]

[Update 54 (1:02 pm): Right now Katherine Hull and Stacy Prammanasudh are the only players on the course who are under par. Hull's -2 through 11 and Prammanasudh is -1 with 2 to play. Meaghan Francella is even through 11.]

[Update 55 (1:13 pm): Francella birdied 12 to get to -1. Prammanasudh needs to birdie 18 for a 70.]

[Update 56 (1:19 pm): BTW, Azahara Munoz eagled the 18 to salvage a 74 today. That's important because she kept close to fellow LPGA rookie Gwladys Nocera, who was -2 through 8 but finished with only a 71, and stayed ahead of all the other LPGA rookies. It also keeps her within shouting distance of In-Kyung Kim, who like her is an LET rookie, and only 1 shot behind Maria Hernandez, who'se 2nd in the LET ROY race.]

[Update 57 (1:20 pm): Yokomine failed to birdie 17 or 18; her 74 puts her 2 behind Ueda and 2 ahead of Ai Miyazato in the race for low Japanese player this week.]

[Update 58 (1:24 pm): Walkoff eagle for Hee Kyung Seo salvaged a 73 for her today. Not bad to be tied with Kerr, Pettersen, Webb, Gustafson, and Hjorth, among others, especially considering how bad she'd been playing on the KLPGA since winning the LPGA's Kia Classic.]

[Update 59 (1:34 pm): Par-par finish for Prammanasudh is the worst among the leaders, tied with Juli Inkster and Laura Davies. That's good company, but not good golfing.]

[Update 60 (1:35 pm): Of course, it's better than Carin Koch (par-bogey), Webb (bogey-par), and Jang (bogey-bogey), but the weather conditions were a lot tougher for them.]

[Update 61 (1:37 pm): Still, Prammanasudh was -1 over her last 10 bogey-free holes. And she did shoot a 71. Sarah-Jane Smith has 11 pars in a row as she plays the last 2 par 5s. She's +2 because of a bad start; let's see how she finishes. Also waiting to see how Libby Smith, who has a 14-hole bogey-free run going and is -2 in that stretch, plays the last 2 holes.]

[Update 62 (1:40 pm): Whoa! Ex-LPGAer Nina Reis took a 10 on 17. Ouch!]

[Update 63 (1:42 pm): Mi Hyun Kim bounced back from a pair of bogeys with a pair of birdies early on the back and is E with 5 holes to go.]

[Update 64 (1:49 pm): Gotta love Catriona Matthew!]

[Update 65 (1:50 pm): Nice job by the LET to highlight the best rounds of the day.]

[Update 66 (1:53 pm): Holy moley!! Uribe got her 2nd eagle of the day--this 1 on the par-5 17th--to fight back to +1 on her day.]

[Update 67 (2:00 pm): Too bad! Sarah-Jane Smith's bogey-free run comes to an end at 11 holes with a double on 17. She's now +4.]

[Update 68 (2:14 pm): Chella Choi bogeyed the 1st 2 holes, but has rattled off 9 pars and a birdie to fight back to +1 with 6 to play. Eunjung Yi has 8 pars in a row to hold steady at +1 through 13. M.J. Hur's also working on an 8-hole bogey-free run and has stayed at +1 since the 7th hole.]

[Update 69 (2:16 pm): OK, Hull is still -2 as she heads into 17 and 18. Let's see what she can do with them. She has 12 holes and counting without a bogey.]

[Update 70 (2:37 pm): Hull parred 17. Francella's -1 heading into the 2 closing par 5s. Mi Hyun Kim is E as she waits to play 17.]

[Update 71 (2:38 pm): Nice birdie-birdie finish for Hee Young Park to snag a 72.]

[Update 72 (2:39 pm): Chella Choi's bogey-free run ended at 11 holes witha bogey on the par-3 14th that drops her to +2 on the day.]

[Update 73 (2:40 pm): Meena Lee has 12 pars in a row and with a birdie on 18 would salvage a 73.]

[Update 74 (2:47 pm): Too bad! Uribe could only par 18 so ended with a 73. Not bad for making 6 bogeys, but with 2 eagles you'd like to go a lot lower!]

[Update 75 (2:49 pm): Bad bogey by Francella at 17. She's now E with Mi Hyun Kim and Stacy Bregman.]

[Update 76 (2:50 pm): The par-5 15th ended Eunjung Yi's 9-hole birdie run. She's now +2 with 3 to play.]

[Update 77 (3:09 pm): Wow! A walkoff eagle for Hull makes her the co-leader with Tseng at 68!!]

[Update 78 (3:10 pm): That's the 8th eagle on 18 and there are still a good number of players out on the course!]

[Update 79 (3:13 pm): Worst finish of the day belongs to Meaghan Francella, a bogey-double disaster that drops her all the way to +2 (T42 right now).]

[Update 80 (3:27 pm): Good thing weather forecasts don't mean anything in England, right?]

[Update 81 (3:30 pm): OK, solid 72 for Mi Hyun Kim, even if she couldn't birdie either of the closing par 5s. Moira Dunn is maming a good comeback with 2 birdies in her last 4 holes. If she can make it 3 for 3 on the closing par 5s, she would salvage a 74. Wonder how much sunlight they have left over there.]

[Update 82 (3:44 pm): Bregman's birdied 3 of her last 6 holes and is at -1 as she plays 18.]

[Update 83 (3:46 pm): Moira couldn't birdie 18, but she's in with a 75.]

[Update 84 (3:47 pm): Turns out Reis only made a 9 on 15. Still the highest number of the day, but better than a 10! Hope everyone can finish today.]

