Monday, November 28, 2011

Final Check On My Top 30 Predictions

Way back in February, before the first LPGA tournament was played, the Constructivist asked us to predict the top 30 players for the coming year. Since the season is over, and I haven't seen anyone else analyze their picks, let me be the first.

1- Na Yeon Choi - Wasn't quite as good as she was in 2010. She still finished 3rd in the Rolex Player of the year race. It wasn't that bad a miss.

2- Ji-Yai Shin - A big miss here. I know she played through some injuries, but a 20th place finish was not what I expected.

3- Suzann Petterson - I was real close here, she finished tied for 4th.

4- Paula Creamer - Seemed she did everything but win. Her actual finish was tied for 8th.

5- Yani Tseng - When the season started, she was part of a bunch of players fighting for the top. Who knew she would dominate like she did? At least I had her top five.

6- Cristie Kerr - I was close here, as she tied for 4th.

7- Song-Hee Kim - I dare anyone to tell me they saw this coming. Finishing 35th, she was invisible the entire season.

8- Ai Miyazato - Her season just seemed worse than it actually was. She finished #11, so I wasn't far off.

9- I.K. Kim - Didn't think this big talent could go the whole year without a win. That is exactly what happened. She finished #13.

10- Michelle Wie - Please get rid of the Belly Putter. She finished 17th.

11- Mika Miyazato - Did we actually ever see her in prime time coverage this year? I'm guessing not many times, as her 24th place finish tells us.

12- Morgan Pressel - Small off the tee, but big on heart. Morgan finished #10.

13- Hee Kyung Seo - Maybe I expected a little too much, after all she did win the rookie of the year award. Her actual finish was 21st.

14- Brittany Lincicome - Changing her caddie certainly seemed to spark her. Her two victories led her to a 6th place finish.

15- Amy Yang - Was right on here. She finished 14th.

16- Angela Stanford - Her tying for 8th, makes me look bad.

17- Anna Nordqvist - Played much better in the second half of the season, and rose to 22nd.

18- Stacy Lewis - She finished #25 in 2010. I thought I was doing her solid by picking her this high. Tell me the truth, how many people expected her to finish #2?

19- Brittany Lang - Hard to believe she still has never won. She did finish #16.

20- Inbee Park - Not a good year, she made me look bad by finishing 30th.

21- Karrie Webb - I missed big here. She won twice early, and then vanished. She still finished 7th.

22- Amanda Blumenherst - Sometimes I pick with my heart, and not my head. Improved slightly in her second season, but finished 56th.

23- Vicky Hurst - I keep waiting for this bomber to live up to her potential. A 43rd place finish was not what I expected.

24- Karine Icher - Her maternity leave, gives me a pass on this one.

25- Azuhara Munoz - You can pat me on the back for this one. She finished 25th.

26- Beatriz Recari - Sophomore jinx? Didn't have a single player of the year point.

27- Natalie Gulbis - Maybe I should start looking at her golf. A consistent top 50 money list achiever, I rated her way too high.

28- Christina Kim - Wasn't a good year if your name was Kim (see I.K. and Song-Hee). Christina didn't have a single player of the year point.

29- Hee Young Park - Her season ending victory placed her 19th for the year.

30- Belen Mozo - I wanted to put a long shot in this position. It turned out I did, as she finished 43rd.

Now that I have embarrassed myself, by actually showing these results. I would like to see some of the others who played, show theirs.

Rolex Mover of the Week:
Mi-Jeong-Jeon - Moves from #34 to #28.

JLPGA and LPGA Q-School Previews

With the Final Qualifying Tournaments for both the JLPGA and LPGA starting this week, I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the fields for the last stage of Q-School on each tour.

I'll begin with the big news from the JLPGA:  Ai Miyazato (who was just profiled by Lisa Mickey on, Hee Young Park, Meena Lee, and Harukyo Nomura finished outside the top 50 on the 2011 money list but are not playing this week, which most likely means that they will not be dual LPGA-JLPGA members in 2012--unless the JLPGA makes some kind of exception for Miyazato (who after all has 15 career wins on tour) and/or Nomura (who won as a non-member this year in her 1st start on tour as a professional).  I'm guessing that with Miho Koga retiring, #51 on the money list Midori Yoneyama will take her spot, but it's possible she's also retiring, as she isn't playing this week, either.  (In fact, nobody between #51 and #54 is playing--not quite sure what that means.)  It doesn't appear that any big stars from the LPGA, KLPGA, or LET will be trying to join the JLPGA for the 1st time in 2012, either.

OK, enough about who won't be playing in Shizuoka this week.  Who will?  Probably the biggest names in the field belong to Mie Nakata and Erina Hara.  Nakata's been on tour for over a decade but finished this season by making only 2 cuts in her last 16 starts; Hara was one of the young stars of the JLPGA when she joined the tour at age 19 in 2007 and continued to shine brightly in her next 2 seasons, but this is now the 2nd year in a row she has to go to Q-School to try to keep her card.  Nakata and Hara will be joined by fellow veterans Yuko Saitoh, Ikuyo Shiotani, Chie Sakai, Toshimi Kimura, Rie Murata, Mayumi Shimomura, Megumi Shimokawa, Julie Lu, Ya-Huei Lu, Nana Akahori, Kaori Harada, Yuko Fukuda, and Yoshimi Koda, among the many others fighting to rejoin the tour in 2012.  But I'm more interested in the new talent trying to make it on tour for the 1st time--like Aoi Nagata, Porani Chutichai, Da E Na, and a host of Chinese youngsters--or give themselves another chance to get their fledgling careers off the ground--like Yuki Ichinose, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, Erika Kikuchi, Satsuki Oshiro, Tao-Li Yang, Sakurako Mori, Miki Sakai, and Aiko Ueno.

How does LPGA Q-School stack up?  Pretty darn good.  There's a broader range of Asian players in the field, including Mitsuki Katahira, Junko Nakada, and Ayako Kaneko from Japan (Samantha Richdale and Shayna Miyajima are of Japanese descent, as well), Jean Chua from Malaysia, Junthima Gulyanamitta, Patcharajutar Kongkraphan, and Thidapa Suwannapura from Thailand, Yu-Ling Hsieh, Tzu-Chi Lin, and Peiyun Chien from Taiwan, Vietnamese-America Brianna Do, and of course a host of Koreans and Korean-Americans, headed by Danielle Kang, Christine Song, Birdie Kim, Stephanie Kono, Jimin Jeong, Hannah Yun, Hannah Jun, Angela Oh, Kimberly Kim, Esther Choe, Stephanie Kim, Misun Cho, Hanna Kang, Jenny Suh, and Jennie Lee.  There are several good Australians and New Zealanders, from Kristie Smith to Stephanie Na to Julia Boland to Emma De Groot to Cathryn Bristow.  There are a lot of impressive Spanish speakers, from Carlota Ciganda and Mariajo Uribe to Sophia Sheridan and Lili Alvarez, from Paola Moreno and Juliana Murcia Ortiz to Lizette Salas and Victoria Tanco, from Veronica Felibert and Alejandra Llaneza to Macarena Silva and Anya Sarai Alvarez (just to name a few).  Europe is well represented not only by Ciganda and countrywoman Elisa Serramia, but also Minea Blomqvist, Jodi Ewart, Benedikte Grotvedt, Valentine Derrey, and Camilla Lennarth.  Closer to home, Richdale is joined by many other Canadians, including Maude-Aimee Leblanc, Izzy Beisiegel, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Angela Buzminski, Lisa Meldrum, Adrienne White, Stephanie Sherlock, and Sue Kim.  And of course there are a bunch more Americans than the ones I've already listed who have a chance to win this thing, including Alison Fouch (now Duncan), Nicole Hage, Meredith Duncan, Sara Brown, Cydney Clanton, Natalie Sheary, Jaclyn Sweeney, Mallory Blackwelder, Ginger Howard, Jacqui Concolino, Leah Wigger, Jean Reynolds, and Dori Carter.

Bottom line is, when you look at the long list of developmental tour winners this year, LPGA Q-School has JLPGA Q-School beat, hands-down.  If I had to pick a handful or 2 of favorites in Florida, I'd say to look out for Minea Blomqvist, Kristie Smith, Carlota Ciganda, Mariajo Uribe, Mitsuki Katahira, Junthima Gulyanamitta, Danielle Kang, Christine Song, Victoria Tanco, and Hannah Yun, but there are so many players in their league or close to it coming in with pretty hot hands that I frankly don't see any of them as real locks.  All I can say is it's a good thing LET Q-School comes so late (January 2012!), as there's going to be a large number of very good golfers who won't get LPGA membership come Sunday.

