Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2010

Azahara Munoz was Rookie of the Year in the Class of 2010, the 2nd of 3 classes in what I'm calling the "New Blood" generation on the LPGA.  Could anybody pass her by the end of the 2011 season?  Or begin approaching the feats of the best in the Class of 2009?  Or stay ahead of last year's rookies?  So far, this class has a lot of survivors, which is another way of saying that there are a lot in it who have been hanging onto their cards by the skin of their teeth.  How many of them will retain or regain their membership in 2013?  Read on!

Simply the Best

1. Azahara Munoz: She's really the only player in her class whose recent and career performance stats and results stack up fairly well with the best in previous rookie classes.  The big questions for her in 2012 are, can she start to contend more often? how long will it take before she's ready to win on the LPGA?  The key to both questions is her putting.

The Contenders

2. Beatriz Recari: She's made a fairly successful transition to the LPGA from the LET, in that she's the 1st and only player in her rookie class to get a win, she's making a decent number of cuts, and she's outperformed everyone besides Munoz in her class thus far.  But compared to those in other rookie classes, she has a long way to go, needing work in almost every aspect of her game.  Can she step it up in 2012?
3. Gwladys Nocera: She sacrificed distance for accuracy in 2011, but her irons and putter let her down big-time.  In fact, a T14 at the Navistar--her last event and only top 20 of the year--was the only thing that kept her in the top 100 on the LPGA money list, plus she couldn't even crack the top 40 of the LET money list in 13 starts over there.  At #102 on the LPGA Priority Status List, she'll be able to play all she wants over here this coming season, but the big question is whether she'll decide to continue to challenge herself against the best female golfers on the planet or will be tempted to return to the LET, where she would have a better chance to fight her way back among that tour's elite.  Her current struggles make me wonder how her LPGA career would have gone had she been the one who had won the CVS instead of Recari in their rookie season....
4. Amanda Blumenherst: She's tied with Recari for the 2nd-most top 20s in her class and has the 2nd-best made cut rate, as well, so she's shown some pretty decent consistency thus far in her career.  But compared to the best rookies in other classes, she still has miles to go.

Quantum Leap Candidates

5. Mina Harigae: She actually had the highest birdie rate in her class in 2011 (3.14 birdies per round, just ahead of Cindy LaCrosse and Pernilla Lindberg) and the second-lowest scoring average (behind only Munoz), so if she can improve her ball-striking, especially when it comes to hitting greens, she can keep steadily improving in 2012.
6. Dewi Claire Schreefel: In only 15 career starts on the LPGA, she's set a solid pace.  If she could finish #38 on the LET money list in only 10 starts there in 2011, I'm sure she can do better than she has so far on the LPGA in 2012.  Let's see if she can keep improving her game and pick up that pace this coming season.
7. Gerina Mendoza Piller: She only has 14 career LPGA starts, and like Schreefel she needs to take advantage of her full schedule in 2012.  If she can capitalize on her length and ability to hit greens, she can really take off this coming season; if not, she'll struggle to keep her card.
8. Cindy LaCrosse: She showed she can play with the big girls in 2011, so if she can draw on the positives from her top 20s, like when she played her way into the final group with Ya Ni Tseng on Sunday at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, she'll have a leg up in 2012 on those with less LPGA experience.
9. Mariajo Uribe: After dropping out of the top 100 on the money list in 2011, she really needs a big bounceback in 2012. Fortunately for her, at #134 on the priority status list, she'll get into every regular event she wants to play in and should have every opportunity to play her way into the limited-field events.
10. Alison Walshe: She played just well enough to make the top 80 on the money list in 2011 and has shown flashes of brilliance in her 20 career LPGA starts.  But she's going to have to make more cuts to stay in this category next ranking.  The interesting thing is that at #52 on the LET money list in only 9 starts there in 2011, she'll have plenty of chances to supplement her LPGA schedule with some trips across the pond.  How extensive a dual LPGA-LET membership she wants to explore in 2012 is a big question facing her this coming season.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

11. Ilhee Lee: She hit her share of greens in 2011, but just couldn't get the ball to fall in the hole, so she's back in the #110 spot on the priority status list.  Let's see if she can bounce back in 2012.
12. Maria Hernandez: She had to cut her 2011 season short due to injury, so she comes back in 2012 at #75a on priority status list, thanks to a medical exemption.  If she's recovered, she's in a great position to join her fellow Spaniards at the top of this class.  Plus, if she also got a medical exemption from the LET, she'll have a chance to take advantage of a dual LPGA-LET membership this coming season.
13. Pernilla Lindberg: To me, she's the biggest disappointment in her class, bar none, despite finishing #18 on the 2011 LET money list in only 13 starts.  I still think she has the talent and potential to be among the best in her class, and from #108 on the priority status list, she'll have plenty of chances to prove it.  The key for her is hitting more greens!
14. Yoo Kyeong Kim: At #140 on the priority status list, she's going to get into all the full-field events she wants to, but she's really got to upgrade every aspect of her game if she wants to stay on the LPGA long-term (or even short-term!).
15. Paola Moreno: At #154 on the priority status list, she's going to have to hope a large number of players skip a large number of events.  I think if she's smart she'll make the Symetra Tour her home in 2012 and supplement her income from it with the odd LPGA start.  If she can squeak into the top 100 of the LPGA money list or better, great.  If not, she definitely has the potential to be a top 5er on the Symetra Tour.
16. Christine Song: At #93 on the priority status list, let's see how she handles her 1st full LPGA season.  She hasn't done much of anything in her 1st 12 starts on tour, but knowing where you're going to be playing from week to week can make a huge difference.
17. Tanya Dergal: She played her way via Q-School into the #123 spot on the priority status list, so should get into the full complement of full-field events.  Let's see how her 9th career LPGA start and up go this coming season.
18. Nannette Hill: She got back to #153a on the priority status list thanks to a medical exemption.  Like Moreno, I think she'd be better off treating the Symetra Tour as her home tour in 2012.

