Saturday, December 31, 2011

Recommended Reading: Stephanie Wei on 2012 LPGA Schedule

Hey all, Santa left Stephanie Wei a preview of the 2012 LPGA schedule.  Check it out and see how close it comes to the official announcement, which is coming out very soon.  And happy New Year's Eve!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Year, "Final 2011"

The final Rolex World Rankings have now been posted. As we get ready to celebrate the new year, let us look and see who made the biggest gains and who took the biggest losses.

Rolex ranks the ladies based on average points per event on a rolling 2-year calendar. For example, Yani Tseng (the #1 player in the world) has accumulated 866.11 points playing in 49 tournaments over that period, for an average of 17.68 points per tournament. I have gone back to the first published RR of the year and compared them to the final rankings of the year. The only requirement for my list is that a player must have been in the top 100 at the start of the year or in the top 100 now.

This Year's Biggest Winners:

1- Yani Tseng - 9.25 to 17.68 = Gain of 8.43 (moved from #5 to #1)
2- Shanshan Feng - 1.85 to 5.66 = Gain of 3.81 (move 79-13)
3- Stacy Lewis - 3.23 to 6.68 = Gain of 3.45 (move 37-10)
4- Caroline Hedwall - 0.19 to 3.44 = Gain of 3.25 (move 351-37)
5- Shiho Oyama - 1.07 to 3.63 = Gain of 2.56 (move 131-34)
6- Ha Neul Kim - 1.20 to 3.59 = Gain of 2.39 (move 115-36)
7- Brittany Lincicome - 4.42 to 6.66 = Gain of 2.24 (move 21-11)
8- Sandra Gal - 1.11 to 3.29 = Gain of 2.18 (move 111-41)
9- Kumiko Kaneda - 0.40 to 2.66 = Gain of 2.17 (move 234-52)
10-Ji-Hee Lee - 3.33 to 5.42 = Gain of 2.09 (move 30-15)
11-Amy Yang - 3.98 to 6.01 = Gain of 2.03 (move 25-12)
12-Lexi Thompson - 1.64 to 3.42 = Gain of 1.78 (move 89-38)
13-Tiffany Joh - 0.20 to 1.74 = Gain of 1.54 (move 346-85)
14-Diana Luna - 0.43 to 1.96 = Gain of 1.53 (move 256-76)
15-Hyun-Hwa Sim - 0.74 to 2.25 = Gain of 1.51 (move 181-65)
16-Catriona Matthew - 3.29 - 4.47 = Gain of 1.50 (move 32-21)
17-So-Yeon Ryu - 2.83 to 4.20 = Gain of 1.37 (move 42-27)
18-Ritsuko Ryu - 1.25-2.52 = Gain of 1.27 (move 112-57)
19-Paula Creamer - 6.80 to 8.06 = Gain of 1.26 (move 11-5)
20-Katie Futcher - 0.95 to 2.18 = Gain of 1.23 (move 146-67)

Some side notes that I found interesting about the above top 20 would include the fact that Paula Creamer made one of the most important moves (going from #11 to #5), without winning this year. Also of note, Lexi Thompson has played in only 23 tournaments, but her points are divided by 35 not 23 (the RR minimum is 35). Her average total per tournament of 5.20 points would have placed her #17 in the world rankings without the minimum.

This Year's Biggest Losers:

1- Jiyai Shin - 10.60 to 7.58 = Loss of 3.02 (move from #1 to #7)
2- Song-Hee Kim - 6.98 to 4.08 = Loss of 2.90 (move 9-30)
3- Ai Miyazato - 9.47 to 6.72 = Loss of 2.75 (move 6-9)
4- Inbee Park - 6.51 to 4.65 = Loss of 4.65 (move 12-23)
5- Katherine Hull - 4.58 to 2.72 = Loss of 1.86 (move 19-50)
6- Shinobu Moromizato - 3.27 to 1.55 = Loss of 1.72 (move 35-101)
7- Kristy McPherson - 3.27 to 1.57 = Loss of 1.70 (move 34-97)
8- Michelle Wie - 6.83 to 5.16 = Loss of 1.67 (move 10-17)
9- Jee Young Lee - 3.20 to 1.58 = Loss of 1.62 (move 38-96)
10-M.J. Hur - 2.80 to 1.26 = Loss of 1.54 (move 44-131)
11-Lindsey Wright - 2.33 to 0.94 = Loss of 1.39 (move 64-164)
12-Laura Davies - 2.67 to 1.35 = Loss of 1.32 (move 49-121)
13-Anna Nordqvist - 5.12 to 3.92 = Loss of 1.20 (move 14-31)
14-I.K. Kim - 7.86 to 6.86 = Loss of 1.00 (move 7-8)
15-Jeong Jang - 1.59 to 0.60 = Loss of 0.99 (move 92-230)
16- Mi-Jeong Jeon - 5.09 to 4.19 = Loss of .90 (move 15-28)
17-Seon-Hwa Lee - 2.03 to 1.15 = Loss of 0.88 (move 72-140)
18-Christina Kim - 2.60 to 1.77 = Loss of 0.83 (move 51-82)
19-Miho Koga - 2.22 to 1.41 = Loss of 0.81 (move 67-115)
20-Vicky Hurst - 2.44 to 1.68 = Loss of 0.76 (move 57-90)

A side note to the above would be that Ai Miyazato made this list in spite of winning the Evian Masters. Players from Korea, with 14 players, were surely the most active on the above lists. Unfortunately 9 of them were on the down side. The USA was next with 10 players listed, 6 for positive movement. Japan split their 6 players evenly.

The above study probably took me longer to do than anything I have previously posted on here, as I have had to sort through hundreds of players. I think it is worth the time, as I consider this very indicative of a players' season.

On a completely different note I would like to say that I can't believe that it has been just about a year since I became an author for Mostly Harmless. I want to thank the Contructivist for the opportunity to express my views on the LPGA. I have tried to bring to this page statistics that you won't easily find elsewhere, and have even tried my hand at humor, but most importantly I have tried to promote the LPGA in a positive way. Getting the message across to more and more people about what a wonderful show these ladies put on is always my highest priority.

Since this is my last post of the year, I also want to thank some of the other writers who do such a great job of keeping the LPGA in the news. Your posts are so important in promoting the LPGA Tour. I would like to single out Hound Dog, Seoul Sisters, and Ruthless Golf, just to name a few of my favorites.

Everyone have a safe and healthy New Year.

Daisuke Takahashi, Mao Asada Win Japanese Nationals

His free skate certainly wasn't pretty, but Daisuke Takahashi retained just enough of his 10-point lead from the short program to hold onto the gold medal at Japanese nationals and hold off Takahiko Kozuka and Sendai native Yuzuru Hanyu.

Instead of making the post-ISU Grand Prix statement I was hoping for, Dai-chan brought his D-game and was lucky that neither Kozuka nor Hanyu could put together a perfect performance.  Both of his challengers had great programs going, but couldn't nail a late jump, the 17-year-old Hanyu clearly because of asthma-induced exhaustion at the end of his program:

Clearly the future of Japanese figure skating is in good hands, as another 17-year-old, Kanako Murakami, had a chance to take the gold after a fantastic short program gave her a tiny lead over Mao Asada:

But the bubbly teenager was off in the free skate, falling to 3rd after Akiko Suzuki thanks to a flat-out trip late in her program:

The contrast in moods between Murakami and gold-medal winner Mao Asada couldn't have been more pronounced. Asada, who pulled out of the ISU Grand Prix Finals in Quebec the moment she found out her mother was terminally ill but who couldn't get back to Japan in time to see her before she died, was somber in interviews even after skating her best short program of the year:

But Mao-chan kept her composure the entire competition and skated a great-under-the-circumstances long program:

The changing looks on her face during the awards ceremony say it all:

You can see in the reactions of the crowd and hear in the voices of the announcers how deeply moved everyone was who watched Asada perform in Osaka the last few days.  The Full Metal Archivist and I were holding back tears ourselves.  Gambatte, Mao-chan!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Solution

There has been an uproar caused by Ai Miyazato winning the LET money title this year despite playing only two events.  I have a solution I'd like to propose.