[Update 85 (3:49 pm): The last 2 threesomes are on the 18th. Wouldn't it stink to have to come out at sunrise to hit 1 or 2 shots and 1 or 2 putts?]

[Update 86 (3:59 pm): Here are the longest bogey-free runs of the day: Tseng (18), Caudal (17), Wie (17), Yang (16), In-Kyung Kim (16), Shin (16), Lincicome (16), Libby Smith (15), Koch (14), Tinning (14), Hull (14), Gustafson (13), Davies (11), Han (11), Lunn (11), Sarah-Jane Smith (11), Chella Choi (11), Sarah Lee (10), Prammanasudh (10), Ueda (9), Yi (9). All except Koch's, Sarah-Jane Smith's, Choi's, and Yi's can be extended tomorrow.]

[Update 87 (4:00 pm): Bregman's par on 18 makes her the 15th player to break par on the day.]

[Update 88 (4:01 pm): Add Irene Cho to the bogey-free list. She made 8 pars and a walkoff birdie on 18 to post a 73. Chella Choi followed up her birdie on 15 with another on 18 for her 72.]

[Update 89 (4:03 pm): It ended up being a pretty good day for scoring for a WBO. 6 players broke 70, 15 went under par, 28 shot par or better, and 63 broke 75.]

[Update 90 (4:09 pm): Here's Beth Ann Baldry's notes on the 1st round.]

[Update 91 (4:11 pm): Funny piece on Inkster and Davies by Alistair Tait.]

[Update 92 (5:44 pm): Mowed the lawn with no ill effects on my back (which may not sound like much, but I have a person-powered mower), so I'm definitely headed to Syracuse early tomorrow am. I won't be posting in as much detail the rest of the week, but my folks are taping the ESPN coverage for me while I'm at Drumlins. So enjoy the notes and interviews from the 1st round!]

[Update 93 (5:58 pm): I'll leave you with Hound Dog's wonderfully concise and complete 1st-round overview.]

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Recommended Reading: Stephanie Connelly on the Futures (Tour) Market, Lisa Mickey on Christine Song

My slowly-recovering back prevents me from playing, caddying, or even attending the pro-ams at the Futures Tour's Alliance Bank Golf Classic this week in Syracuse, but I do plan to be walking Drumlins East Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I'll be sure to check in on Stephanie Connelly, who just wrote a fantastic post at Waggle Room about the actual costs of a season on the Futures Tour. Think on the order of an Ivy League education for a year! That's why it's so important for teenagers who turn pro early and make the FT their alma mater to have their heads screwed on straight and take advantage of their opportunities. And that's why it's so good to hear about and from 19-year-old Christine Song, who leads the FT money list with 4 events left to go in their 2010 season.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ai Miyazato: "When I Get Stuck in My Head..."

Pretty boilerplate pre-tournament interview clips from the Women's British Open interviews with Ai Miyazato and Cristie Kerr until about the 2:45 mark:

A female reporter asked Miyazato about how she decides when to ask her translator for help in interviews. She loved the question and found it even funnier when her translator repeated it for her in Japanese. I've modified the LPGA transcription of her answer:

Well, I always try my best. But suddenly when I start thinking in Japanese in my head, then I just get stuck in my head. Like right now. [translator:] So when I get stuck in my head, that's when I let my translator do the talking.

Reminds me of when I had 1st moved to Fukuoka and began studying Japanese formally. During those early weeks I kept flashing back to my high-school Spanish whenever I was reaching for a new Japanese term. Took what felt like a really long time to get unstuck from Spanish, to translate the figure into Miyazatoese!

Oh, and by the way, RICOH sponsors Paula Creamer and they'll be debuting some pretty funny commercials this week. I think Paula still needs to work on her delivery a little.

Women's British Open Preview, Predictions, Pairings

There's certainly a lot at stake in the Women's British Open's return to Royal Birkdale this week. Given the way the Rolex Rankings work, the WBO will have a huge influence on who ends the season #1 in the world of women's golf. And when the hottest players on tour are in the thick of the key races to end the season atop the money list, as Player of the Year, and with the lowest scoring average, the competition this week should be incredible. Ron Sirak points out how important this week is for the Tour's profile, as well, and does a great job catching people who haven't been following the LPGA regularly up on what's been happening this season.

But as usual, Sirak's not so reliable when it comes to identifying favorites at Royal Birkdale. He ignores most of the top players who have not yet won a major on the LPGA as well as several others whose games are well-suited for Birkdale's links golf. You'll learn a lot more from Hound Dog's preview, as well as's preview, tournament history, and stats pages. The most relevant leaderboard to look at is from 2005, when the Birkdale last hosted the WBO, but Golf Observer has a handy-dandy chart that's worth consulting to get a sense of longer-term trends. The bottom line is that even without Lexi Thompson, who should've stayed an amateur if she wanted to use her Curtis Cup exemption into the WBO, the field is incredibly packed. Without further ado, then, here are my entries in this week's PakPicker at Seoul

1. Miyazato Ai
2. Shin
3. Choi Na Yeon
4. Kim Song-Hee
5. Park Inbee
6. Kerr
7. Webb
8. Pettersen
9. Creamer
10. Tseng
11. Kim In-Kyung
12. Pressel

Alts: Jang, Gulbis, Han

I'll be curious to see how top JLPGAers Sun-Ju Ahn, Sakura Yokomine, Chie Arimura, and Akane Iijima do relative to LPGA regulars Ai and Mika Miyazato and Momoko Ueda and top KLPGAer Hee Kyung Seo, how the LPGA's Rookie of the Year race will play out with Azahara Munoz, Amanda Blumenherst, Gwladys Nocera, Beatriz Recari, Marianne Skarpnord, and Mariajo Uribe in the field, and the implications for the LET Rookie of the Year race, which now looks like this:

