Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Best of the Young Guns: Class of 2008, March 2011 Edition

There's no way to make a smooth transition back to normal LPGA blogging from what's going on in Japan, so I won't even try.

It's hard to believe the last time I ranked the LPGA's rookie class of 2008 was June 2010, but there you have it. In those 9 months, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in this class widened considerably. With many members of the class either retiring from professional golf, retreating to mini-tours, or devoting part or all of their schedules to the JLPGA or LET, the race for best in class may come down to as few as 3 golfers. Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi have taken their in-class rivalry to the top of the LPGA. Can Amy Yang join them this year?

Simply the Best

1. Ya Ni Tseng. Last year's Player of the Year and this year's world #1 doesn't just have a big game; she's got an even bigger heart. I'm hoping she can get her 5th worldwide win of 2011 in Phoenix, as she's playing for UNICEF's Tap Project to bring safe water to children in Japan.
2. Na Yeon Choi. Last year's money-list title-holder and Vare Trophy winner hasn't finished outside the top 16 since missing the 1st cut of her LPGA career at Locust Hills last June. Now up to #3 in the Rolex Rankings, she's likely to lose ground to Tseng, Ji-Yai Shin, and Cristie Kerr by sitting out this week's event, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her win the Kia Classic or the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

The Contenders

3. Amy Yang. Last year, she finished in the top 30 in all 4 majors, capped off by T5s 2 weeks apart in the U.S. and British Opens. With 3 additional op 5s, the last a near-win at the LPGA Tour Championship, she came very close to breaking through in 2010 for her 1st LPGA victory. I believe it's coming in 2011--and soon.
4. Momoko Ueda. She's coming off the worst season of her professional career, falling to 38th on the LPGA and 27th on the JLPGA. But even though she got off on the wrong foot in the 1st 2 LPGA events in Asia, she posted her best finish in months in the JLPGA's kickoff (and only) event of 2011, a T7, the following week. Here's hoping she's put last year's knee injury behind her and returns to action with extra resolve.
5. Hee Young Park. The medalist at last year's JLPGA Q-School hasn't impressed on either tour as of yet, but she's not known as The Rocket for nothing--she finished T60 at Lorena's event and T10 at the LPGA Tour Championship at the end of last season, where she evolved into a fantastic straight shooter but was let down by her putter. Let's see if she can have as good a year on both tours as Inbee Park did last year.
6. Shanshan Feng. At JLPGA Q-School last year, she lost a 3-shot lead over Park in the last 5 holes, but she beat her rival by 2 shots at the Daikin Orchid event a little while ago for her 1st top 20 of 2011. With Ji-Yai Shin, she's the only dual LPGA-JLPGA member to be teeing it up in Phoenix, so let's see if she can build on her momentum from her last 2 rounds of competitive golf.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Sandra Gal. She's coming off the worst season of her professional career, but did get a top 30 to kick off 2011 in Thailand. I'm looking for her to bounce back from her #69 finish in 2010.
8. Eunjung Yi. She fell off a cliff in the 2nd half of 2010, but even so, she's still got the best made-cut rate among the rest of her class and at #87 on the LPGA's priority status list will have plenty of chances to improve on it.
9. Louise Friberg. With her rookie win putting her at #88 on the priority status list, she still has time to play her way out of her long slump. As I've said before, Ai Miyazato, Brittany Lang, and Inbee Park have all slogged through their own career valleys, so there's no reason she can't, too.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

