Monday, April 2, 2012

Who Will Step Up and Challenge Yani Tseng?

Before I get to the subject matter of this post, let me say how devastated I feel about what happened on the final hole of the Kraft Nabisco Championship. I don't want to take anything away from Sun Young Yoo; she shot a final-round 69 and won a major championship. That said, this tournament will be always be remembered as the one I.K. Kim lost. I don't think I have ever seen anything like that before. I.K. is one of the classiest players on the tour. Let us hope she can get over this quickly, and that it won't have any long term effect on her.

Now about Yani: The LPGA has completed 6 of its 27 official tournaments that will be played this year. Yani has won three of them. Two others she has finished one stroke back--and two strokes back in the other. She has clearly been the dominant golfer on the LPGA tour. In fact no one else is even close. Yani has won nine of the last 20 LPGA tournaments she has played in. The eleven she did not win were won by eleven different ladies. At 23 years old she has already won 15 tournaments. That is 15 more than Annika Sorenstam had at the same age. Annika, generally considered the greatest woman golfer ever, went on to win 72 times.

Yani already has accumulated 23 of the 27 points needed to get into the Hall of Fame. Chances are she will get the other 4 before the year is over. Let us take a look at her career thus far, and compare it to the other star players on the tour.

1-Yani Tseng - 15 wins, 102 starts, 14.71 winning percentage.
2-Jiyai Shin - 8 wins, 85 starts, 9.42%
3-Paula Creamer - 9 wins, 162 starts, 5.53%
4-Ai Miyazato - 7 wins, 136 starts, 5.15%
5-Na Yeon Choi - 5 wins, 106 starts, 4.72%
6-Suzann Pettersen - 8 wins, 181 starts, 4.42%
7-Brittany Lincicome - 5 wins, 158 starts, 3.17%
8-I.K. Kim - 3 wins, 125 starts, 2.40%

I was hoping that these figures would show me someone that was ready to start challenging Yani's dominance, but they didn't. Yani's stats are far superior.

I could not include Cristie Kerr or Se Ri Pak because the LPGA website is not accurate on veterans' stats that go back to when they started. It doesn't matter, though.  At their age, although still capable of winning on any given week, they aren't the ladies we should be looking at to challenge Yani's dominance.

My next step was to look at the current highest Rolex-ranked LPGA members with at least one victory, and see exactly how often they are in contention. Here is what I found.

1- Jiyai Shin - 45 top 10s, 85 starts = 52.95%
2- Yani Tseng - 52 of 102 = 50.98%
3- Paula Creamer - 77 of 163 = 47.24%
4- Na Yeon Choi - 50 of 106 = 47.17%
5- Suzann Pettersen - 68 of 181 = 37.57%
6- I.K. Kim - 45-125 = 36.00%
7- Ai Miyazato - 48-136 = 35.30%
8- Stacy Lewis - 24-86 = 27.91%
9- Angela Stanford 63-260 = 24.23%
10-Brittany Lincicome 28-158 = 17.73%

Okay, that Jiyai stat sure surprised me. Now I am thinking there is hope. Paula and Na Yeon are certainly contending most of the time. But can any of these players step up and challenge Yani's position as the number one player in the game? As I think about it more, unless we see a big change in someone's game, the answer right now is no. Here is why:

Jiyai Shin - Is giving away 40 yards off the tee to Yani. How can we realistically expect her to challenge for the top spot when she hasn't won since 2010?

Paula Creamer - This past week at the Kraft Nabisco Championship she only had 3 bogeys and 1 double bogey the entire tournament. The 4 over-par holes were the least in the entire field, yet she finished 20th. Since coming back from thumb surgery that has been the story every week. Unless those putts start to drop on a regular basis, don't look for Paula to threaten Yani's reign.

Na-Yeon Choi - When in contention never seems to have good final rounds. Watching her play under pressure, her face always seems to show a lack of confidence. Must show me more before I can say she is ready to be the one to challenge Yani's reign.

Suzann Pettersen - Now 31 years old she is not as young as these other girls. Her time is now. She sure talks up a big game. When her game catches up to her mouth, I will reconsider her again. Until then she is just another Yani wanna be.