On the Outside, Looking In

19. Adrienne White: She's made 6 cuts in her 10 career LPGA starts, so has shown she can compete on the big tour.  Looks like she'll need to make it back via the Symetra Tour in 2012.
20. Lisa Meldrum: She's gotten into many more LPGA events than her fellow Canadian, but doesn't have nearly as good a made-cut rate as White. Hopefully she'll regroup on the Symetra Tour this coming season.
21. Marianne Skarpnord: She fell to #78 on the LET money list in 2011 in only 13 starts.  I assume she'll be back there full-time in 2012.
22. Misun Cho: This 2-time winner on the Futures Tour took a step back in 2011, finishing 39th on their money list and failing to return to the LPGA via Q-School.  Let's see if she can turn it around in 2012 on the Symetra Tour.
23. Jean Reynolds: Another 2-time winner on the Futures Tour, she'll be looking to start her comeback on the Symetra Tour in 2012.
24. Katie Kempter: She was #51 on the Futures Tour money list and couldn't get back to the LPGA via Q-School in 2011, so it's another year in the minor leagues for her in 2012.
25. Whitney Wade: Although she has a Futures Tour win, she could finish only in 66th place on their 2011 money list and couldn't advance to the LPGA via Q-School.  Let's see if she can improve in 2012.
26. Mallory Blackwelder: She was #27 on the 2011 Futures Tour money list, so is in good position to improve on it in 2012.
27. Cathryn Bristow: She got her 1st Futures Tour win in 2011 and finished 19th on their money list, so she is also in good shape to contend for the top 5 on the Symetra Tour in 2012.

Missing in Action

28. Jane Chin: Didn't play on the LPGA or Futures Tour in 2011 and hasn't updated her twitter account since last February.  Anybody know what she's up to?

