Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the 2012 LPGA Priority Status List

Just as the LPGA announced their 2012 schedule, they also released the new priority status list that establishes members' access to regular, full-field events.  Actually, last December, Seoul com regular IceCat noticed that the new list went live early on, and produced his own analysis of it, from which I'm drawing to do mine.  Here's his take in its entirety:

There are five medical exemptions (including JJ) within Category 1, meaning that there are 85 players instead of 80 in the coveted position. Laura Davies is the lone player in Category 2 (Career Top 20), while Helen Alfredsson and Ji Young Oh are in Category 4 (Multiple Wins In The Past 2 Years). Next on the list is Eunjung Yi, who holds a medical exemption in Category 6 (One Win In The Past 2 Years), followed by the two Category 7s (2011 non-member winners So Yeon Ryu and Alexis Thompson) and the Top Five from the 2011 Futures Tour Money List (Category 9 - Kathleen Ekey, Lisa Ferrero, Mo Martin, Sydnee Michaels and Jane Rah).

Grace holds position #92 in Category 11, but as sort of revenge for the 2004 Kraft Nabisco Championship (or more likely just a coincidence) Aree Song was shoehorned in between her and #91 Junthima Gulyanamitta, who was the Q-school medalist, by way of a medical exemption. Grace's true Priority List position thus becomes #99, while Jin Young Pak, who finished #82 on the 2011 Money List, becomes listed #94/actual #101, just ahead of another medical exemption Irene Cho. There's a third medical further down in Category 11.

Jelly is the lone player in Category 12 (Top 40 Two Years Prior), putting her at listed #130/actual #139. The next player on the list is the lone occupant of Category 14 (Career Top 40), Laura Diaz. Anyone in Category 15 and below probably can't count on more than a handful of starts in 2012, and at listed #148/actual #159 Jeehae Lee decided to rejoin the real world and put away her clubs.

Let's slow down and unpack IceCat's take by reviewing the key categories of membership on the LPGA. Category 1, for the top 80 on the money list from 2011, includes 85 golfers. Who are the lucky additions (or unlucky, if you consider that while some of them got medical exemptions for happy reasons like a maternity leave, others are coming back from injuries or worse)?
(25a) Karine Icher
(41a) Jeong Jang
(52a) Nicole Castrale
(74a) Janice Moodie
(75a) Maria Hernandez

Next on the list is the lone Category 2 player, a player in the top 20 on career money list who decided to exercise one of her 2-time exemptions into this category, someone following in the footsteps of Meg Mallon, Lorie Kane, and Liselotte Neumann, among others:

(81) Laura Davies

Category 3 includes major winners in the past 5 years who have played at least 10 tournaments in the last 2, which includes exactly...nobody in 2012 (nobody not already in Category 1, that is).

Category 4 is made up of players who have won at least twice in the past 4 seasons and played at least 10 events in the past 2 without getting into a higher priority status category. That would include, um, 2 players:

(82) Helen Alfredsson
(83) Ji Young Oh

Alfredsson was focusing on her television career in 2011; I wonder how many times she'll tee it up in 2012?

Then we skip a couple of categories (no new winners in 2010 yet or 3-time winners in a single season who aren't already in a higher priority status category) down to #6, which includes players who have won once in the last 2 seasons:

(83a) Eunjung Yi

Hmm, another medical exemption.  Her last (and only) win came in 2009 at the now-returning Farr event, so it's fitting she's also returning in 2012!

We actually have 2 exciting non-member winners from 2011 in Category 7, who will probably be the top 2 rivals for Rookie of the Year in 2012:

(84) So Yeon Ryu
(85) Lexi Thompson

Skipping again (since no events have been played in 2010, it's impossible for anyone from a lower category to jump into Category 8 via getting into the top 40 of the 2012 money list in 2011) down to Category 9, here are the proud top 5 from the 2011 Futures Tour money list:

(86) Kathleen Ekey
(87) Lisa Ferrero
(88) Mo Martin
(89) Sydnee Michaels
(90) Jane Rah

I'd really like to see this list expanded to 10 to give more opportunities to young players. 