1. Kristie Smith (10 events) €80.6K
2. Maria Hernandez (3) €58.0K
3. Azahara Munoz (4) €55.8K
4. Pernilla Lindberg (4) €32.4K
5. Caroline Masson (8) €32.0K
6. Mollie Fankhauser (8) €30.6K
7. Ai Miyazato (1) €30.3K
8. Rebecca Flood (10) €23.7K [not in field]
9. Jeehae Lee (7) €19.4K [not in field]
10. Kim Welch (8) €14.3K [not in field]
11. Mariajo Uribe (1) €14.3K
12. In-Kyung Kim (1) €11.4K
24. Christina Kim (3) €2.7K

That's right: a good finish would put Munoz atop both the LPGA and LET ROY races, which could lead to an interesting schedule from this week out.... But she has to outdo Ai-sama and Inky to accomplish that!

The pairings for the 1st 2 rounds are pretty amazing, when you consider how loaded the 1st few groups are with top LPGA and LET players:

Start Time: 6:30 AM
Lee-Anne Pace
Angela Stanford
Song-Hee Kim

Start Time: 6:41 AM
Juli Inkster
Kristie Smith
Jeong Jang

Start Time: 6:52 AM
Ji-Yai Shin
Anna Nordqvist
Becky Brewerton

Start Time: 7:03 AM
Laura Davies
Morgan Pressel
Mika Miyazato

Start Time: 7:14 AM
Catriona Matthew
Florentyna Parker
Paula Creamer

Start Time: 7:25 AM
Ai Miyazato
Melissa Reid
Karrie Webb

Start Time: 7:36 AM
Vicki Laing
Karen Lunn
Inbee Park

Start Time: 7:47 AM
Na Yeon Choi
Danielle McVeigh
Chie Arimura

Start Time: 7:58 AM
Amanda Blumenherst
Caroline Afonso
Maria Hjorth

Tomorrow's opening pairings have just as much star power:

Start Time: 6:30 AM
Iben Tinning
Amy Yang
Janice Moodie

Start Time: 6:41 AM
Karen Stupples
Kelly Tidy
Sherri Steinhauer

Start Time: 6:52 AM
Christina Kim
Sophie Gustafson
Akane Iijima

Start Time: 7:03 AM
Michelle Wie
Suzann Pettersen
Rui Kitada

Start Time: 7:14 AM
Cristie Kerr
Brittany Lincicome
Helen Alfredsson

Start Time: 7:25 AM
Momoko Ueda
Natalie Gulbis
Azahara Munoz

Start Time: 7:36 AM
Ya Ni Tseng
Ashleigh Simon
Krystle Caithness

Start Time: 7:47 AM
Anja Monke
Gwladys Nocera
Sakura Yokomine

I'd love to see Moira Dunn (3:06 pm Th-10:21 am F), Libby Smith (1:38-8:53), Jane Park (1:05-8:20), Na On Min (10:43-3:28), and Chella Choi (10:43-3:28) play great this week! Hoping to catch some action on ESPN while I'm at ther Futures Tour event this week in Syracuse.

The Best on the LPGA Without a Major, July 2010 Edition

Sometimes I do rankings, as in my Best of the LPGA and Top Young Guns lists, that evaluate performance over a single season or over a career, respectively. But when I break down the LPGA according to numbers of wins, as I do in posts you can get to via my right sidebar, I do it by my sense of who's most likely to get their next win. So the following tiered and ranked list of the best on the LPGA without a major is based on a complicated formula: 33% expectations, 33% speculations, and 33% hunches, and 1% annual and career achievements. Approximately. Oh, and the numbers in parentheses are for LPGA wins and international wins (only from the JLPGA, KLPGA, LET).

Most Likely to Break Through in 2010

1. Ai Miyazato (5/15): Yes, I know she's been inconsistent this season (at least compared to the rest of the LPGA's ultra-elite) and hasn't been able to put together 4 good rounds lately, but she loves the Women's British Open, having finished T11 in 2005 at Royal Birkdale before she joined the LPGA, then gone 9th, T58, 5th, and T3 at the WBO in succeeding years. It's time for her to win a big one.
2. Na Yeon Choi (3/4): She is ready to go supernova, having finished 1-2-2 her last 3 events since missing the 1st cut of her LPGA career at the LPGA Championship. But more important, she has a fantastic record in the majors. Besides the MC, her worst finish is T40 at the '09 Kraft Nabisco Championship; otherwise, she has all top 30s, with top 10s in 5 of her last 7 starts. Impressive!
3. Song-Hee Kim (0/0): With top 25s in 8 of her last 9 majors, she's got the talent and the game to make her 1st LPGA win a major. I'm talking Cristie Kerr-style talent and game. She's already got a silver and a bronze in majors this year--will this week be her gold?
4. In-Kyung Kim (2/1): In her last 9 majors, her only finishes outside the top 20 have been at exceptionally windy KNC events the last 2 seasons, but otherwise this year she's been in the top 5 in majors. She's shown she can defeat major-quality fields at Dubai last season. Will this be her week?
5. Angela Stanford (4/0): Her best chance to win a major to date came in the 2003 U.S. Women's Open, but Hilary Lunke answered Stanford's 27-foot birdie with her own walkoff birdie to win the 18-hole playoff instead. Since then, she's had 13 top-25 finishes in majors, including 2 top 5s at the LPGA Championship. She may have cooled off a bit from her hot streak at the end of 2008 and start of 2009, but she's definitely got the game to win the last LPGA major of 2010.

