With the LPGA's Club 36 (that is, 3-to-6-time winners), losing members of late to the 7-Up Club (those with 7 or more wins on tour), I wonder who will be the next player to follow In-Kyung Kim off this list of 2-time LPGA winners. Sadly, I haven't updated it since November 2010--let's see what's changed in my sense of who's likeliest to join Club 36.
Most Likely to Win in 2011
1. Morgan Pressel: She's been playing very good golf over the last calendar year. In her 22 starts in that span, she has 13 top 20s and 7 top 10s, with runner-up finishes at both the Evian Masters and Wegmans LPGA Championship. With her game clicking on all cylinders, all she needs is a special week with her approach shots or putting to break through for that 3rd career LPGA victory!
2. Michelle Wie: She was actually sharper at the start of the season while she was still taking classes at Stanford than she has been lately, and I'd be surprised if she follows up her T72 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship with a top 30 at the U.S. Women's Open (as both majors penalize wildness off the tee severely), but given how good she is when she's on, I'd say her odds of winning in the 2nd half of the season, particularly in a Solheim Cup year, are fairly high.
3. Anna Nordqvist: The LET's '09 Rookie of the Year didn't have a bad 2010--in fact, it was much better than most have given her credit for--but she's been overshadowed by the fantastic play of the LPGA's super-elite in 2011 just as she was last year. Hound Dog claims her rookie season in '09 was the best by anyone in LPGA history who failed to win the Rookie of the Year award and ranks it 8th overall. What really distinguished it from her last 2 seasons was her driving accuracy that year--she's declined from hitting about 77% of her fairways as a rookie to around 66% this season, but has only picked up a handful of extra yards off the tee since then--along with putting woes this year. For her to have finished in the top 30 in 8 of her 9 starts in 2011 shows what kind of talent she has, but if she's going to start contending with regularity again, she needs to drive for show and putt for dough!
4. Katherine Hull: For someone who rode a 9-event top-25 run following her 2nd career victory on tour last year at the Navistar through this year's Asian swing, the rest of 2011 has been a disappointment thus far, with only 1 top 10, and 1 top 20 in her last 8 starts. Now that the stop-and-start portion of the season is shifting into the LPGA's overdrive, I expect her to get her game in gear very soon.
5. Eun-Hee Ji: Like Inbee Park at the end of 2009, she showed serious signs of putting the U.S. Women's Open jinx behind her towards the end of 2010. And like Hull, she put together some good starts Down Under to kick off the 2011 campaign. She's gotten 3 top 30s in her last 5 starts and has put up much better performance stats than last season across the board, so let's see what she's got in the LPGA's "put up or shut up" portion of the season.
Quantum Leap Candidates
6. Meena Lee: She's been driving for show and putting for dough this year on the LPGA, hitting over 60% of her fairways and making birdies at an astonishing 1.74 rate per green in regulation, so it shouldn't be that surprising that she went deep in the Sybase Match Play Championship and got a T6 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Still, I was surprised.
7. Jimin Kang: Her win in Malaysia, T28 in Korea, and T8 in Japan at the end of last season catapulted her past a lot of players and she's put up some good ballstriking stats this season, but between bad putting, "onebadrounditis" (exemplified by her Sunday 77 at the season's 1st major that almost dropped her out of the top 20), and an inability to build on good 2nd rounds, she only has 3 top 25s and no top 10s in her 10 starts in 2011.
8. Christina Kim: She got her putter going for a nice stretch there mid-way through last season, but hasn't been all that sharp this one despite it being a Solheim Cup year, with only 2 top 20s and no top 10s in her 10 starts. You have to go all the way back to her T6 last October in Malaysia to remind yourself of what she's capable of when she's playing well. The strange thing is, her driving accuracy is way up from last year and she's hitting her fair share of greens, so it's pretty clear the main problem is with her putting.
9. Stacy Prammanasudh: Even though she still hasn't gotten her driving accuracy back to where it was in 2004-2006, when she was hitting the fairway over 70% of the time, her putter's been more dependable this season and she's poised to start putting herself back in contention if she can improve her ballstriking. Unfortunately, after her opening 68 in the Wegmans LPGA Championship, she shot over par the next 3 rounds, each of which was worse than the previous one, so she's still stuck in that "one step forward, two steps back" mode and in serious danger of failing to make this year's Solheim Cup team.
