Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Best on the LPGA: The Winless, September 2012 Edition

With so many Rolex First-Time Winners this season (Mika Miyazato being the latest), there are very few can't-miss picks left among the LPGA's winless, so there are a good number of new names near the top of this list, which is ranked by my estimation of their probability of breaking through this season.  And with a relatively weak field at Kingsmill this year, the odds go up of a surprise winner this week.  Why not somebody from this list?

Most Likely to Win in 2012

1. 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 completely shocked if she didn't break through on the LPGA sometime this year.

The Contenders

2. Chella Choi:  She's already come close 4 times this season, with 2 of her last 3 starts resulting in bronze medals.  In terms of her style of play, she's either a long precision player or a short straight shooter.  Either way, her performance stats are super-impressive.  All she needs is a better-than-average week with the putter to give herself a chance for her 5th top 5 of the season and maybe even her 1st win on tour.

3. 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, with 2 top 5s, 4 top 10s, 8 top 15s, and 9 top 25s already this season.  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!

4. Haeji Kang:  She has 7 top 25s this season and has made the top 10 her last 2 starts.  She's a bit longer than Choi off the tee, but less accurate, with only a 65% greens in regulation rate.  However, she's been putting better than Choi and has improved her ball-striking stats since the last ranking in July, so her chances of winning are just about as good as Choi's.

5. Jenny Shin:  She's kind of a streaky player, having started the season with 3 straight top 10s (including a near-win) and enjoyed a 3-event top-20 run midway through the season.  I think the culprit has been her putting.  She's a classic precision player, but her 1.84 putts per green in regulation rate suggests that her putter can run hot and cold.  Despite not cracking the top 30 in her last 5 starts, her 4 top 10s and 7 top 20s lead me to believe she's due to get hot again soon.

6. Karin Sjodin:  She's hitting the ball great this year (she's on the borderline between a straight shooter and a straight-up bomber!) and has been seeing very good results, with 3 top 10s and 6 top 20s already, even with a balky putter.  But she's missed 2 cuts in her last 4 starts and isn't as hot as those ahead of her on this list.

7. Vicky Hurst:  If she were putting even half-decently this season, she'd be much higher on this list.  As one of the tour's certified bombers, she's earned 3 top 10s and 6 top 20s already this season, but has also missed 6 cuts in her last 9 starts.

8. Mina Harigae:  Looks like she's really coming of age this season.  She's driving the ball well (like Choi, she's on the borderline between a precision player and a straight shooter) and has been seeing very steady results (with 6 top 25s 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.  She'll need to heat up her putter to start breaking into the top 10.

9. Carlota Ciganda:  She's having a fantastic rookie season on the LET (she's currently #3 on their money list) and did solidly enough in her 2 LPGA starts this season to move into the green zone on the reshuffled priority status list, so if she does really well in the Ricoh Women's British Open, she could conceivably decide to play more on the LPGA in an effort to qualify for their Asian swing.

10. 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 once she recovers from some injuries.  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.

11. Guilia Sergas:  It's been either feast or famine in 2012 for this veteran European star.  She's earned 2 top 10s and 5 top 20s on pretty average performance stats, but she's also missed a ton of cuts.

12. Jennifer Johnson:   She's driving the ball great and hitting her irons pretty solidly, but she's been having some problems getting the ball in the hole, which explains why she's struggling to make top 25s (with 5 so far this season) but still making plenty of cuts and top 40s.

13. Katie Futcher:  She's a late bloomer on her own steady pace of improvement, although in certain ways she's plateaued a little bit this season, with 6 top 25s on less-than-impressive performance stats.  The main problem has been her putting, but her ball-striking hasn't been anything to write home about, either.

Quantum Leap Candidates

14. Sydnee Michaels:  In July, I wrote, "if she can improve her ball-striking a bit, watch out for her in the 2nd half of the season!"  Well, she just made Tony Jesselli's "who's hot?" list, thanks to her 3 top 25s in a row, including her 1st-ever LPGA top 10 at the Safeway.