There's nobody in Category 10, as no non-members would have made the top 80 on the money list in 2011 who didn't already secure a higher status by winning, but we do get a neat clarification of what winnings are eligible for being counted towards this threshold:  those that come in "official LPGA co-sponsored domestic tournaments with field[s] of seventy-five (75) or more." Sorry, couldn't resist correcting that grammar there (although it might make more sense to turn it singular: "any official LPGA co-sponsored domestic tournament with a field of seventy-five [75] or more.")

In any case, we then approach the last of the categories that will guarantee you entry into just about any full-field event you want, Category 11, which is made up of players who finished from #81 to #100 on the 2011 LPGA money list and from #1 to #20 in the 2011 LPGA Q-School. Here's where things get interesting, for two reasons.

First, the LPGA apparently took Hound Dog's and my critiques of the way they handled membership in this category for the 2009 season and have offered a clarification of what happens when someone gets higher priority status with her Q-School finish than her money list finish (unfortunately failing to cut that 1st comma from previous priority lists in the process).

However, if a player No. 81-100 on the LPGA Official Money List at the end of the last official LPGA tournament of the previous year, improves her status within this category by way of her finish in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, she will assume the higher priority status. Her lower priority status will be assumed by the next available player within this category from the LPGA Official Money List of the previous year who has also not improved her status via the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament.

Their clarifying example is indeed illuminating (although unfortunately they fix only one of the 3 typos I've previously noted):

Example: A player finishes 95th on the LPGA Official Money List at the end of the last official LPGA tournament of the previous year. She competes in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament and finishes 1st. She assumes the higher priority status within this category and vacates her lower priority status position, which is then assumed by the player who finishes 96th on the LPGA Money List of the previous year. If the player who finishes 96th on the LPGA Official Money List also improves her position within this category via the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, the player who finished 97th on the LPGA Official Money List will assume the vacated priority status by the [player] who finished 95th and the player who finished 98th will assume the priority status vacated by the player who finished 96th[,] etc.
As it turns out, there were no players already in Category 11 in this season's Q-School, so they didn't need to use this clarification this time around. But it's good to have it.

So here's how Category 11 looks for 2012:

(91) Junthima Gulyanmitta
(91a) Aree Song
(92) Grace Park
(93) Christine Song
(94) Jin Young Pak
(94a) Irene Cho
(95) Jennie Lee
(96) Marcy Hart
(97) Dori Carter
(98) Meaghan Francella
(98a) Wendy Doolan
(99) Karlin Beck
(100) Sarah Kemp
(101) Jodi Ewart
(102) Gwladys Nocera
(103) Sandra Changkija
(104) Lorie Kane
(105) Maude-Aimee Leblanc
(106) Sarah Jane Smith
(107) Rebecca Lee-Bentham
(108) Pernilla Lindberg
(109) Meredith Duncan
(110) Ilhee Lee
(111) Minea Blomqvist
(112) Jessica Korda
(113) Cydney Clanton
(114) Karin Sjodin
(115) Angela Oh
(116) Haru Nomura
(117) Stephanie Kono
(118) Giulia Sergas
(119) Victoria Tanco
(120) Silvia Cavalleri
(121) Ayaka Kaneko
(122) Shi Hyun Ahn
(123) Tanya Dergal
(124) Jane Park
(125) Hannah Yun
(126) Na On Min
(127) Elisa Serramia
(128) Taylor Leon
(129) Lizette Salas

Since there are 9 medical exemptions, Salas is really at #138, which means that (and this is my 2nd interesting thing about this category) she may have trouble getting into a full-field event that's smaller than the standard 144-player field.

