Monday, January 9, 2012

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2007

Having recently reviewed the careers of the LPGA's rookie class of 2006, it's time to update last February's ranking of the Class of 2007--or what I'm starting to think of as "The Incredible Shrinking Rookie Class."

Simply the Best

1. In-Kyung Kim:  Whenever you drop from #3 on tour in greens in regulation (as she was in 2010) to #56 (in 2011), it's going to be hard to have a very good year, yet Inky still came close to breaking the $1M barrier, kept making birdies at a very fast pace, and kept her scoring average low, so I'd say she hung in there really well last season.  Yes, she didn't get her 4th LPGA victory, but she had 4 top 3s, 10 top 10s, and 16 top 20s in 21 starts.  Very sucessful by most players' standards, yet I'll bet it was still disappointing to her.  Let's see if she comes out with some extra motivation and intensity early in 2012!
2. Song-Hee Kim:  Yes, she made over $350K in season winnings in 2011, so her year wasn't a total wash, but her scoring average jumped over 2 full strokes from 2010, when she was clearly the best player on tour without a win.  So let's just say she won't be at the top of that particular ranking once I get around to updating it.  Sure, she limited the major damage to only 3 missed cuts in a row in the middle of the season, but when one of the best players on tour gets only 1 top 3, 2 top 10s, and 4 top 20s in 21 starts, you know there's something seriously wrong with her game.  From looking at her key performance stats, I'd say her putter wasn't hot enough to save her from some seriously wonky ball-striking by her standards.  Will she right the ship in 2012 or drop into the 2nd major slump of her career?  To be sure, drops are what characterized last season:  from #2 on tour in greens in regulation in '10 to #49 in '11, from #4 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index to #54, from #9 in the Rolex Rankings to #30....  Here's hoping those trends reverse for her in the coming season.
3. Eun-Hee Ji: She didn't return to the top 20 on the LPGA in 2011 like I predicted before the start of that season, but she did continue her slow ascent from the depths of the U.S. Women's Open jinx.  It's going to be a tough choice whether I'll pick her in my 2012 top 30 predictions.
4. Inbee Park: She had the 2nd-best 2011 of her rookie class, but it wasn't as impressive as 2010, where she rocked both the LPGA and JLPGA. She remained a dual member in 2011, but was steady rather than spectacular on both tours.  Still, at the rate she's going, she'll pass Ji in this ranking in 2012.

The Contender

5. Kristy McPherson: After elbow surgery before the start of the 2011 season, expectations were pretty low for this precision player, but she got her ball-striking back and kept her card.  If she can get her putter going in 2012, she should have a great year.

Quantum Leap Candidates

6. Ji Young Oh: If 2010 was a "huge step backward," as I put it last February, what should I call 2011, when she made only 1 cut in 11 starts? How about "free fall"?
7. Jane Park: I'll say what I said last time around again:  "Although I still believe she can be a top player in her class and on the LPGA, I'm worried that her back problems are so chronic and severe that she'll never realize her potential."  It's hard to stay optimistic about someone who missed 5 cuts in a row in the 2nd half of the season, but I'm going to hope against hope that both she and Tiffany Joh make the 2013 Solheim Cup team!
8. Na On Min: She took a big step back in 2011, barely squeaking into the top 100 on the money list after missing 8 cuts in a row in the 1st half of the season.
9. Paige Mackenzie: In December '09, I asked, "If she ever figures out that she could have a Cristie Kerr-Angela Stanford-Brittany Lang quality game with a little more practice around and on the greens, who knows how good she could get?" Well, she bounced back from a terrible 2010 with a very good year off the tee in 2011, but she missed 4 cuts in a row in the 2nd half of the season and couldn't get the quality from her irons and putter that she needed for a really good year. Still, she made a move in the right direction when most of her peers were faltering, so she's got some decent momentum heading into 2012.

On the Bottom Looking Up

10. Irene Cho:  She had plenty of opportunities to play in 2011 based on the priority status list, but didn't tee it up a single time.  I'm assuming she'll be getting a medical exemption for 2012, but I don't know for sure.  Signed up with Golf Belles in November 2011 to serve on their advisory board.  [Update (1/11/12):  Yup, she did get that medical exemption.  Here's hoping she comes back strong!]

On the Outside Looking In

11. Jin Joo Hong: She decided to concentrate on the KLPGA full-time in 2011 and I expect she'll stay there in 2012.
12. Sophie Giquel-Bettan: After finishing #22 on the LET money list in 21 starts last season, she's got her career moving in the right direction again.
13. Charlotte Mayorkas:  On twitter last February she told me she's recovering from a wrist injury and playing professionally in Canada.
14. Seo-Jae Lee: Is she back on the KLPGA or out of professional golf?  Even Seoul lists her status as unknown!
15. Su A Kim: I believe she's still on the KLPGA.