The Contenders

6. Brittany Lang (0/0): She's finished inside the top 40 in 11 of her last 12 majors (the only blemish being a missed cut at the '08 WBO). She still hasn't improved on her T2 finish (with fellow then-amateur Morgan Pressel) in the 2005 U.S. Women's Open that Birdie Kim won with a walkoff slam dunk from the sand, much less her 1st professional major, a T8 at the '09 KNC. But she's long and straight enough to contend in any major and just needs to have a good putting week to make her 1st LPGA win a major.
7. Amy Yang (0/3): A T9 at the '08 LPGA Championship had been the only hint she's shown in the majors of her prodigious talent until this season, when she's steadily improved from T27 to T14 to T5. Although she doesn't have a good record at the WBO, she's had plenty of LET success and has something to prove after a disappointing performance at Evian. Watch out for her!
8. Vicky Hurst (0/0): This season, she hasn't yet been able to surpass her best finish in a major, which came in last year's WBO (T28), but be patient. Her rookie season was certainly better than Song-Hee Kim's, and look where Kim is on this list with 2 more full LPGA seasons under her belt.
9. Hee-Won Han (6/2): Back when she was among the very best players in the world from 2003-2006, she had 10 top 25s in the majors. Plus, 3 of her best 4 career finishes in them have actually come since her son Dale was born, including a T6 at the windy 2009 KNC (the 2nd in her last 4 starts there) and a T9/T3 combo in the last 2 Women's British Opens. So even though she's been playing very inconsistently of late, count her out at your own risk!
10. Michelle Wie (1/0): As much as her rookie season exceeded my expectations, it's well known that her performance in majors as an LPGA member has been nowhere near her 7 close calls from 2003-2006, including 6 top 5s. But all she needs is to get her putter going for 4 rounds in a row and she can still exceed everyone's expectations.
11. Jee Young Lee (1*/2): From the 2nd major of 2006 to the 1st of 2009, her worst finish in a major was a T22. But like Wie, she's been struggling recently in them, although she she sneak a T25 out of Oakmont. Her best finish in a major was a T2 at the '07 WBO, so I'm hoping she gets back on track this week--she hasn't really played well since mid-June.
12. Sophie Gustafson (5/18): Even though she's played about the same high-quality golf (if rather inconsistently so) over the previous 4 seasons and change, the last 2 haven't been as kind to her when it comes to the majors. Compared to 4 top 10s in a 7-major run from the end of 2005 to the middle of 2007, her best recent finish had been a T16 at the 2009 LPGA Championship. But even though she's not yet on track this season to follow up on last year's LET money title, she hasn't finished outside the top 25 in a major and already has a top 10 at the KNC. I see a good bounceback at Royal Birkdale from a disappointing week at Evian for her.
13. Kristy McPherson (0/0): Besides a missed cut at the LPGA Championship, her worst finishes in the last 9 majors she's qualified for were T34 at the '09 U.S. Women's Open and '10 KNC; the rest were all in the top 25, capped off by T2 at the KNC, T5 at the LPGA Championship, and 7th at the WBO last season. She got another taste of contending at Oakmont--can she close the deal at Royal Birkdale?
14. Stacy Lewis (0/0): Her best finish in a major last season--T9 at the LPGA Championship--her only finish in the top 45 as an LPGA member--wouldn't have felt like quite such a letdown if she hadn't finished T3 at the KNC in 2007 and T5 at the U.S. Women's Open before she joined the LPGA. But this season she hasn't finished outside the top 20 in all her starts in majors and just needs to putt as well as she strikes the ball to improve on that record. Never mind her MC at Evian. She's having a good season and still has time to make it a great one.
15. Natalie Gulbis (1/0): From late 2004 through the 2006 season, she made the top 20 in majors 9 times in a row, including a run of T5, T4, T8, and T3 in 1 calendar year from the LPGA Championship to the KNC. Her last 2 majors have been T25 at Locust Hill and T14 at Oakmont, so she's headed in the right direction again. Since 2002, she's had 6 top 25s at the WBO, including a T8 at Royal Birkdale in 2005. Her 1st career win came in Europe--why couldn't her 2nd?

