Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2009

Now that I've finished ranking the rookie classes from the LPGA that I group under the moniker "Tseng Dynasty," it's time to turn my attention to the next generation, which I've been calling New Blood.

Simply the Best

1. Ji-Yai Shin. 2011 was a down year for her, as she had trouble adjusting to a new swing, new coach, and new caddy, but when you consider that she was able to gain distance off the tee without sacrificing accuracy, hit more greens than the previous season, and remain among the best putters on the LPGA, you'll understand that a down year for her is a career year for most golfers.  Still, she barely held onto her JLPGA card with a blah 48th-place finish on their money list in 6 starts, so it'll be interesting to see how she responds and what kind of schedule she puts together in 2012.
2. Michelle Wie. Chapter 4 of her golfing career is ready to start once she finishes up her last classes at Stanford this spring, so we'll see what she's able to do when the LPGA is her full-time job.  After a roller-coaster 1st 3 chapters (I: Young Phenom; II: Troubled Teen; III. Student-Athlete), she'll probably be looking for some more stability and consistent excellence in 2012.  Although she has a decent share of wins (2) and a good share of top 3s (10) over her 1st 3 seasons as an LPGA member, she doesn't get nearly the number of top 10s and top 20s that she should.  Maybe being able to practice more will help straighten out her driver and get her more confidence on the greens.
3. Stacy Lewis. She's improved each year she's been out on tour and matured into one of the top players on the planet in 2011.  Soon we'll see whether she will sustain this upward trajectory, level off, or struggle in 2012.  I'm betting on the 1st.
4. Anna Nordqvist. She has the 2nd-highest number of top 20s in her class (well behind Shin but 4 ahead of Wie in the same number of starts), but hasn't been able to keep up the torrid pace of wins and tournaments in contention from her rookie season over the past 2 seasons.  Even though she gained distance and accuracy off the tee in 2011, her putter held her back for most of the season.  If she can improve her touch around and on the greens, watch out for her in 2012.

The Contenders

5. Mika Miyazato. She dramatically improved her driving accuracy in 2011 and enjoyed a lot more made cuts and top 20s than in her previous 2 seasons, but her biggest achievement was finishing in the top 10 in 3 of 4 majors (her worst finish was T14 at the Women's British Open), thereby maximizing her donation to Japan relief that season.  I'm thinking she's ready to contend a lot more often in 2012.
6. Vicky Hurst. She lead the tour in driving distance in 2009 and was 2nd in 2010, but lost a lot of distance and couldn't hit 60% of her fairways for the 2nd-straight season, which put a lot of pressure on her rather average skills with her irons, wedges, and putter.  She needs to become a more complete player to compete successfully with the best on the LPGA.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. M.J. Hur. She's been going in the wrong direction with her game over the last 3 seasons, but despite having trouble with almost every aspect of her game in 2011, she's firmly in Category 1 on the 2012 Priority Status List, so she'll have every opportunity to reverse these trends this coming season.
8. Chella Choi. Very quietly had the best year of her career in 2011, despite worse-than-average putting for most of it.  A classic precision player, she needs to improve her hybrid and iron play so that she can give herself more and better birdie chances in 2012.
9. Mindy Kim. Got off to a hot start in 2010 but couldn't sustain it into the last 2/3rds of the season.  Basically, her worse-than-average ball-striking caught up with her once her putter cooled off--and her putting got worse as her ball-striking regressed to mean as the season wore on.
10. Haeji Kang. Another player whose weaknesses with her ball-striking contributed to her problems with her putting in 2011.  Whereas the season before she averaged 1.77 putts per green in regulation, last season she ballooned to 1.87 PPGIR.  If she doesn't turn this trend around soon, her 3rd full season on tour (after having made the leap from the Futures Tour mid-way through her rookie year) threatens to be her last.
11. Pornanong Phatlum. After grinding it out on the Futures Tour in 2010, she made the most of her opportunities on the LPGA in 2011, making the cut in 15 of 17 starts.  Next step for her is to keep improving her overall game so that she can start competing for top 20s and better finishes. 

