Monday, December 31, 2012

Top LPGA Stories of 2012

As I patiently wait for the LPGA to announce its 2013 schedule, I would like to look back at what I consider the top stories of 2012.

I have narrowed my list to ten, although I know there were many more. Of course this list is very subjective, depending on who your favorite golfers are. A top story for me may be a story someone else would want to forget.

Feel free to add your own top stories in the comments section if you feel that I missed one.

So in reverse order, here we go:

10- Rules Official Doug Brecht passes away.
Following a three month battle with the West Nile Virus, LPGA Rules Official Doug Brecht passed away at the age of 62. Doug may be the only person who hated slow play more than me. Doug became the center of controversy at the Sybase Match Play Championship in 2012, when Morgan Pressel after winning the 12th hole was informed she would lose that hole instead because of slow play. Doug was known for being tough but fair, and truly loved the LPGA. He will be missed.

9- Yani Tseng's slump at the age of 23.
Most golfers usually hit slumps sometime in their careers, but usually not at the age of 23.
Yani, at a very early age has already won 15 times with 5 of those wins major championships. She won 3 of the first 5 events of the year and then practically disappeared for the rest of the season. She failed to finish in the top 25 in 11 of the last 15 tournaments she played in. This is certainly worth keeping an eye on in 2013.

8- Morgan Pressel's loss of hole penalty.
After winning the 12th hole in her match with Azahara Munoz and taking a 3 hole lead with 6 to play, Morgan was informed she would be penalized the loss of that hole because of slow play. She was warned previously in the match. She was told that she took 129 seconds to play the twelfth hole, 39 more than allowed. Instead of a 3 hole lead, it was changed to one. She would go on to lose the match and Azahara would win the Championship. Morgan would not play well again the rest of the year.

7- Paula Creamer and Jiyai Shin's 9 hole playoff.
Was this playoff golf at its best, or golf at its worst,  I am still not sure. I can only tell you that this was golf at its most exciting. After finishing tied at the Kingsmill Championship after 72 holes, they went to a playoff. After 8 playoff holes were played with still no winner, they had to stop because of darkness. The next day while everyone else flew to Europe for the British Open, Jiyai would come out victorious on the ninth playoff hole. While most people thought that arriving a day late would hurt the 2 players at the British Open, Jiyai would win that also, and Paula would finish 3rd.

6- Lydia Ko wins the Canadian Open at age 15.
This one speaks for itself. Lydia became the youngest player ever to win an LPGA event.

5- Two women granted membership to Augusta National.
Former United States Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and Financier Darla Moore became the first two women ever to be granted membership to Augusta National. Not to take anything away from the great accomplishments of those two women, but wouldn't this have been a much bigger and more satisfying story if they would have chosen Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez instead?

4- Na-Yeon Choi shoots 65 in third round at the U.S. Open.
Why was this such a big story? It was the hottest and most humid day I have ever spent walking on a golf course. The average score for the day was ten strokes higher than what Na-Yeon shot. Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen shot 78. Stacy Lewis shot 80. Karrie Webb and Angela Stanford shot 81. Ms. Choi would go on to win the Championship.

3- Inbee Park's ten consecutive top 10 finishes.
I don't know that this has ever been done on the LPGA tour before. I don't know that it has been done on any tour. This is an accomplishment we may not see again for a very, very long time.

2- Stacy Lewis wins Player of the Year.
If your not an American you probably think that I rated this too high. Maybe I did. But this is still an American based tour, and I have been waiting since 1994 for this to happen.

1- I.K. Kim misses 12 inch putt and loses Kraft Nabisco Championship.
I honestly hate making this the top story of the year. Especially it being about someone as classy as I.K.
Problem is the criteria I used for my rankings here, is what story will I remember the longest. That look on her face. I think the whole country just wanted to hug her. Will any of you forget this anytime soon? I won't. Every time somebody has a small putt to win a championship, we will think of this.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Year - Final Look

It has been 3 months since I last took a look at the biggest gains and losses in the Rolex Rankings for the 2012 season. A lot has changed since then. Rolex ranks the ladies based on average points per tournament, on a rolling 2-year calender. For example, Yani Tseng, the #1 player in the world, has accumulated 561.10 points playing in 50 tournaments over that period, for an average of 11.22 points per tournament. I have gone back to the first published rankings of the year and compared them to the rankings released on 12/17/12. The only requirement for my list is that a player must have been in the top 100 at the start of the year, or be in the top 100 now.