Quantum Leap Candidates

16. Seon Hwa Lee (4/3): One of the main reasons she finished so low on the money list in 2009, barely hanging onto the top 30 after being a top 5 threat the previous 2 seasons, was her uncharacteristically bad performances in last year's majors, including a WD at the U.S. Women's Open and an MC at the Women's British Open. Whereas her worst performance in 2008 was a T27 at the U.S. Women's Open, her best in 2009 was a T30 at the wind-blown KNC. She's already exceeded that this season with a T19 at the LPGA Championship, but she's got to remember how she was playing between 2006 and 2008 to have a chance of improving on it this week.
17. Momoko Ueda (1*/8): She's replaced her string 10 straight made cuts in LPGA majors dating back to 2007 with a run of 2 straight missed cuts this season. Her knee's hurt and she's been having a frustrating season with her driver and her putter, but few players can go on birdie runs like she can. It's just a question of whether she can play solidly when she's not in the zone.
18. Katherine Hull (1/1): She only has 2 top 20s in majors in her career and didn't play Oakmont or Evian well, but she has the talent to shake it off and do well at Royal Birkdale. Like Ueda, she needs more from her driver and putter.
19. Hee Young Park (0/4): She's the kind of fearless, aggressive, and unfortunately inconsistent player who you wouldn't expect to play a U.S. Women's Open or a WBO all that well. But her best finish in a major came at the '09 U.S. Women's Open (T9) and her last 2 WBO finishes have been T14 and T11. She's only dropped 1 really low round on the competition all season. But if she can put one together at Royal Birkdale, she's tough enough to stay in the hunt.
20. Sun Young Yoo (1/0): She's made the cut in 7 of her last 10 majors, a fitting companion to her late bloom on the LPGA relative to most of her Young Gun-generation peers. Even though her best finish in a major (and only top 20) was T12 at last season's KNC, she's been putting up impressive performance stats over the last 3 seasons. Anyone who can cut through the top players on tour in the Sybase Match Play Championship like [insert metaphor of your choice here] as she did this season certainly has the talent to break through in a major.
21. Christina Kim (2/0): She's coming off a T8 at the U.S. Women's Open and a T3 at last year's WBO, so I'd say she has some momentum on her side, except for that MC last week at Evian. Just gives her more time to prepare, right?
22. Maria Hjorth (3/5): Don't be fooled by that dip in her majors output in late 2008 or her late start to the 2009 season--both were strictly a pregnancy effect. She's not yet back to being the kind of player again who averaged 2 top 10s a year in 2007 and 2008--and I doubt she'll improve on that T2, 4th, 2nd run from the '07 WBO to the '08 U.S. Women's Open. But her T11 in last season's WBO shows what she's capable of and she's coming off a solid top 30 at Oakmont.
23. M.J. Hur (1/0): She's due to start making some noise in majors soon, having made 4 of her last 6 cuts in them. But she'll need to improve her ballstriking so she can take better advantage of her excellent putting to do so.
24. Candie Kung (4/0): Her solo 2nd to Eun-Hee Ji at last year's U.S. Women's Open was the best performance in a major of her career, but let's not forget that from late 2002 through 2006, she was a regular in the top 30, finishing inside it in 10 of 17 starts, including 7 top 10s and 2 top 5s in that run. I'm not seeing anything that would lead me to believe she's a likely contender at Royal Birkdale, but if she can get a T28 at Oakmont in such a "blah" season for her, I wonder what she's capable of if she starts playing well this week?
25. Mi Hyun Kim (8/11): She's probably the player most overdue for a major, having averaged well over a top 10 per season in them over her 1st 10 on tour. Unfortunately, injuries and motherhood have knocked her off her game in the past 2 seasons. Still, she's among the most accurate drivers on tour and I'm not ready to count her out.

On the Watch List
Azahara Munoz, Shanshan Feng, Mika Miyazato, Stacy Prammanasudh, Amanda Blumenherst

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Clock is Ticking--Will There Be a 2010 LPGA Tour Championship?

With a little over three months till the tournament's startup date, I'm having increasingly strong doubts this tournament will be played.

With every day that passes, I think my view is well justified. First of all the tournament is listed as TBA on the LPGA's website. This has been the status of the Tour Championship ever since the 2010 LPGA schedule was announced.

The organizing needed to run a tournament has to start well ahead of when the tournament is actually played. In fact the old ADT*, the Tour Championship's predecessor, would already be through taking volunteer applications

The LPGA is silent in the matter. I emailed Mike Scanlan in Daytona Beach. Mike said an announcement will be coming. I believe that, but the news in the announcement may not be good.

Another source(not directly affiliated with the LPGA) told me that they heard the LPGA is talking with ADT again and that also that the tournament will not be in Texas or possibly not played at all. Whether an event is played could be dependent on IMG who floated last year's tournament after the Stanford Financial debacle.

Caddie blogger Larry said in one of his blog posts that the tournament may be played in central Florida.

I'm sure Commissioner Michael Whan has worked very hard on the 2010 LPGA Tour Championship. He and others have done miracle work since Carolyn Bivens resigned. I am not being critical. All I hope is that there is a LPGA Tour tournament after the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in 2010.

*- The ADT was my hometown tournament and one I was credentialed by the LPGA to blog in 2007. I'd love to see the LPGA return to Palm Beach County.

{Update 1 (7/27/10, 2:18 pm): Here's Ryan Ballengee's take.]

[Update 2 (7/29/10, 4:20 pm): Beth Ann Baldry has a site and a date. If she's right, the annual Korea-Japan team competition is likely to have very weak teams this year.]

[Update 3 (4:26 pm): Looks like it's official--here's Baldry's Golfweek article.]

The Race for #1 in the World of Women's Golf

This post is a follow-up to yesterday's rundown of where the LPGA's various races--for money-list title, for Player of the Year, and for the Vare Trophy (for lowest scoring average)--stand. And an update of my speculations from 3 months ago on who has the short- and medium-term advantage in the race to be the best in the wide world of women's professional golf. The new Rolex Rankings are out and for the 1st time I can rememember there are 4 players averaging more than 10 points per event:

1. Ji-Yai Shin 10.66
2. Ai Miyazato 10.25
3. Cristie Kerr 10.18
4. Suzann Pettersen 10.14
5. Ya Ni Tseng 8.35
6. Na Yeon Choi 8.22
7. Paula Creamer 7.53
8. Anna Nordqvist 7.23
9. Song-Hee Kim 7.19
10. Karrie Webb 6.74

See the's rundown for more on the rankings and on the new #1 (although they forget in adding up Shin's victories that 1 of them was the LPGA-JLPGA dual-sponsored Mizuno Classic, so while it counts once on each tour, it can't count twice in her worldwide total). Me, I want to make a few quick observations about the Rolex system here.

I'll start with the fact that it's less volatile than Mike Southern predicted it would be--at least at the top of the list, where he focused. He had Shin at #1, but also had Pettersen leapfrogging Miyazato and Kerr, and Choi passing Tseng. I'm not completely sure why his predictions were mostly wrong, even after looking at the FAQ Rolex helpfully provides, but I can speculate on a few factors he may have overlooked and develop some points of broader significant from there.