10. Anna Grzebien. After a medical exemption that leaves her around #64 on the priority status list, she's in the best position of her fellow struggling '08ers to turn things around this season. Let's see how she plays in Phoenix.
11. Taylor Leon. Last year was nothing to write home about, but at #123 on the priority status list, she has a good chance to bounce back this year.
12. Sarah Kemp. She's 5th on the ALPG money list and has good priority status on the LPGA in 2011 (#108), so is looking to finally translate her success Down Under to the big tour.
13. Jimin Jeong. She, too, fell off the cliff in the 2nd half of the 2010, but came back strong in Q-School and stands at #99 on the priority status list. Her 2011 starts in Phoenix this week, so let's see if she's over whatever caused her to play so badly.
14. Anja Monke. Just as I predicted, she made the LET her primary tour last season, where she finished 11th on their money list, but she played well enough at the Evian Masters and Ricoh Women's British Open to still be #136 on the LPGA's priority status list this season. Even so, I'm not looking for her to play much more often on this side of the ocean.
15. Nicole Hage. A top 20 at the Navistar and solid play at Q-School were the only bright spots from last season, but at #115 on the priority status list, this bomber will have many chances to create more.
16. Hannah Jun. At #158 on the priority status list, she just missed getting into the Phoenix event this week. I'm eager to see if she can translate her early-season LET success (where she's #11 on their money list) to the LPGA this season.

On the Outside, Looking In

17. Anna Rawson. She's taking a sabbatical from professional golf, but she still has better LPGA results than anyone else beneath her.
18. Carolina Llano. Looks like we'll be seeing a lot of her on the Futures Tour in 2011.
19. Ashleigh Simon. She's developed into one of the better players on the LET (#17 on their money list last season, #25 so far in this one) and has decided to focus her efforts there full-time in 2011.
20. Leah Wigger. Another Futures Tour regular in 2011.
21. Onnarin Sattayabanphot. A full-time JLPGA member for the 1st time in 2011, let's see how she does!
22. Sofie Andersson. Yet another Futures Tour regular in 2011.
23. Emma Cabrera-Bello. She's got full status on the LET, so let's see what she does with it this year.
24. Sarah Oh. She's 10th on the ALPG Order of Merit, but can't seem to ever get any status on another tour.

Missing in Action

25. Liz Janangelo. She's not listed as a member of the LPGA, LET, or Futures Tour, so her future as a professional golfer is definitely in doubt. [Update: A local paper report she's going to continue competing professionally here and there, but will primarily focus on a career as a teaching pro.]
26. Chris Brady. Ditto.
27. Amie Cochran. Ditto.
28. Violeta Retamoza. Ditto.
29. Hwanhee Lee. Ditto. Perhaps she's focusing on her fashion design career in 2011?
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff. Ditto.

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

2011 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 is playing this young season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've 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. Of course, because the LPGA doesn't keep performance stats for international events, and we haven't had any domestic ones yet, I've got nothing but question marks in the last column this time around. And because we've only had limited-field events thus far, the gap between the top 6 and the rest of the class is only growing.

1. Ya Ni Tseng $313.9K (#1), 68.88 (#1), 5.50 (#1), ?
2. Na Yeon Choi $71.4K (#7), 71.25 (#5), 3.38 (#11), ?
3. Amy Yang $68.9K (#9), 71.25 (#5), 3.25 (#13), ?
4. Momoko Ueda $23.2K (#31), 73.38 (#37), 2.88 (#31), ?
5. Shanshan Feng $19.3K (#35), 73.25 (#35), 3.13 (#18), ?
6. Hee Young Park $12.8K (#46), 74.63 (#52), 2.00 (#50), ?