[Update 1 (11/29/11, 12:36 am):  Looking back over my final LPGA Q-School stage 2 post, I was surprised to see that Carlota Ciganda and several others who are in the field this week were originally slated as missing the cut.  Suggests to me that a good number of LPGAers who didn't make the top 100 on the money list elected not to enter the Final Qualifying Tournament.  I knew Moira Dunn was among them, but now I'm wondering how many and who joined her....]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The 2011 Women's Worldwide Professional Golf Schedule and Results

With the close of the LPGA and JLPGA seasons, it's about time I provided a cleaned-up version (from September's) of the LPGA's, JLPGA's, KLPGA's, and LET's 2011 schedules and most recent winners.

Note: A [D] following a player's name indicates that she is the defending champion of a tournament that has not yet been completed.


17-19: Hyundai China Ladies Open (KLPGA/CLPGA) HYE YOUN KIM


3-6: ISPS HANDA Women's Australian Open (LET/ALPG) YA NI TSENG

10-13: ANZ RACV Ladies Masters (LET/ALPG) YA NI TSENG

17-20: Honda LPGA Thailand (LPGA) YA NI TSENG; Pegasus New Zealand Women's Open (LET/ALPG) KRISTIE SMITH

24-27: HSBC Women's Champions (LPGA) KARRIE WEBB

MARCH 2011

4-6: Daikin Orchid Ladies Open (JLPGA) INBEE PARK

18-20: RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup (LPGA) [new event] KARRIE WEBB

24-27: Kia Classic (LPGA) SANDRA GAL

31-4/3: Kraft Nabisco Championship (LPGA major) STACY LEWIS; Lalla Meryem Cup (LET) ZUZANA KAMASOVA

APRIL 2011

14-17: LOTTE Mart Ladies Open (KLPGA) HYUN HWA SHIM; European Nations Cup (LET team event) SWEDEN
15-17: Nishijin Ladies Classic (JLPGA) YURI FUDOH

22-24: Fujisankei Ladies Classic (JLPGA) KUMIKO KANEDA; Hyundai E&C Seokyung Ladies Open (KLPGA) HA NEUL KIM

28-5/1: Avnet LPGA Classic (LPGA) MARIA HJORTH
29-5/1: Cyber Agent Ladies Cup (JLPGA) YURI FUDOH

MAY 2011

5-8: Salonpas Cup (JLPGA major) SUN-JU AHN; Turkish Airlines Turkish Ladies Open (LET) CHRISTEL BOELJON

12-15: Taeyoung Cup Korean Women's Open (KLPGA major) YEON JOO JEONG
13-15: Fundokin Ladies (JLPGA) MIKI SAIKI; ISPS Handa Portugal Ladies Open (LET) ASHLEIGH SIMON

19-22: Sybase Match Play Championship (LPGA) SUZANN PETTERSEN; Unicredit Ladies German Open (LET) DIANA LUNA
20-22: Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open (JLPGA) HARUKYO NOMURA; Rush & Cash Charity Classic (KLPGA) SUNG HYUN LEE

26-29: Doosan Match Play Championship (KLPGA) SOO-JIN YANG; Ladies Slovak Open (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL
27-29: Yonex Ladies (JLPGA) HIROMI MOGI

JUNE 2011

3-5: ShopRite LPGA Classic (LPGA) BRITTANY LINCICOME; Resort Trust Ladies Open (JLPGA) SAKURA YOKOMINE; Woori Investment & Securities Ladies Championship (KLPGA) SUL AH YOON; Deloitte Dutch Ladies Open (LET) MELISSA REID

9-12: LPGA State Farm Classic (LPGA) YA NI TSENG; Suntory Ladies Open (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN
10-12: Tenerife Ladies Match Play (LET) BECKY BREWERTON; Lotte Cantata Women's Open SBS Tour (KLPGA) SO YEON RYU

16-19: Deutsche Bank Ladies Swiss Open (LET) DIANA LUNA
17-19: Nichirei PGM Ladies (JLPGA) JI-HEE LEE; S-OIL Champions Invitational (KLPGA) MI RIM LEE

23-26: Wegmans LPGA Championship (LPGA major) YA NI TSENG

30-7/2 Finnair Ladies Masters (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL

JULY 2011

1-3: Nichi-Iko Ladies Open (JLPGA) AYAKO UEHARA

7-10: U.S. Women's Open (LPGA major) SO YEON RYU

15-17: Stanley Ladies (JLPGA) CHIE ARIMURA

21-24: Evian Masters (LPGA limited-field event/LET major) AI MIYAZATO

26-20: Stage 1 (LPGA Q-School) LEXI THOMPSON
28-31: Ricoh Women's British Open (LPGA/LET major) YA NI TSENG
29-31: SBS Tour Hidden Valley Ladies Open (KLPGA) HYUN MIN PYUN


5-7: Meiji Chocolate Cup (JLPGA) SHANSHAN FENG; Ladies Irish Open (LET) SUZANN PETTERSEN

12-14: NEC Karuizawa 72 Ladies (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN

17-19: Stage 1 (JLPGA Q-School) YANG PAN RED [?] (District B)
18-20: Aberdeen Ladies Scottish Open (LET) CATRIONA MATTHEW
18-21: Nefs Masterpiece (KLPGA) JUNG EUN LEE 5

24-26: Stage 1 (JLPGA Q-School) YUSHU YAO XUAN (District A), XIE LING ? (District C)
25-28: CN Canadian Women's Open (LPGA) BRITTANY LINCICOME
26-28: Nitori Ladies Cup (JLPGA) RITSUKO RYU; LIG Ladies Classic (KLPGA) HYUN HEE MOON


1-4: Hanhwa Finance Network Open (KLPGA) NA YEON CHOI
2-4: Golf5 Ladies (JLPGA) LI-YING YE; UNIQA Ladies Golf Open (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL

8-11: Konica Minolta Cup (JLPGA major) YUKO MITSUKA; Prague Golf Masters (LET) JADE SCHAEFFER
9-11: Walmart NW Arkansas Championship (LPGA) YA NI TSENG

15-18: Navistar LPGA Classic (LPGA) LEXI THOMPSON; Open de Espana Femenino (LET) MELISSA REID
16-18: Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic (JLPGA) MAYU HATTORI

22-25: MetLife Hankyung KLPGA Championship (KLPGA major) HJ CHOI
23-25: Solheim Cup (LPGA/LET team competition) EUROPE; Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open (JLPGA) SHANSHAN FENG

27-30: Stage 2 (LPGA Q-School) GINGER HOWARD
29-10/2: Japan Women's Open (JLPGA major) YUKARI BABA; Lacoste Open de France Feminin (LET) FELICITY JOHNSON
30-10/2: Daewoo Securities Ladies Open (KLPGA) YU NA PARK


7-9: LPGA Hana Bank Championship (LPGA/KLPGA) YA NI TSENG; Sankyo Ladies Open (JLPGA) SUN-JU AHN; Sicilian Ladies Italian Open (LET) CHRISTINA KIM

13-16: Hite/Jinro Cup Championship (KLPGA major) HA NEUL KIM
14-16: Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia (LPGA) NA YEON CHOI; Fujitsu Ladies (JLPGA) SAIKI FUJITA

20-23: Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship (LPGA) YA NI TSENG
21-23: Masters GC Ladies (JLPGA) SHIHO OYAMA; Sanya Ladies Open (LET/CLPGA) FRANCES BONDAD

27-30: 2011 KB Star Tour Grand Final (KLPGA major) AMY YANG
28-30: Hisako Higuchi Morinaga Weider Ladies (JLPGA) CHIE ARIMURA; Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open (LET/CLPGA) YA NI TSENG


2-4: Stage 2 (JLPGA Q-School) DA E NA (Kyoto); YA-HUEI LU (Ibaraki); MEGUMI SHIMOKAWA (Gunma); MAMI FUKUDA (Mie)
4-6: Mizuno Classic (LPGA/JLPGA) MOMOKO UEDA; EDaily Kim Young Joo (KYJ) Golf Ladies Open (KLPGA) HA NEUL KIM

10-13: Lorena Ochoa Invitational (LPGA) CATRIONA MATTHEW
11-13: Ito-En Ladies (JLPGA) ASAKO FUJIMOTO

17-20: CME Group Titleholders (LPGA) HEE YOUNG PARK
18-20: Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies (JLPGA) JI-HEE LEE; ADT CAPS Championship 2011 (KLPGA) YOUNG-RAN JO

22-24: Stage 3 (JLPGA Q-School) MAYUMI SHIMOMURA (Ibaraki); YUKO FUKUDA (Mie)
24-27: Ricoh Cup (JLPGA major) MI-JEONG JEON

29-12/2: Final Qualifying Tournament (JLPGA Q-School) ERINA HARA
30-12/4: Final Qualifying Tournament (LPGA Q-School) JUNTHIMA GULYANAMITTA


9-11: Hero Women's Indian Open (LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL

14-17: Omega Dubai Ladies Masters (LET) LEXI THOMPSON


8-11: Pre-Qualifying Tournament (LET Q-School) ESTHER CHOE (Group A); HANNAH BURKE (Group B)

15-19: Final Qualifying Tournament (LET Q-School) JODI EWART


I'll add in dates and results for the KLPGA's Q-School when I find them.