10. Karen Stupples: She shot the round of the week on Sunday at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, a fantastic 65 on a day the pins were tucked and the players I watched were having trouble sinking their birdie putts, so you know she can go low. When she avoids "onebadrounditis," she gets top 10s and top 20s (she had 3 of the latter in a row in May and early June); when she doesn't, she has to settle for top 35s or miss the cut (which she did twice early in the season out west). She's one of the more accurate bombers on tour, so if she gets her approach shots and putting going in the same week, watch out for her!
On the Bottom, Looking Up
11. Michele Redman: She hasn't been the top 30 player she was from 2000-2005 for quite some time, but even in that less impressive stretch she's never finished worse than 65th on the money list and even ended 2009 ranked #44 on my Best of the LPGA ranking. Back in February 2010, I wrote that "I don't see any signs that she won't continue to add to her total of 76 career top 10s since she joined the LPGA in 1992, but at the slower pace she's set in 2006-2009, when she's averaged just over 1 per season." A T3 at the CVS salvaged her 2010 season and saved her 2011 card, but bad putting has kept her from cracking the top 30 thus far this season.
12. Jennifer Rosales: She was a top-30 caliber player from 2002-2005, when she notched her 2 wins and 17 of her 19 top 10s, but she hasn't broken into the top 10 since then. Between injuries and bad golf, she's been missing more cuts than she's made, yet still hanging onto her card. After making 11 of 16 cuts last season, she's relapsed this one, with her MC at the Wegmans LPGA Championship making it 5 in 7 starts. She did qualify for the U.S. Women's Open, so let's see if she can turn things around at the Broadmoor. The culprit this year has been terrible putting.
13. Ji Young Oh: It's looking more and more like my doubts in February 2010--"Somehow I can't believe that this Junior Mint has as promising a future on the LPGA as the other Young Guns on this list...."--were right on target. She's missed the cut in 6 of her 7 starts in 2011. The culprit appears to be her approach shots.
14. Janice Moodie: This 3-time Solheim Cupper has never lost her LPGA tour card, even when she gave birth in 2006 and played only 10 events. But she hasn't won since 2002 and has gotten only 5 of her 44 career top 10s in the last 6 seasons, so it's not like being a mom on tour hasn't taken its toll on her game. She didn't even start competing on the LPGA in 2011 until last month and as you'd expect has plenty of rust to scrape off her game but may not get a chance to play again on tour until August, unless she can somehow qualify for the Ricoh Women's British Open at Carnoustie.
15. Laura Diaz: She'd been a regular in the top 40 and on the Solheim Cup since 2000, and even had 2 consecutive top-10 seasons early last decade, but coming back from the birth of her daughter has proven quite difficult. She suffered easily the worst season of her LPGA career in 2009, when she couldn't find the fairways off the tee or the hole once she got to the green, and 2010 wasn't looking much better until she finished with a T5 at the LPGA Tour Championship. Unfortunately, her struggles have continued in 2011, as she's missed her last 3 cuts in a row and 4 in her 6 starts this season; once again, problems with her driver and putter are jeopardizing her career. Let's see if she can start turning things around at the Broadmoor.
On the Outside, Looking In
16. Jeong Jang: She's not going to be playing this year, as she's getting married and (if rumors are correct) having a baby.
17. Carin Koch: She notched 56 top 10s between 1995 and 2008, but only 2 wins--and at the Corning Classic and in Mexico (2 warning signs from my 1-time winners' ranking). But she moved back to Sweden in 2009 and has played only the 2 dual LPGA-LET events per season ever since. Don't get me wrong--she's often played well on the LET--but she's not giving herself many chances to add to her LPGA win total.
18. Gloria Park: A new mom, she's decided to play full-time at home in Korea, at least for the time being.
19. Patricia Meunier-Lebouc: It's looking like my guess in February 2010 that "she's almost ready to move on from her professional golf career, which dates back to 1994 on the LET" was pretty dead-on. She hasn't played a full season on the LPGA since 2008 and isn't even listed as a Ladies European Tour member this year.
20. Heather Daly-Donofrio: She joined the LPGA's Communications Department in 2009, the year after her last full season on tour, so while a comeback isn't out of the question, its odds are looking more and more remote.