As opposed to previous years, though, the lone Category 12er, Jee Young Lee, and the lone Category 14er, Laura Diaz, don't find themselves as close to the edge of that magic number as those in previous years, as they're listed at #130 and #131 but actually are at #139 and #140.  While it's possible they'll have trouble getting into a few events, the real bubble girls are the Category 15ers, who finished #101 through #125 on the '11 LPGA money list:

(132) Stephanie Sherlock
(132a) Diana D'Alessio
(133) Michele Redman
(134) Mariajo Uribe
(135) Stephanie Louden
(136) Moira Dunn
(136a) Michelle Ellis
(137) Ashli Bunch
(138) Anna Grzebien
(139) Amelia Lewis
(140) Yoo Kyeong Kim
(141) Jessica Shepley
(142) Danah Bordner
(143) Samantha Richdale
(143a) Jill McGill
(144) Beth Bader
(145) Jenny Suh
(146) Nicole Hage
(147) Louise Stahle
(147a) Mikaela Parmlid
(148) Jeehae Lee [retired]
(149) Jennifer Rosales
This is a good mix of veterans and newbies.  While most of them will have to get lucky to get into an event, there are always some players who skip a tournament they're eligible for, so it'll be interesting to see how far down this list the LPGA goes in 2012.  Rosales is actually #162, so it's hard to imagine she'll get into all that many, short of Monday qualifying.

Category 16 includes those who finished #21 to #30 at LPGA Q-School in 2011:

(150) Veronica Felibert
(151) Lacey Agnew
(152) Sophia Sheridan
(153) Min Seo Kwak
(153a) Nannette Hill
(154) Paola Moreno
(155) Jacqui Concolino
(156) Mi Hyang Lee
(157) Patcharajutar Kongkraphan

Kongkraphan at actual #171 will be spending the vast majority of her time on the Symetra Tour in 2012, as will the players in Category 17 who finished #6 to #10 on the Futures Tour money list in 2011:

(158) Valentine Derrey
(159) Hanna Kang
(160) Jenny Gleason
(161) Tze-Chi Lin

I still believe that the gap in status between #5 and #6 on the Futures Tour is too large.  If the LPGA doesn't want to expand Category 9 to 10 spots, why not give these players Category 15 status and turn the current Categories 15, 16, and 20 into a mirror image of Category 11?  That way, those finishing between #21 and #45 at Q-School could be shuffled among those who finished between #101 and #125 on the money list.  Right now, because the current Category 20ers (#31 through #40 and ties at Q-School) are stuck behind mostly-firmly-retired past champions, including Lorena Ochoa in Category 18 (made up of anyone in the top 80 of the money list in the last 3 years who also has a win in that span) and Dorothy Delasin, Kris Tschetter, Jackie Gallagher-Smith, and Birdie Kim in Category 19 (the only ones in it to have played on tour in the last 2 years), their status looks much worse than it really is:

(255) Mitsuki Katahira
(256) Thidapa Suwannapura
(257) Carlota Ciganda
(258) Izzy Beisiegel
(259) Kirby Dreher
(260) Juliana Murcia Ortiz
(261) Katy Harris
(262) Danielle Kang

If my proposed change had been put into effect for this year, then several additional players from Q-School would have been the last players to be shuffled into that new Category 16 I'm proposing.  Since many players who finished between #21 and #45 in Q-School also finished between #101 and #125 on the money list, the shuffling would be a little complicated.  But in any case they all would be behind the new Category 15ers, those who finished #6 through #10 on the Futures Tour money list in 2011, who would have become the new bubble girls of 2012. 