Since it's football season here in the US, I'll take an example from that sport to make my point.  Let's say Tom Brady needs to leave the field to repair an equipment malfunction, so the backup replaces him for a few plays.  During that time the backup throws two passes, completing both.  The backup's completion percentage is 100, but he's not eligible for post-season awards based on that because he has not met minimum number of attempts that has been established by the league to be eligible for awards.  To repeat, even though the backup is a league member, he's not eligible because he did not meet the minimum number of attempts.

Now to the LET:  Women's golf is in a unique position at the present time.  There are three viable Tours (LPGA, LET, JLPGA) that attract the best players in the game at one time or another.  Wouldn't it make sense for the LET to establish a relatively low base number of tournaments so that Europeans (or Americans, or Asians) who normally play the LPGA could maintain LET membership, but establish a much higher number to qualify for post-season awards?

Could the LET establish three tournaments per year (one more than Evian and WBO, for example) as a minimum to maintain membership, but require 10 tournaments to qualify for awards?  The best players in the world will make an effort to play a few times a year, especially when there are holes in the LPGA schedule, but doing so wouldn't skew post-season awards.

Daisuke Takahashi Breaks 95 in Short Program at Japanese Nationals

Unlike in golf, breaking 95 is a very rare achievement in figure skating when it comes to the score for your short program.  Well, that's what Daisuke Takahashi just did at the Japanese nationals:

He wasn't satisfied with his step sequence, he said in interviews afterward, but he nailed his quad (in a quad-triple combo!) and was awesome on his other jumps, as well.  Ended up earning himself a 96.05, over 10 points ahead of his nearest pursuer (Kozuka) and over 20 points ahead of his next-closest competitor (Hanyu)!

I'm hoping Takahashi skates great in his long program, because I'd love to see him eclipse the hyper-inflated score Patrick Chan beat him with at the ISU Grand Prix, where Chan actually extended his lead on Dai-chan despite bringing his C-game to the free skate.  Everyone watching thought that Dai-chan completed outskated Chan when the chips were down and that the only question was whether Chan's huge lead from the short program would hold up against Dai-chan's onslaught.  Instead....  Well, just watch.  I still can't write about it....

First, Dai-chan's challenge:

Then, Chan's response:

Dai-chan wuz robbed, I tellz yuh!

Now let's hear the commentary in English, first for Takahashi:

Then, for Chan:

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Official: LET Recognizes Ai Miyazato as Their Leading Money-Winner

The LET has formally announced that Caroline Hedwall is their 2011 Rookie of the Year and Ai Miyazato their 2011 money-list title-holder. 

Ai-sama's in great company internationally--here are the other money-list winners from women's professional tours, great and small, that I could find information on so far this year:

Ya Ni Tseng: LPGA, ALPG, LAGT, and TLPGA
Sun-Ju Ahn: JLPGA
Ha Neul Kim: KLPGA
Porani Chutichai: CLPGA
Kathleen Ekey: Futures Tour (LPGA)
Aoi Nagata: Step-Up Tour (JLPGA)
Marieke Nivard: LET Access Series
Jessica Shepley: CN Canadian Women's Tour
Julie Maisongrosse: Generali Ladies Tour
Ginger Howard: SunCoast Series

Anyone know who won the KLPGA's Dream Tour or Phoenix's Cactus Tour?  [Update 4 (1/2/12, 12:09 pm):  Happy Fan over at Seoul Sisters informs me Hae Rim Kim won the Dream Tour money list!]

[Update 1 (9:15 am):  pearshapedhuman pointed out in comments on another post that Ya Ni Tseng won over 400 million euros this year on the LET--but as she wasn't an LET member, she doesn't appear on their official money list.  So call her their unofficial money leader this year and, if she takes LET membership for 2012, not only their frontrunner for Rookie of the Year but also the player with the best chance in the world of women's golf to win both the LPGA and LET money titles!]

[Update 2 (11:14 am):  Ah, the AP is actually paying attention to women's golf!  It's more of an editorial than a news story, but still interesting!]

[Update 3 (8:28 pm):  Jonathan Wall agrees with the AP's Doug Ferguson that the LET needs to require a minimum number of events to remain a member and be eligible for the money-list title.  How high should they set the bar, then, when the higher you go the more top European players you force off your tour?  In 2011, Suzann Pettersen and Azahara Munoz only played 3 times, Anna Nordqvist 4, and Karen Stupples and Sandra Gal 5.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The 2011 Worldwide Women's Developmental Tour Schedule and Results, Final Edition

Here's the final update to my 2011 guide to playing opportunities custom-made for up-and-coming female pros, from the major tour-affiliated organizations like the Futures Tour in the USA, the Step-Up Tour in Japan, the Dream Tour in Korea, and the LET Access Series in Europe to mid-size tours like the ALPG in Australia, the LAGT in Asia, and the CLPGA in China, to the even smaller ones like the TLPGA in Taiwan, the CN Canadian Women's Tour in Canada, the Generali Ladies Tour in Europe, the Cactus Tour in Phoenix, AZ, and the SunCoast Series in Florida.

It'll be interesting to see if this year's trend of well-established and even big-time players competing and winning on these developmental and mini-tours (often due to events being co-sponsored with major tours, but not always) will continue in 2012.  And given how many of this year's graduates from these tours have already made waves in the big leagues--think O'Toole, LaCrosse, and Joh on the LPGA and Nomura on the JLPGA--it'll be interesting to see who among them steps up their games even further next season.


2-3 St. Georges Basin Country Club Pro-Am (ALPG) JOANNE MILLS

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


6-8 Royal Open (TLPGA) MI RIM LEE
8-9 Xstrata Coal Branxton Golf Club Pro-Am (ALPG) RACHEL BAILEY

12 NRE Gujarat Russell Vale Challenge Cup (ALPG) RYANN O'TOOLE
13-14 Moss Vale Golf Club Classic (ALPG) KATHERINE HULL
14-16 Taifong Ladies Open (TLPGA) YA NI TSENG

16-17 Mount Broughton Classic (ALPG) KATHERINE HULL
18-20 Orange Tree Country Club (SCS) CINDY LACROSSE
21-23 Bing Lee Samsung NSW Women's Open (ALPG) CAROLINE HEDWALL; Hitachi Classic (TLPGA) PORNANONG PHATLUM

24-26 West Orange Country Club (SCS) LAURA DIAZ
28-30 ActewAGL Royal Canberra Ladies Classic (ALPG) ASHLEY ONA [a]
31-2/2 The Legacy (CT) MINDY KIM


1-3 Red Tail Country Club (SCS) MOIRA DUNN
3-6 Women's Australian Open (ALPG/LET) YA NI TSENG

7-9 Papago (CT) JULIE YANG [a]
8-10 Magnolia Plantation (SCS) CHELLA CHOI
10-13 ANZ RACV Ladies Masters (ALPG/LET) YA NI TSENG