15. Mariajo Uribe:  After almost losing her card in her rookie season, she bounced back with 4 top 20s in her 1st 8 events in 2012.  Still, she hasn't done anything special in her last 7 starts, which is a bit surprising, given how great her driving and how solid the rest of her ball-striking have been.

16. Lizette Salas:   With her best finish a T12 at the Safeway, 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.

17. Lindsey Wright:  I'm guessing that injuries account for her fewer-than-usual starts on the LPGA in 2012, but even so she got a T9 in Mobile and her 3rd and 4th top 20s of the season in Evian and Toledo.  Yes, she's missed her last 2 cuts in a row, but her performance stats are pretty decent, she's got plenty of experience, and all she needs is to heat up her putter to get back to playing like she's capable of doing.

18. Jodi Ewart:  This straight shooter's snagged 2 top 10s and another 2 top 20s in 2012 already, even without putting well as of yet.  If she can heat her putter up in late summer, watch out for her.

19. Mo Martin:  She's probably done the best at exceeding expectations of any of the rookies this year.  Although her best finish is only a T14 at the Walmart, she has 3 other top 25s (including 2 in her last 3 starts) and has only missed 4 cuts all season, 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 regulation average).

20. Alison Walshe:  Her best finish this season is a T8 at the ShopRite, but she's followed it up with only 2 other top 20s.

21. Cindy LaCrosse:  She's playing pretty solid golf lately, with 6 made cuts in a row, including her best finish of the year, a T14 at the U.S. Women's Open.  But overall her results haven't followed from how well she's been driving the ball, with only 1 other top 20 all season.  That's what happens when your irons and especially your putter are letting you down a bit.

22. Pornanong Phatlum:   She had a very solid 1st third of the season, with 2 top 15s and an unofficial win in Brazil, but she's only managed to rack up 1 more top 25 in the 2nd third and has missed 3 of her last 6 cuts.  

23. 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.  Despite a lot of indifferent starts since then, she just put together a T11 at the Canadian Women's Open.  But she'll need to improve her approach shots and especially her putting if she's going to put herself back into contention again.

24. 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, and with 3 missed cuts in a row, 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 has improved her putting, so if she can start hitting more greens in regulation, she may yet justify that #4 ranking I gave her last May.

25. Danielle Kang:  She's followed up her 1st LPGA top 25 in her pro career with a T14 at the U.S. Women's Open, but hasn't played all that great ever since, with no top 50s and 2 missed cuts in a row.  Still, she's finally gotten high-enough priority status to get the starts she needs and get her putter going.

26. Christel Boeljon: She's #8 on the LET money list, but she still hasn't been able to translate her best golf over to the LPGA, where she's not yet broken into the top 20 and most recently broke a 4-event missed-cut run with a T73.  She got her only 2 top 25s of the year at tournaments I attended in early summer.  Too bad for her I can't make it to any others!

27. Mindy Kim:  She continues to hit the ball well, but her putting seems to be getting worse and worse.  Still, a T10 at the RR Donnelley and a T18 at the Manulife hint at what she's capable of when she gets the ball rolling.

28. Sarah Jane Smith: She hasn't broken into the top 50 since getting her 1st (and only) top 10 of 2012 in NW Arkansas and needs to improve just about every facet of her game quickly if she wants to stay in the top 80 on the money list.

29. Kristy McPherson:  Her return from surgery has been a rocky one.  She started the season with 2 top 25s in a row, but didn't get another one until the Farr and has missed way more cuts than usual this year.

30. Pernilla Lindberg:  She's earned only a couple of top 20s on the LPGA this season, but is #13 on the LET money list in only 9 starts over there.  I still believe it's only a matter of time before she translates that kind of success to the big tour. 

31. Belen Mozo:   Despite solid driving, her iron play and putting have been holding her back from joining the rest of the LPGA's Spanish Armada. She's playing well enough to be regularly making the cut, but not to crack the top 25 (yet).

