Friday, January 6, 2012

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2006

The LPGA's rookie class of 2006 was the 1st that I started paying really close attention to as a group, at first because of the way in which Ai Miyazato dominated Q-School in late 2005 but over time because I became interested in the different kinds of career paths the various players followed.  Given that I started blogging here at Mostly Harmless not long after the '06ers started on the LPGA, it was a pretty obvious move to start tracking how each member of the class was doing, both season-by-season and from season to season.  By looking at key performance stats on an annual basis, from winnings and scoring average to birdies per round and greens in regulation, and combining those snapshots with an examination of career winnings, majors, wins, top 3s, top 10s, and top 20s, I developed a system for dividing the '06ers--and later rookie classes--into tiers and then ranking each player within her tier.  Before I knew it, I had a career ranking system for immediate cohorts and for recent LPGA generations.

The last time I did this for the Class of 2006 was at the end of the 2010 season, so this review of the 2011 season's stats and updating of my rankings will also serve as a 2012 preview.  Let's get right to it!

Simply the Best

1. Ai Miyazato: I argued after the 2010 season that "statistically speaking, at least, I would venture that she played better, more consistently excellent golf in 2009 than 2010" and attributed her 5-win breakout that year mainly to her putting.  Unfortunately, my hope that "If she can improve her ball-striking and keep her putting anywhere near where it was last season, the sky's the limit for her," did not pan out in 2011.  She did improve her ball-striking, but her putter went from white-hot to not-quite-hot.  I'm sure the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis in Japan had a lot to do with her struggles on the course and on the greens, but any year that an LPGAer gets a win and breaks the $1M barrier is a good one, so under the circumstances I'd call this one a great one for her--on the LPGA, that is.  On the JLPGA, where she couldn't even finish in the top 50 on the money list in 6 starts and may well have lost her membership there for 2012, not so much.  But from comments of hers that I've seen in the media, it seems she wants to focus on the LPGA this coming season.  Here's hoping she has a fantastic year!
2. Morgan Pressel: She did everything but win in 2011.  Even though her performance stats were down a touch from 2010, she was much more consistent overall and was rewarded with nearly $100K more in winnings as a result.  The next step for her is to return to the winner's circle in 2012.
3. Seon Hwa Lee:  The worst slump of her career got even worse in 2011, even though she gave up on her failed experiment in dual LPGA-JLPGA membership from the previous season.  How bad was it?  Well, in just one season her career average fell from making the cut in over 90% of her starts to 86%.  Forget about being lapped by Ai Miyazato in wins, top 3s, and top 10s and passed by Morgan Pressel in top 20s--she just needs to start finishing more tournaments.  If she doesn't, she'll have gone from one of the best players on the LPGA to a golfer who needs to return to the KLPGA to make a living in the sport.

The Contenders

4. Jee Young Lee:  I don't know what happened to her near the end of the 2010 season, but whatever it was, it continued to bother her all 2011.  How bad was her year?  Well, at the end of 2010 she was ranked #17 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, which looks back at the last 52 weeks of competition on all the major women's tours except the KLPGA.  That's a pretty good year, especially considering she pretty much lost the last quarter or third of it.  Where did she stand at the end of 2011?  #237.  Yikes!  Looking at her stats, she lost everything this past season, from ball-striking to putting.  Here's hoping she finds it in 2012--and fast!
5. Brittany Lang:  She went from being in danger of being passed by Sun Young Yoo at the start of 2011 to being this close to passing Jee Young Lee at the start of 2012.  If she can continue to improve her putting as she did in the 2nd half of last season, the sky's the limit for her this coming one!
6. Sun Young Yoo:  It seems the class's late bloomer has hit a plateau, but steadiness at her latest level of performance is by no means a bad thing.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Julieta Granada: She maintained her dual LPGA-LET status by finishing 62nd on the LET money list in only 6 starts in 2011 (thanks in large part to a great showing in Dubai), but the big difference from the last few years was that she was able to carry her solid play overseas back to the LPGA, where she finished #61 on the money list and finally was able to avoid going back to Q-School.  Her career winnings are inflated by that $1M payday she won in the last event of her rookie year, but even without it, I'd probably end up putting her back in this category after a year like 2011.  Here's hoping her 2012 is even better!
8. Kyeong Bae:  Kind of a blah year for a player who usually makes a lot more birdies than she did on the LPGA in 2011.  Fell out of the top 100 in both the Rolex Rankings and Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index as a result.
9. Katie Futcher:  Made Tony Jesselli's top 20 among those moving up the Rolex Rankings in 2011.  Can she keep the positive momentum going in 2012?