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. Azahara Munoz, $520.3K (#24), 72.11 (#30), 2.81 (#25), 69.3% (#20)
2. Beatriz Recari $223.1K (#43), 72.58 (#44), 2.89 (#29), 63.8% (#93)
3. Mina Harigae, $178.7K (#49), 72.54 (#41), 3.14 (#48), 64.6% (#75)
4. Amanda Blumenherst, $164.9K (#52), 73.12 (#67), 2.91 (#39), 66.9% (#41)
5. Dewi Claire Schreefel, $136.1K (#62), 72.83 (#53), 2.77 (#64), 60.4% (#121)
6. Cindy LaCrosse, $114.8K (#65), 72.85 (#55), 3.13 (#60), 65.3% (#66)
7. Gerina Mendoza Piller, $103.3K (#68), 72.95 (#60), 3.02 (#67), 68.5% (#25)
8. Alison Walshe, $90.1K (#73), 73.89 (#103), 2.75 (#83), 61.6% (#108)
9. Gwladys Nocera, $57.6K (#86), 74.37 (#121), 2.42 (#81), 65.6% (#63)
10. Pernilla Lindberg, $53.4K (#90), 73.33 (#79), 3.10 (#89), 62.6% (#102)
11. Ilhee Lee, $52.9K (#91), 73.67 (#91), 2.50 (#105), 67.7% (#35)
12. Mariajo Uribe, $34.3K (#103), 73.87 (#101), 2.64 (#82), 62.9% (#99)
13. Yoo Kyeong Kim, $28.2K (#110), 73.46 (#83), 2.58 (#118), 63.0% (#97)
14. Christine Song, $16.0K (#126), 74.71 (#131), 2.25 (#125), 57.6% (#133)
15. Maria Hernandez, $15.4K (#127), 73.50 (n.r.), 2.92 (n.r.), 60.6% (n.r.)
16. Lisa Meldrum, $12.9K (#130), 74.38 (#122), 2.65 (#110), 61.5% (#110)
17. Jean Reynolds, $12.4K (#131), 75.26 (#136), 2.47 (#136), 55.0% (#138)
18. Paola Moreno, $11.6K (#136), 74.78 (#133), 2.13 (#131), 64.3% (#84)
19. Adrienne White, $6.9K (#144), 73.36 (n.r.), 2.91 (n.r.), 72.2% (n.r.)
20. Nannette Hill, $2.2K (#151), 76.00 (n.r.), 2.43 (n.r.), 51.6% (n.r.)
21. Mallory Blackwelder, $0K (n.r.), 77.50 (n.r.), 1.50 (n.r.), 50.0% (n.r.)
22. Whitney Wade, $0K (n.r.), 79.00 (n.r.), .50 (n.r.), 41.7% (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 '10ers 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 '10ers 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. Azahara Munoz, $.92M (#205), 44/0/0/2/6/17/0/0/6/38 (.864)
2. Beatriz Recari, $.49M (#288), 41/0/1/1/5/9/0/0/14/27 (.659)
3. Gwladys Nocera, $.48M (#290), 36/0/0/1/2/4/0/0/15/21 (.583)
4. Amanda Blumenherst, $.42M (#302), 43/0/0/0/3/9/0/0/12/31 (.721)
5. Mina Harigae, $.27M (#364), 31/0/0/0/2/4/0/0/9/22 (.710)
6. Mariajo Uribe, $.17M (#429), 29/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/13/16 (.552)
7. Dewi Claire Schreefel, $.14M (#466), 15/0/0/0/0/2/0/0/5/10 (.667)
8. Cindy LaCrosse, $.14M (#469), 22/0/0/0/0/2/0/0/8/14 (.636)
9. Alison Walshe, $.13M (#476), 20/0/0/0/1/4/0/0/11/9 (.450)
10. Ilhee Lee, $.12M (#484), 24/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/13/11 (.458)
11. Maria Hernandez,  $.11M (#502), 20/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/12/8 (.400)
12. Gerina Mendoza Piller, $.10M (#510), 14/0/0/0/1/3/0/0/5/9 (.643)
13. Pernilla Lindberg, $.09M (#515), 26/0/0/0/0/0/0/1/13/12 (.462)
14. Lisa Meldrum, $.05M (#590), 24/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/13/11 (.458)
15. Yoo Kyeong Kim, $.05M (#591), 22/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/16/6 (.273)
16. Paola Moreno, $.04M (#632), 18/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/11/7 (.389)
17. Jean Reynolds, $.03M (#651), 23/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/18/5 (.217)
18. Misun Cho, $.02M (#694), 14/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/11/2 (.143)
19. Marianne Skarpnord, $.02M (#696), 16/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/12/4 (.250)
20. Adrienne White, $.02M (#707), 10/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/4/6 (.600)
21. Christine Song, $.02M (#743), 12/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/9/3 (.250)
22. Katie Kempter, $7.3K (#830), 13/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/11/2 (.154)
23. Tanya Dergal, $5.4K (#863), 8/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/6/2 (.250)
24. Nannette Hill, $2.2K (#929), 4/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/3/1 (.250)
25. Whitney Wade, $0K (n.r.), 3/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/3/0 (.000)
26. Mallory Blackwelder, $0K (n.r.), 4/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/4/0 (.000)
27. Cathryn Bristow, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)
28. Jane Chin, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Rankings (as of 1/16/12) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 1/15/12) 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. Azahara Munoz, 3.22 (#40), 70.96 (#27); 1
2. Beatriz Recari, 1.97 (#72), 72.19 (#74); 1
3. Mina Harigae, 1.34 (#115), 72.49 (#89); 0
4. Amanda Blumenherst, 1.24 (#128), 72.48 (#88); 0
5. Pernilla Lindberg, 1.14 (#134), 73.11 (#120); 0
6. Alison Walshe, 1.10 (#139), 73.84 (#174); 0
7. Gwladys Nocera, 1.09 (#143), 74.18 (#204); 10
8. Cindy LaCrosse, .89 (#169), 72.67 (#95); 0
9. Dewi Claire Schreefel, .81 (#178), 73.11 (#119); 0
10. Ilhee Lee, .79 (#181), 73.87 (#176); 0
11. Maria Hernandez, .64 (#213), 73.75 (n.r. [too few starts]); 1
12. Gerina Mendoza Piller, .63 (#218), 73.41 (#146); 0
13. Mariajo Uribe, .61 (#223), 73.54 (#152); 0
14. Marianne Skarpnord, .51 (#248), 73.96 (#184); 2
15. Yoo Kyeong Kim, .24 (#345), 74.21 (n.r. [too few starts]); 0
16. Christine Song, .19 (#380), 75.12 (#272); 0
17. Paola Moreno, .15 (#408), 75.81 (#330); 0
18. Lisa Meldrum, .11 (#452), 74.48 (#230); 0
19. Jean Reynolds, .10 (#460), 76.48 (#374); 0
20. Misun Cho, .07 (#504), 74.24 (#210); 0
21. Katie Kempter, 06 (#528), 75.73 (#322); 0
22. Mallory Blackwelder, .06 (#534), 74.79 (#253); 0
23. Cathryn Bristow, .03 (#617), 76.40 (#371); 0
24. Nannette Hill, .03 (#618), 73.92 (n.r. [too few starts]); 0
25. Adrienne White, .03 (#619), 74.88 (#260); 0
26. Whitney Wade, .01 (#727), 75.76 (#325); 0
27. Tanya Dergal, n.r., 77.37 (#414); 0

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