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 2008 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 '08ers 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 2011 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 last year's 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. Ya Ni Tseng, $4.93M (#35), 75/3/6/20/34/52/0/0/3/72 (.960)
2. Na Yeon Choi, $4.38M (#41), 78/0/4/16/36/56/0/0/1/77 (.987)
3. Hee Young Park, $1.48M (#127), 77/0/0/2/16/26/0/0/16/61 (.792)
4. Amy Yang, $1.20M (#158), 54/0/0/2/10/21/0/0/6/48 (.889)
5. Momoko Ueda, $1.09M (#172), 56/0/1*/1/7/19/0/0/9/47 (.839)
6. Shanshan Feng, $897.0K (#208), 67/0/0/1/9/13/1/0/22/44 (.657)
7. Sandra Gal, $586.3K (#259), 67/0/0/0/2/14/2/0/16/49 (.731)
8. Louise Friberg, $476.6K (#283), 61/0/1/1/3/4/0/0/36/25 (.410)
9. Eunjung Yi, $469.4K (#286), 53/0/1/1/1/2/1/0/21/31 (.585)
10. Taylor Leon, $249.1K (#368), 46/0/0/0/3/6/0/0/26/20 (.435)
11. Sarah Kemp, $227.5K (#380), 50/0/0/0/1/6/0/1/24/25 (.500)
12. Anna Grzebien, $213.9K (#388), 42/0/0/0/0/5/2/0/19/21 (.500)
13. Jimin Jeong, $186.4K (#404), 43/0/0/0/2/3/1/0/20/22 (.512)
14. Anna Rawson, $166.9K (#418), 46/0/0/0/1/4/1/0/29/16 (.348)
15. Carolina Llano, $111.3K (#468), 40/0/0/0/1/1/0/0/25/15 (.375)
16. Anja Monke, $109.3K (#473), 21/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/9/12 (.571)
17. Ashleigh Simon, $72.9K (#514), 30/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/17/13 (.433)
18. Leah Wigger, $58.8K (#540), 36/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/24/12 (.333)
19. Liz Janangelo, $38.1K (#585), 35/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/24/10 (.286)
20. Hannah Jun, $32.0K (#596), 9/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/4/5 (.556)
21. Nicole Hage, $24.3K (#613), 21/0/0/0/0/1/1/0/16/4 (.190)
22. Amie Cochran, $17.2K (#643), 5/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/4/1 (.200)
23. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, $8.6K (#691), 8/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/6/2 (.250)
24. Chris Brady, $6.1K (#709), 4/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/2 (.500)
25. Violeta Retamoza, $2.2K (#743), 19/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/17/1 (.053)
26. Emma Cabrera-Bello, $0K (n.r.), 2/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/0 (.000)
27. Sarah Oh, $0K (n.r.), 3/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/3/0 (.000)
28. Hwanhee Lee, $0K (n.r.), 5/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/5/0 (.000)
29. Sofie Andersson, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 3/14/11) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 3/13/11) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of today): This is a way of seeing how those '08ers 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. Ya Ni Tseng, 11.38 (#1), 69.23 (#6); 3
2. Na Yeon Choi, 9.18 (#3), 68.94 (#3); 4
3. Amy Yang, 3.87 (#22), 69.79 (#10); 3
4. Momoko Ueda, 2.48 (#50), 71.66 (#60); 8
5. Hee Young Park, 2.39 (#54), 71.65 (#59); 4
6. Shanshan Feng, 1.80 (#74), 71.09 (#36); 0
7. Sandra Gal, 1.15 (#109); 72.67 (#112); 0
8. Eunjung Yi, .95 (#136), 74.00 (#197); 0
9. Sarah Kemp, .87 (#146), 73.52 (#144); 0
10. Ashleigh Simon, .84 (#158), 73.26 (#143); 1
11. Anja Monke, .75 (#170), 73.33 (#153); 3
12. Hannah Jun, .51 (#222), 73.20 (#128); 0
13. Taylor Leon, .50 (#225), 73.73 (#175); 0
14. Louise Friberg, .46 (#239), 73.75 (#177); 0
15. Sarah Oh, .41 (#250), 73.97 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
16. Anna Grzebien, .30 (#284), 73.94 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
17. Anna Rawson, .28 (#296), 74.91 (#258); 0
18. Jimin Jeong, .24 (#315), 74.15 (#203); 0
19. Emma Cabrera-Bello, .19 (#345), 76.53 (#364); 0
20. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, .14 (#379), 74.10 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
21. Leah Wigger, .12 (#398), 74.67 (#236); 0
22. Nicole Hage, .08 (#448), 75.49 (#307); 0
23. Carolina Llano, .02 (#654), 74.69 (#237); 0
24. Liz Janangelo, .01 (#689), 75.11 (#274); 0
25. Sofie Andersson, .00 (#721), 76.57 (#366); 0
26. Hwanhee Lee, n.r., 77.85 (#437); 0
28. Chris Brady, n.r., n.r.; 0
27. Violeta Retamoza, n.r., n.r.; 0
29. Amie Cochran, n.r., 78.52 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff, n.r., n.r.; 0

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