14-16 Wigwam Red (CT) ALENA SHARP
15-17 Mission Inn Resort--Las Colinas (SCS) HYUN-JI KIM
17-20 Pegasus New Zealand Women's Open (ALPG/LET) KRISTIE SMITH

22-24 CC of Mount Dora (SCS) KRIS TAMULIS
24 Lady Anne Funerals Ryde Parramatta Pro-Am (ALPG) SARAH KEMP
24-26 Yumeya Championship (LAGT) SAKURA YOKOMINE

28-3/2 Ocotillo (CT) MINA HARIGAE

MARCH 2011

1-3 LPGA International--Champions (SCS) PAIGE MACKENZIE

7-9 Florida Women's Open (CT) ISABELLE BEISIEGEL

14-15 Encanterra (CT) JENNIFER JOHNSON
16-18 Terre Blanche Ladies Open (LETAS/GLT) HENRIETTA ZUEL

21-23 Palm Valley--Palms (CT) JOY TROTTER
25-27 Florida's Natural Charity Classic (FT) TZU-CHI LIN

29-31 Mission Inn Resort--El Campeon (SCS) RACHEL CONNOR

APRIL 2011

1-3 Daytona Beach Invitational (FT) HARUKYO NOMURA; Shanghai Classic (CLPGA) LI YING YE; Q-School [for foreign players] (CLPGA)
5-7 Falcons Fire GC (SCS) NICOLE HAGE

8-10 Santorini Riviera Navarit Classic (FT) RYANN O'TOOLE
11-13 Seville (CT) JOY TROTTER
12-14 Rock Springs Ridge (SCS) CHELLA CHOI
13-15 La Nivelle Ladies Open (LETAS/GLT) ANNE-LISE CAUDAL

22-24 Yangzhou Challenge (CLPGA) PORANI CHUTICHAI

25-26 KLPGA Dream Tour #1 HYE NA JUNG
25-27 The Legacy (CT) JOY TROTTER
26-28 Harmony Golf Preserve (SCS) RENEE SKIDMORE
29-5/1 Symetra Classic (FT) LISA FERRERO

MAY 2011

2-4 Southern Dunes (CT) DINA AMMACCAPANE
3-5 Eastwood GC (SCS) LISA MELDRUM

9-11 Ocotillo (CT) KENDALL DYE
10-12 Stoneybrook East GC (SCS) MARIA HJORTH
11-12 KLPGA Dream Tour #2 HAE RIM KIM

16-18 Squamish Valley GC (CWT) JESSICA SHEPLEY
20-22 Beijing Renji Challenge (CLPGA) PORANI CHUTICHAI

30-31 KLPGA Dream Tour #3 DA SOM LEE

JUNE 2011

2-3 Deodeo Cup (SUT) AOI NAGATA
3-5 Ladies Titan Tire Challenge (FT) KATHLEEN EKEY

7-8 KLPGA Dream Tour #4 AH RA KO
8-10 Forest Lake (SCS) GINGER HOWARD
10-12 Teva Championship (FT) LISA FERRERO; Yantai Yangmadao Challenge (CLPGA) TIAN HONG

13-14 KLPGA Dream Tour #5 RA SO
13-15 Club de Golf Beloeil (CWT) KATY HARRIS
16-19 Tate & Lyle Players Championship (FT) VALENTINE DERREY

24-26 Island Resort Championship (FT) STEPHANIE KIM; Caofeidian Wetlands Challenge (CLPGA) PATCHARAJUTAR KONGKRAPHAM

28-29 Blue Springs (CWT) JESSICA WALLACE [a]
30-7/2 South Shore Championship at White Hawk (FT) TIFFANY JOH

JULY 2011

5-7 Stoneybrook West (SCS) JACQUI CONCOLINO

12-14 LPGA International (SCS) GINGER HOWARD
13-14 KLPGA Dream Tour #6 SU-A KIM
15-17 ING New England Golf Classic (FT) BRITTANY JOHNSTON

18-20 Harmony Golf Preserve (SCS) GINGER HOWARD
22-24 The International at Concord (FT) JESSICA SHEPLEY
25-26 KLPGA Dream Tour #7 SUNG-WOON LEE

27-28 Castrol Ladies (SUT) CHIAKI TAKAHASHI
29-31 Alliance Bank Golf Classic (FT) KATHLEEN EKEY


1-2 KLPGA Dream Tour #8 HAE RIM KIM
5-7 Pennsylvania Classic (FT) CATHRYN BRISTOW

8-9 KLPGA Dream Tour #9 HAE RIM KIM
8-10 Whirlwind (CT) KAYLA MORTELLARO
9-11 Orange County National (SCS) HAEJI KANG
12-14 Eagle Classic (FT) MO MARTIN

16-18 Falcon's Fire (SCS) GINGER HOWARD

22-23 KLPGA Dream Tour #10 HAE-JEE CHO
26-28 Vidalia Championship (FT) SYDNEE MICHAELS


7-8 KLPGA Dream Tour #11 SUN YOUNG AHN
9-11 Price Chopper Tour Championship (FT) SYDNEE MICHAELS

13-15 Reunion Resort (SCS) JACQUI CONCOLINO
16-18 Wenzhou Yangyi Challenge (CLPGA) YAN HONG PAN
17-18 Women's Cup Sanyou Newspapers (SUT) AOI NAGATA

20-22 Reunion Resort (SCS) CASSANDRA BLANEY
23-25 Wuhan Challenge (CLPGA) PORANI CHUTICHAI
27-28 KLPGA Dream Tour #12 SO YEON PARK
27-29 Seville (CT) ALENA SHARP


3-5 Kokopelli (CT) JESSI GEBHARDT

6-7 KLPGA Dream Tour #13 DO-YEON KIM

12-13 KLPGA Dream Tour #14 MIN-JEE SONG
13-14 Aso GrandVrio Ladies Route Inn Cup (SUT) MINA NAKAYAMA
13-15 Trophee Preven's (LETAS) MARIEKE NIVARD

19-20 KLPGA Dream Tour #15 AH RA KO

24-26 Palm Valley--Palms (CT) THERESE KOELBAEK
25-27 Metrowest (SCS) JACQUI CONCOLINO
28-30 Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open (LAGT/CLPGA/LET) YA NI TSENG


7-9 Ocotillo (CT) JENNIE LEE

16-18 LPGA International (SCS) MITSUKI KATAHIRA
17-19 Murcia Ladies Open (LETAS) CARLOTA CIGANDA

21-23 LPGA International (SCS) REBECCA LEE-BENTHAM


2-4 Azores Ladies Open (LETAS) MARIEKE NIVARD

9-11 Hero Women's India Open (LAGT/LET) CAROLINE HEDWALL; TLPGA Swinging Skirts Invitational (TLPGA/CLPGA) YA NI TSENG

16-19 Hyundai China Ladies Open (CLPGA/KLPGA) HYE YOUN KIM

Monday, December 19, 2011

Were My Pre-Season Questions Answered?

Way back in February, before the LPGA season began, I listed 10 questions that I hoped would be answered this year.

Below I asked those same questions again.  Let us see whether or not they were answered.

1- Is Paula Creamer finally healthy and ready to return to her 2008 form, which brought her 4 victories?

Under normal circumstances, if an elite player like Paula goes an entire year without a victory, I wouldn't call it a success. However, in this instance, I have to make an exception. Because of her thumb surgery, she is just now starting to get back some of her length off the tee. She will be working with a strength coach this off season, to address that situation. Paula did have two 2nd-place finishes, seven top fives, and 10 top tens. She started the year #11 in the Rolex Ranking, and finished at #5. Yes, she is now ready to get back to her earlier form.