On the Bottom Looking Up

10. Meaghan Francella:  She slightly exceeded my expectations in 2011, comfortably staying in the top 100 on the LPGA money list and even coming close to making the top 80, but last season's +74 scoring average doesn't bode well for this coming season.
11. Minea Blomqvist:  After using her medical exemption in 2011 due to her late return from maternity leave in 2010, she had a tough time making cuts, but she went back to Q-School and made the top 20, so she's got Category 11 status for 2012.
12. Karin Sjodin:  She remained a good ball-striker in 2011, but struggled to stay in the top 100 of the LPGA's money list.  Given that she's entered in LET Q-School's pre-qualifying tournament this week, it looks like she wants to go for dual membership next year.  Let's see if it works out better for her in 2012 than it has for other Euro '06ers in recent years.
13. Sarah Jane Smith:  Made the top 100 of the 2011 LPGA money list with room to spare, but needs to get it going in 2012 if she wants to stay on tour for the long run.

On the Outside Looking In

14. Teresa Lu:  She decided to play full-time on the JLPGA in 2011, finishing #33 on their money list.  The only LPGA events she entered were a couple of majors and the Mizuno Classic--kinda surprising she skipped the tour's 1st-ever event in her home country (hard to believe she didn't get offered a sponsor's invite).  Will continue to play the JLPGA exclusively in 2012.  Too bad, as she's definitely in the top 10 of her class based on her career stats.
15. Hye Jung Choi: Played full-time on the KLPGA in 2011 and won in late September, but I don't recall her doing anything else all that fantastic over there last season.
16. Linda Wessberg: She ended up 14th on the LET's 2011 money list and will be gunning for her 8th victory on that tour next season.  If she can get it, I'll warrant that she's ready to take another shot at the LPGA in 2013.
17. Na Ri Kim:  Another '06er flourishing on the JLPGA, she finished #23 on their money list last season and will be playing there full-time next season.  I wonder if she's regaining the confidence needed to take another shot at the LPGA soon?
18. Allison Fouch Duncan:  After a bad 2011, capped off by a T51 at LPGA Q-School, it's back to the Symetra Tour for her.
19. Nina Reis: Played the LET full-time in '09 and ended up 57th on their money list in 16 events; in '10, she dropped to 78th in 18 starts; now, I don't see her on their '11 list, even though she is still listed as an LET member. Despite that, I don't see her name on the entry list for LET Q-School's pre-qualifying tournament.  Either she's exempt into the final qualifying tournament in a few weeks or got a medical exemption or is calling it quits.  Anyone know what's going on with her?
20. Louise Stahle: Looks like she's pulling the plug again on the dual LPGA-LET membership thing after a bad 2011 in which she played only a handful of LPGA events but managed to finish #64 on the LET money list in 13 starts on that tour.
21. Veronica Zorzi: In 2009, she finished 29th on the LET money list in 14 starts; in 2010, she ended up 31st in 21 starts; this past year, she dropped all the way to #55 in 19 starts.  I don't think she's coming back to the LPGA, and if this 3-year trend continues, she may well be struggling to continue her professional career when 2013 rolls around.
22. Danielle Downey: I seem to recall reading somewhere that she took a coaching position.  If she's retired from professional golf, her last LPGA event will have been the P&G NW Arkansas Championship in September 2010.
23. Libby Smith:  She lost trust in her driver in 2011 and had trouble breaking 80 far too often to get it back.  I don't even know if she has Symetra Tour status in 2012.  She's not entered in LET Q-School's pre-qualifying tournament, so is this the end of the line for her?

Over and Out

24. Virada Nirapathpongporn:  Retired in 2011. Last event: Kapalua Classic in October 2008.
25. Kim Hall:  Retired in 2010. Last event: LPGA Tour Championship in November 2009.  Now VP of the LPGA's Board of Directors.
26. Ashley Hoagland Johnston: Retired in 2009. Last event: sometime in 2007 season.


For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the January 2012 ranking.

2011 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone was playing last season--how much money they made, how they scored, how many birdies they averaged per round, and how many greens they hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category (except for birdies, which ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don't include putts per green in regulation here. Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future (although with so many events out of the country, it would be nice for the LPGA to collect performance stats there, too, particularly when my favorite golfer has won so many times abroad!).