The Year's Biggest Gains:

1- Inbee Park - 4.57 to 8.30 = Gain of 3.73 (move 23-4)
2- So Yeon Ryu - 4.15 to 7.02 = Gain of 2.87 (move 27-7)
3- Stacy Lewis - 6.59 to 8.78 = Gain of 2.19 (move 10-3)
4- Shanshan Feng - 5.61 to 7.57 = Gain of 2.16 (move 13-5)
5- Lydia Ko - 0.36 to 2.50 = Gain of 2.14 (move 295-43)
6- Hyo-Joo-Kim - 0.38 to 2.46 = Gain of 2.08 (move 289-44)
7- Azahara Munoz - 3.29 to 5.18 = Gain of 1.89 (move 40-16)
8- Carlotta Ciganda - 0.37 to 2.19 = Gain of 1.82 (move 291-50)
9- Mika Miyazato - 4.37 to 6.06 = Gain of 1.69 (move 24-10)
10- Jee-Yoon Yang - 0.45 to 2.10 = Gain of 1.65 (move 265-53)
11- Karine Icher - 1.71 to 3.16 = Gain of 1.45 (move 85-33)
12- Jessica Korda - 0.31 to 1.68 = Gain of 1.37 (move 314-77)
13- Haeji Kang - 0.95 - 2.31 = Gain of 1.36 (move 162-47)
14- Jenny Shin - 1.07 to 2.37 = Gain of 1.30 (move 147-46)
15- Lizette Salas - 0.23 to 1.51 = Gain of 1.28 (move 353-90)
16- Karen Sjodin - 0.48 to 1.75 = Gain of 1.27 (move 258-72)
17- Sun Young Yoo - 3.06 to 4.29 = Gain of 1.23 (move 44-23)
18- Chella Choi - 2.07 to 2.91 = Gain of 0.84 (move 70-36)
19- Lexi Thompson - 3.38 to 4.21 = Gain of  0.83 (move 39-24)
20 - Gerina Piller - 0.64 to 1.47 = Gain of 0.83 (move from 215-95)

The Year's Biggest Losses: 

1- Yani Tseng - 17.46 to 11.22 = Loss of 6.24 (move 1-1)
2- Cristie Kerr - 9.74 to 5.83 = Loss of 3.91 (move 4-11)
3- Michelle Wie - 5.08 to 1.98 = Loss of 3.10 (move 17-58)
4- Song-Hee Kim - 4.00 to 0.98 = Loss of 3.02 (move 30-147)
5- Maria Hjorth - 4.65 to 1.79 = Loss of 2.86 (move 22-70)
6- Suzanne Pettersen - 10.12 to 7.33 = Loss of 2.79 (move 2-6)
7- Morgan Pressel - 5.34 to 2.71 = Loss of 2.63 (move 16-38)
8- Paula Creamer - 7.97 to 5.53 = Loss of 2.44 (move 5-12)
9- Su Ju Ahn - 7.83 to 5.43 = Loss of 2.40 (move 6-13)
10- Yukari Baba - 4.29 to 2.07 = Loss of 2.22 (move 26-54)
11- I.K. Kim - 6.60 to 4.51 = Loss 2.09 (move 8-21)
12- Sakura Yokomine - 4.83 to 3.00 = Loss of 1.83 (move 20-34)
13- Brittany Lincicome - 6.57 to 4.84 = Loss of 1.73 (move 11-18)
14- Yuri Fudoh - 4.34 to 2.63 = Loss of 1.71 (move 25-39)
15- Shiho Oyama - 3.61 to 1.96 = Loss of 1.65 (move 34-63)
16- Julie Inkster - 2.52 to 1.02 = Loss of 1.50 (move 55-142)
17- Saiki FuJita - 2.80 to 1.39 = Loss of 1.41 (move 46-105)
18- Jimin Kang - 2.40 to 1.00 = Loss of 1.40 (move 59 to 144)
19- Ji- Hee Lee - 4.00 to 5.36 = Loss of 1.36 (move 15-25)
20-Cristina Kim - 0.58 to 1.74 = Loss of 1.16 (move 82-228)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Were My Pre-Season Questions Answered?

Way back in January, before the LPGA season began, I listed 10 questions that I hoped would be answered this year.

Below I have shown those questions again. Let's see whether or not they were actually ever answered.