I.K. Kim - If you can't make a 9-inch putt to win a major championship, you're not ready to challenge Yani's dominance.

Ai Miyazato - She is playing much better this year but seems to always come out second best when in a dogfight with Yani. She will have to win her first major championship before I can even consider her.

Stacy Lewis - She beat Yani head-to-head at last year's Kraft Nabisco Championship. But what has she done since? Sure, she has made lots of money, but she doesn't win.

Angela Stanford - Sorry, never was, isn't now, and never will be in Yani's class.

Brittany Lincicome - Sure, she won twice last year, but doesn't even show up most of the time. Has all the tools to be a great player but look at those low percentages. I don't think she cares enough to become the number one player.

Now what? We are back to square one. Can anyone out of that pack challenge Yani? Sure doesn't look that way to me. Not now anyway. Maybe we will have to wait awhile until some of the young future superstars develop. Rookies Lexi Thompson and So Yeon Ryu, amateurs Lydia Ko and Charlie Hull, I sure love their futures. Will one or more of them be the ones to finally give Yani a run for the money? I guess we will have to be a little more patient, and watch this story develop.

In the meantime I think the debate will continue; is Yani's dominance good for the game? As a fan I sure would rather there be a dogfight for the #1 position. It sure makes watching more interesting. On the other hand what Yani is doing is bringing more media attention to a tour that needs all the media attention it can get. What is your opinion? I would sure like to see your comments below.

Other Tidbits:
Na Yeon Choi is ranked #2 in this week's Rolex Rankings. Her rating is 9.17. Yani Tseng is #1 with a rating of 18.64. Marcella Leon is ranked #762 with a rating of 0.01. Na-Yeon Choi is closer to #762, then she is to #1.

Titleholders Update:
This week's qualifiers are I.K. Kim, Hee Kyeong Seo, and Amy Yang.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:
That short missed putt didn't stop I.K. Kim from moving from #12 to #5. Sun Young Yoo moves from #37 to #15. Natalie Gulbis moves from #127 to #89.

Hard to believe fact of the week:
Brittany Lincicome had gone 44 tournaments without missing a cut; she has now missed 2 of her last 3. Mika Miyazato had gone 18 tournaments without missing a single cut; she has now missed 2 in a row.

Louise Friberg had missed 13 consecutive cuts and then decided to retire. She temporarily ended her retirement to play this past week. She missed the cut.

Warming Up:
Se Ri Pak has finished no worse than 25th in her 5 tournaments this year.  Vicky Hurst is off to a good start with finishes of 8th, 18th, and 11th.

Ice Cold:
Tiffany Joh missed her 3rd consecutive cut; her scoring average is 75.50, ranking her 120th of 138 players listed.  Song Hee-Kim has missed yet another cut. She has missed every cut this season. The only tournament she finished was an event without a cut in which she finished 70th in a field of 70 players. Her scoring average of 77.55 is dead last amoung LPGA regulars.

There were 10 holes in one in the entire 2011 season. There have been 6 aces already this year.


Mike said...

I don't think lack of distance is really a consideration here, Tony. Luke Donald pretty much put that one to rest last year.

Consistency? Now that's a much greater problem.

WooIsMe said...

The two short putts that came to mind yesterday: Doug Sanders 1970 British Open and Scott Hoch 1989 Masters. Both players never won a major.

The Constructivist said...

What I love about Ya Ni is what a gamer she is. Even after playing so horribly most of the day Sunday, that clutch approach on 17 seemed to give her new life. And as bad as she played 18 tee to green, she was totally pumped up for that putt and gave it a great run. Nobody else who had a chance to win is nearly as accustomed to the pressure of trying to win on the LPGA, much less win a major, and it showed on their faces, in their body language, and in their games.

Huge props to Yoo and my heart goes out to Inky and I feel awful for Seo, but, I, too, was thinking, "If Ya Ni can play that bad and still have a shot at winning, how far ahead of the rest of the LPGA must she be?" said...
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