Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Initial Thoughts on the LPGA's Class of 2012

LPGA.com has a (sometimes-badly-transcribed) list of the 33 members of the LPGA Class of 2012, the 1st members of what I'm calling for now the tour's "Prodigy" generation.  Here are some quick thoughts on how I'd categorize their short- and medium-term potential, irrespective of their place on next season's priority status list.

Potential Game-Changer

Lexi Thompson

This is a new category for me, comprising players who could step up in their rookie year and not only immediately join the tour's super-elite, but also bring new buzz to the LPGA because of the historic nature of their achievements.  Looking over my overviews of the rookie classes of 2006 through 2011, and particularly my pre-season prediction posts before their rookie years began, I'd say that only Ai Miyazato and Ji-Yai Shin came onto the LPGA with expectations as sky-high as those for Lexi Thompson, and only Michelle Wie brought as much buzz from the American golfy media as she has.  Even though Lexi's record before joining the LPGA is not nearly as impressive as Miyazato's and Shin's--both had more than proven themselves on their original home tours, the JLPGA and KLPGA, respectively, and Shin had 3 LPGA wins, including a major, before her rookie year actually began--still, given that Lexi's an awesomely-talented American teenager who earned her way onto the tour with an impressive win at the Navistar Classic, and given that she may yet avoid the growing pains and backlash that Wie has endured, there's a good chance that she may even live up to the hype surrounding her in 2012.  Like maybe 20%.  That's optimistic for me.  Of the 3 players in this category before Lexi, only Shin lived up to the hype in her rookie season.

Star Quality

So Yeon Ryu
Junthima Gulyanamitta
Sydnee Michaels
Carlota Ciganda
Danielle Kang

This is my usual top category, the place I put Jennifer Song and Hee Kyung Seo last year, Amanda Blumenherst, Azahara Munoz, and Pernilla Lindberg the year before, Stacy Lewis, Shiho Oyama, and Vicky Hurst in 2009, and Momoko Ueda, Hee Young Park, Ya Ni Tseng, and Na Yeon Choi in 2008.  If I had been doing that sort of thing for the Class of 2007 back when I 1st started LPGA blogging, I'd like to think I would have identified Song-Hee Kim, Eun-Hee Ji, and Jane Park, and maybe In-Kyung Kim and Inbee Park, while for the Class of 2006, I would hope I'd have put Morgan Pressel and Brittany Lang and maybe even Seon Hwa Lee in it.  In other words, it's where I put my top prospects from other tours (including the Futures Tour) and from the NCAA.

Scary-Good Kids

Victoria Tanco
Stephanie Kono
Sandra Changkija
Mitsuki Katahira
Hannah Yun
Jane Rah
Cydney Clanton
Maude-Aimee Leblanc
Lizette Salas

This is the category in which I place super-talented young golfers whom I think may take a little bit of time to rise to the level of LPGA competition but who nevertheless have great shots at earning their 2013 cards via the top 80 of the 2012 money list.  It may not happen for all of them--Jessica Korda from 2011, Pernilla Lindberg from 2010, Mindy Kim from 2009, Amy Yang from 2008,  and Song-Hee Kim and Jane Park from 2007 are probably the most prominent recent examples of hot young things who struggled in their rookie seasons--but it should happen for more than half of them.  And any of them could contend for top honors in their class in the long run.

Raised Expectations Elsewhere

Kathleen Ekey
Rebecca Lee-Bentham
Patcharajutar Kongkraphan
Thidapa Suwannapura
Jacqui Concolino

This is the category in which I place Futures Tour standouts whom I can't justify placing in a higher category, along with players who did really well on other developmental tours, at Q-School, or both.  It's hard to tell whether they just peaked at the right time or whether they'll build in 2012 on their earlier successes.  But they each have a decent shot of making the top 100 on the LPGA money list and avoiding Q-School in 2012.  And some may surprise on the upside.  If enough of them turn out to be good enough to keep on keeping their LPGA cards over the next 5 years, this may end up being the deepest class in recent tour history.