2- Can Michelle Wie climb to the next level, while taking exams?

Michelle failed to climb to the next level in 2011. She dropped from #10 to #17 in the Rolex Rankings. She will be an early graduate from Stanford in February. No more running back to her hotel room to study or mail in her exams. Hopefully she will now have the time to straighten out her putting woes. If she does, watch out!

3- Was Azahara Munoz really the best 2010 rookie? Was she even the best Spaniard?

After a horrible first half of the 2011 season, Azahara turned it completely around, finishing in the top 20 in 4 consecutive tournaments. Her back-to-back top 3 finishes in Asia really capped off her season. The answer to the above questions: Yes and Yes.

4- How many times will Suzann Petterson be a bridesmaid, before winning again?

The answer turned out to be Zero. Suzann quieted all critics by winning the Sybase Match Play Championship in May. She later followed that up by winning the Safeway Classic. She moved up to #2 in the world rankings, and did not have a single 2nd-place finish all year.

5- Will the Miyazatos join the Kims with 2 players in the top 10 of the world rankings?

No. Mika Miyazato looked so good in 2010, as she stormed to #22 position, never really got hot this year and dropped to #24. Meanwhile, Ai barely hung on to her top-10 position, dropping from #6 to #9. As far as the Kims are concerned, they no longer have 2 players in the top ten, either, as Song-Hee dropped from #9 to #29.

6- Is Lexi Thompson ready to compete with the girls at age 16.

This one is a resounding Yes! Lexi sure made believers out of anyone who may have had doubts, when she won the Navistar Classic by 5 strokes. The victory made her the youngest winner in LPGA history. She has now followed that up with a victory at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters, making her the youngest professional to win on the LET.

Granted full-time membership by commissioner Michael Whan, she will be teeing it up regularly in 2012. Rookie of the Year in 2012? Maybe. Solheim Cup member in 2013? Definitely. It is hard not to get excited about this girl's future.

7- Will the number one player in the world change on a weekly basis, or will someone step up and dominate?

If you don't know the answer to this question, I guess you must have spent the last year on Mars.

8- Will Song-Hee Kim reach 50 top tens (she has 34), before she actually wins?

Maybe a better question would have been, will she ever get another top 10? Song-Hee's 2011 season was already summarized in question #5.

9- Can the United States retain the Solheim Cup for the 4th consecutive time, on the road in Ireland?

We all know the answer turned out to be No, and I still haven't gotten over it. 2013 can't come soon enough.

10- With all the efforts these girls are making on and off the golf course, will they finally be rewarded with more tournaments in 2012?

The LPGA schedule has not been released as of this writing, but it seems slow progress is being made. The ladies played 23 official tournaments in 2011. We know that in 2012 they have lost the State Farm Classic. We also know that the Jamie Farr Classic will return to the schedule. Add to that new tournaments in Australia and Waterloo, Canada, and we should be up to at least 25. More tournaments in the United States would be nice, but as the old saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Maybe Michael Whan still has some surprises for us. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Sometime early next year, I will be listing the top 10 questions I would like to be answered in 2012.

Rolex Rankings Mover of the Week:
Lexi Thompson's win in Dubai moves her from #53 to #38.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Recommended Reading: Dave Andrews on Hannah Yun

Dave Andrews not only knows Hannah Yun's golf career like the back of his hand, he also carried her bag at Q-School.  Check out his reporting of both stories at Into the Grain.  He gets in a lot more personal background in this follow-up post.  Both are well worth a read!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Editor's Note: A profile of Yani Tseng appears on pg. 74.

Man, those editors at Golf Magazine are quick with the comebacks!  After LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan politely but resolutely roasted their ridiculous decision to name Rory McIlroy their Player of the Year instead of everyone's obvious choice, Ya Ni Tseng, they responded with the bon mot that I took for my title.

I can come up with several ways of slicing the tone of that little note.  What do you got?

  • Move-it-along-nothing-to-see-here just-the-facts blaseness:  "[Whistling casually] Thank you for your letter.  Can we interest you in our table of contents?" 
  • Embarrassed defensiveness: "Hey, we screwed up, we know, but at least we mentioned her in this issue, right? Right? Come on, you guys, stop being so harsh on us!  ....Please?"
  • Brazen arrogance: "Yeah, Ya Ni had a pretty good year.  Not a Player of the Year year.  A pg. 74 year.  Siddown and shaddup, Commish!"

I'm leaning toward the last reading, given that the one line from the letter they chose to blow up in a graphic--"Yani certainly doesn't need me--or anyone else--to validate her position"--seems to suggest that Whan didn't need to write the letter and they didn't need to award her the POY.

Nicely done, editors of Golf Magazine.  Well played!

[Update 1 (12/19/11, 4:30 pm):  Armchair Golf has picked up this story; instead of focusing on the editors' anemic response, Neil summarizes Whan's letter and adds in telling supporting evidence that Whan didn't cite (like the fact that 96% of those Golf Magazine polled on Facebook thought Ya Ni should be POY!).]

Can Lexi Close the Deal in Dubai?

Lexi Thompson is the only player in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters to reach double digits under par through the 1st 54 holes.  At -10, she has a 1-shot lead on Sophie Gustafson, a 2-shot lead on Lee-Anne Pace and Pernilla Lindberg, a 3-shot lead on Becky Morgan, Julieta Granada, and Stacy Lee Bregman, and a 5-shot lead on Michelle Wie.  With Caroline Hedwall and Carlota Ciganda breaking 70 today to get to -4, I'm curious to see if they can get in the mix tomorrow.  The LET has the details on all the leaders, along with the final-round pairings.  Can Lexi become the youngest professional winner and 2nd-youngest winner on the LET?  18 holes will tell!

[Update 1 (12/17/11, 8:56 am):  bangkokbobby did his usual bang-up job on the 3rd round, with lots of great photos and a rundown of the entire leaderboard.]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 CLPGA Money Title Up for Grabs this 2012 KLPGA Season-Opener!

There's one money-list title in women's golf that has yet to be decided:  the CLPGA's.  And it's going to be decided in the 1st KLPGA event of 2012, the Hyundai China Ladies Open.

As the Asia Pacific Golf Group's preview makes clear, a few Thai and Chinese golfers have a chance to leapfrog the absent Porani Chutichai and take the #1 spot for 2011, including Patcharajutar Kongkraphan, Yan Hong Pan, and Jia Yun Li (it looks to me like 19-year-old Thidapa Suwannapura and Tian Hong have an outside chance to take the title, as well). Given that this is the 2011 season-closer for the CLPGA and the 2012 season-opener for the KLPGA, though, the competition should be particularly intense.  Let's see how the CLPGA's hopefuls stand up against the likes of Shanshan Feng from the LPGA and JLPGA, Pornanong Phatlum from the LPGA, Li-Ying Ye from the JLPGA, and the top 40 from the 2011 KLPGA money list.  It's a swan song of sorts for most of them, as in 2012 Li will be a JLPGA member (along with Chutichai, who finished T11 at JLPGA Q-School) and Kongkraphan and Suwannapura LPGA members.

Who will join the LPGA's Ya Ni Tseng, the JLPGA's Sun-Ju Ahn, the KLPGA's Ha Neul Kim, and the LET's Ai Miyazato as the queen of the hill for the CLPGA?  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stats & Facts, "Vol 6"

With the LPGA's 2011 season now over, let us take a look at some of the not-so-obvious stats from the past year.

