As we inch closer to the LPGA's 1st and only event of April, the Avnet Classic, let's take another look at my recent rankings of the classes of 2006, 2007, and 2008 in order to update last June's ranking of the Best of the Young Guns generation on the LPGA. I'm doing something a little bit different this time around, creating more categories and taking recent trends more into account than in past rankings. Hopefully this will give a better sense of whose career is on the upswing, whose is stuck in neutral, and whose is on the decline relative to the best of their generation.
Simply the Best
1. Ya Ni Tseng: The best in her generation got off to the best start of anyone in 2011 and at #1 in the Rolex Rankings is the 1st in the post-Ochoa era to actually have a healthy lead on her lead chase pack. Let's see if she comes back from the LPGA's break refreshed and ready to bounce back from losing her 3rd-round lead at the Kraft Nabisco Championship to New Blood generation star-in-the-making Stacy Lewis.
2. Na Yeon Choi: She's been chasing Ya Ni Tseng her entire LPGA career and I wouldn't be surprised to see her move up to world #2 in the 1st half of the season. If she can get as motivated by her mere top 50 at the KNC as she was by her missed cut at last year's LPGA Championship, watch out for her the rest of 2011!
3. Ai Miyazato: Sure, she hasn't been putting herself in contention all that often lately, much less winning in bunches like she did in the 1st half of 2010, but she's due for a comeback soon.
4. In-Kyung Kim: She's made almost as much as former #1 in her generation and former #1 player in the Class of 2006 Seon Hwa Lee in 35 fewer LPGA starts and has that much time in which to match or surpass her total of 4 wins, plus she's been playing a lot better than Lee for awhile now, so it's about time she moved up these rankings. Although she doesn't have a major like Morgan Pressel, she's still got 24 more starts to get one, so I'm leapfrogging her ahead of Pressel, too. To move any higher, though, Kim is going to have to convert more good starts to wins.
5. Morgan Pressel: She's off to Japan in early May to defend her Salonpas Cup title, where I expect her to play as well as she has been on the LPGA (fluke disasters in the midst of a Sunday charge at the KNC notwithstanding). She's probably playing the best golf of her career right now.
6. Seon Hwa Lee: She's shown some signs this season of coming out of the 1st real slump of her LPGA career, but it's too soon to tell.
7. Jee Young Lee: She most likely got hurt at the end of last season and hasn't started this season well at all. I wonder if she's still hurt?
8. Song-Hee Kim: Clearly the best player on the LPGA without a win, she's gotten off to a slow start in 2011, too.
9. Eun-Hee Ji: She showed some real signs of life this winter Down Under, so I'm betting she's about ready to fully emerge from under the shadow of her post-U.S. Women's Open jinx.
10. Inbee Park: Although she couldn't make it 3 wins in a row on the JLPGA dating back to their last tournament of last season, she's a threat to win there any time she plays. I'm still waiting for her to play as well on the LPGA.
11. Sun Young Yoo: She's been playing great in 2011 and seems primed to defend her title at the Sybase Match Play Championship in mid-May. May be the most underrated player on the LPGA right now.
12. Amy Yang: She's also been playing great lately and shows no signs of slowing down. Only 4 players in her generation make cuts more regularly than she does and she's finally started posting top 20s and better finishes in bunches. Look out for her in 2011!
Quantum Leap Candidates
13. Brittany Lang: She's fighting for a spot on the 2011 U.S. Solheim Cup team and will need to fight her way out of the 2nd major slump of her LPGA career to do so.
14. Kristy McPherson: She had surgery over the off-season and needs a push to make her 2nd Solheim Cup team, so I'm demoting her to this category for now, as well.
15. Hee Young Park: The Rocket hasn't really taken off yet in 2011, but she's still on pace to catch the Americans in her generation immediately ahead of her this season.
16. Momoko Ueda: Her strategy of dividing her time almost equally between the LPGA and JLPGA has been netting her diminishing returns this season and last--lately she's started missing the cut far too regularly at home. Let's see if she can get the problems with her game ironed out in time for the JLPGA's 1st major of 2011, the Salonpas Cup, in early May, and the 1st LPGA event she'll be playing in a long while, the Sybase Match Play Championship in mid-May.
17. Ji Young Oh: I know, it's a little bit of an insult to put a 2-time LPGA winner so low in this category, but with fewer top 10s and top 20s than virtually everyone ranked ahead of her, and few good recent results, I don't think it's unfair to put her here.
