Ai Miyazato opened the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup with a sizzling 63 (capped off by a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie run late in her 1st round), but she couldn't stay ahead of Jee Young Lee, who started the tournament by birdieing 7 of her 1st 9 holes and followed it up with a bogey-free 64 yesterday. A walkoff bogey on Ai-sama's final hole, the par-4 9th, dropped her back to -14, 1 shot behind her fellow LPGA Class of 2006er. With Stacy Lewis lurking at -11, a mix of veterans (Candie Kung, Lindsey Wright, Amy Yang) and newbies (Danielle Kang, Gerina Piller) playing well at -9, and proven performers like Cristie Kerr (-8), In-Kyung Kim (-8), Anna Nordqvist (-8), Sandra Gal (-8), Ji-Yai Shin (-7), Katherine Hull-Kirk (-7), Hee-Won Han (-7), and Jimin Kang (-7) one low round away from putting themselves in contention (not to mention a host of hungry youngsters from Jessica Korda and Lizette Salas to Daniela Iacobelli to Sydnee Michaels), it's too soon to declare this a blast from the past, a 36-hole showdown between 2 of the top "Young Guns" (as I used to call the LPGA generation now known as the "Tseng Dynasty"), but indulge me while I take a walk down nostalgia lane and fantasize about what might go down this weekend.
Back in 2006, Ai Miyazato and Morgan Pressel were the 2 biggest names in that year's rookie class--Miyazato because of her record-breaking win in '05 Q-School and Pressel because of her near-win at the U.S. Women's Open. Both had solid seasons--they both finished in the top 25 on the money list (Miyazato with around $532K and Pressel with about $466K)--but they were passed by Duke's Brittany Lang (who also had a great shot at winning that same Open as Pressel!) and overshadowed by 2 relatively unheralded South Korean golfers, Rookie of the Year Seon Hwa Lee (1 win and #12 on the money list, near $1M in winnings) and Jee Young Lee (#20 on the money list with around $575K in winnings). Seon Hwa, who would garner the moniker "Stone Buddha," was a classic straight shooter, #8 in driving accuracy with 78.7% of fairways found and #2 in putts per green in regulation at 1.75. Jee Young, who came to be known to her fans as "Jelly," was a bomber with touch, ranking #4 in driving distance at 275 yards a pop and #6 in putts per green in regulation at 1.76. Both would continue to excel on the LPGA over the next 2 seasons.
In 2007, Seon Hwa would move into the top 5 on the money list and break the $1M barrier, Jee Young would almost follow her, and Pressel joined them in the top 10, while Miyazato moved into the top 20 with nearly $800K in winnings. Jelly moved up to #2 in driving distance that year, while the Stone Buddha got her 2nd LPGA victory. Seon Hwa was the only '06er to really shine in 2008, again breaking the $1M barrier and notching her 3rd and 4th LPGA wins, but both Jee Young and Morgan had solid years (top 25 on the money list, near $800K and $700K respectively), staying ahead of the resurgent Lang and the surging Sun Young Yoo, while Miyazato suffered an injury in the 2nd half of the season after losing to Seon Hwa in the finals of the Match Play Championship and compounded her problems with ill-advised swing changes, causing her to drop almost entirely out of the top 50. If you look at my early rankings of the '06ers (from my first in May 2007 to my year-end ones in October 2008 and December 2008), you'll see it was pretty clear that the Lees were doing great, Pressel was doing pretty well, and Miyazato was doing all right, but definitely underachieving given her double-digit win total on the JLPGA before coming to the LPGA.
9 Miyazato LPGA wins later and with both Lees still in the midst of deep deep deep slumps (Jelly needed wrist surgery late in 2010, and I still don't know what's really gone on with the Stone Buddha the last few years, but at least she made the cut this week), everything has changed. But once upon a time, Jee Young Lee was the golfer many LPGA watchers thought had the best chance to hang with the dominant Lorena Ochoa and the rising Ya Ni Tseng. Hound Dog and I in particular kept expecting a breakout year from her. Well, it hasn't happened yet. I would love to see her get her 1st win as an LPGA member this week! (Her only win so far was as a non-member in the LPGA event in Korea in 2005.) Of course, I'm not going to be rooting against my favorite golfer on the planet, who's fighting for her 10 career LPGA victory!
Yes, I know Stacy Lewis can take over the #1 spot with a win (Ya Ni made the cut on the dot at -2, so she'll need 2 super-low rounds in a row to make the top 3), and there are all kinds of other stories to follow (by this point, it's no surprise to see Michelle Wie and Laura Davies missing a cut, but Suzann Pettersen and Carlota Ciganda??? Brittany Lincicome and Morgan Pressel?? Vicky Hurst and Sun Young Yoo? Chella Choi and Mariajo Uribe?), but I would love to see Jelly and Ai-sama continue playing so well in all facets of their games that they continue to pull away from the field. If that happens, I'll leave it to others to enjoy watching 2 golfers with such different styles of play duke it out at Wildfire over the weekend.
The Constructivist Family will be driving up to Ontario tomorrow morning for the end of the World Figure Skating Championships, so maybe imoto and I can find a hotel lobby that'll allow us to watch some skating and golf while the Full Metal Archivist and onechan attend the gala? The terrible coverage of figure skating on US tv and of women's golf on Japan TV is leaving us in the dark, but what can we do? Better to pay for the girls' Japanese school, onechan's skating, and imoto's gymnastics and to save money for us all to start golfing this summer (the FMA's weakening in her anti-golf resolve--woo-hoo!) than pay for Golf Channel that I don't even have time to watch this semester!
Long story short, I may not even find out the results of the tournament until late night Sunday. And as for blogging it, we'll just have to see. Sorry about that!
[Update 1 (11:18 am): bangkokbobby is also looking back to Jelly's early career! And Ruthless Mike is praising Ai-sama's putting stroke! Meanwhile, Tony Jesselli is focusing on reports of Natalie Gulbis having caught malaria on the Asian swing, while the Seoul Sisters discussion forum is lighting up with worries about what this might mean about Se Ri Pak's illness....]