It has been nearly four months, and eleven tournaments, since I last took a look at the most pleasant surprises and biggest disappointments of the 2011 LPGA season. Many changes have occurred since then. Azahara Munoz and Hee Young Park were on my disappointment list back then, but strong late-season play certainly turned their seasons around. I am going to limit this to six players in each category, though I know that I could have added more.
Let's take a look: (based only on LPGA play):
1- Sandra Gal - This was a tough decision for me. I picked Sandra because out of all the pleasant surprises, this was the one I thought was most unexpected. Who can forget her 9 Iron shot on the 72nd hole, which led to a birdie and a Kia Classic Victory? She also had 4 other top-10 finishes. Last year she finished 67th on the money list; this year she finished 20th.
2- Stacy Lewis - What a year Stacy had. She finished 2nd in the Rolex Player of the Year Ranking. Why don't I have her number one? Only because I always knew she would become an elite player. I just didn't expect this big a jump this year. Stacy's 12 top tens were only exceeded by Yani Tseng's 14. Last year she was number 21 on the money list; this year she was number 4.
3- Ryann O'Toole - A priority list Category 20 rookie, you would think she would never have had a chance. Ryann fooled us all by making the most of her few early opportunities. Her strong year started when she went out and successfully qualified for the U.S. Open. She turned all our heads when she finished 9th. She would later have a top-5 finish at the Safeway Classic, which led to her getting picked for the U.S. Solheim Cup Team. She did them solid, with a 2-0-2 record.
4- Tiffany Joh - A priority list Category 16 rookie, she came into the season with a bit more expectations then Ryann. Without a doubt, the funniest girl on the tour. If you haven't heard her sing, you must go to You Tube and check out her videos. She isn't a bad golfer, either. Her 2nd-place finish to Lexi Thompson at the Navistar Classic was the highlight of her season. Finishing #41 on the money list, she is a future star.
5- Katie Futcher - Katie spent most of her first 5 seasons struggling to maintain her full-time status. That certainly was not the case this year. She finished in the top 15 in 3 of the 4 major championships. Jumping from #63 to #30 on the money list, she earned this spot.
6- So Yeon Ryu - I said this was based exclusively on LPGA results. I didn't say it couldn't include a non-LPGA player. She gets on here for one reason, and one reason alone: she won the United States Open. Assuming she decides to play on the LPGA tour next season, she may very well become an elite player on tour very quickly.
Honorable mentions - Karen Stupples, Catriona Matthew, and Caroline Hedwall.
1- Song-Hee Kim - I wish all my decisions were this easy. Was she the worst player on tour? No, she wasn't, but she sure was the most disappointing. Last year she was ranked eighth on the Rolex Player of the Year Rankings. This year she finished 35th. Last year she led the tour with 15 top ten finishes (that is one more than Yani had this year); this year she had two. I could go on, but you get the picture.
2- Jee Young Lee - Last year she was number 19 on the money list, this year she finished 116th. She only made 5 of 15 cuts. Her best finish was tied for 33rd at the Sybase Championship, and that was for getting eliminated in the first round.
3- Gwladys Nocera - Always a solid player, it is hard to explain her missing 8 of 15 cuts. She was number 37 on last year's money list. This year she fell to number 86.
4- Christina Kim - She was just a shell of herself in 2011. Did not have a single top-ten finish. She fell from number 26 on last year's money list to number 58.
5- Vicky Hurst - One of the biggest hitters on the tour, she has yet to live up to her expectations. She was a captain's pick for the Solheim Team, but I am not sure why. Playing in 22 tournaments, she had just one top-10 finish. Last year she raised some hopes by finishing number 28 on the money list. This year she has certainly lowered my expectations by finishing number 45.
6- Seon Hwa Lee - She never got on track this year. Missing 7 cuts, she dropped from number 42 to number 71 on the money list.
Dishonorable mentions - Laura Davies, Birdie Kim, and Na On Min.