18. Sandra Gal. Her recent win over Ji-Yai Shin and better career made-cut rate leapfrogs her ahead of Shanshan Feng.
19. Shanshan Feng: She's come back from the 2nd slump of her short career and seems to be playing some pretty good golf again, so let's see if she can start racking up more good finishes and putting herself in contention.
20. Jane Park: Let's see if she can get some mo' going with her back apparently healthier this season than it's been in recent years.
On the Bottom, Looking Up
21. Julieta Granada: Yes, her career stats aren't all that terrible (except for her made-cut rate), but even with her top 10 at the KNC, I can't justify putting her in any category but this one.
22. Kyeong Bae: She's off to a solid start in 2011 on the LPGA, but she'll need to improve on it to move up these rankings.
23. Meaghan Francella: Ditto.
24. Teresa Lu: She made the cut at the KNC, but she's spending most of her time this season on the JLPGA (even with their reduced schedule), so I expect to see her fall further behind her peers this year.
On the Outside, Looking In
25. Angela Park: Having lost her LPGA membership and not playing on the Futures Tour or anywhere else I can ascertain, I'm wondering if this former Rookie of the Year's professional career is already over?
For your reference, here's how the top 25 Young Guns stack up, stats-wise.
STARTS/MAJORS/WINS/TOP 3/TOP 10/TOP 20/WD/DQ/MC/FINISHES (RATE)
[Note: *=non-member win (not counted toward other stats).]
1. Ya Ni Tseng, $5.19M (#30), 78/3/6/21/36/54/0/0/3/75 (.962)
2. Ai Miyazato, $4.77M (#33), 116/0/6/14/39/57/1/0/15/100 (.862)
3. Na Yeon Choi, $4.45M (#35), 80/0/4/16/37/57/0/0/1/79 (.988)
4. Seon Hwa Lee, $3.96M (#40), 137/0/4/11/30/60/2/0/11/124 (.905)
5. In-Kyung Kim, $3.95M (#41), 102/0/3/13/38/51/0/0/14/88 (.863)
6. Morgan Pressel, $3.76M (#44), 126/1/2/11/38/62/0/0/13/113 (.897)
7. Song-Hee Kim, $3.36M (#49), 96/0/0/10/34/51/0/0/15/81 (.844)
8. Jee Young Lee, $3.29M (#51), 127/0/1*/9/35/65/5/0/10/112 (.882)
9. Inbee Park, $2.67M (#64), 99/1/1/5/22/32/1/1/19/78 (.788)
10. Brittany Lang, $2.52M (#70), 134/0/0/6/26/50/0/0/28/106 (.791)
11. Sun Young Yoo, $2.48M (#72), 131/0/1/4/18/42/1/0/25/105 (.802)
12. Julieta Granada, $2.32M (#79), 129/0/1/5/11/23/0/1/46/72 (.558)
13. Eun-Hee Ji, $2.30M (#80), 81/1/2/5/15/25/0/3/10/68 (.840)
14. Angela Park, $2.12M (#87), 84/0/0/8/18/25/5/0/18/61 (.726)
15. Kristy McPherson, $1.77M (#100), 95/0/0/4/16/30/0/0/21/74 (.779)
16. Ji Young Oh, $1.49M (#111), 98/0/2/2/8/18/1/0/29/68 (.694)
17. Hee Young Park, $1.49M (#112), 79/0/0/2/16/26/0/0/16/63 (.797)
18. Kyeong Bae, $1.33M (#124), 121/0/0/2/9/20/4/0/33/84 (.694)
19. Amy Yang, $1.24M (#129), 57/0/0/2/10/22/0/0/6/51 (.895)
20. Meaghan Francella, $1.13M (#140), 99/0/1/1/7/15/0/0/31/68 (.687)
21. Teresa Lu, $1.13M (#142), 105/0/0/1/7/22/2/0/23/80 (.762)
22. Momoko Ueda, $1.11M (#145), 58/0/1*/1/7/19/0/0/9/49 (.845)
23. Jane Park, $.99M (#162), 75/0/0/3/6/11/4/0/16/55 (.733)
24. Shanshan Feng, $.93M (#172), 70/0/0/1/9/14/1/0/22/47 (.671)
25. Sandra Gal $.89M (#176), 70/0/1/1/4/17/2/0/16/52 (.743)