One key thing you need to understand about the Rolex system is that events from 14 weeks ago and more don't have a fixed point value--they get discounted a little bit each week until they drop out of the system when they become 105 weeks old. So any estimate or prediction has to take into account both the ever-increasing points reduction along with the points cliff that are built into the Rolex system. While it may appear odd that Miyazato, for instance, lost only .02 points to her average from last week, despite the fact that her win at Evian a year ago became of less value and she replaced it with only a T19, it's entirely possible that the value of her win there last season wasn't reduced all that much and that it was partially offset by a bad event from 2 years ago dropping out of the system. And lo and behold, Ai-sama finished T52 in the 2008 Evian Masters. So one lesson from this example is that you have to estimate points to be lost as well as gained when making any predictions.

Next I'd like to highlight an implication of this point, namely, that Ai-sama is in a good position for the rest of the season when it comes to losing points. Sure, she had a great T5 at the '08 Women's British Open, but it's the last of her mere 3 top 10s that she's losing from that season. In fact, she missed 2 cuts right after it and in her last 3 events only managed a peak performance of T40. So what's dropping out of the system over the 2nd half of this season are events that never gave her all that many points to begin with that have been reduced over time to a tiny fraction of their original value (except for the missed cuts, about which more in a second). If she just plays all right the rest of the season, she'll gain far more than she's losing--as opposed to someone like Ji-Yai Shin, for instance, who has 3 LPGA wins from the 2nd half of 2008 that'll be dropping out of the system starting with the 1st next week at the WBO. Even though they're of radically reduced value, she'll still be losing a lot more points than Ai-sama over the rest of the LPGA season. Good thing for her she's been finishing so high so consistently this season, even with her appendectomy. And even better for her that she seems to be fully recovered from it.

Which leads me to another point. The Rolex system values both consistently high finishes and wins, but it values the latter more--and especially so for wins that come in majors. Hound Dog has demonstrated that there are many LPGA non-majors whose fields are as strong or as stronger than majors' fields tend to be, but Rolex persists in granting significant bonuses for wins in majors. So Shin's losing the WBO is going to lose her a lot more points than any of her other wins she'll be losing this year.

As a side note, here's where Suzann Pettersen's lack of wins and majors in '08 helps her ranking in '10. All she has to do is keep doing what she's been doing and regularly put herself in contention, and she'll gain many more points in the 2nd half of this season than she's losing from the 2nd half of that season. Pretty much the same goes for Cristie Kerr, although she does have a win at the '08 Safeway Classic that'll be falling off the Rolex cliff soon. But given that she was limited to 1 win in '08 and 1 win in '09 and put up consistently good and often great finishes at about the same rate those seasons as she has been doing this one--with the difference being in her favor, namely that she's bunched her wins recently and gotten a major that'll stay in the system for a long time to come--she, too, is in a position where it shouldn't be difficult to gain more points than she loses.

But Shin does have an ace in the hole. Unfortunately for her, it's the same one that Ai Miyazato has: the ability to play as many events on the JLPGA as they wish. More on that in a minute. For now, I want to go back to how important wins are in the Rolex system. Check out where everyone stood 2 months ago. I'd be hard-pressed to say who has played better in that span, Song-Hee Kim or Na Yeon Choi. Kim has a pair of silver medals, 3 other top 10s, and a worst finish of T22. Choi has a gold, 3 silvers, and no other finishes in the top 30, including a missed cut (the 1st of her LPGA career). Well, Rolex can tell you: Choi's average has gone up by 2.33 points while Kim's has risen by 1.67 points. Now, you might think from my earlier discussion that that's partly because Choi has lost fewer points than Kim from earlier in the '08 season. But my guess is that Kim actually fared better than Choi when it's come to events dropping off the Rolex cliff lately. That's because when you miss a cut you're guaranteed 0 points. Sure, its value isn't reduced over time, and lots of bad finishes will approach 0 points in the long run, but it helps your average immensely to lose those 0-point finishes--and Kim will lose her 4th (and last) of the year at the end of this week. So you'd think with her greater consistency, she'd have gained more points than Choi, right? Nope. Choi has only 1 more runner-up than Kim in the last 2 months and Kim is getting way more points in her other events. That shows approximately how much wins are worth in the Rolex system--shall we say, a heck of a lot?

Another way to get how much the Rolex system values wins is to compare it to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Check out their top 10:

1. Suzann Pettersen 68.65
2. Ji-Yai Shin 68.66
3. Song-Hee Kim 68.86
4. Cristie Kerr 68.88
5. Na Yeon Choi 68.95
6. Ya Ni Tseng 69.00
7. Lorena Ochoa 69.13
8. Ai Miyazato 69.23
9. Angela Stanford 69.43
10. Karrie Webb 69.50

The GSPI is based primarily on how you finish relative to everybody else who played in the same event on the same day as you (W-L-T) and the difference between your score and theirs that day. Unlike the Rolex system, it doesn't include the KLPGA, only covers the last 52 weeks, and doesn't let you look back at past rankings. Fortunately, I've been recording GSPI figures since I started doing my Best of the LPGA ranking, which ranks players into tiers based on where they stand in the RR, GSPI, Hound Dog Top 70, and LPGA money list, then allows me to use my own judgment when ranking players within those tiers. So anyone who's interested can go back and compare how the LPGA's top players today have been doing relative to their competition with how Lorena Ochoa was doing at her prime. My own system accepts that each of the other systems is measuring different things and in fact uses that fact to conclude that players who do well in most or all of the systems must be doing somethinbg better than those who do well in some or none of them. But I'm not here to argue which ranking system is the best. Since everyone outside a very select group of Mostly Harmless and Hound Dog LPGA readers focuses exclusively on the Rolex Rankings, all I want to do right now is underscore how much more wins matter there than in any of the other systems for ranking players.