Over and Out

16. Angela Park: From Rookie of the Year to no LPGA status in only 4 years is a very sad story.  In 2011, we heard that she was closing the books on her professional golfing career.  Even sadder!
17. Becky Lucidi: Don't know what she's up to.
18. Jeanne Cho-HunickeSeoul has her as an assistant coach at Duke as of 2010.  She's listed as Jeanne Cho on the team's site.
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent:  Associate Head Coach at Coastal Carolina.
20. Cindy Pasechnik: She should have finished up her MBA at the University of Calgary by now.

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!).

1. In-Kyung Kim, $.89M (#11), 71.01 (#8), 3.69 (#10), 65.8% (#56)
2. Inbee Park, $365.2K (#31), 72.00 (#27), 3.33 (#47), 68.1% (#29)
3. Song-Hee Kim, $350.4K (#33), 72.62 (#46), 3.16 (#21), 66.1% (#49)
4. Paige Mackenzie, $184.4K (#47), 72.60 (#45), 2.80 (#57), 62.2% (#97)
5. Eun-Hee Ji, $181.7K (#48), 72.25 (#32), 2.94 (#45), 67.2% (#37)
6. Kristy McPherson, $157.0K (#56), 72.65 (#49), 2.85 (#38), 69.7% (#18)
7. Jane Park, $742.3K (#98), 74.12 (#110), 2.53 (#97), 59.2% (#127)
8. Na On Min, $41.6K (#99), 74.29 (#118), 2.62 (#94), 60.7% (#116)
9. Ji Young Oh, $5.5K (#148), 74.42 (#124), 2.67 (#115), 58.3% (#131)

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 Class of 2007 all started at the same time, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to players who have not been exempt 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 '07ers 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 include the CME Titleholders in it)!

1. In-Kyung Kim, $4.56M (#40), 119/0/3/15/44/63/0/0/16/103 (.866)
2. Song-Hee Kim, $3.65M (#54), 111/0/0/11/36/54/0/0/18/94 (.849)
3. Inbee Park, $2.99M (#72), 111/1/1/5/25/37/1/1/20/89 (.802)
4. Eun-Hee Ji, $2.45M (#87), 96/1/2/5/15/26/0/3/14/79 (.823)
5. Angela Park, $2.12M (#103), 84/0/0/8/18/25/5/0/18/61 (.726)
6. Kristy McPherson, $1.88M (#117), 111/0/0/4/16/30/0/0/25/86 (.775)
7. Ji Young Oh, $1.49M (#131), 106/0/2/2/8/18/1/0/39/66 (.623)
8. Jane Park, $1.01M (#191), 85/0/0/3/6/11/4/1/22/58 (.682)
9. Na On Min, $.71M (#242), 85/0/0/1/3/9/1/0/30/54 (.635)
10. Jin Joo Hong, $.58M (#264), 60/0/0/0/2/7/6/0/17/37 (.617)
11. Paige Mackenzie, $.51M (#278), 86/0/0/0/2/6/0/0/37/49 (.570)
12. Irene Cho, $.44M (#300), 77/0/0/0/3/6/4/0/31/42 (.545)
13. Charlotte Mayorkas, $.28M (#358), 56/0/0/0/0/4/1/0/22/33 (.589)
14. Sophie Giquel-Bettan, $.12M (#487), 39/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/21/17 (.436)
15. Becky Lucidi $.10M (#507), 35/0/0/0/0/2/0/1/25/9 (.257)
16. Su A Kim, $.07M (#547), 26/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/13/12 (.462)
17. Seo-Jae Lee, $.07M (#552), 25/0/0/0/0/0/2/0/13/10 (.400)
18. Sarah Lynn Sargent, $.05M (#603), 26/0/0/0/0/0/14/12 (.462)
19. Jeanne Cho-Hunicke, $.02M (#687), 34/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/29/4 (.118)
20. Cindy Pasechnik, $.02M (#728), 19/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/14/5 (.263)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Rankings points (as of 1/2/12) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index score (as of 1/8/12) and rank, International Wins (as of today): This is a way of seeing how those '07ers 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 Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. In-Kyung Kim, 6.76 (#8), 70.29 (#12); 1
2. Inbee Park, 4.57 (#23), 71.25 (#33); 3
3. Song-Hee Kim, 4.00 (#30), 71.78 (#54); 0
4. Kristy McPherson, 1.54 (#98), 72.15 (#70); 0
5. Eun-Hee Ji, 1.45 (#106), 71.63 (#47); 4
6. Paige Mackenzie, 1.18 (#132), 72.35 (#83); 0
7. Na On Min, .69 (#203), 74.30 (#216); 0
8. Jin Joo Hong, .61 (#227), ? (n.r.); 2
9. Sophie Giquel-Bettan, .59 (#232), 74.17 (#202); 1
10. Jane Park, .37 (#292), 74.19 (#205); 0
11. Ji Young Oh, .32 (#309), 75.69 (#316); 0
12. Irene Cho, .24 (#345), ? (n.r.); 0

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