Ricoh Cup Overview: Mi-Jeong Jeon Goes Wire-to-Wire for 17th JLPGA Win of Her Career

It took all season, but Mi-Jeong Jeon secured her 1st win of 2011 in the last event on the JLPGA schedule, the Ricoh Cup, going wire-to-wire for her 17th career victory on tour. 

Jeon opened with a 68 on Thursday; despite closing with 3 bogeys in her last 5 holes, she was the only player in the elite field to break 70 and found herself with a 2-shot lead on Inbee Park and a 3-shot lead on Ji-Yai Shin.  She finished weakly again on Friday, with another 3 bogeys in her last 5 holes that forced her to settle for a 72, but Shin fell back with a 74 and Park ballooned to a 77, leaving fellow Koreans Bo-Bae Song and Sun-Ju Ahn, who both fired 69s, to take their places 2 and 3 shots behind Jeon, respectively.  On moving day, a bogey-free 33 on the back allowed Jeon to extend her lead on Song to 3 shots, while a sizzling 66 by Chie Arimura brought her within 5 and Rui Kitada and Yuri Fudoh moved within 4 thanks to a 68 and a 69, respectively.  And today Jeon held steady despite a bogey-free 69 from Ahn and a bogey-free 70 from Song; 2 birdies in her last 6 holes were all she needed to hold onto a 2-stroke victory over Song and a 4-shot margin on Ahn, Ji-Hee Lee, and Junko Omote.

It was a great week for the "Korean Power Wave" on the JLPGA; all 8 Koreans in the field finished in the top 15, ahead of the likes of Miki Saiki, Ayako Uehara, Saiki Fujita, and Yukari Baba, not to mention perennial heavy hitters like Shiho Oyama (+10), Sakura Yokomine and Momoko Ueda (+12)--and even the promising youngster Harukyo Nomura (+14).  With Shanshan Feng making the top 10, international players outnumbered Omote, Arimura, Fudoh, and Kitada.

Ahn's clinching the money-list title last week took some of the drama out of the final event of the year, but even so the 25-million yen purse allowed Jeon to extend her top-6 streak to 6-straight seasons, Lee to break the 100-million yen barrier for the 2nd time in her career, and, even with Arimira passing her for 3rd, Yokomine to extend her top-4 streak to 7-straight seasons.  Here's how the 2011 JLPGA money list ended up:

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥127.93M
2. Ji-Hee Lee ¥102.32M
3. Chie Arimura ¥88.69M
4. Sakura Yokomine ¥87.30M
5. Yukari Baba ¥76.29M
6. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥67.78M
7. Shanshan Feng ¥67.14M
8. Miki Saiki ¥62.73M
9. Yuri Fudoh ¥60.52M
10. Ritsuko Ryu ¥57.56M
11. Bo-Bae Song ¥55.22M
12. Shiho Oyama ¥52.17M
13. Mayu Hattori ¥50.79M
14. Asako Fujimoto ¥50.03M
15. Saiki Fujita ¥48.16M
16. Ayako Uehara ¥45.85M
17. Rui Kitada ¥45.70M
18. Junko Omote ¥40.14M
19. Kumiko Kaneda ¥38.495M
20. Hiromi Mogi ¥37.88M
21. Rikako Morita ¥36.33M
22. Momoko Ueda ¥35.71M
23. Na-Ri Kim ¥35.68M
24. Ji-Woo Lee ¥29.97M
25. Yuko Mitsuka ¥29.37M
26. Li-Ying Ye ¥28.38M
27. Akane Iijima ¥28.14M
28. Na-Ri Lee ¥27.10M
29. Inbee Park ¥26.86M
30. Kaori Aoyama ¥26.66M
31. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥26.62M
32. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥24.40M
33. Teresa Lu ¥24.39M
34. Young Kim ¥23.67M
35. Esther Lee ¥23.59M
36. Akiko Fukushima ¥23.25M
37. Eun-A Lim ¥22.59M
38. Soo-Yun Kang ¥21.90M
39. Eun-Bi Jang ¥21.05M
40. Bo-Mee Lee ¥19.15M
41. Shinobu Moromizato ¥18.64M
42. Yumiko Yoshida ¥18.17M
43. Kaori Ohe ¥17.38M
44. Nikki Campbell ¥17.07M
45. Nachiyo Ohtani ¥16.86M
46. Tamie Durdin ¥16.85M
47. Miho Koga ¥16.64M
48. Ji-Yai Shin ¥16.61M
49. Megumi Kido ¥16.07M
50. So-Hee Kim ¥15.78M

All these players automatically keep their cards for 2012, including Ji-Yai Shin, who moved into the top 50 (barely) in her 7th start on tour.  With Harukyo Nomura at #64, Ai Miyazato at #71, Hee Young Park at  #88, and Meena Lee at #96, I'm very curious to see who will be playing in the final stage of Q-School next week.

For more on Jeon's win, head on over to Fairways and Forehands--bangkokbobby has plenty of photos and the final leaderboard in its entirety!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tim Maitland Looks Ahead to the 2012 Showdown in Singapore