1- We all know that Yani Tseng is the real thing, no question about that. The question here is can she be as dominant in 2012 as she was in 2011, or will someone else step up and challenge her for her crown?

This question was answered very definititively, Yani was nowhere near the player in 2012 that she was in 2011. After winning three of the first five titles of the year, she was hardly a factor. Yani failed to even finish in the top 25 in 11 of her last 15 tournaments, resulting in her almost blowing what was a huge lead in the Rolex rankings. Although still #1 in the world, her lead has shrunk to about one quarter of what it once was.
Stacy Lewis replaced her as player of the year, and Stacy and Inbee Park are going to make it very hard for Yani to remain the game's #1 ranked player next year.

2- Lexi Thompson will be 17 years old on February 10th. We all expect her to be an elite golfer soon. Is it expecting too much of her to think she can be a top 10 golfer this year?

At seventeen years old she is not a top ten golfer yet. But finishing #21 on the Money list is quite an accomplishment for a teenager. Lexi started the year ranked #39 in the world, and is now ranked #24.
Look for more upward movement in 2014.

3- No American player has won the Player of the Year award in 18 years. Will someone rise to the occasion in 2012?

We all know by now that Stacy Lewis became the first American to win the player of the year award since Beth Daniel in 1994.

4- Can Stacy Lewis and Sandra Gal, the golfers who in my opinion improved the most in 2011, continue to do so in 2012?

The Stacy Lewis part of this question has already been answered. As far as Sandra Gal is concerned, although she didn't break into the winner's circle, she had a very similar year to 2011. She finished in the top 25 on the money list both years.

5- Who will win the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award? Will it be one of the favorites (Lexi Thompson & So Yeon Ryu), or will someone else sneak up and pull off an upset?

There were some fine rookie seasons in 2012 (Sydnee Michaels, Lizette Salas, and Danielle Kang come to mind), but Ryu and Thompson were head and shoulders above the rest. You can now make a case for So Yeon Ryu being among the best in the game already.

6- Is Ryann O'Toole the real thing, or just a "flash in the pan"?

Writing unflattering things about my favorite players is probably the most difficult thing I have to do on here. That said, my crystal ball is leaning towards "flash in the pan".

7- Who is the real Song-Hee Kim? Is it the golfer that had 15 top 10 finishes in 2010, or the golfer who had only two in 2011?

I guess it's the golfer who had zero top tens in 2012, and lost her playing card.

8- Can Michelle Wie, who graduates from Stanford University this year, now focus on golf and move up to elite status?

Michelle dropped all the way down to #64 on the money list. Maybe a better question for next year will be, can Michelle play well enough to keep her card? This is turning into quite a sad story. It is too bad because
Michelle winning would be great for the LPGA.

9- Can Amy Yang and Brittany Lang, two golfers with so much talent, finally break through and get their first LPGA victory?

Brittany finally got her first victory, so did five other golfers. We are still waiting for Amy to break through.

10- Can Michael Whan, who has done a great job so far, continue adding tournaments and get the number up to 30 by 2013?

Mr. Whan added 3 more tournaments in 2012, bringing the number to 27. Sometime in the next three weeks I would imagine the 2013 schedule will be announced. Will it get to 30? Stay tuned.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Surprises & Disappointments 2012 - Final Look

It was back in July that I last looked at who I thought were the biggest surprises and the biggest disappointments of the 2012 season. Twelve more tournaments were played since then. Many things have changed.

The year ended with winners from eight different countries:
United States 8 - Stacy Lewis (4), Jessica Korda, Brittany Lang, Angela Stanford, Cristie Kerr
South Korea  8 - Inbee Park (2), Na Yeon Choi (2), Jiyai Shin (2), Sun Young Yoo, So Yeon Ryu
Japan 3 - Ai Miyazato (2), Mika Miyazato
Taiwan 3 - Yani Tseng (3)
Norway 2 - Suzann Pettersen (2)
Spain 1 - Azahara Munoz
China 1 - Shanshan Feng
New Zealand 1 - Lydia Ko

The year brought us six first time winners:
Jessica Korda
Azahara Munoz
Shanshan Feng
Brittany Lang
Mika Miyazato
Lydia Ko (non LPGA member)

Here are who I thought were the biggest surprises and disappointments of 2012.


