Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2008

I used to group together the LPGA's rookie classes of 2006, 2007, and 2008 into a generation I called "Young Guns," in honor of the noise so many of them were making in the upper echelons of women's professional golf so soon after they joined the top tour in the world.  Then Ya Ni Tseng exploded in 2011 and even I had to admit that this generation should be known as the "Tseng Dynasty," as bangkokbobby so memorably coined it. 

The Class of 2008 will probably go down in history as Tseng's, but I wouldn't be surprised if her rival for Rookie of the Year in 2008 and for Player of the Year in 2010, Na Yeon Choi, plays Karrie Webb to Tseng's Sorenstam.  Plus, 2011 witnessed some serious stirrings from the next tier of players in the class, as most of them emerged briefly from Tseng's and Choi's shadows to claim a victory.  As opposed to the '06ers and '07ers, then, who mostly struggled last season, the top '08ers took center stage on the LPGA.  Let's review how they all did.

Simply the Best

1. Ya Ni Tseng.  She had a season for the record books.  More on that soon!
2. Na Yeon Choi.  She continued to play at a very high level--remaining among the very best female golfers on the planet--but got lapped by her ROY rival anyway.  To put this in perspective, Choi has only 1 fewer career top 20 than Morgan Pressel, but she has 46 fewer starts than the '06er.  She has more top 10s than anyone else in her generation and has way more top 3s than anyone except Tseng.  Her 5 career LPGA wins put her behind only Tseng (12) and Miyazato (7).  She's only missed 2 cuts as an LPGA member in her 97 starts.  She's broken the $1M barrier in season winnings 4 years in a row.  But she's going to have to do even better to make up ground on Tseng! 

The Contenders

3. Amy Yang.  Well, she couldn't break through for her 1st career LPGA victory and she just missed breaking the $1M barrier in season winnings, but she did play very good golf pretty much all year and captured a KLPGA major late in the season.  If she can continue to improve her putting in 2012, she can have a monster year.
4. Hee Young Park.  A moving win over Sandra Gal at the CME Titleholders capped off a much-improved 2nd half of the season in 2011, but her iron play and putting need to improve in 2012 if she's going to build on it.
5. Momoko Ueda.  A win at the Mizuno salvaged both her LPGA and JLPGA seasons, but overall, the frustration continued for her in 2011.  Even though her ball-striking was much improved, her putting was truly horrific no matter where she played. At least she knows what she needs to be working on for 2012!
6. Sandra Gal.  She bounced back from her worst LPGA season in 2010 with her best in 2011, kick-started by a fantastic win at the Kia over "Final-Round Queen" Ji-Yai Shin when she stuck her wedge on 18 inside Shin's own stuck wedge.  That one has my vote for shot of the year!
7. Shanshan Feng.  She won twice on the JLPGA, finished 7th on their money list on a limited schedule there, and played solid golf on the LPGA, with her best performance coming at the Mizuno, where she finished runner-up to Ueda, but she'll have to build on her momentum from last season's late Asian swing to start moving back up this list in 2012.  Good news is she's a good straight shooter in the Kerr-Stanford-Kim-Yoo mold and was #4 in greens in regulation in 2011.  Bad news is the birdies weren't falling for her as often as for most everyone ahead of her on this list!  If she can get the putts to drop in the States like they were dropping for her in Japan, watch out for her this coming season.

Quantum Leap Candidate

8. Eunjung Yi.  She'll be back on tour on a medical exemption after playing in only 6 events in 2011.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

9. Taylor Leon. Last year was nothing to write home about, but at #128 on the priority status list, she has a good chance to bounce back this year.  Of course, that's exactly what I wrote at the end of the 2010 season, as well.
10. Anna Grzebien.  Her comeback in 2011 on a medical exemption wasn't all that impressive, but she managed to snag position #138 on the priority status list for 2012, so she lives to fight another day.
11. Sarah Kemp. At #100 on the LPGA's 2012 Priority Status List, will this finally be the season that she figures out how to translate her successes Down Under to the big tour? She was #63 on the LET's 2011 money list in only 9 starts over there, so she certainly has the talent to do better on the LPGA than she has so far.
12. Nicole Hage. She dropped from #115 on last year's priority status list to #146 on this one, but odds are she'll get in her share of events in 2012.  She just has to take better advantage of her opportunities!