1. Ai Miyazato, $1.01M (#8), 71.63 (#18), 3.37 (#32), 65.6% (#59)
2. Morgan Pressel, $845.5K (#13), 71.34 (#14), 3.60 (#6), 67.0% (#40)
3. Brittany Lang, $627.7K (#19), 72.00 (#27), 3.37 (#12), 69.8% (#17)
4. Sun Young Yoo, $476.7K (#25), 72.04 (#29), 3.16 (#27), 67.0% (#44)
5. Katie Futcher, $373.6K (#30), 72.34 (#34), 2.77 (#51), 64.7% (#72)
6. Julieta Granada, $137.2K (#61), 73.16 (#69), 2.57 (#68), 63.9% (#88)
7. Kyeong Bae, $109.1K (#66), 73.65 (#90), 2.67 (#62), 65.5% (#64)
8. Seon Hwa Lee, $93.9K (#71), 73.45 (#82), 2.76 (#63), 61.7% (#107)
9. Meaghan Francella, $66.8K (#84), 74.23 (#116), 2.61 (#74), 66.7% (#44)
10. Sarah Jane Smith, $54.5K (#89), 74.05 (#107), 2.80 (#77), 64.8% (#70)
11. Karin Sjodin, $51.0K (#93), 74.03 (#106), 2.38 (#89), 67.1% (#38)
12. Minea Blomqvist, $25.0K (#112), 73.89 (#103), 2.56 (#110), 60.7% (#119)
13. Jee Young Lee, $22.6K (#116), 73.97 (#105), 2.68 (#92), 61.1% (#112)
14. Louise Stahle, $18.7K (#122), 73.67 (n.r.), ?  (n.r.), ? (n.r.)
15. Allison Fouch Duncan, $10.4K (#139), 74.57 (#127), 2.43 (#123), 68.6% (#22)
16. Teresa Lu, $0 [official]/$56.5K [unofficial] (n.r.), 71.86 (n.r.), ? (n.r.), ? (n.r.)

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events started/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/withdrawals/disqualifications/missed cuts/finished events (rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately, the members of the Class of 2006 started at the same time, even if some of them have not had full status every season (although that in itself is an indication of how someone's career has been going!). What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins has posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Best of All Time ranking over at Hound Dog LPGA). In any case, I include the other ways of seeing how the '06ers finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. Many thanks to the LPGA for updating their 2011 Performance Chart after every event, although it would be nice for them to add the CME Titleholders to the chart!  [Note: *=non-member win]