And I want to use this to return to Shin's and Miyazato's RR advantage, for it's not just any results that matter in the JLPGA events they choose to enter in the 2nd half of 2010. It's mostly wins. Sure, it's nice to play consistently well on the JLPGA, as Sakura Yokomine has over the last several seasons and Inbee Park has done thus far in this one. It's jump-started Park's LPGA career and she's actually passed Yokomine as a result. But Morgan Pressel just playing once on the JLPGA and winning 1 of their majors, the Salonpas Cup--equalling Park's '10 JLPGA win total in 7 starts--when coupled with Pressel's own resurgence on the LPGA, has also leapfrogged her ahead of Yokomine in the Rolex Rankings. Now, for Pressel and Park to keep moving up the RR, they're going to have to outplay those ranked higher than them. But there's nobody ranked higher there right now than Shin and Miyazato. So winning in Japan pays them huge dividents. Sure, every time they don't win in Japan, they're giving more points to whoever does, just because their presence raises the total number of points up for grabs in each event. Still, because the JLPGA's top 30 pretty much plays every event and there are so many JLPGAers in the top 200 of the Rolex Rankings, there are more points at stake in JLPGA events than any other tour in the world, except the LPGA. That's why it's so hard to knock the 6 JLPGA regulars between #16 and #25 in the Rolex Rankings any lower--so long as they keep winning over there. And that's why beating them--as Shin and Miyazato are perfectly capable of doing any given week--is worth something to the #1 and #2 players in the Rolex system.

But how much? And at what cost? They need to pace themselves and save their energy for the LPGA's end-of-season stretch run, when they could play 7 straight events in October and November if they wanted to. My guess is that they're going to play both JLPGA majors in September, when the only conflicting event is the NW Arkansas Championship early in the month. They may not play any other JLPGA events. And they might not even play them. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw both of them in the LET's Ladies Irish Open the week after the WBO, either, as Ai-sama has LET membership via her '09 Evian Masters victory and Shin could get a sponsor exemption at the drop of a hat. But I would be surprised if they played more than 1 other JLPGA event than the majors and the LPGA-JLPGA dual-sponsored Mizuno Classic. Except, that is, the RICOH Cup, the final JLPGA event--and major--of the year, open only to winners and leading money-winners on the JLPGA in 2010. (Right now, Ai-sama still needs to qualify for it, while Shin is already in, due to her JLPGA win.)

In any events they both enter outside the LPGA, Shin and Miyazato will be trying at least to finish ahead of each other and at best to win. For that could well be the difference in the race to finish the 2010 season atop the Rolex Rankings. But the Rolex Rankings are not the be-all and end-all. I'm sure both Shin and Miyazato value the LPGA Hall of Fame more highly than the Rolex Rankings. To get there, they'll need to win majors, Player of the Year titles, and Vare Trophies, in addition to racking up lots of regular wins. So I'm very curious to see how they put together their schedules in the 2nd half of 2010. From their perspective, the point is to play as well as possible for as long as possible, to maximize their odds of a peak performance every day they tee it up in a professional competition. Everything else is a distraction to them. But it's the kind of distraction that from the perspective of golf writers and fans heightens interest in those competitions.

So I'll close this rambling post by asking you: What criteria would you recommend using to identify the best players in the world of women's professional golf? How would you prioritize and combine those criteria, in a quantifiable way? How would you solve the problem of ranking players who compete regularly on different tours?

[Update 1 (4:27 pm): Appreciate the linkage--and thoughts on the Evian Masters and Women's British Open--from Golf Girl!]

[Update 2 (4:31 pm): Just remembered that Shin is the defending champion at the NW Arkansas event. So she'll be there rather than at the JLPGA's 2nd major, the Konica Minolta Cup. My guess is that means Miyazato will skip the JLPGA major, too.]

[Update 3 (7/29/10, 9:46 am): Great overview of the new #1's season to date by Happy Fan.]

[Update 4 (8/6/10, 4:22 am): If you haven't read the comments thread for this post, please do so and then head over to Ruthless Golf for Mike's sequel to/expansion of his comments on the thread.]

The Best on the LPGA: 7-Up, July 2010 Revised Edition

Ji-Yai Shin outduelling Morgan Pressel, Na Yeon Choi, Lexi Thompson, and Suzann Pettersen on Sunday at the Evian Masters means that it's time to update my June ranking of the best players on the LPGA with 7 or more wins, ordered by my take on their likelihood of more coming over the rest of the season.