Something of a Surprise

Valentine Derrey
Tzu-Chi Lin
Hanna Kang
Mo Martin
Elisa Serramia
Veronica Felibert
Juliana Murcia Ortiz
Karlin Beck
Min Seo Kwak
Mi Hyang Lee
Kirby Dreher
Katy Harris
Lacey Agnew

These are the players who, frankly speaking, I didn't expect to be in this rookie class.  I hate to say it, but odds are most of them will have to prove themselves in next year's Q-School all over again.  I hope they prove me wrong!


diane said...

Karlin Beck joined the Futures Tour in 2011 after graduating from Auburn University. She was in the group for which I drove cart on Sunday at the Teva Championship. She was easily the most impressive of the eight players I had that week. She may not stick on the LPGA in her first try, but I have no doubt we'll be seeing more of her in years to come.

The Constructivist said...

Great perspective, Diane. Could easily happen. But she's got a lot of work to do to stay on the LPGA short- and medium-term. I don't think only 67 people from all the other rookie classes will make the top 100 on the 2012 money list so easily accessible to all 33 members of Beck's rookie class! When even #1 players on the FT have struggled to keep their cards at times, you can certainly see why I'm skeptical about the players in Beck's category.

Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

Great job. I was fooling around with that myself and the only major difference is I rated Ekay higher.

Keep in mind that last year, both Ryann O'Toole and Caroline Hedwall were category 20 rookies. You never know will surprise.

Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

Actually, if I may correct myself, O'Toole was a category 17 not 20.

The Constructivist said...

Yah, that's why I did the list w/o regard for what categories people are in for next year!

Awsi Dooger said...

Ekey vs. Michaels is an interesting question. I was surprised they were in different categories.

Both have star quality, IMO. I suppose Michaels is a safer bet since she's been a top tier player longer, starting on UCLA's very deep team and often rated higher than anyone on that squad.

The stats are so similar. That's what jumped out at me when I looked at the Futures Tour numbers all year. Ekey and Michaels each drive 254 yards on average and both make roughly 3.5 birdies per round, breaking par the same percentage of the time, slightly less than half their rounds. Ekey is better in driving accuracy and greens in regulation, hitting a very impressive 80.8% of greens last year. Michaels had a slightly better scoring average, 71.2 to 71.3.

If both connect, Ekey will be more popular. Someone on a major golf website described her as Natalie Gulbis Jr. several months ago, and I didn't think that was far off. Southern charm to boot.

The Constructivist said...

Yeah, but Michaels got her card in half a season. Whi's to say Ekey won't be like Dori Carter or Jean Reynolds?

BTW, there are 70 active players in earlier rookie years I featured in my generation gaps/top rivalries post today:


Awsi Dooger said...

Half a season? I agree Ekey has more potential to regress but the half season comment makes no sense. Ekey and Michaels played EXACTLY the same 16 event schedule. Michaels was DQed in one tournament so she didn't post a score, otherwise it's a direct comparison.

Ekey is the one who essentially played half a season because she had her 2012 card wrapped up very early. I sensed she coasted a little bit late in the year.

Michaels was nowhere until the final four weeks, not even threatening advancement. So I guess it can be argued she indeed only played half a schedule, similar to a stretch running horse who never earns a mention until the final strides.

The Constructivist said...

Sorry, I read somewhere Michaels only played 7 events. My bad!

I'm beginning to think I shortchanged Ekey. And maybe overrated Michaels. Time will tell. And I get another shot at this when I come out with my ROY predictions where I do take into account placement on the priority status list....

WooIsMe said...

The Golfweek Sagarin ratings are no help here. They overweight ratings for beating up weaker fields. I looked there for guidance and found this:

#72 Mo Martin
#107 Kathleen Ekey
#118 Lexi Thompson

The Constructivist said...

They're based on year's worth of performances, so Lexi is hurt by her inconsistency over so few events. She'll move on up pretty quickly next year! My list is based less on past performance than future promise, so I didn't even look at rankings....