1- So Yeon Ryu - Before the season started I picked her to win the Rookie of the Year Award, which she did quite easily. I just never thought that she would rise to elite status this quickly. Not only did she win in her first season (she had won the U.S. Open previously as a non LPGA player), but she had 12 top 5 finishes and 16 top tens. She only missed the cut one time in 24 starts.

2- Inbee Park - Coming into this season she had better results playing in Asia, than she had on the LPGA tour. Always considered a very good player, she also stepped it up to elite status this year. She started the season slowly, failing to register a top ten in her first 9 starts. She then went on a roll that few have ever seen before on any tour. She had ten consecutive finishes in the top ten. She finished the season with 2 victories, 10 top fives, and 12 top tens. Look for her to compete for the number one spot in the world next year.

3- Stacy Lewis - She was ranked number ten in the world when the year started, so her having a good year was not a big surprise. What was a surprise was just how big her year would be. Stacy became the first American player since 1994 to win the Rolex Player of the Year Award. Not only did Stacy win 4 times, but she had 12 top five finishes and 16 top tens. The Rolex Rankings are based on a rolling 2 year period, which means the 7 wins that Yani Tseng had in 2011 will be wiped off the board during the 2013 season. Look for Stacy to be the favorite to challenge for that # 1 position.

4- Shanshan Feng - Shanshan became the first player to ever win from mainland China. She tends to be a bit more streaky than the three listed ahead of her here. In her finest season to date, Shanshan had 7 top fives and 8 top tens.

5- Azahara Munoz - Azahara made her 3rd season on the LPGA, her finest season by far. The 2010 rookie of the year won the Sybase Match Play Championship, making that one of her five top fives and 9 top tens on the year.

6- Beatriz Recari - Just like Azahara above, Beatriz is also from Spain. In 2010 Beatriz finished 2nd to Azahara for the Rookie of the Year Award, and always seems to be in her shadow. In 2012 Beatriz had a fine year of her own that seemed to go unnoticed. She was one of only 5 players to make every cut (Paula Creamer, Karrie Webb, Na Yeon Choi, and Jiyai Shin were the others), in the 2012 season. She never finished out of the top 20 in her last 6 tournaments of the year.

7- Jenny Shin - Cooled off some the second half of the season, but her 2 top fives and her 5 top tens tell me she has a bright future. She missed only 2 cuts in her 25 starts.

8- Karen Sjodin - Was 2012 a fluke? In her first 6 years on the LPGA tour she was just a marginal player.
Very consistent in 2012, Karen had 9 top twenty finishes, and made 17 of 21 cuts.


1- Morgan Pressel - What happened to her? Everyone seems to have their own opinion. Was it the well publicized penalty she was given at the Sybase Match Play Championship that cost her a victory? Is she playing with an injury? Is her upcoming wedding distracting her? What we do know is that Morgan, who had missed very few cuts in her entire career, missed 8 cuts in her last 11 tournaments. We also know that she didn't have another top 10 after Sybase, covering 14 tournaments.

2- Christina Kim - One of the more popular players on tour, Christina has failed to play up to her standards for 2 years now. Things have finally hit rock bottom. She teed it up 19 times this year without a top 10, or even being in contention. She failed to make the cut in eleven of those tournaments. This poor play forced her to go back to Q-School to retain her playing privileges. She was not very successful there either. Finishing out of the top twenty she will retain her card, but her priority rating will be so poor that she will be fortunate if she gets into a half dozen events.

3- Michelle Wie - She will not be on this list next year because I am now giving up on my expectations for her. Is there any part of her game that is good right now? If the holes on the greens were the size of manhole covers, she still wouldn't make a putt. In 22 starts this year she had one top ten.

4- Sophie Gustafson - What happened to the lady that won all five of her matches at the Solheim Cup Championship last year? Sophie made 22 starts this year without registering a top 20. In her last 12 starts she didn't even have a top 30.

5- Amanda Blumenherst - It just hasn't been a disappointing year for Amanda, but it is now turning into a disappointing career. Coming out of Duke University 3 years ago, she was supposed to be the greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread. Unfortunatly the only thing I see slicing are her drives. Teeing it up 23 times in 2012, Amanda had just one top 10. In her last 16 events she missed 11 cuts, with her best finish being a tie for 33.

6- Mindy Kim - Mindy had a very poor year with only one top ten and missed 11 of 22 cuts. She could not finish any higher than 25th in her last 10 events.