Players who did not miss a cut all year:
1- Paula Creamer - (21 tournaments)
2- Brittany Lincicome - (21)
3- Karrie Webb - (20)
4- Maria Hjorth - (20)
5- Jiyai Shin - (18)

Players who ended the season on a streak of consecutive missed cuts:
Louise Friberg - (13) She retired.
Allison Hanna - (11)
Ji Young Oh - (9)
Jean Reynolds - (8)
Nicole Hage, Alison Whitaker, Angela Oh, Nicole Jeray, Kimberly Kim, Shasta Averyhardt - (7)
Allison Fouch - (6)

Players who went the entire season without a top-20 finish:
Meaghan Francella, Lindsey Wright, Jee Young Lee - (15 tournaments)
Mariajo Uribe - (14)
Na On Min, Karin Sjodin - (13)
Anna Grzebien, Pernilla Lindberg, Jennifer Rosales, Lorie Kane, Laura Davies - (12)
Ji Young Oh, Birdie Kim - (11)

The only players to play in all 23 LPGA Tournaments:
Stacy Lewis
Azahara Munoz
Beatriz Recari

Other Tidbits:

Yani Tseng won her 12th worldwide tournament this past weekend. She won the Swinging Skirts 2011 Taiwan Invitational. She was the only player to post an under par finish. Her 6-under total was 7 shots better than Ji-Yai Shin and So-Yeon Ryu.

Caroline Hedwall won her fourth L.E.T tournament at the Hero Women's Indian Open. The L.E.T's schedule concludes this weekend with the playing of the Omega Dubai Ladies Open. Besides Hedwall, the field will include LPGA regulars Michelle Wie, Anna Nordqvist, Christina Kim, Sandra Gal, Sophie Gustafson, and Lexi Thompson. The Golf Channel will broadcast this tournament all four days.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Caroline Hedwall Wins Hero Women's Indian Open; Ai Miyazato Will Be 2011 LET Money-List Title-Holder

Caroline Hedwall held off a challenge from Pornanong Phatlum and others today to take the Hero Indian Women's Open by 2 shots to move up to 3rd on the 2011 LET money list.  However, even if she or #2 Melissa Reid were to win in Dubai next week, neither can catch Ai Miyazato's winnings total from the Women's British Open and the Evian Masters alone.  So Ai-sama will be the 2011 LET money-list champion!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Recommended Reading: Lisa Mickey Gets Tiffany Joh

Lisa Mickey shows once again why she's one of the best writers in the world on women's golf:  check out her Tiffany Joh profile!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The LPGA's Top Rivalries: Generation Gaps, Revisited

Now that the 2011 LPGA season is over, it's time to reexamine how the LPGA's last 6 generations stack up. Check out the career money list and wins/majors totals for the top players in the generations that span the Sorenstam Era (1994-2008), the overlapping Ochoa Era (2003-2009), and the overlapping Tseng Dynasty (2008-present).  Thanks to Mike Scanlan for sending me the excel file of the complete career money list; hopefully will return to including it instead of limiting it to a top 50 that excludes many of the biggest young stars on tour!

[Note: [square brackets] indicate the player has retired from professional golf; {squiggle brackets} indicate the player is no longer an LPGA member but still playing on another tour; *=includes non-member win; **=includes 3 non-member wins.]

1994-1996: The Sorenstam Generation

[1. Annika Sorenstam (1994) $22.57M (#1), 72/10]
2. Karrie Webb (1996) $16.52M (#2), 38*/7
3. Catriona Matthew (1995) $6.93M (#16), 4/1
4. Pat Hurst (1995) $6.89M (#17), 6/1
5. Lorie Kane (1996) $6.84M (#18), 4/0
6. Wendy Ward (1996) $4.91M (#39), 4/0
{7. Carin Koch (1995) $4.43M (#43), 2/0}

Matthew and Hurst both passed Kane in the 2nd half of the season.  Koch is living in Sweden and playing exclusively on the LET, so unless she does well in future Women's British Opens and Evian Masters--or moves back to the States--she will fall further behind her peers from here on out. A more interesting question is whether Webb will be able to catch Sorenstam (in winnings, not wins)!

1997-1999: The Pak Generation

1. Cristie Kerr (1997) $13.53M (#4), 14/2
2. Se Ri Pak (1998) $11.39M (#6), 25/5
3. Mi Hyun Kim (1999) $8.62M (#11), 8/0
4. Sophie Gustafson (1998) $6.00M (#24), 5/0
5. Maria Hjorth (1998) $5.96M (#25), 5/0
[6. Rachel Hetherington (1997) $5.73M (#29), 8/0]
7. Laura Diaz (1999) $5.11M (#37), 2/0
8. Karen Stupples (1999) $3.83M (#50), 2/1

Even though Kerr's passed Pak on the career money list, she'll have to join her in the Hall of Fame to have her name on the generation, too. With Hetherington retired, the Gustafson-Hjorth-Diaz race takes on added urgency, although given the way Diaz has been playing lately, she'll need a real turnaround to catch even Hetherington.

2000-2002: Seoul Sisters

1. Hee-Won Han (2001) $6.59M (#20), 6/0
2. Angela Stanford (2001) $6.52M (#21), 4/0
3. Jeong Jang (2000) $6.44M (#22), 2/1
4. Grace Park (2000) $5.43M (#35), 6/1
5. Candie Kung (2002) $5.06M (#38), 4/0
6. Natalie Gulbis (2002) $4.32M (#45), 1/0
{7. Gloria Park (2000) $3.28M (#64), 2/0}

With Jang taking the year off (marriage and pregnancy) and Han only playing so-so golf as a relatively new mom, herself, it looks like Stanford is on track to become the top player of this generation.  The "other Park" is on the KLPGA in 2011.

2003-2005: The Ochoa Generation

[1. Lorena Ochoa (2003) $14.86M (#3), 27/2]
2. Paula Creamer (2005) $8.78M (#9), 9/1
3. Suzann Pettersen (2003) $8.19M (#13), 8/1
4. Brittany Lincicome (2005) $4.43M (#42), 5/1
5. Christina Kim (2003) $4.06M (#48), 2/0
6. Meena Lee (2005) $3.51M (#57), 2/0
7. Stacy Prammanasudh (2003) $3.32M (#60), 2/0
8. Katherine Hull (2004) $3.00M (#70), 2/0
9. Shi Hyun Ahn (2004) $2.65M (#82), 1*/0
{10. Young Kim (2003) $2.36M (#92), 1/0}
11. Lindsey Wright (2004) $2.22M (#100), 0/0
12. Jimin Kang (2003) $2.11M (#104), 2/0

With Lorena looking less and less likely to ever come back to the LPGA, the only real question is how close Creamer and Pettersen can come to matching her career. The race between the 3 mid-level Americans and between the 2 Australians and 3 Koreans below them will be of interest, as well, but Young Kim will need to rejoin the LPGA to participate in it. She's finished her 2nd season in a row on the JLPGA and seems to be liking it, so I don't expect her to return to the LPGA anytime soon.