On the Outside, Looking In

13. Jimin Jeong. She finished outside the top 125 on the LPGA money list in 2011 and missed the 72-hole cut at LPGA Q-School, so I assume that means she's headed to either the Symetra Tour or the KLPGA in 2012. 
14. Anja Monke. Just as I predicted, she made the LET her primary tour last season, where she dropped from #11 on their money list in 2010 to #58 in 2011.
15. Hannah Jun. She ended 2011 at #40 on the LET money list, so she'll be spending most of her time there in 2012, although her T38 at LPGA Q-School gives her very high status on the Symetra Tour, if she does decide to try for more than her 4 starts last season on the Futures Tour.
16. Ashleigh Simon. She's developed into one of the better players on the LET (#17 on their money list in 2010, #15 in 2011), so it's no surprise she's staying there in 2012.
17. Leah Wigger. She finished #15 on the Futures Tour money list in 2011, but she didn't do well in LPGA Q-School, so it's on to the Symetra Tour for her in 2012.
18. Onnarin Sattayabanphot. A full-time JLPGA member for the 1st time in 2011, she didn't do anything all that special, but she did secure a full-status card for 2012 at their Q-School.  Let's see if she can do better there this year!
19. Sofie Andersson.  She had hand surgery in fall 2011 and wasn't recovered enough to advance out of the pre-qualifying tournament for LET Q-School earlier this week, so I'm assuming she'll be on the Symetra Tour in 2012 by virtue of her #68 standing on their 2011 money list.
20. Sarah Oh. She finished 10th on the ALPG Order of Merit in 2011 and is 17th so far this year, but she just can't seem to ever get any status on another tour.
21. Violeta Retamoza. She didn't make it out of pre-qualifying for LET Q-School last week, but since I thought she was retired from competitive golf, I was surprised to see that she even tried.
22. Emma Cabrera-Bello. She finished #101 on the 2011 LET money list, but isn't in the field for their Final Qualifying Tournament. Is her competitive career over?

Over and Out

23. Louise Friberg. After missing every single cut in 2011, she pulled the plug on her competitive career and is pursuing a teaching/writing career in the golf industry.
24. Anna Rawson. I'm assuming the "sabbatical" from professional golf that she announced awhile back is now permanent, but I haven't really dug into her web site to check.
25. Carolina Llano. She only played 3 times on the Futures Tour in 2011, none since mid-July, and didn't enter LPGA or LET Q-School, so I'm assuming she's calling it quits, competitive golf-wise.
26. Liz Janangelo. A local paper reported she's going to continue competing professionally here and there, but will primarily focus on a career as a teaching pro.
27. Chris Brady. Have to assume her competitive career is over..
28. Amie Cochran. Ditto.
29. Hwanhee Lee. Ditto. Perhaps she's continuing to focus on her fashion design career in 2012?
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff. Ditto.

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 is playing this young season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've 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. Of course, because the LPGA doesn't keep performance stats for international events, the GIR rates are a little skewed for the top players in the class.  Maybe Tseng would have been #1 in yet another category if the LPGA kept better stats!

1. Ya Ni Tseng, $2.92M (#1), 69.66 (#1), 4.65 (#1), 74.3% (#2)
2. Na Yeon Choi, $1.36M (#3), 70.53 (#2), 3.93 (#4), 70.0% (#15)
3. Amy Yang, $912.2K (#10), 71.12 (#10), 3.53 (#8), 70.1% (#13)
4. Hee Young Park, $851.8K (#12), 72.42 (#37), 3.00 (#28), 67.8% (#33)
5. Sandra Gal, $623.5K (#20), 71.64 (#19), 3.51 (#14), 65.7% (#58)
6. Shanshan Feng, $362.1K (#32), 71.72 (#20), 3.33 (#40), 73.8% (#4)
7. Momoko Ueda, $333.5K (#34), 72.19 (#31), 2.94 (#55), 70.8% (#10)
8. Sarah Kemp, $58.5K (#85), 74.35 (#119), 2.62 (#85), 65.0% (#67)
9. Taylor Leon, $40.6K (#100), 73.29 (#77), 3.18 (#94), 63.9% (#88)
10. Anna Grzebien, $29.4K (#108), 73.69 (#92), 2.41 (#103), 65.5% (#64)
11. Nicole Hage, $18.7K (#121), 74.17 (#112), 2.93 (#98), 63.2% (#95)
12. Jimin Jeong, $12.4K (#132), 74.50 (#126), 2.31 (#145), 57.3% (#136)
13. Eunjung Yi, $6.2K (#146), 77.53 (n.r.), 1.47 (n.r.), 54.1% (n.r.)
14. Louise Friberg, $0 (n.r.), 75.68 (#139), 2.18 (n.r.), 57.3% (n.r.)
14. Hannah Jun, $0 (n.r.), 76.83 (n.r.), 2.17 (n.r.), 58.3% (n.r.)
14. Anja Monke, $0 (n.r.), 76.00 (n.r.), 3.00 (n.r.), 69.4% (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 Class of 2008 hasn't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people 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 '08ers 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 (well, except the last one). [Note: *=non-member win.]