7- Meena Lee - Always a solid player, Mindy had only 2 top tens in 26 starts

8- Amy Yang - I know her season wasn't all that bad. She did have 5 top tens. The fact remains that she starts every year as the the best player on tour without a win. In 2012 six more players got their first wins, and Amy is still without one.

9- Ryann O'Toole - Everything seemed to go right for Ryann in 2011, she had a hot streak in the middle of the year and was picked for the Solheim Team. Things turned ugly this year. Ryann never was in contention in her 21 starts. Her best finish in stroke play was 37th. She missed her last 8 cuts, and 13 on the season. Barely finishing in a position to retain her card, Ryann better step it up or go it's back to Q-School next year.

10- Tiffany Joh - Her successful rookie season led us to expect good things from her this year. That didn't happen. She failed to have a single top ten finish in 22 starts. She finished in the dreaded 101st spot on the money list, meaning she will miss some tournaments next year.

Monday, December 3, 2012

LPGA Q-School Shocking Results

The LPGA completed its schedule a couple of weeks back, but its most important event took place this past weekend. There was not a lot of coverage, that seems to be reserved for the men, but if you're an LPGA fan this was a most interesting weekend.

There were 124 players that teed it up for this 90 hole event. They would cut the field after the 72nd hole to the top 70 players and ties. There were players entered from all over the world. There were players from the LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, Symetra Tour, and players trying to earn their card for the first time. There were players trying to win back their card after losing it this past year because of poor play. Too put it simply, players' livelihoods were at stake.

This field of of 124 players were all fighting it out to finish in the top 20. You might have read that the top 45 players would receive LPGA cards. That is quite misleading. If you finish in the top 20 you receive Category 12 Priority Status. That means that you have earned full time playing privileges in 2013. If you finish in the number 21-45 spots you receive Category 17 Priority Status.  That means you actually have an LPGA card, but the chances of you ever getting into an event are slim to none. If you happen to get into an event and play well, you can improve your status during one of the two LPGA reshuffles next year. The problem is it is hard to improve your status if you don't get to tee it up.

Now more about those 20 ladies who did earn their full time privileges.

As you could imagine, with 124 participants and only 20 full time spots available, it would be a long shot for your favorite player to get in. To make it even more difficult there were several players from other tours that were already stars, and very highly ranked, that were sure shots to be one of the 20. Or so we thought.

Who in their right mind would have thought that Melissa Reid, one of the top players on the LET, would open with a 79 and shoot herself out of it in the first round?

Who would have thought that such seasoned veterans as Reilly Rankin and Meaghan Francella would not finish in the top 45 and lose their playing cards?

Did anyone think that Solheim Cup veteran Cristina Kim would finish 39th, leaving her with little or no chance of playing on the LPGA next season?

There were pleasant surprises also.

Kathleen Ekey suffered through back problems during her rookie season in 2012, barely making a cut.
She shot a tournament low 65 in the final round and finished in 4th place.

Rebecca Lee Bentham, who had a miserable rookie year making just 4 cuts, finished the co-leader.

There was also the expected.

Moira Jutanugarn was the other co-leader.
Japanese stars Ayako Uehara and Chie Arimura breezed in with little trouble.
Caroline Masson, the German born LET star, also made it in quite easily.

Here is the complete top 20 players who earned full playing status for 2013:

T1Rebecca Lee-Bentham-13
T1Moriya Jutanugarn-13
3Ayako Uehara-12
4Kathleen Ekey-10
T5Chie Arimura-8
T5Lisa McCloskey-8
7Felicity Johnson-7
T8Karlin Beck-6
T8Laura Diaz-6
10Stephanie Sherlock-5
T11Kayla Mortellaro-4
T11Kim Welch-4
T11Brooke Pancake-4
T11Austin Ernst-4
T11Caroline Masson-4
T11Marina Stuetz (a)-4
T17Lauren Doughtie-3
T17Irene Cho-3
T17Taylore Karle-3
T17Nicole Jeray-3

The  2013 Rookie of the Year race should be very competitive next year.
Chie Arimura is already ranked #19 in the Rolex World Rankings.
Caroline Masson is ranked #50, and at 23 years old has her best years ahead of her.
Ayako Uehara is ranked #69.
These 3 players will be the favorites.
Add to that  future stars, Esther Choe and Victoria Elizabeth, who earned their cards on the Symetra Tour, and Brook Pancake who led Alabama to the 2012 NCAA Championship, and we should have one hell of a race.