2006-2008: The Tseng Dynasty

1. Ya Ni Tseng (2008) $7.54M (#15), 12/5
2. Ai Miyazato (2006) $5.71M (#31), 7/0
3. Na Yeon Choi (2008) $5.67M (#32), 5/0
4. In-Kyung Kim (2007) $4.56M (#40), 3/0
5. Morgan Pressel (2006) $4.39M (#44), 2/1
6. Seon Hwa Lee (2006) $4.01M (#49), 4/0
7. Song-Hee Kim (2007) $3.65M (#54), 0/0
8. Jee Young Lee (2006) $3.31M (#62), 1*/0
9. Brittany Lang (2006) $3.12M (#67), 0/0
10. Inbee Park (2007) $2.99M (#72), 1/1
11. Sun Young Yoo (2006) $2.80M (#76), 1/0
12. Eun-Hee Ji (2007) $2.45M (#87), 2/1
13. Julieta Granada (2006) $2.40M (#90), 1/0
14. Hee Young Park (2008) $2.32M (#96), 1/0
[15. Angela Park (2007) $2.12M (#103), 0/0]
16. Amy Yang (2008) $2.04M (#108), 0/0
17. Kristy McPherson (2007) $1.88M (#117), 0/0
18. Ji Young Oh (2007) $1.49M (#131), 2/0
19. Momoko Ueda (2008) $1.40M (#141), 2*/0
20. Kyeong Bae (2006) $1.40M (#142), 0/0
21. Shanshan Feng (2008) $1.24M (#160), 0/0
22. Sandra Gal (2008) $1.21M (#163), 1/0
23. Meaghan Francella (2006) $1.16M (#169), 1/0
{24. Teresa Lu (2006) $1.13M (#173), 0/0}
25. Jane Park (2007) $1.01M (#191), 0/0
26. Katie Futcher (2006) $1.00M (#192), 0/0

Time to retire the Young Guns moniker for this generation; not only have they come of age, but Tseng has imprinted her name on it!

2009-2011: New Blood

1. Ji-Yai Shin (2009) $4.31M (#46), 8**/1*
2. Michelle Wie (2009) $2.43M (#89), 2/0
3. Stacy Lewis (2009) $2.22M (#99), 1/1
4. Anna Nordqvist (2009) $1.90M (#115), 2/1
5. Mika Miyazato (2009) $1.49M (#133), 0/0
6. Azahara Munoz (2010) $.92M (#205), 0/0
7. Vicky Hurst (2009) $.92M (#208), 0/0
8. M.J. Hur (2009) $.90M (#213), 1/0
9. Hee Kyung Seo (2011) $.73M (#238), 1*/0
10. Chella Choi (2009) $.53M (#274), 0/0
11. Beatriz Recari (2010) $.49M (#288), 1/0
12. Gwladys Nocera (2010) $.48M (#290), 0/0
13. Mindy Kim (2009) $.42M ($301), 0/0
14. Amanda Blumenherst (2010) $.42M (#302), 0/0
15. Haeji Kang (2009) $.39M (#310), 0/0
16. Mina Harigae (2010) $.27M (#364), 0/0
17. Tiffany Joh (2011) $.24M (#383), 0/0
18. Ryann O'Toole (2011) $.19M (#410), 0/0
19. Mariajo Uribe (2010) $.17M (#429), 0/0
20. Christel Boeljon (2011) $.17M (#430), 0/0
21. Pornanong Phatlum (2009) $.17M (#436), 0/0
22. Jenny Shin (2011) $.16M (#441), 0/0
{23. Shiho Oyama (2009) $.14M (#459), 0/0}
24. Dewi Claire Schreefel (2010) $.14M (#466), 0/0
25. Cindy LaCrosse (2010) $.14M (#469), 0/0
26. Jennifer Johnson (2011) $.13M (#474), 0/0
27. Alison Walshe (2010) $.13M (#476), 0/0
28. Caroline Hedwall (2011) $.13M (#477), 0/0
29. Ilhee Lee (2010), $.12M (#484), 0/0
30. Maria Hernandez (2010) $.11M (#502), 0/0
31. Belen Mozo (2011) $.10M (#505), 0/0
32. Gerina Piller (2010) $.10M (#510), 0/0

Obviously with this generation, it's really too soon to tell who's going to have a great LPGA career. I'm erring on the side of inclusiveness by putting everuone over $100K in career winnings in this generation on this list.  As we get further into their careers, I'll slowly start raising the bar, until by 2014 they'll need to have broken the $1M barrier to stay on the list.  I'd be very impressed if as many of them did it as in the previous generation!

2012-2014: Generation Prodigy

To be determined!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Initial Thoughts on the LPGA's Class of 2012 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!

Monday, December 5, 2011

2011 Surprises and Disappointments, "Part 3"

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):

Biggest Surprises:

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.

Biggest Disappointments:

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.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It Wouldn't Be LPGA Q-School Without a Controversy or Two: On Stephanie Kono and Hannah Yun

For the 2nd year in a row, and the 3rd since the LPGA switched over in July 2008 to its Priority Status List system for entry into full-field, non-major domestic tournaments, their Q-School has been visited by controversy.  Last year, the LPGA retroactively awarded memberships to nine golfers after it was determined that there shouldn't have been a playoff to determine membership in Category 20 on the 2011 Priority Status List.  Back in 2008, the LPGA mistakenly ran a playoff at T21 to determine membership in Category 11, when they really should have either run it at T25 or not held it at all. 

Now, having switched over to a 3-stage qualification process that merges the former Futures Tour (now Symetra Tour) and LPGA Q-Schools for the 1st time, the LPGA is facing bad publicity for refusing to allow UCLA senior Stephanie Kono to defer her 2012 membership.  Instead, it's forcing her to decide between turning pro immediately following her T9 finish at the Final Qualifying Tournament today or giving up her ticket for full-time status on the LPGA next season in order to maintain her amateur status.  Why is this such a terrible thing?  Well, the argument goes, since all Kono wanted to do was assure herself of membership on the Futures Symetra Tour next season when she turned pro as planned after the Curtis Cup, and since she and her coach repeatedly checked in with LPGA HQ on whether she needed to play in the Final Qualifying Tournament to do that, and since the LPGA repeatedly made a mistake in assuring her and her coach that she did, therefore the LPGA needs to do something to compensate Kono by putting her in a tight spot--and probably compensate UCLA for depriving them of one of their star players, as they did when Kono decided to turn pro.  As Beth Ann Baldry puts it:

To correct the situation, the LPGA should make an exception for Kono and allow her to defer membership until after she graduates. The LPGA made a mistake. An apology doesn’t seem like enough this time, and it’s ludicrous to expect her to withdraw.

Kono agrees that solution would be ideal, but thinks it’s a long shot.
Forsyth brings up a good point to consider: Eliminate amateurs at the final stage. Give amateurs the chance to earn status on the Futures Tour through two stages, and then if they want to give the LPGA a chance, make them turn professional. Sounds fair to college coaches, who are tired of their programs being used as a safety net when Q-School doesn’t work out.
While it does seem odd that you can choose to defer your membership onto the LPGA's developmental tour but can't onto its big tour, this rule has been in place for a long time and there's no point in bending it just because you feel bad about your mistake and feel worse for the player affected.  Doing so would be bad for the players who exercise that option, too, as it would make it very difficult to win enough money in the events they entered after the NCAA season were done or after the Curtis Cup were over to avoid 2012 Q-School.  More important, it's the player's responsibility to know the rules; if Kono and her coach thought the LPGA was misinterpreting their own rules, they should have made a bigger stink this fall and forced the commissioner to offer a final ruling.

So the most the LPGA could, and probably should, do for Kono is offer to pay her travel and lodging expenses, and, for UCLA, donate the amount Kono would have won if she hadn't competed as an amateur to their women's golf program ($2125).  Well, maybe they should also follow Kono's coach's suggestion.  I'm not sure if it's a good one--I'd have to think about it more carefully than I have time to now--but since there's no way it could be implemented until 2012 Q-School, and then only after being vetted according to the LPGA's constituted procedures, there's no sense in my taking the time now to sort through its pros and cons.