Why the #1s?
Tim Maitland
The HSBC Women's Champions returns to Singapore in February, with LPGA legend Karrie Webb defending the title as the latest name in a roll of honour that is almost unrivalled in recent years. Tim Maitland talks to the stars of the women's game to work out why the event has only ever been won by the best of the best.
Lorena Ochoa, at her most dominant, finished streets ahead of a returning Annika Sorenstam in 2008. A year later Jiyai Shin lifted the trophy at the start of her “rookie” season (she won three LPGA events as a non-member in 2008, including a Major), as part of a relentless charge that would make her the third number one in the history of the official rankings. In 2010, Ai Miyazato held the same silverware and shortly afterwards held the number one ranking, too. Then came Karrie, who by the age of 25 had already qualified for the World Golf Hall of Fame and who, but for the Rolex Rankings only being introduced in 2006, was a number one in everything but name.
Has any other tournament consistently crowned such worthy champions in this time span? It's a question that prompts plenty of head scratching.
“Maybe Kraft is one?” ponders current world number one Yani Tseng of Taiwan.
“The British Open?” she asks, cracking up laughing because her main motivation for mentioning it is the fact that she's won it the past two seasons.
Of the Majors, the Ricoh Women's British Open might be the nearest comparison to the HSBC Women's Champions roll of honour, with Yani winning in 2011 and 2010 while Jiyai claimed it in 2008, but 2009 champion Catriona Matthew might be the first to point out that she doesn't quite belong in the conversation if we're talking about the greats in the game. The same applies for Stacy Lewis and Brittany Lincicome, winners of the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2011 and 2009 respectively, in between wins for Yani (2010) and Lorena (2008). The LPGA Championship also comes close with Cristie Kerr in 2010 and Yani in 2011 and 2008, but 2009 winner Anna Nordqvist hasn’t yet thrust her name into the highest echelon.
New to Major status next year, the Evian Masters won by Ai, Jiyai and Ai in the past three years comes close, and another of the Asian Spring Swing--the Honda LPGA Thailand--also belong in the conversation, with Yani, Ai and Lorena its most recent champions.
One can talk oneself around in circles debating the argument. The certainty is that in short order the HSBC Women's Champions has become something special.
“It's one of the best tournaments we ever play!” is Yani's take.
“I think the HSBC event is the biggest LPGA event in Asia!” is Jiyai Shin's verdict.
“It's great from when we first arrive to when we leave. We get looked after very, very well. We stay in great hotels, there’s great hospitality and we play on a great challenging golf course!” declares Karrie, who has certainly earned the right to talk about greatness.
“We'd like it like that every week,” the Queensland legend adds.
Yani, like Webb, expands on her statement by citing the overall package of the tournament week, rather than purely the golf.
“It's a good one. They're all the best players in the world challenging that week. It's always very tough to win that tournament. You have to play so well to be among the great players, which is fun. It doesn't matter what your score is; it's always very enjoyable in Singapore, the hospitality there. And you know I love Singapore; I have so many good friends there. I always look forward to going back. I have so much fun and have so many good friends come,” says Tseng, last year's double Major champion, seven-time winner and Player of the Year on the LPGA with 11 total wins worldwide.
Jiyai meanwhile backs up her description of the event being Asia's best with the following explanation: “All the events are very important, but it feels like a really big tournament. It's a beautiful course and a nice city. The tournament is early in the season, and when you win it feels like a good start and it gives you confidence at the beginning of the season, too.”
Roll of Honour
The first sign that something unusual was happening in Singapore was, perhaps, when Ai Miyazato declared eight months after her 2010 win that it was “an honour” to have added her name to a list of winners that had only two others on it. At the time she was speaking as the reigning world number one.
Karrie Webb is the youngest member of an exclusive club of five other legends to have won the LPGA’s Career Grand Slam of Majors, joining Louise Suggs (1957), Mickey Wright (1962), Pat Bradley (1986), Juli Inkster (1999) and Annika Sorenstam (2003). Yet the Aussie is unswerving when asked whether joining the HSBC Women's Champions roll of honour registered with her.
“Definitely!” says the Aussie.
“It's a quality field there. Anytime you win with that sort of field--you can win an event another time of the year and not every one of those players is there--when you win with that quality of field: I held off Yani at the end and since then she has completely dominated the tour. She's done it for two years, really, but I take a lot of pride in that.”
What's interesting is it's hard to put a tag on the Singapore winners, beyond the fact that they have all been at the very top of the women's game. As Jiyai Shin explains, it doesn't seem to be the style of the player, more just the ability to play at a world-class level for four demanding days.
“Ai and me, we're a pretty similar game type. Karrie plays quite safely and Lorena plays aggressively, so we're all a little different. The LPGA Tour has a lot of long hitters and the course is pretty long, but you need consistency. It's got really narrow fairways, lots of bunkers, pretty tough greens: it's a good course for consistent players,” Shin says of the highly regarded Tanah Merah Country Club's Garden Course.
The runners-up over the years also defy a stereotype as golfers, but do have a common trait. Chie Arimura, who fought Webb all the way last year, is described by caddies on the Japan tour as mentally tougher than any other player out there. Cristie Kerr, runner-up to Ai in 2010, happily calls herself as “a scrapper, a mudder and a grinder. Annika needs no introduction, while Katherine Hull, pipped by Shin in 2009, thrives in a battle.
“I agree, they're tough players,” says Shin.
“They're all good players. They all hit good iron shots and have good control over their second shots. They really focus only on their own game.”
What's Luck Got to Do with It?
While the tournament doesn't seem to favour any particular aspect of the game--despite the length of Tanah Merah, it certainly can't be described as a long hitter's haven--there is a consensus that it does bring out the best from the best.
“I think so. You have to have good skill and a good mentality to win the tournament. You can't be lucky and win that tournament; you have to play good for four whole days,” says Tseng.
Her statement, that there will never be a lucky winner, is greeted with all-round agreement.
“That's true. The golf course is difficult enough; it's like a Major tournament,” Miyazato concurs.
“I agree. If you miss a shot, your next shot is a tough shot,” says Shin.
“We play great golf courses around the world, but on some holes you can miss a shot and it'll come back and you can escape. When you miss a shot a Tanah Merah you lose a shot, so we have to hit good shots all the time. For me, it's fun!”
England's Karen Stupples, who won the 2004 Women's British Open at Sunningdale by starting her final round with an eagle and albatross in successive holes, is another to wholly back Yani's point of view.
“That's absolutely right. It's about quality shots. You can't get away with having a lucky bounce and banking it onto the green, because if you miss the green the chances are it's going to bounce into some trouble. Kicking off a mound and bouncing onto the green doesn't happen there. She's right. You've got to hit good drives, good shots and you've got to golf your ball; that's the bottom line,” declares the 38-year-old from Kent.
Further proof to support the argument comes from the fact that every winner of the HSBC Women's Champions has had multiple wins in the season of their Singapore triumph. Karrie doubled up in her next outing to take the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. In 2010, Ai had four other LPGA wins. Jiyai claimed two other titles and the Rolex Rookie of the Year award as well as a win on the Japan LPGA, while Lorena went wild in 2008, winning seven events in total, including a Major at the Kraft Nabisco Championship during a spell of four wins in four successive weeks.
Not a Game of Perfect
That's not to say all the winners have played perfectly. Jiyai Shin was one over par after two rounds in 2009 when she headed to the range and found a fix: it worked. The next morning she started her third round with almost no-one watching her, but by the time she had completed back-to-back rounds off 66 she had everyone's undivided attention.
Karrie Webb's win was based on one part of her game working brilliantly and that perhaps helped her believe in the rest.
“It was one of those events where my short game was probably the best weeks I've had, especially in the last five or six years. My ball striking I wouldn't say was my best, but under the gun, even when it was a little erratic, I hit some great shots and trusted myself. I hadn't won on the LPGA for a couple of years and I think I always felt I had to be at my best to win; I took away from that week that I didn't have to be 110 per cent to win. I just need to find a way to get it in the hole,” she says, echoing what Karen Stupples means when she uses the phrase “golf your ball.”
In contrast, Ai killed the course with consistency in 2010, carding three 69s in her four rounds.
“I'd won the first event in Thailand, so I felt good about my game at that time. I just tried to make simple plays; trying to hit the fairway and trying to hit the greens. That golf course is always in good shape, but the greens are really difficult. You need to make sure you know where you're going to hit your second shot. You need to be really smart on the golf course. I played really well. My putting was really good all week. I always remember the 16th, the short par four: I made eagle hitting driver to a back pin, getting on the front and making the putt. I played really good the whole week, really solid,” Ai said.
The Japanese star has little doubt as to the stand-out winning performance of the four.
“Lorena shot 17 under or something?” she asks.
It was actually 20 under par.
“That's ridiculous!” she declares.
“I think shooting 10 under par on that golf course is really good. I played with her when she won the tournament and she was playing totally different golf. It looked so easy. Annika finished second, but Lorena was so solid and Annika couldn’' touch her!” Ai adds.
That win becomes even more impressive when one considers the context. Lorena had risen to number one in April 2007 when Annika was struggling with ruptured and bulging discs in her neck. By the start of 2008 Annika had announced her return to fitness and not just verbally; she won the SBS Open in Hawaii and 10 days later, with Lorena opening her season in Singapore, it was on! Annika beat the rest of the field, but was a massive 11 shots behind Lorena's winning total.
A Chess Match
So what is it about Tanah Merah's Garden Course that tests the best in women's golf? It starts with the fiendish mind of Phil Jacobs and his 2004 redesign. The end result is a course where the current world number one says you have to think several shots ahead and there is hardly a shot out there that allows you to relax.
“Maybe for tap-in putts! All the other shots you have to think in a different way and you have to think about what your strategy is, because it might cost you when you get to your second shot or third shot. You're always thinking ahead about what you're going to do. It's a really fun course to play,” says Yani.
“You play all the 14 clubs in your bag. Even though you're using all 14 clubs, you still have to hit a lot of different shots. There are different winds; all the challenges make you think and make you think you're enjoying the tournament and having fun with the challenges of the course. It doesn't feel stressful. You have to have the challenge and some stress, but that's why it's so much fun.”
For Karen Stupples, one of the things that stands out is the number of times you find yourself with nowhere to make a ‘good’ mistake.
“There are some holes you play and you think 'where is the out?' and there is no out. Typically a golf hole has an out--one side or another that is favourable to a miss. There are some holes where there is nowhere to miss it. That's a bit brutal! It's like the 17th at Sawgrass; there's no get out! There's a tiny little bridge, but that's it. You've got to bring it!” says the Englishwoman.
“There are some holes that are incredibly challenging, like 10. Last year, 1 and 10 were incredibly tough holes. You're going in there with four irons; there are not too many courses that we go into with four irons with elevated greens and bunkers or water.”
For Jiyai, the enjoyment comes from the way Tanah Merah tests everything you've got.
“It's a really strong course for the women: long distance, tight golf course, firm greens. So we need really good ball control with every club. We need the whole skills. It's pretty tough because the greens are mostly elevated above the fairway, so if you miss, the ball is going a long way,” she explains, adding that her duel with Katherine Hull in the final round three years ago shows how slim the margin is for error.
“Katherine and me, she made only one mistake, but it made a big difference. She played good and could have made a lower score, but if you make one mistake it can lose you a lot of strokes, easily. You have to focus each and every shot. Number 18 is pretty tough. If you lead by one shot, you can easily lose one or two there. You have to really focus. It’s easy to make bogey or double-bogey. So nobody knows before the finish.”
Sheer Willpower
All those factors demand a level of resolve that Na Yeon Choi, currently the highest-rated Korean in the official rankings, believes plays into the hands of the women at the top of the global game.
“We have to have really good course management on that course. The top players never give up and always do their best until the last hole on Sunday, and the top players get better results because of that,” adds the winner of the 2010 LPGA Official Money List.
In a nutshell, it's a course that demands you get into the designer's head and understand the questions he's posing. In Phil Jacobs's own words, he does everything from test the golfer's self-discipline to “constantly have that question in a player's mind: 'If I'm going to miss it, where should I miss it?'” And in the case of the hardest holes, he tests their game to the breaking point.
“It asks you to miss in the right places and to be aggressive when you can be, and I think I did a good job of that,” says Webb of last year's victory.
“When I missed greens, I missed in places where I could get up and down. With my putting that week, I didn't give myself 12 or 13 unbelievably great birdie opportunities each day. I gave myself six or seven and probably made five of them. I just took advantage of the opportunities I had. It was just about getting the ball in the hole.”
Webb reckons that all the factors--a great course, a great field enjoying their entire week at the time of year, when everyone is raring to go--is what has combined to produce the almost unparalleled list of victors...that with the more unusual challenge of the holes that run along the side of Changi Airport.
“I think with the quality of the field, you're bound to get a good winner and it's the start of the year, so it's whoever is ready to go straight out of the blocks. It's whoever is ready mentally to overcome those things and to overcome not making that birdie on the first day, and the heat and the wind and the planes, and all of that,” she explains
Stupples, however, feels the final preparations for the tournament--the speeding up of the greens, the growing in of the rough and the other adjustments made to take something a weekend warrior can survive and morph it into a monster--play a big part, together with the fact that the most successful players make more minor adjustments during the winter break.
“They set it up particularly well. It's a tough, quality golf course, particularly that early in the season. You've got to be ready to play and typically you'll find that the quality players will always be ready to go. That's what you’re finding there,” she explains.
“They're ready for it. They've had a very good season the year before, so they're coming off good finishes, so the confidence is already pretty high. They've done a little bit of maintenance work over the winter, but they haven't had to do swing overhauls or any of that crap. They're ready to go. They're primed. All they have to do is go and play a quality golf course, which is what it is. You have to hit good shot after good shot after good shot, make good putt after good putt. That's what the course does for you and that's why you get the winners you do there.”
Digging the Vibe
Another of the factors seems to be the feeling of the whole week. To understand that, one has to remember just how many weeks of the year these players spend on the road and, especially for the internationals, how much time they're away from their real homes. It's also worth bearing in mind just how hard women golfers have had to fight over the years to establish their tour and to be taken seriously in a sport where, in certain parts of the world, to this day women golfers aren't always welcomed.
So when Singaporeans throw open their arms and the red carpet is both literally and metaphorically rolled out, it's universally appreciated.
“I love the tournament atmosphere, too. It's very special for everything. Very organized and the people are very nice. Because the tournament atmosphere is so good, that's why everyone is playing so good,” says Ai, referring as much to what is available away from the golf course as to what they get on it.
“The hotel is really nice and you can go shopping or do whatever you like. That's really special as well. That tournament is almost too good!” she exclaims.
“It is a terrific event. Every which way, it's top class!” says Stupples, who appreciates some of the “home” comforts all the more having gambled her house, furniture and car to move to the States in a bid to make it on the LPGA at the start of her career.
“I love Singapore! I feel very comfortable in Singapore. With my British background, how could you not feel comfortable in Singapore? The sockets are UK sockets. There's a kettle in the room and you can make a cup of tea...even if the weather is a little warmer. You've got Raffles just across the road and Marks & Spencers! It feels very comfortable. I love Marks & Spencers! I'm old now, what can I say?”
The answer to Stupples rhetorical question is 'lots.' We leave her as she enters into a charming monologue about all the reasons why she would be the perfect person for the British retailer to sponsor.
Who's Next?
If you start asking who is most likely to be the next to add their name to the prestigious list, one shouldn't overlook the chances of the event producing its first back-to-back champion. Karrie Webb has an unusually strong record going back as the title-holder, despite the fact that conventional wisdom suggests it is one of the harder things to do in golf.
“I've always enjoyed it. I obviously played the best there last year. I always feel it gives me an advantage: it gives me good vibes going into the event. I enjoy it,” says Webb, whose CV backs her up.
Among the Aussie's multitude of triumphs are repeat wins at the U.S. Women's Open title in 2000 and 2001, as well as The Office Depot tournament in Florida, Washington State's Safeco Classic and at two very differently named editions of an event at Murrells Inlet in South Carolina. At the Australian Ladies Masters in her native Queensland, she monopolized the trophy from 1998 to 2001, and more recently won the MFS Women's Australian Open title in 2007 and 2008.
Given that an HSBC Women's Champions victory has more often than not been the early signal as to who the year's dominant player will be, Na Yeon Choi might be a contender after a year of constant English lessons. The difference it has made to this engaging, but previously shy and nervous 24-year-old is heart-warming. With her multiple wins in 2009 and 2010 and the fact that last year she was close to Yani's levels in making the top 10 in over half of her events in 2011, the more outgoing Na Yeon could be set for a career year, simply because her new-found language skills have made her life less stressful.
“I wasn't scared, but I think I was uncomfortable. If I was walking through the clubhouse and someone was smiling at me, I would worry about what they were about to say to me. I didn't have the confidence with my English and that was why I seemed uncomfortable with maybe the LPGA players and with all the fans. I'm a lot more comfortable with American people or with Asian people who are speaking English. I have fans on facebook from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand; I like it! It's made me a better player I think, a more confident player!” she reveals.
The most logical choice, however, is the most confident player of all: Yani Tseng.
Third behind Webb and Arimura last year, Yani has turned into a winning machine. She now understands that to add the HSBC Women's Champions to her rapidly increasing list of titles she has to find a balance between the self-styled “Birdie Machine” approach that helped her become the youngest player ever, male or female, to win five Majors and being more selective about when she attacks.
“Being more patient is better, playing smart. Some of the holes are sometimes really hard to make birdie. You can still be aggressive, but sometimes you have to play smart, too,” she says.
“I'm getting closer and closer. I was pretty close last year! I played well and did my best. Everyone wants to win, but it's not like I'm playing bad. This year I have a chance, because I know the course better, better than the last four years. I know how the strategy is on the golf course and how to play on the golf course. I'm looking forward to playing this year, because it's a fun course and it's a very good challenge.”

