With Hee Young Park, Jessica Korda, Azahara Munoz, Shanshan Feng, and Brittany Lang graduating from last May's edition of this list of future LPGA stars who haven't yet won on tour, it's high time I updated and re-ranked it by the likelihood of each player's breakthrough coming this season. The U.S. Women's Open has featured a lot of 1st-time winners, so don't be surprised to see someone graduate from this list this week!
Most Likely to Win in 2012
1. Mika Miyazato: She's come back from a springtime mini-slump--she told me in Pittsford it was mostly mental, due to self-imposed pressure and too much anxiety about results--to be playing just about the best golf of anyone on the LPGA in the last month or so. I'd be shocked if she didn't find a way to win this season. [Update (8/21/12): OK, before anyone tries to give me credit for putting Mikan at the top of this list mere weeks before her breakthrough Safeway win, let me hasten to confess that I didn't even pick her to finish in the top 10 in that week's PakPicker competition at Seoul Sisters.com!]
2. Amy Yang: She's got the talent to be a top-5 player in the world and go toe-to-toe with Ya Ni Tseng, so I'd be just as shocked if she didn't break through on the LPGA sometime this year.
3. Caroline Hedwall: Yes, she's going through a mini-slump of her own, but look for her to make a comeback in the 2nd half of the season. She had too great a year on the LET in 2011 to suffer too big of a sophomore slide in her real 1st full season on the LPGA.
4. Karine Icher: She had a slow comeback from maternity leave early in the season, but once the LPGA got east of the Mississippi, she started playing great golf. All she needs to put herself over the top is to have a really good week with the putter. Don't be surprised if she pulls a Catriona Matthew and wins a major this year!
5. Karin Sjodin: She's hitting the ball great this year and has been seeing very good results, even with a balky putter. Could she finally be catching up with her fellow members of the Class of 2006?
6. Jenny Shin: She already gave herself a great chance to win at the start of the season and has maintained very good ball-striking stats ever since, so her 4 top 10s and 7 top 20s are no fluke. Look for her to keep exceeding expectations all year!
7. Chella Choi: Her performance stats are all excellent this year, except for her putting, so her making the 4-way playoff in Waterloo was no fluke.
8. Mina Harigae: Looks like she's really coming of age this season. She's driving the ball well and has been seeing very steady results (with 4 top 20s already in the bag). She told me in Waterloo, "It's been a good year. I'm improving each year. I have a new coach. I think I've been transitioning well with it." She spoke to me about getting accustomed to the rigors of travel and figuring out how to pace herself. I think we've only begun to see her play the kind of golf she's capable of playing. As she gets more comfortable on tour and gains confidence, look for her scores and finishes to continue improving.
9. Katie Futcher: She's another player who's on her own steady pace of improvement, although in certain ways she's plateaued a little bit this season. The problem has been her putting.
10. Vicky Hurst: If she were putting even half-decently this season, she'd be much higher on this list. As it is, she's in danger of slipping back in the pack.
11. Ryann O'Toole: Yes, she's suffering a little sophomore slide of her own, but I saw her hit a lot of good shots in Waterloo and despite the missed cut there and the bad Sunday she had in Nw Arkansas the following week, I think she's actually very close to playing great golf again.
Quantum Leap Candidates
12. Jennifer Johnson: She's doing everything well this year except getting the ball in the hole, which explains why she's struggling to make top 25s (with 4 so far this season) but still making plenty of cuts and top 40s.
13. Haeji Kang: She has 5 top 25s this season, but is coming off 2 missed cuts in a row. Seems like her weakness has been her iron play, as she's only been hitting 62% of her greens in regulation. If she can improve her accuracy in that department in the 2nd half of the season, watch out for her!
14. Christel Boeljon: She's #2 on the LET money list, only about 20K euros behind Carly Booth despite playing in 4 fewer events, but she still hasn't been able to translate her best golf over to the LPGA, where she's also having a little trouble hitting greens in regulation.
15. Kyeong Bae: She's not playing the kind of precision golf she's known for and her putting hasn't compensated for her weak ball-striking, but she's still managed to snag 3 top 25s in her 6 LPGA starts this season. I'm not sure why she's taken so much time this off this season, but once she starts playing more, I'm sure we'll see the '06er on more leaderboards.