32. Dewi Claire Schreefel:  Her performance stats aren't all that impressive, and her only finish inside the top 30 in 2012 came in her last start, at the CWO, but she's making her share of cuts and hanging in there even when she isn't playing close to her best.  Let's see if she can keep it going in late summer.

33. Numa Gulyanamitta:  This fantastic collegiate player hasn't jumped to immediate LPGA success, but she does have 2 top 25s in her last 4 starts.

34. Jennie Lee: One of many youngsters who contended seemingly out of the blue this season, she followed up a T21 at the U.S. Women's Open with a T5 at the Farr.  Can she continue in that vein in her last starts of 2012?

Comeback Kids (-To Be)

35. Tiffany Joh:  She told me in Pittsford that she's been seeing good results this year in her ball-striking but her putter has cooled off for her from last season.  Now, though, looking at her season-long stats, I'd say she still isn't very accurate off the tee or into the greens and her putting isn't all horrible (compared to some others on this list, that is).  So I'd say there's plenty of blame to go around in her game for her 9 missed cuts and 0 top 30s in 2012 (except for an unofficial T26 in Brazil).

36. Ryann O'Toole:  She's suffering a pretty bad sophomore slump, with 5 missed cuts in a row and 7 in her last 9 starts.  It's not like her performance stats are horrible; it's just that there's no part of her game that's solid enough to make up for the general mediocrity of all the other parts.  As I saw at the Manulife, she could follow up some very good golf with a real lack of focus.  I don't know what's going on with her this season, but she has to find that focus in her remaining starts.

37. 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.

Too Soon to Tell

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.  Unfortunately, she hasn't done anything at all special since that T4 at the Walmart.

39. Jane Rah:  Her 1st top 10 of her LPGA career made her one of the CWO's representatives at the Titleholders at the end of the season.  Not bad for someone on Tony J's "not hot" list for most of the year.

40. 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.

41. Victoria Tanco:  After a fantastic junior career, she exceeded expectations at LPGA Q-School and has been having the usual rookie struggles.

42. 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 7 LPGA starts this season.  However, she's been spending most of her time on the KLPGA, so I don't expect to see her teeing it up more than a few more times on the LPGA in 2012.

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. 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 at the end of her season.

45. Dori Carter:  She snagged her 1st top 20 of 2012 at the Safeway, but followed it up with a missed cut in Vancouver.  At #113 on the money list, she needs more finishes like the former before her season runs out.

46. 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 all season with her swing and her equipment, but she needs to make the most of her last few starts if she wants to avoid Q-School.

47. Ayaka Kaneko:  Another youngster who made it to the LPGA perhaps faster than even she expected and who's fighting through a tough transition.

48. 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.

49. 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 she's only gotten 2 LPGA starts this season (both missed cuts).  Still, she's #69 on the Symetra Tour money list and hanging in there during a particularly challenging transition to the pro ranks.

Injured Reserve

T50. Song-Hee Kim:  She was #1 with a bullet for a long time on this list, but WDed from the U.S. Women's Open due to a sore neck and back and hasn't played since.  Here's hoping she comes back to the LPGA healthy and refocused! 

T50. 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.  We have to wait till next season to find out if she can do it, though, as she's out for the rest of this one with a pretty serious back injury.

[Update 1 (9/7/12, 11:45 pm):  pearshapedhuman's comment is dead-on.  Although Ilhee Lee only has 3 finishes in the top 25 this season and lots of unimpressive results, it's hard not to be impressed by her T4 at the U.S. Women's Open and T9 at Evian.  How high should I have put her on this list? I'd say top 25, for sure, maybe even top 15 depending on how much you value peaks over consistency.]


Tony Jesselli (Tonyj5) said...

Good job. My only major difference is Jodi Ewert. I would have have her as far up as #12.

pearshapedhuman said...

Ilhee Lee seems to have finally reached a comfort level on the tour. I;d put her name in the top 30 on your list.