As bad a beating as the LPGA may take in the media (and has already taken on twitter) for the Kono conundrum, imagine the controversy that would have erupted if the 2-stroke penalty given to Hannah Yun for returning her ball to its original spot after the wind blew it an inch on the 3rd green had dropped her back into the playoff for the 20th spot (which most likely would have dropped her back to Category 16 status) or back to +6 (which would have dropped her down to Category 20 status).  Turns out that in the heat of the moment, Yun, who told me on the phone at 5 pm tonight that she knows the correct ruling--play it from where the wind blew it--followed the advice of playing partner Tanya Dergal instead of sticking to her guns, calling for a decision right then from a rules official, or playing 2 balls (1 from each spot) and getting a ruling after her round.  Whether Dergal really was unsure whether she had given Yun the correct advice or whether she had laid a subtle trap for the 19-year-old is unclear, but she reported what had happened to a rules official in the scoring tent and Yun was assessed a 2-shot penalty.  It was the right call, but if Yun hadn't finished birdie-birdie to end up T15, the LPGA would have been in a world of hurt--again for making the right call.  As Yun hastens to emphasize, it was her responsibility to know the rules and apply them correctly.  Failure to do that should entail consequences.

Hopefully this will be a lesson for Dergal, Yun, Kono, and the LPGA.

[Update 1 (11:21 pm):  Baldry follows up on her earlier Kono story.  I wonder if the LPGA will offer take up my earlier advice and also pay for her last 6 credits at UCLA?]

LPGA Q-School Final Qualifying Tournament Overview: Close Races at the Top and Bottom of the Top 20; Gulyanamitta and Salas Prevail

Junthima Gulyanamitta fired a 6-birdie 68 in the final round of the Final Qualifying Tournament on the Champions course at LPGA International to take medallist honors from Christine Song for 2011 LPGA Q-School.  Song started her bid for a wire-to-wire win with 3 bogeys and no birdies in her 1st 10 holes, but a double bogey by Gulyanamitta on the par-4 12th gave her some hope.  However, Gulyanamitta finished strong with 3 birdies and no bogeys in her last 6 holes to take a 2-shot victory over Song.

There were other great rounds and great finishes among those who earned full LPGA status for next year by finishing in the top 20, but probably none were better than Lizette Salas's.  Sure, Rebecca Lee-Bentham shot the low round of the day, a 6-birdie 67, to jump from T38 all the way to T9.  Dori Carter fired a 6-birdie 68 to finish T4 with Karlin Beck, 1 shot behind fellow Class of '11er Jennie Lee, who also got her 2012 card the hard way.  Victoria Tanco went -4 over her last 14 holes of bogey-free golf to finish in T15.  Meredith Duncan finished birdie-eagle and Hannah Yun finished birdie-birdie to avoid having to take part in the 9-player playoff at +5 for the last spot in the top 20.  There, Salas faced off against Danah Bordner, who played her last 15 holes -6 and bogey-free, including a walkoff eagle that earned her a 68 and a +5 finish for the week; Sophia Sheridan, who birdied 2 of her last 4 holes to make the playoff; and the likes of Stepanie Sherlock, Paola Moreno, Veronica Felibert, Jacqui Concolino, Min Seo Kwak, and Lacey Agnew in a 3-hole cumulative playoff.  Thanks to tweets from Golfweek's Julie Williams and Beth Ann Baldry, we know that Salas took what seemed to be an insurmountable lead by birdieing her 1st 2 holes, but Agnew and Bordner struck back from the 1st threesome with eagles on the par-5 18th.  (That's 2 for 2 by Bordner for you folks scoring at home.)  So what did Salas do but sink an 18-footer for her 3rd-straight birdie in the playoff to take the last spot that guarantees a full LPGA schedule for 2012?  Clutch!

If the LPGA were using the rules for 2011 Q-School that were in effect the last 2 years, then only the next 10 players following Salas would be in Category 16, with ties broken by final-day scores.  That would leave Mi Hyang Lee and Patcharajutar Kongkraphan the 9th and 10th players in that category on the priority status list.  But if what I'm reading from is correct, this year they're including those who finished in the top 30 and ties, which would mean that Mitsuki Katahira (who bogeyed 18 to drop to +6) and Thidapa Suwannapura (who finished birdie-bogey-birdie to salvage a 75) are also in Category 16.

This has implications for 2-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion Danielle Kang, who would be the 11th player after Kongkraphan and hence the odd woman out of Category 20 under the old rules.  But if top 40 and ties are in, then Kang is just barely in, too.

I've been seeing several players and media folks referring to a penalty Hannah Yun had to take on the 3rd hole.  She had originally been in with a 69, but all of a sudden it got changed to a 71 when she had to take a double there.  Beth Ann Baldry promises to write up this story.  I have to give Hannah a call and then I'll update this post.

I know the media is going to make a big deal about the Stephanie Kono story that Baldry broke yesterday--how she has to give up the rest of her senior year at UCLA and a chance for a spot on the 2012 Curtis Cup because she was required to either accept or reject LPGA membership after finishing T9, rather than given a chance to defer for a few months, even though she was mistakenly told that she had to participate in the Final Qualifying Tournament to get Futures Symetra Tour status for 2012.  More on that later, too!

[Update 1 (5:19 pm): has its final results page out and both it and the updating live scoring page clarify that indeed top 30 and ties are in Category 16 and top 40 and ties are in Category 20.  I just got off the phone with Hannah Yun and will treat her penalty in a separate post after I make some rice for dinner!]

[Update 2 (6:19 pm):  My bad, it's next 10 for Category 16 and top 40 and ties for Category 20!  Kono/Yun post not done; will have to wait till after dinner!]

[Update 3 (7:14 pm):  Great final-round overview by Lisa Mickey!]

[Update 4 (10:05 pm):  Here's Tom Abbott's take.  I think he went easy on Danielle Kang and Carlota Ciganda, who vastly underachieved on their way to getting practically worthless LPGA status in 2012.]

[Update 5 (12/5/11, 9:58 am):  Here's 's profile of the top 20 in Category 1 for 2012.]

It's Down to the Wire at LPGA Q-School's Final Qualifying Tournament

The 76 golfers who survived the cut line at LPGA Q-School's Final Qualifying Tournament are already on the Champions course and it should be a real shootout at LPGA International today.  Not so much for the 4 players under par through 4 rounds, whom Lisa Mickey focused on so well yesterday, or the 3 at E, 1 of whom Beth Ann Baldry profiled.  Whereas something horrific would have to happen for these 7 golfers to fall out of the top 20, with 10 players at T19 and the rest of the field only 7 shots or less behind them, literally anything can happen over the last 18 holes.  Just look at Ayaka Kaneko, who went 79-76 on the Legends course earlier in the week but whose 67 on the Champions course yesterday moved her up from T78 (+10) to T19 (+5)!

What's amazing to me is who's struggling to remain in or get into that top 20.  Minea Blomqvist, who's had a long and successful, if slightly underachieving, LPGA career, is in that big group at T19.  A pair of 75s on the Legends course have been her downfall thus far, but she's only broken par at the Champions course once and didn't break 70 when she did it.  Hopefully that means a low number is in the cards for her.  Mariajo Uribe is only 1 shot better, having gone 75-74 her last 2 rounds to fall to +4 for the week; she'll need to improve greatly on that 75 on the Champions course from a couple of days ago if she doesn't want to have barely-there LPGA status (from being only in the top 125 on the 2011 LPGA money list) in 2012.  Hot young prospects like Mitsuki Katahira, Hannah Yun, Lizette Salas, and Jaclyn Sweeney are also right on the bubble at +5 through 72 holes, as are Meredith Duncan and Jean Reynolds.