I guess it comes down to whether you think finishing just outside the top 100 of the LPGA money list, just outside the top 5 of the Futures Tour money list, or just outside the top 20 of the Final Qualifying Tournament is a bigger achievement.  Personally, I think that in 2012 there should be more of a reward for doing well on the Symetra Tour, more of a penalty for falling outside the top 100 of the LPGA money list, and more of a premium put on improving your status via Q-School.  In fact, building on a post from December 2010, here's the full range of changes I'd like to see in the next priority status list:

  • Reduce Category 1 from the top 80 on the previous season's money list to the top 70.
  • Change Category 7 so that any non-member who wins--amateur or pro, older or younger than 18--is eligible for full membership immediately or in the following season.
  • Expand Category 8 from the top 40 on the current season's money list to the top 50--as calculated after every 7 events rather than using the current reshuffles for those in Category 15 and lower after the 8th and 14th events on the 2012 schedule.
  • Expand Category 9 from the top 5 on the previous season's Symetra Tour money list to the top 10.
  • Change Category 10 from non-members who would have made the top 80 on the previous season's money list via their maximum 6 sponsor exemptions into domestic full-field non-major events into non-members who would have made the top 70 on the previous season's money list in their maximum 4 sponsor exemptions into domestic full-field non-major events and maximum 2 sponsor exemptions into international limited-field non-major events. Any non-member who qualifies via this category is waived from having to meet the LPGA's minimum age requirement for membership.
  • Expand Category 11 to players ranked between #71 and #100 on the previous season's money list and the top 30 players from the previous season's Q-School using the same shuffling system as already exists.
  • Change Category 15 to include those who finished between #11 and #15 on the previous season's Symetra Tour money list.
  • Use the same system as exists in Category 11 for the new Category 16, which would shuffle those who finished between #101 and #130 on the money list in with those who finished between #31 and #60 from the previous season's Final Qualifying Tournament.
  • Put all the various veterans' allowances after Category 16.

In my system, assuming nobody takes advantage of any medical, non-member, career, or recent wins or winnings exemptions, you'd have 70 players in Category 1, 10 in Category 9, and 60 in Category 11, for a total of 140 players with a good shot at getting into any regular event.  But you'd put a much higher premium on doing well on the Symetra Tour and only then increase opportunities for those in Q-School to skip ahead of those who couldn't make the top 70 on the LPGA money list.  In effect, you'd be giving more incentives for low-priority-status LPGAers to focus on the Symetra Tour rather than ditching the LPGA/Symetra system and trying their luck on the JLPGA, KLPGA, or LET.  You'd also be encouraging those who finished closer to #100 than #71 on the LPGA money list to improve their status by playing in Q-School.  The increased competitiveness at Q-School, then, would help justify expanding access to higher-priority status to 10 more players than under the current system.  And it gives a bigger margin for error for both struggling LPGAers and hot shots from the NCAA and from other tours (while ratcheting up the pressure on them).  Plus, given that higher-status players skip LPGA events for all sorts of reasons, there still would be a premium on, and a reward for, getting close to those magic numbers of #100 and #30 on the money list and at Q-School, respectively.

Yes, doing all this wouldn't have saved the big names in this year's Category 20 like Kang, Ciganda, and Katahira, but who knows if they wouldn't have played just a little bit better at Q-School if they had been fighting to make the top 30 instead of the top 20?  Even if they hadn't, wouldn't they be better off in the high 100s rather than the high 200s on the priority status list?  Wouldn't it send a signal to young players around the world that the LPGA is lowering barriers to membership and giving them every chance to play their way in?  If the tour has truly turned a corner in 2012 and can be expected to be in expansion mode in the next several years, now is the time to increase the odds that even more of the best female golfers on the planet want to make it their home.


Awsi Dooger said...

Great summary. I agree that Futures Tour 6-10 deserve more value, although the LPGA can point to #7 Ryann O'Toole and #8 Tiffany Joh taking full advantage of limited opportunities last year. Now that the schedule is expanding, and particularly once it restores to 30+, more players will occasionally skip full field events, allowing lower status players to slip into the field.

The Constructivist said...

I think giving #6 to #10 higher status is an important step, particularly in tandem with the other steps I propose. More events mean the bars for #70 and #100 and #130 on the money list get higher, too, so there needs to be more opportunities for those with no or very low status to move up without just waiting for Q-School.