1. Ya Ni Tseng, $7.54M (#15), 95/5/12/29/46/68/0/0/4/91 (.958)
2. Na Yeon Choi, $5.67M (#32), 97/0/5/22/48/70/0/0/2/95 (.979)
3. Hee Young Park, $2.32M (#96), 96/0/1/4/19/32/0/0/18/78 (.813)
4. Amy Yang, $2.04M (#108), 74/0/0/4/16/30/0/0/8/66 (.892)
5. Momoko Ueda, $1.40M (#141), 70/0/2*/2/8/21/0/0/12/58 (.829)
6. Shanshan Feng, $1.24M (#160), 82/0/0/2/12/19/1/0/24/57 (.695)
7. Sandra Gal, $1.21M (#163), 86/0/1/2/7/22/2/0/19/65 (.756)
8. Louise Friberg, $476.6K (#292), 72/0/1/1/3/4/0/0/47/25 (.347)
9. Eunjung Yi, $475.7K (#293), 59/0/1/1/1/2/1/0/25/33 (.559)
10. Taylor Leon, $289.7K (#350), 56/0/0/0/3/6/0/0/31/25 (.446)
11. Sarah Kemp, $286.0K (#352), 64/0/0/0/2/7/0/1/31/32 (.500)
12. Anna Grzebien, $243.3K (#378), 54/0/0/0/0/5/3/0/24/27 (.500)
13. Jimin Jeong, $198.8K (#407), 51/0/0/0/2/3/2/0/26/23 (.451)
14. Anna Rawson, $166.9K (#434), 46/0/0/0/1/4/1/0/29/16 (.348)
15. Carolina Llano, $111.3K (#495), 40/0/0/0/1/1/0/0/25/15 (.375)
16. Anja Monke, $109.3K (#500), 22/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/10/12 (.545)
17. Ashleigh Simon, $72.9K (#544), 30/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/17/13 (.433)
18. Leah Wigger, $58.8K (#575), 36/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/24/12 (.333)
19. Nicole Hage, $43.0K (#622), 33/0/0/0/0/1/1/0/25/7 (.212)
20. Liz Janangelo, $38.1K (#638), 35/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/24/10 (.286)
21. Hannah Jun, $32.0K (#656), 12/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/7/5 (.417)
22. Amie Cochran, $17.2K (#735), 5/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/4/1 (.200)
23. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, $8.6K (#818), 8/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/6/2 (.250)
24. Chris Brady, $6.1K (#855), 4/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/2 (.500)
25. Violeta Retamoza, $2.2K (#933), 19/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/17/1 (.053)
26. Emma Cabrera-Bello, $0K (n.r.), 2/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/0 (.000)
27. Sarah Oh, $0K (n.r.), 3/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/3/0 (.000)
28. Hwanhee Lee, $0K (n.r.), 5/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/5/0 (.000)
29. Sofie Andersson, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 1/9/12) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 1/8/12) and rank, International Wins (as of today): This is a way of seeing how those '08ers 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. Ya Ni Tseng, 17.23 (#1), 68.77 (#1); 8
2. Na Yeon Choi, 9.70 (#3), 69.57 (#3); 5
3. Amy Yang, 5.67 (#12), 70.49 (#19); 4
4. Shanshan Feng, 5.51 (#13), 70.61 (#21); 2
5. Hee Young Park, 3.35 (#38), 71.36 (#36); 4
6. Sandra Gal, 3.23 (#41); 71.15 (#29); 0
7. Momoko Ueda, 2.61 (#50), 72.10 (#69); 9
8. Ashleigh Simon, 1.26 (#127), 73.61 (#157); 2
9. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, 1.00 (#157), 73.15 (#125); 0
10. Sarah Kemp, .79 (#183), 74.12 (#196); 0
11. Anja Monke, .70 (#198), 74.70 (#247); 3
12. Hannah Jun, .59 (#228), 74.88 (#262); 0
13. Taylor Leon, .31 (#155), 73.68 (#162); 0
14. Louise Friberg, .27 (#327), 76.35 (#367); 0
15. Sarah Oh, .23 (#352), 74.98 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
16. Eunjung Yi, .17 (#393), n.r.; 0
17. Emma Cabrera-Bello, .14 (#415), 76.19 (#356); 0
18. Anna Grzebien, .13 (#433), 73.41 (#145); 0
19. Jimin Jeong, .12 (#439), 75.34 (n.r. [too few events]); 0
20. Leah Wigger, .12 (#446), 73.98 (#187); 0
21. Nicole Hage, .11 (#454), 74.60 (#238); 0
22. Anna Rawson, .05 (#569), n.r.; 0
23. Sofie Andersson, n.r., 75.66 (#314); 0
24. Carolina Llano,  n.r., 75.25 (n.r. [too few events]); 0

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