1. Ai Miyazato, $5.73M (#31), 131/0/7/16/45/67/1/0/18/112 (.855)
2. Morgan Pressel, $4.39M (#44), 143/1/2/12/42/71/0/0/15/128 (.895)
3. Seon Hwa Lee, $4.01M (#49), 150/0/4/11/30/61/2/0/19/129 (.860)
4. Jee Young Lee, $3.31M (#62), 139/0/1*/9/35/65/5/0/20/114 (.820)
5. Brittany Lang, $3.12M (#67), 151/0/0/7/34/59/0/0/30/121 (.801)
6. Sun Young Yoo, $2.80M (#76), 147/0/1/4/22/48/1/0/29/117 (.796)
7. Julieta Granada, $2.40M (#90), 144/0/1/5/12/24/0/1/55/78 (.542)
8. Kyeong Bae, $1.40M (#142), 134/0/0/2/10/22/5/0/39/90 (.672)
9. Meaghan Francella, $1.16M (#169), 111/0/1/1/7/15/0/0/38/73 (.658)
10. Teresa Lu, $1.13M (#173), 107/0/0/1/8/23/2/0/25/80 (.748)
11. Katie Futcher, $1.00M (#192), 120/0/0/1/7/16/0/1/36/83 (.692)
12. Hye Jung Choi, $.73M (#237), 84/0/0/0/8/12/2/0/26/56 (.667)
13. Minea Blomqvist, $.69M (#246), 97/0/0/1/3/8/1/1/44/51 (.526)
14. Karin Sjodin, $.66M (#251), 108/0/0/0/3/12/0/0/44/64 (.593)
15. Allison Fouch Duncan, $.60M (#266), 76/0/0/1/4/8/0/0/35/41 (.539)
16. Kim Hall, $.35M (#322), 74/0/0/1/3/4/0/0/44/30 (.405)
17. Linda Wessberg, $.34M (#329), 43/0/0/0/5/6/0/0/17/26 (.605)
18. Sarah Jane Smith, $.33M (#333), 62/0/0/0/2/8/0/0/30/32 (.516)
19. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.23M (#390), 56/0/0/0/1/4/0/0/28/28 (.500)
20. Louise Stahle, $.23M (#389), 59/0/0/0/1/2/1/0/30/28 (.475)
21. Nina Reis, $.23M (#392), 51/0/0/0/3/4/0/0/23/28 (.549)
22. Danielle Downey, $.15M (#450), 49/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/34/15 (.306)
23. Na Ri Kim, $.15M (#451), 50/0/0/0/0/0/3/0/24/23 (.460)
24. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#529), 16/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/3/13 (.813)
25. Libby Smith, $.05M (#597), 36/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/27/8 (.222)
26. Ashley Hoagland Johnston, $.05M (#606), 13/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/7/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Rankings points (as of 1/2/12) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index score (as of 1/1/12) and rank, International Wins (on JLPGA, KLPGA, LET as of today): This is a way of seeing how those '06ers who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Symetra Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Ai Miyazato, 6.60 (#9), 70.89 (#25); 15
2. Morgan Pressel, 5.34 (#16), 70.47 (#18); 1
3. Brittany Lang, 3.82 (#32), 70.62 (#22); 0
4. Sun Young Yoo, 3.06 (#44), 71.39 (#38); 0
5. Na Ri Kim, 2.76 (#47), 71.68 (#50); 1
6. Katie Futcher, 2.15 (#67), 72.26 (#78); 0
7. Teresa Lu, 1.63 (#92), 73.03 (#115); 0
8. Jee Young Lee, 1.54 (#97), 74.59 (#237); 1
9. Julieta Granada, 1.33 (#121), 73.07 (#117); 0
10. Kyeong Bae, 1.15 (#134), 73.27 (#130); 3
11. Linda Wessberg, 1.15 (#135), 72.51 (#90); 7
12. Seon Hwa Lee, 1.12 (#141), 73.15 (#124); 3
13. Hye Jung Choi, 1.11 (#144), ? (n.r.); 2
14. Minea Blomqvist, .88 (#172), 74.24 (#209); 5
15. Sarah Jane Smith, .74 (#193), 74.12 (#198); 0
16. Meaghan Francella, .70 (#198), 74.04 (#190); 0
17. Louise Stahle, .70 (#199), 73.96 (#185); 0
18. Veronica Zorzi, .53 (#243), 74.74 (#250); 2
19. Karin Sjodin, .48 (#258), 73.83 (#172); 1
20. Allison Fouch Duncan, .16 (#402), 75.26 (#287); 0
21. Libby Smith, .10 (#474), 80.90 (#475); 0
22. Nina Reis, .04 (#572), ? (n.r.); 5


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

Nice post. My only real big problem is how you can still rank Jee Young Lee ahead of Brittany Lang. Brittany teed it up 22 times last year, had 7 top 10 finishes and 11 top 20's. She made 19 of 22 cuts.

Jee Young Lee teed it up 15 times last year, missing 10 cuts. Her best finish was a tie for 37th.

Brittany did everything but win, Lee never once contended. Sure Lee had some better years previously, but Brittany is certainly the better player heading into 2012.

The Constructivist said...

Absolutely, Tony, and if the trends continue, Brittany will pass Jee Young sometime in 2012. But Jee Young has won more money in fewer starts, has more top 20s and a better rate of finishing tournaments, and, most important, has won on the LPGA (and off it, but that matters hardly at all in this ranking). I used to tweak these rankings a little to factor in who was hot and who was not, but since I started my future-oriented "ranking of those with similar #s of LPGA wins" series, I don't do that anymore in this career-based ranking system.

More broadly, everyone goes through a slump at some point in a 6-year career--everyone. Only some players come back from them. Among the top players, Ai has, Brittany has twice, now we have to see whether Jee Young and Seon Hwa Lee can come back from theirs. Probably Morgan Pressel has been the most consistent golfer in the class, as her slumps have been shorter and less pronounced than those of her peers.

The weird thing about slumps is that it's actually hard to predict when they'll end. Same goes for streaks. Jee Young certainly seems in free fall over the last 15 months and Brittany's been playing pretty great, especially since the '11 WBO. My hunch is that these trends will continue well into the '12 season. But that's only a somewhat-informed hunch.

diane said...

So what you're charting here is the arc of a career, not a snapshot at a specific point in time. If you had your camera in your hand there's no way Jee Young Lee is rated higher than Brittany Lang.

Every other ranking system rates players based on current standing. It's interesting to see how each member of a cohort rank in comparison to her peers.