Friday, February 11, 2011

The Best of the Young Guns: Class of 2006, Final 2010 Edition

It's hard to believe I haven't had the time since last May to update my assessment of who's had the best careers among the LPGA's rookie class of 2006, but this is actually just in time to serve as a 2011 season preview. Unlike my wins-based rankings, which can be found on the right sidebar and which look almost purely ahead to who's mostly likely to get their next one, these rankings go back over the past 5 seasons and select for who's made the most of them.

Simply the Best

1. Ai Miyazato: Her 5 wins in 2010 catapulted her atop her generation's money list and to #2 in my season-ending Best of the LPGA ranking, but with no wins in Japan she dropped to #18 in my ranking of the JLPGA's Finest. Her ability to go low, make birdies in bunches, and seal the deal when in contention on the LPGA made last season a much more successful one than the previous one, but statistically speaking, at least, I would venture that she played better, more consistently excellent golf in 2009 than 2010. What kept her going even when her ball-striking wasn't at its best last year was her putter. If she can improve her ball-striking and keep her putting anywhere near where it was last season, the sky's the limit for her.
2. Seon Hwa Lee: She's in the middle of the worst slump of her career and trying for dual membership on the LPGA and JLPGA last season only deepened it. I'm going to take her T5 in NW Arkansas and 2 top 20s in her last 4 LPGA starts in '10 as evidence that she's back on the comeback trail. I think concentrating on the LPGA in '11 will be good for her game.
3. Morgan Pressel: She was clicking on all cylinders last season after grooving her swing change and working on her short game. The only thing that eluded her was an LPGA win, thanks to Ji-Yai Shin at Evian, but her domination at the JLPGA's 1st major of 2010, the Salonpas Cup, shows what she's capable of in 2011.
4. Jee Young Lee: Even without driving the ball as well in 2010 as in her previous 4 seasons on tour, she bounced back from the previous season's slump in style. She now has the most top 20s of anyone in her rookie class and is quite due for her 1st win as an LPGA member in the coming season.

The Contenders

5. Brittany Lang: She remained one of the better ball-strikers on tour in 2010, but her putting was simply abysmal. If she can't get out of the 2nd slump of her pro career pretty early in 2011, she's going to get passed by Sun Young Yoo.
6. Sun Young Yoo: Unfortunately, she didn't do much in 2010 after taking down some of the very best on tour on her way to her 1st LPGA win at the Sybase Match Play Championship. But I believe she'll get back on track in 2011.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Kyeong Bae: She makes a lot of birdies for how few greens she tends to hit. If she can improve her ball-striking, she could make that leap any time.
8. Teresa Lu: She's right on Bae's heels coming into 2011. The only question is how she'll divide her time between the LPGA and JLPGA, where her 33rd-place finish at their Q-School left her with fairly good but not full status on tour this coming season.
9. Meaghan Francella: She had a pretty solid 2010, all things considered, but I don't see much evidence she's going to be doing anything in 2011 but struggling to hold onto her card.

On the Bottom Looking Up

10. Julieta Granada: She maintained her dual LPGA-LET status by finishing 56th on the LET money list in only 6 starts last season. It's a stark contrast to her continuing struggles on the LPGA, where she managed to avoid their Q-School by finishing 95th on the money list in 16 starts. I wonder how big a difference working with Sean Foley will make on her game in 2011?
11. Allison Fouch: At #139 on the 2011 priority status list, she should be able to get into any full-field event she wants and keep trying to make up ground on classmates who have played many more events than she has.
12. Katie Futcher: She easily kept her card by playing solid golf in 2010, but she's going to need to amp up her game if she wants to keep it for much longer.
13. Karin Sjodin: If she could cut down on her big numbers, she could actually make some noise on the LPGA. As it is, though, she's been too inconsistent to take full advantage of her excellent ball-striking skills.
14. Sarah Jane Smith: Like Futcher, she made Category 1 status for 2011, but I'm actually more optimistic about her chances to move up this ranking, as her performance stats last season were pretty darn good.
15. Louise Stahle: Unfortunately for this former LET Rookie of the Year, I can't say the same as I did for Smith. Even though she started figuring out how to make LPGA cuts more regularly in the 2nd half of 2010, her season-long performance stats are not encouraging. Good thing for her she's maintaining LET membership, thanks to a 74th-place finish on their money list in 7 starts last season.
16. Minea Blomqvist: She had a disastrous return from her maternity leave in the 2nd half of 2010, missing the cut in every event she entered, but she retains a spot at #119 on the 2011 priority status list thanks to a medical exemption. Let's see if she can take advantage of it.
17. Libby Smith: Thanks to a horrible final day at Q-School she'll have to cobble together a schedule from #144 on the priority status list, but should get into most every full-field event she wants.

On the Outside Looking In

18. Na Ri Kim: It's hard to tell whether her move into the top 30 in the Rolex Rankings, courtesy of her late-season win on the JLPGA (where she finished the season ranked 16th in my system, 2 spots ahead of Ai Miyazato), speaks to a huge improvement in her game or the weaknesses of the Rolex system. But right now she's the highest-ranked '06er who doesn't have LPGA membership in 2011.
19. Linda Wessberg: She ended up 23rd on the LET's 2010 money list. With 7 career wins on that side of the pond, I'd love to see her make another LPGA attempt in 2012.
20. Hye Jung Choi: Now listed as a "former tour member" on, she didn't do anything particularly special on the KLPGA in 2010 that I recall, but it seems she's going to be playing there full-time in 2011.
21. Veronica Zorzi: In 2009, she finished 29th on the LET money list in 14 starts; in 2010, she ended up 31st in 21 starts.
22. Nina Reis: Played the LET full-time in '09 and ended up 57th on their money list in 16 events; in '10, she dropped to 78th in 18 starts.
23. Virada Nirapathpongporn: She finished 35th on the 2010 Futures Tour money list as she got her comeback from shoulder surgery into full gear, but a DQ at LPGA Q-School set her back in a big way. Let's see if she can play like she's capable of playing on the FT this coming season. [Update (2/27/11, 8:23 pm): Or not. Just saw via Seoul that Oui has said "non" to continuing her professional career.]
24. Danielle Downey: She wasn't able to take advantage of her 2010 medical exemption, which means she'll be on the Futures Tour in 2011.
25. Kim Hall: A San Antonio newspaper noted that she's focusing on the LPGA Board of Directors right now, which makes sense, as this Stanford grad is down at #373 on the priority status list, thanks to her status as a Class A member in good standing for the last 10 years.
26. Ashley Johnston: I'll bet she's done with professional golf entirely--the LPGA has zeroed out all her old records on her player profile.


For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the February 2011 ranking.

2010 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone was playing last season--how much money they made, how they scored, how many birdies they averaged per round, and how many greens they hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category (except for birdies, which ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don't include putts per green in regulation here. Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future (although with so many events out of the country, it would be nice for the LPGA to collect performance stats there, too, particularly when my favorite golfer won 3 times abroad last year!).

1. Ai Miyazato, $1.46M (#6), 70.65 (#7), 3.97 (#9), 64.5% (#69)
2. Morgan Pressel, $767.5K (#13), 71.05 (#11), 3.61 (#5), 68.3% (#35)
3. Sun Young Yoo, $655.8K (#16), 71.77 (#27), 3.18 (#39), 67.0% (#44)
4. Jee Young Lee, $589.8K (#19), 71.26 (#16), 3.71 (#17), 70.9% (#8)
5. Brittany Lang, $297.2K (#35), 72.32 (#44), 3.09 (#36), 70.0% (#14)
6. Seon Hwa Lee, $253.9K (#42), 72.10 (#35), 2.83 (#44), 64.4% (#74)
7. Kyeong Bae, $204.7K (#50), 72.48 (#51), 3.16 (#43), 64.4% (#72)
8. Meaghan Francella, $168.0K (#58), 73.04 (#76), 2.71 (#50), 66.9% (#45)
9. Katie Futcher, $121.9K (#63), 72.78 (#61), 2.78 (#65), 65.0% (#62)
10. Teresa Lu, $120.7K (#64), 72.90 (#67), 3.05 (#76), 60.8% (#111)
11. Sarah Jane Smith, $106.5K (#66), 72.39 (#41), 3.00 (#74), 67.5% (#40)
12. Karin Sjodin, $91.3K (#76), 73.71 (#74), 3.27 (#68), 69.7% (#17)
13. Louise Stahle, $60.5K (#91), 73.49 (#95), 2.72 (#87), 62.1% (#101)
14. Julieta Granada, $52.3K (#95), 74.49 (#123), 2.40 (#101), 51.6% (#135)
15. Allison Fouch, $34.3K (#113), 73.93 (#109), 2.88 (#89), 62.4% (#95)
16. Libby Smith, $28.1K (#119), 74.20 (#114), 2.80 (#122), 60.2% (#112)
17. Hye Jung Choi, $21.1K (#129), 74.43 (#121), 2.26 (#132), 54.8% (#133)
18. Danielle Downey, $3.6K (#155), 74.88 (n.r.), ? (n.r.), ? (n.r.)

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events started/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/withdrawals/disqualifications/missed cuts/finished events (rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately the Class of 2006 hasn't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt every season (although that in itself is an indication of how someone's career has been going!). What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins has posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Best of All Time ranking over at Hound Dog LPGA). In any case, I include the other ways of seeing how the '06ers finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. Many thanks to the LPGA for updating their 2010 Performance Chart after every event! But I have to join Hound Dog in disagreeing with their listing as a missed cut those who didn't make it to the final round of the LPGA Tour Championship after making the 2nd-round cut. By that logic, anyone who doesn't win the Sybase Match Play event should be given an MC, as well! [Note: *=non-member win]

1. Ai Miyazato, $4.71M (#36), 112/0/6/14/39/56/1/0/15/96 (.857)
2. Seon Hwa Lee, $3.92M (#44), 132/0/4/11/29/59/2/0/11/119 (.902)
3. Morgan Pressel, $3.55M (#53), 121/1/2/10/35/59/0/0/13/108 (.893)
4. Jee Young Lee, $3.29M (#60), 124/0/1*/9/35/65/5/0/10/109 (.879)
5. Brittany Lang, $2.49M (#89), 129/0/0/6/26/49/0/0/28/101 (.783)
6. Sun Young Yoo, $2.32M (#91), 126/0/1/4/16/38/1/0/25/100 (.794)
7. Julieta Granada, $2.26M (#95), 126/0/1/5/10/22/0/1/46/69 (.548)
8. Kyeong Bae, $1.29M (#147), 116/0/0/2/9/19/4/0/33/79 (.681)
9. Teresa Lu, $1.13M (#166), 104/0/0/1/7/22/2/0/23/79 (.760)
10. Meaghan Francella, $1.09M (#171), 95/0/1/1/7/15/0/0/31/64 (.674)
11. Hye Jung Choi, $.73M (#232), 84/0/0/0/8/12/2/0/26/56 (.667)
12. Minea Blomqvist, $.67M (#246), 86/0/0/1/3/8/1/1/36/48 (.558)
13. Katie Futcher, $.63M (#250), 101/0/0/0/5/9/0/1/31/69 (.683)
14. Karin Sjodin, $.61M (#254), 95/0/0/0/3/12/0/0/39/56 (.589)
15. Allison Fouch, $.55M (#264), 66/0/0/1/4/8/0/0/27/39 (.591)
16. Kim Hall, $.35M (#313), 74/0/0/1/3/4/0/0/44/30 (.405)
17. Linda Wessberg, $.34M (#320), 43/0/0/0/5/6/0/0/17/26 (.605)
18. Sarah Jane Smith, $.28M (#350), 48/0/0/0/1/7/0/0/23/25 (.521)
19. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.23M (#379), 56/0/0/0/1/4/0/0/28/28 (.500)
20. Nina Reis, $.23M (#382), 51/0/0/0/3/4/0/0/23/28 (.549)
21. Louise Stahle, $.21M (#393), 53/0/0/0/1/2/1/0/26/26 (.491)
23. Danielle Downey, $.15M (#433), 49/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/34/15 (.306)
23. Na Ri Kim, $.15M (#434), 50/0/0/0/0/0/3/0/24/23 (.460)
24. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#500), 16/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/3/13 (.813)
25. Libby Smith, $.05M (#552), 31/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/22/8 (.258)
26. Ashley Johnston, $.05M (#560), 13/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/7/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 2/7/11) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 2/6/11) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of today): This is a way of seeing how those '06ers who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Ai Miyazato, 8.92 (#6), 69.71 (#9); 15
2. Morgan Pressel, 4.60 (#17), 69.79 (#10); 1
3. Na Ri Kim, 3.36 (#28), 71.76 (#66); 1
4. Sun Young Yoo, 3.25 (#29), 71.47 (#50); 0
5. Jee Young Lee, 2.97 (#39), 70.26 (#17); 2
6. Brittany Lang, 2.47 (#51), 71.75 (#65); 0
7. Seon Hwa Lee, 1.86 (#74), 71.20 (#41); 3
8. Kyeong Bae, 1.58 (#88), 71.93 (#78); 3
9. Teresa Lu, 1.29 (#104), 72.43 (#93); 0
10. Meaghan Francella, 1.15 (#115), 72.83 (#118); 0
11. Sarah Jane Smith, .92 (#143), 72.45 (#95); 0
12. Katie Futcher, .88 (#153), 72.80 (#116); 0
13. Linda Wessberg, .80 (#165), 73.08 (#133); 7
14. Julieta Granada, .74 (#181), 73.96 (#192); 0
15. Karin Sjodin, .71 (#185), 72.80 (#117); 1
16. Veronica Zorzi, .69 (#188), 73.79 (#180); 2
17. Louise Stahle, .65 (#195), 72.93 (#123); 0
18. Hye Jung Choi, .65 (#202), 73.79 (#179); 1
19. Allison Fouch, .51 (#225), 73.97 (#193); 0
20. Minea Blomqvist, .28 (#302), 76.80 (#383); 5
21. Libby Smith, .18 (#354), 75.38 (#297); 0
22. Nina Reis, .14 (#381), 76.30 (#358); 5
23. Kim Hall, .04 (#577), ? (n.r.); 0
24. Virada Nirapathpongporn, .03 (#579), 74.12 (#200); 0
25. Danielle Downey, .02 (#671), 75.98 (#339); 0


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