Thursday, November 24, 2011

CME Group Titleholders Saturday and Sunday: Hee Young Park Breaks Through

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  By now, you've probably read all the fantastic posts on Hee Young Park's breakthrough win at the CME Group Titleholders, from bangkokbobby's great weekend reports to Happy Fan's amazing overview of The Rocket's career to Tony Jesselli's look at the implications of the 2011 season-ender for a variety of players on a variety of bubbles for 2012. 

Me, I'm finally healthy enough to get back to a minimal blogging schedule, but The Full Metal Archivist and onechan have now been sick for days, so things won't be getting back to normal for me at Mostly Harmless for awhile, if this monster cold holds true to form.  On the bright side, with Paula Creamer in contention last weekend, onechan and imoto were excited to watch the Golf Channel coverage with me; we got to see all of the final round and most of the 3rd round over the last few days.  I was so impressed with the way that Park charged on Saturday and kept it going on the front nine on Sunday as 1st- and 2nd-round leader Na Yeon Choi was falling apart and then coming back, but I was even more impressed with The Rocket's 10 straight closing pars to seal the deal against charges from Creamer, Sandra Gal, and Suzann Pettersen--a very un-Rocket-like performance, in that she avoided the crash-and-burn that's so often undermined her chances for victory in the past, and on a course built to produce exactly those kinds of runs.  I've gotta acknowledge that I let Park's reputation keep her out of my projected top 15 this time last week.  And I was totally wrong.  Way to go, Hee Young--hopefully the 1st of many wins on the LPGA!

Although my favorite players didn't do so well, I wasn't too disappointed because of how emotional the Rocket's victory turned out to be.  Besides Choi and Creamer, nobody else I'm really crazy about was in the hunt; Ai and Mika Miyazato, In-Kyung Kim, Amy Yang, and Mina Harigae were at least respectable, but Tiffany Joh had another terrible tournament playing in LPGA bonus time for the 1st time in her career.  Oh well, at least they'll all be back on tour full-time next year.  Plus, Ai-sama broke the $1M barrier on the LPGA money list for the 3rd year in a row, Creamer came very close to doing it for the 6th time in her career, and Ya Ni Tseng ended up just short of crossing the $3M rubicon.

I'll have much more looking back on the 2011 LPGA season in a month or so, but for now I'm focusing on the JLPGA's final tournament of the season, the Ricoh Cup, along with JLPGA and LPGA Q-School--when health, work, and family permit, that is.  Take it easy, and enjoy Tony Jesselli's blogging here!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sun-Ju Ahn Clinches 2nd-Straight JLPGA Money-List Title

Congratulations to Sun-Ju Ahn for clinching her 2nd-straight JLPGA money-list title.  And thanks to Tim Maitland for sending me the link that alerted the English-speaking world to Ahn's feat!

LPGA Rookie Report Card Part 3 - Final Rating

As we all know by now the 2011 LPGA season has come to its conclusion. It is time to take one final look at the 28 rookie players. These ratings are strictly based on how they fared on the LPGA tour this season. Any successes or failures on other tours are not considered here. Success in retaining their LPGA tour cards was the determining factor for my final grades.

The Best

Hee Kyung Seo - Playing in 21 tournaments, she missed just 3 cuts this year. Her #21 finish on the money list, and three top tens, made her a runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year award. Her best performance was a 2nd-place finish (a playoff loss) at the U.S. Open.