On the Bottom, Looking Up

12. Samantha Richdale.  At #143 on the priority status list, she should get more than the 10 starts she got in 2011 and hopefully will be able to build up more of a playing rhythm.  The key is to get out to a fast start, something many golfers from the northern states and the Great White North often find difficult to do.
13. Jessica Shepley. At #141 on the priority status list, she should get plenty of opportunities to play in 2012 and is looking to build on streak of 4 made cuts in a row to close out last season.
14. Angela Oh. At #115 on the priority status list, she'll finally get a chance to put together a full season on the LPGA.  She made the 1st and only cut of her career last season and simply can't afford to have another such year.  This is a make-or-break year for her.

On the Outside, Looking In

15. Shiho Oyama. Finally returned to the winner's circle in Japan after suffering through 2 years of elbow problems (tendinitis and a long recovery from surgery) most likely brought on by her intense preparations for her rookie season on the LPGA.  Although she finished #124 on the 2011 LPGA money list, she turned down membership for 2012.  But I wouldn't be surprised to see her try again for the LPGA if she returns to the elite of the JLPGA this coming season.  I'm sure she wants to improve on her #12 standing from last year's money list over there.
16. Tania Elosegui. Having dropped to #33 on the 2011 LET money list, a return engagement on the LPGA is looking increasingly unlikely.
17. Kim Welch. Tried out the LET for awhile but didn't find much success on it.  I'm assuming she'll be on the Symetra Tour full-time in 2012.  Probably a make-or-break year for her, as well.
18. Nontaya Srisawang. She was #60 on the LET money list last season in only 13 starts, so it's looking like she'll divide her time between Europe and Asian tours in 2012.  It would be great to see her back on the LPGA soon as part of a wave of young Thai golfers seeking success outside the LAGT.
19. Song Yi Choi. She never made a cut in her 17 career starts on the LPGA and now I'm not sure whether she's seeking her fortune on the KLPGA or has already retired from competitive golf.

Over and Out

20. Jeehae Lee. Well, she gave the LPGA and the LET the ol' college try, but wasn't seeing the results she needed to keep her professional golf experiment alive any longer.
21. Sunny Oh. Working as a teaching professional at the Lakes at El Segundo while hoping her slowly-healing elbow injury sustained at the U.S. Women's Open during her rookie season allows her to return to competitive golf.

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. Stacy Lewis, $1.36M (#4), 70.98 (#7), 3.70 (#2), 70.6% (#11)
2. Ji-Yai Shin, $720.7K (#15), 70.81 (#4), 3.59 (#24), 70.9% (#9)
3. Michelle Wie, $627.9K (#18), 71.94 (#24), 3.39 (#23), 69.7% (#19)
4. Mika Miyazato, $591.7K (#22), 71.17 (#12), 3.31 (#19), 68.5% (#23)
5. Anna Nordqvist, $589.8K (#23), 71.22 (#13), 3.41 (#19), 70.4% (#12)
6. Chella Choi, $325.3K (#35), 71.96 (#25), 2.96 (#34), 70.1% (#14)
7. Mindy Kim, $262.1K (#38), 72.44 (#38), 3.11 (#40), 65.8% (#53)
8. Vicky Hurst, $201.4K (#45), 72.99 (#62), 3.00 (#33), 64.1% (#87)
9. Pornanong Phatlum, $149.7K (#57), 72.55 (#43), 2.92 (#49), 64.8% (#70)
10. M.J. Hur, $87.2K (#74), 73.88 (#102), 2.69 (#65), 59.4% (#126)
11. Haeji Kang, $81.7K (#77), 73.50 (#85), 2.54 (#73), 62.4% (#104)
12. Jessica Shepley, $23.7K (#113), 73.24 (#75), 2.80 (#109), 58.0% (#132)
13. Samantha Richdale, $22.7K (#115), 74.19 (#115), 2.63 (#108),  62.6% (#103)
14. Jeehae Lee, $18.0K (#123), 74.42 (#125), 2.65 (#110), 61.3% (#111)
15. Shiho Oyama, $17.8K (#124), 73.23 (n.r.), 2.31 (n.r.), 65.6% (n.r.)
16. Angela Oh, $4.5K (#149), 74.77 (#132), 2.23 (#121), 61.6% (#109)