1 stroke behind them are Sophia Sheridan and Lili Alvarez, who are trying to return to the LPGA, along with 2-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion Danielle Kang, who's gone 78-75 on the Legends course but is coming off a 69 a couple of days ago on the Champions course.  And don't forget Thailand's Patcharajutar Kongkraphan, a 2-time winner on the CLPGA this year.

Victoria Tanco and Veronica Felibert are another shot back at +7; neither had broken 73 all week until Felibert shot a 72 at the Champions course yesterday.  Both will have to do much better than that today if they want to move into the top 20.

There's a traffic jam at +8 that includes Carlota Ciganda, Ginger Howard, Valentine Derrey, Stephanie Na, Izzy Beisiegel, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Hannah Jun, and Kendall Dye.  The only one of the bunch to break 70 this week is Jun (she shot a 69 Friday to bounce back from an 80 on the Legends course on Thursday!).  Perhaps that means they're all due to go low today....

A couple of Canadians are looking to do just that from 4 shots behind the bubble girls.  Just like Lee-Bentham and Beisiegel, Samantha Richdale and Lisa Meldrum need to do something they haven't accomplished all week--break 70 on the Champions course--today.  So does Danah Bordner, like Richdale and Meldrum an LPGAer this year and like Richdale a victim of the Legends course yesterday.

There are others further back--from youngsters Julia Boland, Jenny Suh, and Shasta Averyhardt to established pros like Cathryn Bristow, Allison Fouch Duncan, and Leah Wigger, to veterans like Jamie Hullett, Birdie Kim, and Nicole Jeray--who basically need a miracle.  But this is Q-School, where someone's miracle is everyone else's nightmare, so I'm going to be careful what I wish for--absolutely nothing!

You can follow the live scoring at you dare!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kristie Smith and a Host of Other Notables Miss the Cut at LPGA Q-School's Final Qualifying Tournament

I have to admit that I'm shocked that Kristie Smith missed the cut at LPGA Q-School's Final Qualifying Tournament.  The only other player in the field I was more confident would make the top 20 this week than Smith was long-time LPGAer Minea Blomqvist, on whom more in another post.  But at #17 on the LET money list and a long-time stand-out on the ALPG, Smith, I figured, was due to break through onto the LPGA.  Instead, she opened with an 80 on the challenging Legends course at LPGA International and failed to break 73 over each of her next 3 rounds.  Just like that, she missed the cut by 2 shots.

But Smith was by no means alone.  Jennifer Gleason, Hanna Kang, and Tzu-Chi Lin, who were looking to improve their 2012 LPGA status from finishing in the top 10 on the 2011 Futures Tour money list, all missed the cut; Gleason missed it by 4 shots and couldn't break 74, Kang missed it by 5 shots and never broke 74, and Lin missed it by 12 shots, failing to break 75.  LPGAers Sara Brown (+20), Sarah Brown (+21), Nicole Hage (+20), Allison Hanna (+17), Jimin Jeong (+13), Kimberly Kim (+37), Stephanie Kim (WD), Junko Nakada (+23), Libby Smith (+46), Alison Whitaker (+17), and Adrienne White (+24) played their way off the tour for 2012, except for Hage, who finished 121st on the 2011 LPGA money list and will have some kind of nominal status for 2012.  No such luck for developmental tour winners this season (like Smith, Lin, Hage, and Stephanie Kim) Jasi Acharya (+14), Alejandra Llaneza (+15), and Benedikte Grotvedt (+16).  Or former can't-miss prospects like Esther Choe (+13), Mallory Blackwelder (+13), and Natalie Sheary (+15).  At least Brianna Do (+18) has her senior year at UCLA to look forward to.

So Gleason, Kang, Lin and Hage have very limited status on the LPGA in 2012.  Odds are they'll be spending most of their time with everyone else who missed the cut on the Futures Tour--sorry, Symetra Tour--in 2012.

What a week to not even have your B-game.  Yup, Q-School is cruel!

JLPGA Q-School Final Qualifying Tournament Overview: Erina Hara Medals, Harukyo Nomura T2

Erina Hara birdied her last hole of the Final Qualifying Tournament at JLPGA Q-School to salvage an even-par 72 at the Yamana Katsuragi Golf Club in Shizuoka and secure a 2-shot victory over veteran Chie Sakai and youngster Harukyo Nomura. 

With the top 30-40 golfers in the field getting into most 2012 JLPGA events, seasoned veterans Ikuyo Shiotani (96th) and Kaori Harada (92nd) will have to decide whether to retire and mid-career players like Yoshimi Koda (55th) and Julie Lu (64th) will have to decide whether to join youngsters Aoi Nagata (69th), Hiroko Ayada (72nd), Aiko Ueno (79th), and Sakurako Mori (80th) on the JLPGA's Step-Up Tour, LAGT, and perhaps other developmental tours.  Meanwhile, Ya-Huei Lu (50th), Mizuho Ozawa (48th), Erina Yamato (47th), Mie Nakata (46th), and Satsuki Oshiro (45th) will be hoping they get into a decent number of JLPGA events in 2012.

So who dodged the Q-School bullet and assured themselves full membership (or close to it) for next season?  Here are the lucky few:

1st/-12 Erina Hara
T2/-10 Chie Sakai, Harukyo Nomura
4th/-9 Shiho Toyonaga
5th/-6 Orie Fujino
6th/-4 Yuki Ichinose
T7/-3 Ming-Yen Chen, Hiromi Takesue
T9/-2 Mayumi Shimomura, Megumi Shimokawa
T11/-1 Tomoko Takahashi, Lala Anai, Nana Akahori, Porani Chutichai
T15/E Ikue Asama, Yuko Saitoh, Yui Kawahara
T18/+1 Erika Kikuchi, Eriko Sonada, Kaori Yamamoto
T21/+2 Miki Sakai, Ayako Okazaki, Yuko Fukuda, Hiroko Fukushima, Hiroko Takahama, Misuzu Narita, Onnarin Sattayabanphot
T28/+3 Mikiko Nishi, Da E Na, Rie Murata, Airi Saitoh, Sae Yamamura
T33/+4 Tao-Li Yang, Kotono Kozuma, Aiko Kaneda, Toshimi Kimura, Tomoko Kusakabe
T38/+5 Keiko Sasaki, Yeo-Jin Kang, Yoko Inoue, Natsu Nagai, Kaori Nakamura

There are a few teen sensations who will be JLPGA members in 2012; Mizusu Narita turned 19 in early October, preceding Mostly Harmless regular Harukyo Nomura by almost 2 months, while Sae Yamamura has almost a half-year and Kotono Kozuma almost 3/4 of a year on the player who won the 1st JLPGA event she entered as a professional.  But there are also portraits in perseverance who will be playing on the big tour in 2012, like 39-year-old Ayako Okazaki, who's earned less than 2 million yen in her much-interrupted 5-year career on tour that dates back to 2001 and has been on hold since 2009, and 34-year-old Hiroko Fukushima, who's now made it 6 years in a row on a tour whose top 100 on the money list she has never yet cracked.

While there's a good mix of newcomers to the tour (Da E Na and Porani Chutichai join the Japanese teenagers), young guns whose careers so far have mostly misfired (Ichinose, Anai, Kikuchi, Miki Sakai, Sattayabanphot, Yang, Kang), and vets (pretty much everyone else), probably the only really exciting ones for sure are Hara and Nomura.  Both have won once on tour and have the capacity to be top 10 players in 2012.  But they, like everyone else, have an uphill battle to prove themselves against those who made the top 50 on the money list in 2011.  It'll be interesting to see next year who can do it!