Ryann O'Toole - When she was good, she was very good. When she was bad, she was awful. It was a very erratic season, but certainly had its success stories. Playing 15 times, Ryann missed 4 cuts. She had 2 top-ten finishes, including 9th at the U.S. Open. Finishing #46 on the money list, her year was highlighted by being chosen as a captain's pick for the U.S. Solheim Team. She did not lose a match there, going 2-0-2.

Tiffany Joh - Teeing it up 14 times, Tiffany missed just 2 cuts. Her 2nd-place finish at the Navistar Classic was her only top 10. She finished #41 on the money list, and, with the 2 ladies listed above her, will be playing full time next year.

Caroline Hedwall - Those rookies who will say they never had a chance because of lack of playing opportunities should read this. Caroline, a category 20 rookie, teed it up just 6 times. She did not miss a single cut. She tied for 9th at the Evian Masters and was a captain's pick for the European Solheim cup team. My guess is she will be playing both the LPGA and LET tours next year. Her #64 spot on the LPGA money list means she can play here whenever she chooses.

Consider them a success

Christel Boeljon - Played very little on the LPGA tour the first half of the season, as her first priority was to gather points for the European Solheim team. Once that goal was accomplished, she came on very strongly. She missed just 2 of 14 cuts, and had two top-ten finishes. She finished #52 on the money list. Look for her to play both tours again next year.

Jenny Shin - Playing 15 times, she very quietly put together a very solid season. Making 10 of 15 cuts, she had 2 top-ten finishes. Her #55 money list finish tells me she will be teeing it up 20-plus times next year.

Jennifer Johnson - Jennifer teed it up 13 times this year and missed just 3 cuts. Her 8th-place finish at the Navistar Classic went a big way towards her #63 money-list finish. She will be playing full time next year.

Just good enough

Belen Mozo - Got off to a terrible start by missing 7 of her first 9 cuts. It didn't really get a lot better after that, either, but a big check for finishing 5th at the Walmart Championship saved her season. A 67th place finish on the money list assures her full-time status next year.

Jennifer Song - Making just 10 of 16 cuts, Jennifer was my biggest disappointment this year. Expected by many to be a Rookie of the Year contender, it wasn't to be. Her best finish was 16th place at the Avnet Classic. She barely made the top 80, sneaking in at #79. A future star, or a bust? Maybe next year will give us some answers.

Jessica Korda - She did not make the most of her 15 opportunities this year. Missing seven cuts, she could do no better than #92 on the money list. Her only good showing was a 19th-place finish at Avnet. Missing the top 80, she won't get many more opportunities next year. A big talent, I look for her to improve in 2012.

The above ten rookies are the only ladies we are guaranteed to see regularly next year. Here is a breakdown of the other 18.

Just Not Good Enough

Haru Nomura - Played 11 times this year, and missed 5 cuts. A 25th-place finish at the Walmart Championship was her best finish. Finishing #94 on the money list, and choosing not to go back to Q-School, she will have to make the most of her limited opportunities next year to retain her card.

Stephanie Sherlock - Missing 7 of 12 cuts, she finished #101 on the money list. Rather than settle for limited status next year, she will be going back to Q-School at the end of the month, in an effort to improve her priority status.

Will we ever see them again?

Amelia Lewis - One would think that finishing #109 on the money list, would drive her back to Q-School. That was not the case. If she continues to play, expect her to only get a few starts.

Becky Brewerton - Played only twice on the LPGA this year, missing the cut both times. Played poorly in Q-School last year, she is not attending in November. She will only be a LET member next year.

They are going back to Q-School

Danah Ford Bordner - Missed 8 of 12 cuts this year. Her best finish was 50th place. She finished #114 on the money list.

Jennie Lee - Missed the cut in half of her 10 appearances. Finished #118 on money list.

Jenny Suh - Missed 6 of 10 cuts, which landed her at #120.

Dori Carter - Also missed the cut in 6 out of 10 tournaments. Finished #128.

Jaclyn Sweeney - Teed it up eight times this year, but did not take advantage of her opportunities, missing all but one cut. She finished #137 on the money list.

Sara Brown - She got some chances to show her Big Break fans she was ready for the big time. Unfortunately she missed her first 8 cuts, and could finish no better than tied for 48th. She finished the year #141.

Kimberley Kim, Allison Whitaker, and Shasta Averyhardt - It could not have gone worse for these three girls, as each of them teed it up seven times and never made a single cut.

Stephanie Kim - Played in only 2 tournaments, missing one cut and finished 44th in the other.

Jodi Ewart - Missed the cut in both events she played in.

Sarah Brown, Junko Nakada, and Ayako Kaneko - Category 20 rookies, they never teed it up at all this year. They will be hoping to get a better priority rating next year, by going to Q-School in November.

As you can see 2011 will not go down as a big success for rookies. Looking ahead to 2012, the possibilities for better results look very favorable. Here are a few possible rookie stars:

Lexi Thompson - No need to say much about her. A potential superstar and already a winner in 2011.

So-Yeon Ryu - Won the U.S. Open this year as a non-LPGA player. Already ranked #28 in the world, many will consider her the Rookie of the Year favorite.

Kathleen Ekey - With her #1 finish on the Futures Tour this year, Kathleen has secured her spot as a full time player on the LPGA Tour. Both fans and sponsors are going to love this girl.

Danielle Kang - Winner of 2 consecutive U.S. Amateur Championships. Has all the tools to be a huge star. The only thing keeping me from putting her higher on this list is she has to make it through phase 3 of Q-School this month. Shouldn't be a problem.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hee Young Was the Story, But Others Found Some Glory.

A big congratulations goes out this week to Hee Young Park. She becomes the sixth first-time winner on the LPGA this year. The others were Stacy Lewis, So-Yeon Ryu, Lexi Thompson, Sandra Gal, and Momoko Ueda.

Lots will be written this week about Park, and deservingly so, but much was at stake for some of the other ladies for 2012.

Here is what they were fighting for:

A Top 50 money list finish, to qualify for the 2012 U.S. Open.

A Top 48 money list finish, for automatic qualification into the Sybase Match Play Championship.

A Top 80 finish on the money list to maintain full playing status in 2012. Finishing below number 80 means having the top 5 players from the Futures Tour play ahead of you on the Priority List next year. Players 81-100 will also have to alternate on the priority list with graduates from Qualifying School.

Here is some of what was gained and lost:

Ryann O'Toole - Back in Canada, she personally guaranteed me she would be in my home town for the Sybase tournament. With some extremely erratic play since then, she had me worried. Her #46 money list finish qualifies her for both The U.S. Open and the Sybase tournaments. Actually, her eighth-place finish in this year's U.S. Open already had her in that tournament next year.

Paige Mackenzie - Moved up to the #47 spot, to also qualify her in both tournaments.

Natalie Gulbis - She was the biggest loser here. She dropped from the #49 position to #51, knocking her out of both tournaments.

Pat Hurst - Held onto the last U.S. Open spot at #50. No automatic spot at Sybase.

Mina Harigae - Her T21 finish moved her from #52 to #49, getting her into The U.S. Open, but not Sybase.

Mi Hyun Kim - Her 17-over-par score killed any chance for her. She finishes #53.

It is also worth noting that longtime qualifiers in both tournaments, Christina Kim and Kristy McPherson both failed to finish in the top 50.

It is also worth noting that Grace Park ,who qualified for the Titleholders tournament and did not play, missed finishing in the top 80. She finished #81. With at least 5 Futures tour players, at least 1 Qualifying Graduate, and a few other priority list category 2 through 8 players falling in after #80, it is possible that decision could cost her a tournament or two.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:
Hee Young Park moves from #58 to #37 (CME Titleholders Winner)
Paula Creamer Moves from #7 to #5 (Passes Jiyai Shin and Sun Ju Ahn)
Ji-Hee Lee Moves from #21 to #18 (Winner of Daio JLPGA Tournament)

Special Achievement of the Week:
Paula Creamer's second-place finish this week moves her up to #8 on the Career Money List, passing Laura Davies.

My Final Top 20 Player of the Year rankings:

1- Yani Tseng - 357.48 points
2- Stacy Lewis - 203.86
3- Cristie Kerr - 178.56
4- Suzann Petterson - 177.56
5- Na Yeon Choi - 159.28
6- I.K. Kim - 151.92
7- Angela Stanford - 144.62
8- Paula Creamer - 141.46
9- Amy Yang - 136.40
10-Brittany Lincicome - 129.82
11-Mika Miyazato - 128.30
12-Morgan Pressel - 122.04
13-Karrie Webb - 116.24
14-Ai Miyazato - 104.10
15-Maria Hjorth - 103.66
16-Anna Nordqvist - 100.18
17-Jiyai Shin - 99.40
18-Brittany Lang - 94.46
19-Michelle Wie - 93.72
20-Catriona Matthew - 86.10

Highest-ranking player without a win - Cristie Kerr #3.
Lowest-ranking player with a win - Hee Young Park #26.
Highest-ranked rookie - Hee Kyung Seo - #31.