16. Mindy Kim: She's driving the ball really well this year, but it appears she's not hitting it close enough on her approaches or handling the greens well enough to really make her mark. Still, a top 10 at the RR Donnelley and a top 20 at the Manulife show what she's capable of when she gets her putter going.
17. Guilia Sergas: Her T9 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship seemingly came out of nowhere, but she followed it up with a T14 in NW Arkansas. However, she missed the cut the week before each of these good finishes and hasn't done much else that exciting this season. But with her experience, watch out for her in the 2nd half of the season. Her performance stats aren't inspiring, but they aren't all that terrible, either. She could turn it around on a dime.
18. Jodi Ewart: She's had 2 top 10s and another 2 top 20s in 2012 already, even without putting fantastically yet. If she can heat her putter up this summer, watch out for her.
19. Pornanong Phatlum: She's been driving the ball very well this year, but hasn't hit that many greens in regulation for someone of her ball-striking talents and hasn't putted all that well, which may help explain why she has 2 top 15s and is coming off a top 25 at the Manulife, but has also missed the cut 3 times (including last week) and hasn't cracked the top 30 in her other starts.
20. Mariajo Uribe: After almost losing her card in her rookie season, she's bounced back with 4 top 20s in her 8 official starts (she also played in Brazil). Unfortunately, she's also missed 3 cuts, including her last 2 in a row, and didn't qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. The problem is that she hasn't done much with some very impressive tee shots in her sophomore season.
21. Lindsey Wright: She's got a T9 in Alabama and another top 20 in early part of the season, but her iron play and putting have made those good starts few and far between.
22. Lizette Salas: She's having a solid rookie year, with very good performance stats in every area but putting (and even there it's not all that bad), so I'm expecting her to improve on her 2 top 25s over the rest of the season.
23. Jennifer Song: A T6 at the RR Donnelley shows what this sophomore is capable of, but with a T18 at the Manulife her only better finish than her season-opening top 25, she's an object lesson in how difficult it can be for even highly-touted youngsters to make a smooth transition to the pro ranks. Still, she's driving the ball pretty well and if she can improve her iron play and putting in the 2nd half of the season, she may yet justify that #4 ranking I gave her last May.
24. Amanda Blumenherst: She's played her best golf in Thailand and Brazil this year, but for most of the season has neither been driving for show nor putting for dough. She's another poster child for why it's so hard to make it on the LPGA, having won nearly every award she could during her amazing collegiate career at Duke.
25. Allison Walshe: She's already gotten a top 10 and a top 15 this season, so maybe it's time for her to complete that transition to the pro ranks from a fantastic amateur career.
26. Mo Martin: She's probably done the best at exceeding expectations of any of the rookies this year. She just got her 1st career top 15 as an LPGA member last week and is making cuts, despite hitting the ball so short off the tee she's finding it tough to hit greens with regularity (even though she's among the most accurate drivers on tour) or get it close to the pin when she does (as evidenced by her very high putts per green in regulatioon average).
27. Danielle Kang: She's coming off the 1st top 25 of her pro career on the LPGA and has been making steady improvements in each of her last 4 starts. If she can get her putter going in the remaining starts she has with her relatively low priority-list status, she has a good shot at avoiding Q-School.
28. Belen Mozo: Despite good driving, her iron play and putting have been holding her back. She's playing well enough to be regularly making the cut, but not to crack the top 30 (yet). Maybe the inspiring play of USC teammate Veronica Felibert in NW Arkansas will help get her past this hump.
29. Tiffany Joh: She told me she's been seeing good results this year in her ball-striking but her putter has cooled off for her from last season, which is as good an explanation as any for why she's missed 6 cuts and hasn't yet attained a top 25 in 2012.
30. Gerina Piller: If she had another shot at the par-5 17th at Locust Hill on Wegmans LPGA Championship Sunday, I wonder if she could have beaten Shanshan Feng. Still, that T6 shows what this bomber is capable of on the LPGA after struggling for years on the Futures Tour. She'll need to improve her approach shots and putting if she's going to put herself back into contention again.