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 '09ers 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 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 '09ers 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. Ji-Yai Shin, $4.31M (#46), 61/1*/8**/16/33/45/1/0/1/59 (.967)
2. Michelle Wie, $2.43M (#89), 58/0/2/10/20/28/2/0/5/51 (.879)
3. Stacy Lewis, $2.22M (#99), 70/1/1/5/18/30/0/0/13/57 (.814)
4. Anna Nordqvist, $1.90M (#115), 58/1/2/4/14/32/0/0/4/54 (.931)
5. Mika Miyazato, $1.49M (#133), 65/0/0/2/12/28/0/0/11/54 (.831)
6. Vicky Hurst, $.92M (#208), 67/0/0/1/6/15/0/0/14/53 (.791)
7. M.J. Hur, $.90M (#213), 64/0/1/2/5/12/2/0/21/41 (.640)
8. Chella Choi, $.53M (#274), 53/0/0/0/2/10/0/0/15/38 (.717)
9. Mindy Kim, $.42M ($301), 50/0/0/0/5/8/1/0/21/28 (.560)
10. Haeji Kang, $.39M (#310), 51/0/0/0/2/4/0/0/17/34 (.667)
11. Pornanong Phatlum, $.17M (#436), 23/0/0/0/0/5/0/0/4/19 (.826)
12. Shiho Oyama, $.14M (#459), 20/0/0/0/1/1/0/0/10/10 (.500)
13. Samantha Richdale, $.06M (#569), 28/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/17/11 (.393)
14. Tania Elosegui, $.03M (#645), 15/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/12/3 (.200)
15. Jeehae Lee, $.03M (#663), 28/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/22/6 (.214)
16. Jessica Shepley, $.03M (#674), 15/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/9/6 (.400)
17. Angela Oh, $4.5K (#874), 11/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/10/1  (.091)
18. Kim Welch, $2.2K (#932), 5/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/4/1 (.200)
19. Sunny Oh, $0K (n.r.), 2/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/0 (.000)
20. Nontaya Srisawang, $0K (n.r.), 4/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/4/0 (.000)
21. Song Yi Choi, $0K (n.r.), 17/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/16/0 (.000)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Rankings (as of 1/9/12) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 1/8/12) and rank; International Wins (as of the end of the 2011 season): This is a way of seeing how those '09ers 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. Ji-Yai Shin, 7.30 (#7), 69.75 (#5); 28
2. Stacy Lewis, 6.50 (#9), 69.86 (#7); 0
3. Michelle Wie, 5.00 (#17), 71.24 (#32); 0
4. Mika Miyazato, 4.29 (#24), 70.37 (#15); 1
5. Anna Nordqvist, 3.83 (#31), 70.24 (#10); 0
6. Shiho Oyama, 3.55 (#35), 71.63  (#48); 12
7. Chella Choi, 2.05 (#70), 71.58 (#44); 0
8. Mindy Kim, 1.69 (#86), 72.41 (#84); 0
9. Vicky Hurst, 1.62 (#92), 72.72 (#99); 0
10. Pornanong Phatlum, 1.53 (#99), 71.73 (#52); 0
11. M.J. Hur, 1.20 (#130), 74.12 (#195); 0
12. Haeji Kang, 1.16 (#133), 73.39 (#143); 0
13. Tania Elosegui, .57 (#233), 74.68 (#245); 1
14. Nontaya Srisawang, .48 (#257), 73.74 (#165); 0
15. Jessica Shepley, .27 (#328), 73.50 (#149); 0
16. Jeehae Lee, .27 (#332), 75.64 (#311); 0
17. Samantha Richdale, .18 (#388), 75.09 (#271); 0
18. Kim Welch, .11 (#451), 76.05 (#348); 0
19. Angela Oh, .11 (#457),  75.80 (#329); 0
20. Song Yi Choi, n.r., 78.26 (n.r. [too few events]); 0

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