Rookie of the Year winner - Hee Kyung Seo at the Canadian Open.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies Sunday: Ji-Hee Lee Defeats Bo-Bae Song in Playoff

Ji-Hee Lee moved to #2 on the JLPGA money list when she defeated Bo-Bae Song in a playoff at the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies today for her 2nd win of 2011 and 15th on tour in her 11-year career. 

Shanshan Feng had shot the round of the day from way back in the pack, a 67 that moved her all the way to -8 for the week and made her the leader in the clubhouse.  Even as Feng was charging, second-round leader Saiki Fujita was moving in the opposite direction, bogeying 4 of her 1st 10 holes to fall back to -6.  That opened the door for Lee, who got off to a hot start with birdies in 3 of her 1st 6 holes to climb to -8.  After a bogey on the 148-yard par-3 7th, she bounced back with 3 more birdies in her next 9 holes to get to -10 with 2 holes left to play.  By then, the only player with a chance to catch her was Song.  Playing in the group behind Lee, however, Song bogeyed the 385-yard par-4 15th to drop to -7 and failed to birdie the 273-yard par-4 16th to remain 3 shots back with 2 holes left to play.  But Lee finished par-bogey on the closing par 3 and par 5, while Song finished birdie-birdie.  And when nobody in the final group could catch them at -9--Fujita was the only one to make a charge with birdies on 14 and 16 to get to -8, yet neither she, money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn, nor Aiko Ueno could buy a birdie coming home--we had yet another JLPGA playoff, which Lee took.

Here's a quick rundown of the leaders and notables:

1st/-9 Ji-Hee Lee (71-68-68) [won in playoff]
2nd/-9 Bo-Bae Song (68-70-69)
T3/-8 Shanshan Feng (70-71-67), Saiki Fujita (67-67-74)
T5/-7 Sakura Yokomine (68-71-70), Rui Kitada (69-69-71), Aiko Ueno (69-66-74)
T8/-6 Erina Hara (72-69-69), Sun-Ju Ahn (71-67-72), Young Kim (66-72-72)

T11/-5 Miho Koga (70-71-70), Yukari Baba (70-71-70), Hyun-Ju Shin (69-71-71)
T15/-4 Mayu Hattori (70-72-70), Harukyo Nomura (69-73-70), So-Hee Kim (67-75-70), Kaori Ohe (71-69-72)
T19/-3 Bo-Mee Lee (71-73-69), Hiromi Mogi (69-71-73)
T25/-2 Na-Ri Lee (73-70-71), Miki Sakai (71-72-71), Asako Fujimoto (70-73-71), Kaori Aoyama (70-70-74)
T30/-1 Li-Ying Ye (76-69-70), Shinobu Moromizato (73-72-70), Akane Iijima (71-72-72), Mika Takushima (71-72-72), Erika Kikuchi (72-70-73), Chie Arimura (70-72-73)
T38/E Megumi Kido (74-71-71), Ji-Woo Lee (70-74-72), Akiko Fukushima (67-77-72)
T46/+2 Mie Nakata (72-72-74)
T48/+5 Tamie Durdin (74-71-76), Yumiko Yoshida (74-71-76)

So heading into the final tournament of the year, the Ricoh Cup, here's how the JLPGA money list stands:

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥119.73M
2. Ji-Hee Lee ¥94.12M
3. Sakura Yokomine ¥86.86M
4. Chie Arimura ¥84.01M
5. Yukari Baba ¥75.82M
6. Shanshan Feng ¥64.94M
7. Miki Saiki ¥62.13M
8. Ritsuko Ryu ¥56.20M
9. Yuri Fudoh ¥55.84M
10. Shiho Oyama ¥51.69M
11. Mayu Hattori ¥50.19M
12. Asako Fujimoto ¥49.02M
13. Saiki Fujita ¥47.65M
14. Ayako Uehara ¥45.34M
15. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥42.78M
16. Rui Kitada ¥41.02M
17. Bo-Bae Song ¥40.72M
18. Kumiko Kaneda ¥38.48M
19. Hiromi Mogi ¥37.40M
20. Rikako Morita ¥35.57M
21. Momoko Ueda ¥35.27M
22. Na-Ri Kim ¥34.12M
23. Junko Omote ¥31.94M
24. Yuko Mitsuka ¥29.37M
25. Ji-Woo Lee ¥29.21M
26. Akane Iijima ¥28.14M
27. Li-Ying Ye ¥27.96M
28. Na-Ri Lee ¥27.10M
29. Kaori Aoyama ¥26.66M
30. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥26.62M
31. Inbee Park ¥25.70M
32. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥24.40M
33. Teresa Lu ¥24.39M
34. Young Kim ¥23.67M
35. Esther Lee ¥23.59M
36. Akiko Fukushima ¥23.25M
37. Eun-A Lim ¥22.59M
38. Soo-Yun Kang ¥21.90M
39. Eun-Bi Jang ¥21.05M
40. Bo-Mee Lee ¥19.15M
41. Shinobu Moromizato ¥18.64M
42. Yumiko Yoshida ¥18.17M
43. Kaori Ohe ¥17.38M
44. Nikki Campbell ¥17.07M
45. Nachiyo Ohtani ¥16.86M
46. Tamie Durdin ¥16.85M
47. Miho Koga ¥16.64M
48. Megumi Kido ¥16.07M
49. So-Hee Kim ¥15.78M
50. Midori Yoneyama ¥15.49M

With Ji-Yai Shin at #52, Harukyo Nomura at #68, Ai Miyazato at #71, Hee Young Park at #88, and Meena Lee at #99--all with at least the minimum number of events played this year (6)--it'll also be interesting to see who among the dual LPGA-JLPGA members of 2011 have to (and who among them decides to) play in JLPGA Q-School's final stage.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies Friday and Saturday: Fujita and Ueno Lead; Ahn and Yokomine Lurk

No time to do a full-blown set-up post for the Daio Paper ElleAir Ladies, but I can report that veteran Saiki Fujita and youngster Aiko Ueno lead the way at -10 and -9, respectively, while JLPGA money-list leader Sun-Ju Ahn is only 4 off the lead and her chasers Sakura Yokomine and Chie Arimura are 5 and 8 back, respectively.  It'll be interesting to see tomorrow if the big names will make a run at the leaders, if other Koreans in the hunt like Young Kim and Bo-Bae Song at -6, Ji-Hee Lee at -5, or Hyun-Ju Shin at -4 can join the chase, or whether Japanese veterans like Rui Kitada (-6), Hiromi Takesue (-5), Hiromi Mogi (-4), Kaori Aoyama (-4), Miho Koga (-3), Yukari Baba (-3), or Mihoko Iseri (-3) will make more of a run than youngsters Kaori Ohe (-4), Erina Hara (-3), Mayu Hattori (-2), or Harukyo Nomura (-2).

With the likes of Shiho Oyama, Ayako Uehara, Nikki Campbell, Soo-Yun Kang, Kumiko Kaneda, Ritsuko Ryu, Rikako Morita, Maiko Wakabayashi, Yuki Ichinose, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, and Yuki Sakurai missing the cut, and a super-hot Shanshan Feng 7 shots off the lead, this tournament shows just how competitive the JLPGA is this year and what an accomplishment keeping your card really is.  It's looking like So-Hee Kim at -2 through 36 holes will knock Ji-Yai Shin out of the #50 spot on the money list.  What will the JLPGA do about players like Shin and Ai Miyazato, who will have (barely) played the required minimum number of events in 2011 but failed to make the top 50 on the money list?

CME Group Titleholders Thursday and Friday: Na Yeon Choi and Sandra Gal Lead the Way

You'd think that with only 9 players under par through 36 holes at the CME Group Titleholders, with twice that number averaging 75 per round, and with players who broke 70 Thursday often having trouble (or failing to) break 80 Friday, that leaders Na Yeon Choi at -7 and Sandra Gal at -6 would be playing pretty close to flawless golf at Grand Cypress.  Yet Choi has twice bogeyed her final hole and started her 2nd round with a double bogey, while Gal has sprinkled 3 bogeys and plenty of missed fairways and birdie putts into her 2 rounds.  What gives them their small advantage over Paula Creamer and Hee Young Park at -4, Wendy Ward at -3, and Suzann Pettersen at -2 is that they haven't allowed bad holes or bad runs to turn into nosedives and they've managed to bounce back from their mistakes with birdies in bunches. 

