Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Recommended Reading: NYC and the Race to 10 LPGA Wins

For great overviews of how Na Yeon Choi held on to win her 1st U.S. Women's Open 14 years after Se Ri Pak made history at Blackwolf Run, check out the very good and very different posts by bangkokbobby, The Florida Masochist, and Stephanie Wei.  For some great context on the significance of the USGA's returning to Blackwolf Run, you can't beat Happy Fan's pre-tournament post (although the USGA's U.S. Women's Open championship site does a great job trying).  It really helps you understand what a big deal it was that two players from South Korea pulled away from the field on the weekend. 

Particularly because there's actually been a South Korean victory drought on the LPGA in 2012.  Happy Fan and the gang at Seoul Sisters.com have been remarking with increasing alarm this season that although Korean golfers have been doing fantastic on the JLPGA, they haven't been doing nearly as well on the LPGA.  (A quick look at my list of major-tour winners in 2012 will confirm this trend.)  Until NYC won on Sunday, the only Korean winner on the biggest stage of women's golf had been Sun Young Yoo at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.  Even now, Stacy Lewis and Ai Miyazato own as many LPGA victories as do all the South Koreans on tour combined and Ya Ni Tseng has one more than they do.  Heck, with Ai and Mika Miyazato both playing great in the late spring and summer, with Momoko Ueda showing signs of life, and with newbies like Harukyo Nomura, Mina Harigae, Ayaka Kaneko, and Mitsuki Katahira progressing on their career paths, you could make an argument that golfers of Japanese descent (Harigae is Japanese-American) are making as big an impact on the LPGA this season as Korean golfers as a group.

The fact is, though, stardom and superstardom are made up of individuals.  NYC, with her 6 LPGA wins and 1 major, has done something that Mi Hyun Kim (8 LPGA wins), Hee-Won Han (6), Seon Hwa Lee (4), and In-Kyung Kim (3) haven't yet been able to accomplish.  And she's moved herself into contention with Ji-Yai Shin (8 LPGA wins, 1 major) among the Koreans most likely to reach double-digit victory totals in their careers.  (The way Amy Yang is playing, I'd put her on that list, as well, even though she's still seeking her 1st LPGA win.)  NYC has 4 more total victories  than other South Korean major winners like Sun Young Yoo, Eun-Hee Ji, and Jeong Jang, and 5 more than Inbee Park (who is on track to win more on the LPGA) and Birdie Kim (who isn't).   The question for me is what sets these 10-win-potential golfers (including So Yeon Ryu, Hee Kyung Seo, and even Song-Hee Kim in it) apart from other Koreans?  For that matter, what sets Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer apart from even the likes of fellow Americans Angela Stanford, Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, Christina Kim, Stacy Prammanasudh, Brittany Lang, Nicole Castrale, Vicky Hurst, Mina Harigae, Lexi Thompson, and Jessica Korda, who have already approached or surpassed (or have shown promise of approaching or surpassing) the career achievements of a Pat Hurst (6 LPGA wins, 1 major) or Wendy Ward (4)?

The higher you go up the career achievement list, the less nationality seems to matter.  Is anyone I've named so far capable of exploding into Tiger- or Annika-level achievements here.  Not likely.  How about what Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster have been able to accomplish over the decades, with their 30+ wins and 7 majors each?  Maybe 1 or 2 of them.  Heck, it's not even likely more than a handful of them will achieve Se Ri Pak- or Lorena Ochoa-like levels of meteoric success (reaching or exceeding the 25-win mark, with more than 1 major).  Think about it.  Cristie Kerr has been stalled at 14 wins for awhile and Ya Ni Tseng is in a mini-stall of her own at 15 wins, so they're both still well behind Laura Davies, who has 20 on the LPGA alone (4 of them majors).  Nobody else who's active on the LPGA has 10.

Not Ai Miyazato (9 LPGA wins).  Not Paula Creamer (9, with 1 major).  Not Ji-Yai Shin (8/1).  Not Suzann Pettersen (8/1).  Not Na Yeon Choi (6/1).  Not yet.  Who will be first?  My money's on Ai-sama.  How about you?  How many wins do you think each of them will end up with when their careers are done?


Awsi Dooger said...

The South Koreans have had a strangely poor distribution of LPGA wins in relation to performance, this season and in 2011. Nothing more. I can't believe there has been overreaction among their fans. They need to take some classes in probability. And patience. As a block the Koreans are light years deeper and more formidable than the Japanese contingent.

The Constructivist said...

Agreed. You could try to make the argument I laid out above, but you'd still lose it. Deeper for sure, and more formidable by most measures. Really only Ai and Mika can regularly compete right now with the best of the Korean golfers on tour. Momoko and Mina are close, but the rest are struggling to keep their cards right now.

The Constructivist said...

Interesting pattern in career winnings/wins:


So many Koreans doing awesome in rookie classes of 2006-2008, but their numbers and quality decrease in recent years (with some serious bright spots as the exceptions to this rule)....

Is this a sign that the Se Ri Pak wave on the LPGA has crested? Or is it too soon to tell?