Most Likely to Win in 2010

1. Ji-Yai Shin (7/1): Yeah, she's needs to double her output to catch up to Cristie Kerr in the race to see who the next LPGA Hall of Famer will be, but I'll betcha she's passed Paula Creamer by season's end. Part of it's that it's a lot easier to recover from an emergency appendectomy than thumb surgery, but a lot of it has to do with my feeling that as great as Creamer is and is going to be, Shin will be even greater. [Update (11/7/10): Well, victory #8 for Shin at the Mizuno Classic gives her a chance to repeat as money-list champion and to also win Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy, but she'll need some help from the other top 6 players on tour next week at Lorena's invitational to stay in the hunt.]
2. Cristie Kerr (14/2): Last month, I noted that "Maybe it's her time to make a run at qualifying for the Hall of Fame!" Well, one dominating win at the LPGA Championship later and she now has 16 HOF points. Plus, she's in contention for more via the Vare Trophy (for low scoring average) and Player of the Year title. Sure, she's had her disappointments since winning the LPGA Championship, but with the Women's British Open on tap, I expect to see her contending next week.
3. Paula Creamer (9/1): In mid-June, I wrote, "I think she'll be back among the LPGA's elite when she tees it up again. The only question is when." Well, she returned a couple of days later at the ShopRite, got a top 10, and less than a month after that won the U.S. Women's Open, getting the "Best without a Major" monkey off her back in the process. So the answer was, "Immediately." Earlier this month, I joked, "Can't wait to see what miracles she'll pull off on the European swing. Will she walk across the Atlantic to get there?" Well, there were no heroics at Evian, but maybe Royal Birkdale will suit her better and her thumb will give her less trouble.
4. Karrie Webb (36/7): During her 1st 11 seasons on the LPGA, she was a consistent threat for the money-list title (which she took 3 times), Player of the Year award (twice), and Vare Trophy (3 times, the lowest scoring average of the 3 coming in 1999, at 69.43). In her 14-year LPGA career, she's never finished outside the top 30 on the money list, never had a scoring average above 72, only twice failed to make the top 20 on the money list (these were the only times her scoring average rose above 71.50), and only 3 times failed to enter the winner's circle (each of those seasons, her best finish was 2nd). Take it from me, she's playing well enough this season for her next win to come any given week. [Update (3/7/11): Can't say I'm all that surprised about win #37!]

The Contenders

5. Mi Hyun Kim (8/0): First it was knee surgery, then pregnancy, and now it's motherhood for my fave among the old-school Seoul Sisters. She was a regular on the top 10 for her 1st 9 seasons on tour, but the last 2 have been struggles, at least on the course. In January, I wasn't optimistic about her chances of adding to her victory total this season, but I think I was right to say in June that "her chances are improving, even if her GIR rate needs some serious improving."
6. Se Ri Pak (25/5): From 1998-2004, she was one of the 3 best players in the world of women's golf, racking up 22 golds, 14 silvers, 6 bronzes, and 83 top 10s in all. She won the Vare Trophy in 2003 with a 70.03 scoring average, but not in 2002 with a 69.85 one or in 2001 with a 69.69 (thanks, Annika!). She was a 4-time silver medalist on the money list and 2-time bronze medalist during this stretch. She hasn't been quite that dominant since then, but she won her 5th major in dramatic fashion at the 2006 Kraft Nabisco Championship and became a 5-time winner of the Farr in 2007, the year she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, she's been dealing with injuries this season since winning the Bell Micro, so I don't know when her next win is coming.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Juli Inkster (31/7): When she's been on this season, she's really been on, but inconsistency with her ballstriking has been the main thing holding her back. Still, she's made 10 cuts in 12 starts, gotten 1 top 10, and put herself near the top of the leaderboard on a few occasions before fading. Even though her last 3 starts have been disappointing, don't go counting her out just yet!
8. Helen Alfredsson (7/1): Her scoring average in 2009 was her 4th-lowest ever, even better than some from 1992-1995, when she was a fixture on the top 20. Back in January, I wrote, "As long as she stays healthy, I don't see any reason why she shouldn't notch her 3rd-straight top 40 season in 2010, which would be the 2nd-longest streak of such consistently strong play in her 18-year career on the LPGA." The only slight problem so far is that her T16 this week at Evian was her 1st top 40 of the season. Here's hoping Sunday's 67 is a harbinger of better golf from her the rest of the season.
9. Laura Davies (20/4): Like clockwork, she won Down Under in the early going this season, but then she followed it up with an LET win in mid-May, which is a little better than usual the last few years. Can she translate that into LPGA success? So far, the answer is no, but give her a look at the lead on Sunday and she'll walk away with a win. Wouldn't it be amazing if she got the last 2 Hall of Fame Points she needed with a win at Royal Birkdale this week?
10. Sherri Steinhauer (8/2): She's won a senior major and made 7 of 9 LPGA cuts post-hip surgery, but it's still an open question whether she'll pick up where she left off before injuries interrupted her 2008 season, when she had been on a 4-season run in which she had notched 3 victories, including her 2nd Women's British Open. Her best finish this season is a T12 at the ShopRite and she's made 7 cuts in 10 starts, but endurance and consistency remain issues. On the other hand, there's another WBO around the corner.... Right now it seems that her irons and putting are a bit off, but maybe they'll be on at Royal Birkdale.
11. Rachel Hetherington (8/0): A very badly broken ankle from a skateboarding accident pushed the start of her 2010 season back to this past week and apparently it had made her start thinking about how long she wants to keep playing professionally. Here's hoping she's rededicated herself to her game--she's one of the few players who can boast about beating Annika more than once in head-to-head competition. From 1999-2004, she was a regular on the top 20 and a top 10 threat; even from 2005-2008, she was typically a top 40 player. She came back at the State Farm and missed her 1st and only cut at the LPGA Championship, but hasn't played since then. Hope her ankle is ok.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

12. Liselotte Neumann (13/1): She's only 4 made cuts in 32 starts over the last 2 seasons plus this one, but retains a good position on the 2010 priority status list (#87), thanks to a Career Top 20 exemption. This is the last year she's eligible for it, so let's see if 2010 will be her swan song or the year she put off her last stand for another season. So far she's missed 4 cuts and hasn't played since not starting at the LPGA Championship.

On the Outside, Looking In

13. Lorena Ochoa (27/2): 'Nuff said.
14. Meg Mallon (18/4): 'Nuff said.