The other players in the field may have been able to to accomplish 1 of those tasks, but not both.  Consider the carnage:

  • Except for a double Thursday on the tough par-3 12th, Hee Young Park was playing great golf and was -6 through 10 holes on Friday; she proceeded to play her last 8 holes in +2, with 3 bogeys in that stretch.
  • Despite making 3 bogeys in her 1st 22 holes, Cristie Kerr was -4 through 9 holes, -5 through 15, and -4 through 23; she proceeded to go bogey-double-birdie, make 9 pars in a row, and fall back to even par with a walkoff double. 
  • Azahara Munoz was -4 standing on the tee of the par-3 4th yesterday, with only 1 bogey over her previous 21 holes (also on the 12th); by the time she reached the 14th tee, she had made 3 bogeys and a double and needed a late birdie to get back to E for the week.
  • Anna Nordqvist was cruising along, -4 through 15 holes and -3 through 25; then she took a quad on the par-4 8th and offset her 3 birdies on the back with 2 bogeys in her last 4 holes to drop back to E overall.
  • Morgan Pressel shot a fantastic 67 on Thursday, but started off Friday with a double-bogey-par-double run; even though she bounced back with 2 tough birdie putts in a row on 9 and 10, she bogeyed 14 and doubled 18 to drop back to +1 for the week.
  • Ai Miyazato was -4 and bogey-free over her 1st 8 holes of the tournament; she's played her last 28 holes in +5, with 6 bogeys and 2 doubles in that run.  Nevertheless, she moved up from T20 to T16 when all was said and done.
  • Maria Hjorth was -6 through 22 holes and playing the kind of golf that lead to her win here last year, but all of a sudden she made 3 birdies, a double, and a triple with no offsetting birdies over her last 14 holes to drop all the way from being in contention to T22 at +2.
  • Ya Ni Tseng was -3 through 22 holes and right in the thick of things, but 1 birdie did little to slow the bogey barrage that ensued--she made 4 of them in her last 14 holes, along with a double on the par-3 8th.
  • Karrie Webb went 67-80.  Mi Hyun Kim went 69-80.  'Nuff said.
It's not like everyone played horribly in the wind yesterday.  Park did, after all, match Gal's 69, as did Pettersen and Julieta Granada.  And 6 other players matched Choi's 71, including In-Kyung Kim and Mina Harigae.  But when normally steady players like Sun Young Yoo and Song-Hee Kim each make a quintuple bogey on Thursday, or Amy Yang and Catriona Matthew are averaging 4.5 bogeys a round over their 1st 2 rounds, or Rookie of the Year Hee Kyung Seo has 6 bogeys and 3 doubles on her card in 36 holes, or when Brittany Lang has 7 bogeys, a double, and a triple in that same stretch, you know that the wind, water, and crazy greens at Grand Cypress are wreaking havoc on the world's best women golfers.

This weekend will be a game of survival!

[Update 1 (10:24 am):  Check out the overviews and photos from the 1st 2 rounds provided by bangkokbobby.]

[Update 2 (10:42 am):  Don't know how I missed Candie Kung in my list of collapses:  she was -4 through 28 holes, but finished with 5 bogeys in her last 8 holes, including 3 in a row to kick off the run and back-to-back ones to (hopefully) end it.  She teed off at 10:26 this morning!]

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CME Group Titleholders Preview, Predictions, Pairings

I've been dealing with the worst cold of my life--and probably the most intense and lingering illness of my adult life, period--the last 13 days, so I've been unable to write about Catriona Matthews's great win in Guadalajara, Asako Fujimoto's defeat of Sakura Yokomine on the JLPGA, or Daisuke Takahashi's sublime performances at the NHK Cup last week.  Even worse, I really don't have much to add to the fine previews of the CME Group Titleholders, which caps off the LPGA's 2011 season this week, from Hound Dog, Tony Jesselli, and Ruthless Mike (not to mention's own preview, pre-tournament interviews [which includes the news that the LPGA Futures Tour will become the Symetra Tour next year], and Ward Clayton's Stats and Stuff).  In fact, I'll simply note how amazing it is that the likes of Cristie Kerr, In-Kyung Kim, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, Angela Stanford, Amy Yang, Mika Miyazato, and Anna Nordqvist have 1 last chance to get their 1st LPGA win of 2011!  Is there any better mark of Ya Ni Tseng's dominance this year than the fact that she's blocked so many great and very very good golfers from the winner's circle?

Tony points out in an update to his preview that Ji-Yai Shin, Momoko Ueda, Shanshan Feng, So-Yeon Ryu, Grace Park, Inbee Park, and Juli Inkster qualified for but will not be playing in this week's event.  Shin's season is over, Park is hoping she qualified for the final stage of KLPGA Q-School (it's not looking good for her), Ryu is playing on the KLPGA, Ueda, Feng, and Park stayed in Japan after the Mizuno to close out the JLPGA season there, and Inkster's elbow injury precluded her participation.  Looking at the field, Hound Dog's Hot 20, and the results from last year's LPGA Tour Championship at Grand Cypress (where Maria Hjorth held off Amy Yang, In-Kyung Kim, and Na Yeon Choi, among others), here are my final picks in the 2011 PakPicker competition at Seoul

1. Choi Na Yeon
2. Creamer
3. Kim In-Kyung
4. Yang Amy
5. Miyazato Ai
6. Tseng
7. Lewis
8. Kerr
9. Pettersen
10. Lang
11. Nordqvist
12. Matthew

Alts: Yoo; Pressel; Stanford

Here are my favorite pairings heading off the 1st tee at Grand Cypress starting in just a couple of hours or so!

10:06 am: Na Yeon Choi, Morgan Pressel, Sun Young Yoo
10:50 am: Ya Ni Tseng, Karrie Webb, Michelle Wie
10:39 am: Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome
9:00 am: Mika Miyazato, Meena Lee, Azahara Munoz
9:55 am: Ai Miyazato, Sophie Gustafson, Julieta Granada
7:43 am: In-Kyung Kim, Christina Kim, Sandra Gal
9:44 am: Catriona Matthew, Anna Nordqvist, Brittany Lang
10:17 am: Suzann Pettersen, Maria Hjorth, Song-Hee Kim
10:28 am: Stacy Lewis, Angela Stanford, Katie Futcher
9:22 am: Lexi Thompson, Tiffany Joh, Giulia Sergas
8:27 am: Hee Young Park, Ryann O'Toole, Vicky Hurst
7:10 am: Beatriz Recari, Natalie Gulbis

With Mina Harigae going off at 7:54 am, I'm hoping she gets some early tv time in Golf Channel's coverage, which starts at 1:30.  And I'm hoping I'll be feeling well enough to actually do some golf blogging after I catch up with the coverage on my DVR!

Monday, November 14, 2011

CME Group Titleholders Preview

Congratulations go out this week to Catriona Matthew, for winning the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. It was her fourth career LPGA win.

The LPGA moves back to the United States this week with the CME Group Titleholders. This will be the final official LPGA tournament of the year. Here are the few details that are available as of this writing:

Course: Grand Cypress Country Club
Location: Orlando, Florida
Defending Champion: This is the inaugural year for this event
2011 Winning Score: None

Final Field: 65 players
Par: 72
Yardage: 6518 Yards
Purse: $1.5 Million

Television Schedule:
Nov 17: 1:30 - 4:00 PM ET - GC
Nov 18: 12:30 - 3:00 PM ET - GC
Nov 19: 1:30 - 4:00 PM ET - GC
Nov 20: 1:30 - 4:00 PM ET - GC

Qualifying this past weekend were Natalie Gulbis, Juli Inkster, and Beatriz Recari.

As of this writing, the only player to make the field and skip the tournament, is Jiyai Shin. I will post updates if any additional information is provided.

Highest-ranked players who failed to qualify:
Katherine Hull, Jee Young Lee, Kristy McPherson, and M.J. Hur.

Rolex Ranking Mover of the Week:
Catriona Matthew moves from # 34 to #22

Tony Jesselli's Player of the Year Update:

1- Yani Tseng - 348.84 points
2- Stacy Lewis - 201.86
3- Cristie Kerr - 169.94
4- Suzann Pettersen - 167.84
5- Na Yeon Choi - 149.56
6- I.K. Kim - 145.44
7- Angela Stanford - 144.62
8- Amy Yang - 136.50
9- Paula Creamer - 130.66
10-Brittany Lincicome - 129.82
11-Mika Miyazato - 125.06
12-Morgan Pressel - 116.64
13-Karrie Webb - 116.24
14-Ai Miyazato - 100.86
15-Jiyai Shin - 99.40
16-Maria Hjorth - 96.64
17-Anna Nordqvist - 94.78
18-Brittany Lang - 94.46
19-Catriona Matthew - 86.10
20-Michelle Wie - 85.08

Highest-ranked player this year without a win = Cristie Kerr #3
Lowest-ranked player with a win = Sandra Gal #24
My highest-ranked rookie = Hee Young Seo #30

UPDATE: 11/15/11 5:00PM
The following players are skipping the tournament:
Jiyai Shin, Momoko Ueda, Shanshan Feng,So Yeon Ryu, Grace Park, Inbee Park, and Julie Inkster.

Here is the updated Final Field: