Tuesday, March 8, 2011

As the World Turns

If you follow golf writing in American and other media, you know that Mostly Harmless picks up on only a small percentage of what's going on, even in the relatively small world of women's professional golf. Sometimes it's because I don't have anything original to say about whatever's making the news, sometimes it's because I can't devote the energy, time, and thought to a subject that I believe it deserves, while other times it might just be because I'm finding it difficult enough to keep up with competition on the course. Whatever the reason, it's bothered me that I've let so many good stories fall through the cracks here over the years. To begin to remedy that, I've decided to start a randomly recurring feature I'm calling "As the World Turns," which will offer quick hits on smaller stories that have caught my eye recently.

All Roads Lead to Q-School. The LPGA underscored its commitment to being a truly global tour by merging its Q-School with the Futures Tour's and shifting to a 3-stage model. All the details will be worked out by June 1, but what Beth Ann Baldry passed along this week is that Stage 1 (7/26-7/29) is for amateurs, professionals who aren't included in the Rolex Rankings, and professionals outside the top 100 in the Rolex Rankings as of 2 weeks before the start of the event; Stage 2 (9/27-9/30) is for those inside the top 100 of the Rolex Rankings as of 2 weeks before the start of Stage 1 and qualifiers from Stage 1; and the Final Qualifying Tournament (11/30-12/4) is for LPGA members who didn't finish high enough on the money list, those who finished #5 to #20 on the 2011 Futures Tour money list, and qualifiers from Stage 2. There is one catch, though. While this model does allow highly-ranked international players to skip one stage, the timing of the stages means that this year they'd have to pass up 2 JLPGA majors--the Japan Women's Open for Stage 2 and the Ricoh Cup for the FQT--for a chance to get LPGA membership. Without winning an LPGA event, that is. Which is a door to membership the JLPGA has recently closed. As of mid-February, the days when winning a JLPGA event got you JLPGA membership--as it did for then-amateur Ai Miyazato in 2003 and then-KLPGA member Ji-Yai Shin in 2008--are over. All a JLPGA win by a non-member gets her now is a ticket to their Q-School--and at what part of their 4-stage process, I'm not even sure. Nor am I sure what changes are coming (or have already come?) when it comes to exemptions into later stages for international players. What's more, keeping your JLPGA membership will now be more difficult for international players, as you must finish in the top 50 on the money list while playing a minimum of 20% of the JLPGA schedule (7 events in 2011). More on developments on pathways to membership for both the LPGA and JLPGA as I find out more, but from what I've been able to gather, the LPGA's Mike Whan and the JLPGA's Hiromi Kobayashi are moving in opposite directions.

You Win Some, You Lose Some. Unlike a good neighbor, State Farm won't be there for the LPGA after this season. But the CME Group will be the title sponsor for the LPGA's season-ending Titleholders tournament for the next 3 years.

The South Korean Menace. Keep your eyes on how JLPGA officials, Japanese media, and Japanese players respond to all the hype about a "Korean Power Wave" on the JLPGA. Sakura Yokomine is cutting back her international schedule to focus on taking back the JLPGA money title this season (saying, "We Japanese must win tournaments in our country"), while Momoko Ueda instead emphasized that "It doesn't matter if you're Japanese or Korean. Everyone is trying to win. But this is called the JLPGA Tour, so I'd like to play well and play with pride."

Here We Go Again; or, Move Over, Tiger. I've been wondering for a while while Miho Koga cut short her 2010 season on the JLPGA and hasn't yet started her 2011 season. Well, Japanese tabloids have linked her romantically to baseball star Darvish Yu, who's been going through what appears to be a messy divorce over roughly the same time period she's gone AWOL. For what it's worth, Koga has a history of shooting down unfounded rumors about her personal life, but her disappearance from the public stage in recent months has gotten many wondering if there's a fire to all this smoke.

[Update 1 (3/9/11, 6:33 am): House of Japan found some quotes from Ai Miyazato on the new 20% rule on the JLPGA.]


Mike said...

Do you think the changes for membership qualification on the LPGA and JLPGA are attempts to discourage dual membership? It sounds like most players will be forced to focus on a single tour in order to get and keep membership privileges.

The Constructivist said...

I'm not ready to say that for sure--I need to find out more details, and a lot of the sources I'm finding are not only badly translated by google, but different to separate fact and opinion, attribution and interpretation--BUT, it certainly seems that way on the face of it.

Another way of looking at it is that the JLPGA wants those who already have dual memberships to be playing there more often. 7 events out of 34 is really not that many, and far fewer than the men's Euro Tour now requires of their dual members....

As for the LPGA, whether intentional or not, they're sending a signal (with the dates of their last 2 Q-School stages) that you'd better be ready to prioritize the LPGA from the moment you first start trying to join it.