31. Sarah Jane Smith: She's coming off her 1st top 10 of 2012 last week in NW Arkansas and should be able to draw on her experience in the 2nd half of the season to improve her putting and approach shots.
32. Dewi Claire Schreefel: She hasn't made a top 30 yet this season, and her performance stats aren't all that impressive, but she's making her share of cuts and hanging in there over the 1st half of the season. Let's see if she can turn it around this summer.
33. Song-Hee Kim: Wow, what a difference 14 months makes! She was #1 with a bullet for a long time on this list, but now has WDed from the U.S. Women's Open due to a sore neck and back. There are just a whole lot of golfers playing better than her right now. Here's hoping she comes back healthy and refocused!
34. Kristy McPherson: Another formerly-highly-ranked golfer whose body's been betraying her the last couple of years. Her return from surgery has been a rocky one. Her made cut in Waterloo was her 1st in her last 8 starts. It's funny, because she's been driving the ball pretty well and has been hitting her share of greens in regulation, but it's been her putter that's been letting her down.
35. Cindy LaCrosse: Her results haven't followed from how well she's been driving the ball, but that's what happens when your irons and putter are letting you down a bit.
36. Sydnee Michaels: Not a bad rookie season so far; if she can improve her ball-striking a bit, watch out for her in the 2nd half of the season!
37. Maude-Aimee Leblanc: She really bombs it, so if she can improve her accuracy on her approach shots and make more putts, she could have a Brittany Lincicome-type career on tour.
38. Veronica Felibert: Her 2nd made cut of her LPGA career was a fantastic experience, as she gave herself a great chance for a wire-to-wire win last week and just opened the door a little too far in the final round. Let's see if she can follow it up with more of that!
39. Sandra Changkija: Her opening 63 at Grey Silo a couple of Fridays ago put her on the map. Like many players this far down the list, she needs to more consistently capitalize on her fine (and long) driving to improve on that T10.
40. Pernilla Lindberg: So far, a top 15 at the Lotte is her only good result in 2012 on the LPGA, but she is #15 on the LET money list in only 7 starts over there. I still believe it's only a matter of time before she translates that kind of success to the big tour.
Wait and See
41. Carlota Ciganda: She's having a great rookie season on the LET (she's currently #5 on their money list) but has such low LPGA status in 2012 that the U.S. Women's Open is her 1st event of the year.
42. Gwladys Nocera: She's had a great LET career, but hasn't been able to make the transition to the LPGA work for her. She played only a few LPGA events at the start of the season, but since then has had 10 starts on the LET, without that much success by her standards (she's only #21 on their money list).
43. Harukyo Nomura: She's already won on the JLPGA and seems to be splitting her time pretty evenly between both tours in 2012, so never mind that she hasn't yet set the LPGA on fire. Give her time!
44. Victoria Tanco: After a fantastic junior career, she exceeded expectations at LPGA Q-School and has been having the normal rookie struggles.
45. Hannah Yun: She'd been toiling on the Futures Tour as a teenage professional and things came together for her in Q-School. She's been doing a lot of tinkering in the 1st half of the season with her swing and her equipment, but I think she's found the formula for a better 2nd half to her rookie year.
46. Ayaka Kaneko: Another youngster who made it to the LPGA perhaps faster than even she expected and who's fighting through a tough transition.
47. Mitsuki Katahira: Ditto! She dominated in junior college golf and was once the #1-ranked amateur in the R&A's system, but has such low status her missed cut at the Manulife has been her only LPGA start this season. Still, she's # on the Symetra Tour money list and hanging in there during a challenging transition to the pro ranks.
48. Numa Gulyanamitta: This fantastic collegiate player hasn't jumped to immediate LPGA success, but let's see how she does in the 2nd half of the season.
49. Rebecca Lee-Bentham: Yet another youngster who got to the LPGA very quickly. So far it's been very difficult for her to make the transition to professional golf, but give her time.
50. Cydney Clanton: Another rookie with a great resume who's finding out everyone on the LPGA has a great resume. She did get a top 20 in her 1st start of the season, so let's see if she can get her putter going in the 2nd half of the season.