Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2007, December 2013 Edition

Just as with the LPGA's rookie class of 2006, the Class of 2007 is starting to see some real separation between its top players and the rest.  But unlike the '06ers, 2/3 of whom will still be playing professionally in 2014, I'm definitely thinking of the '07ers as "The Incredible Shrinking Rookie Class."  Still, who cares how small it becomes when you have Inbee Park and In-Kyung Kim in it?  (Besides the actual players and their friends and family and fans, that is.)  Seriously, though, this class has a lot of other interesting golfers in it, but most of them have been snakebit for a good portion of their LPGA careers.  I'd love to see what they're capable of when they're healthy and playing regular schedules!

Simply the Best

1. Inbee Park:  It should be no surprise that the LPGA money-list champion and 1st-ever South Korean LPGA Player of the Year remains #1, what with her 9 LPGA wins and 4 majors.  What may be a little more surprising is that even with her little swoon 2/3 of the way through the season, her other key stats are still so good:  she's now getting top 3s at a rate of over 13%, top 10s at about a 30% rate, top 20s at about a 44% rate and avoiding missed cuts, withdrawals, or disqualifications (what I call racking up finishes) almost 85% of the time.  The result of her much more consistent excellence, along with her new-found ability to consistently close the deal when in contention this past year and a half, has been that she's now winning about $48.9K per start and over $57.6K per finish over the course of her career.  The key question for me is can she keep her putter as incandescently hot as it's stayed the past 3 seasons in 2014?  I don't know if anyone else in the history of golf has kept their putts per green in regulation rate below 1.730 for 3 years in a row besides Park....

The Contender

2. In-Kyung Kim:  I'm amazed that win #4 continues to elude her, but I'm still confident that it can't be far away.  She's got comparable or better career stats than Park in most key categories:  top-3 finishes (about 11% of her starts), top 10s (almost 36%), top 20s (almost 53%), and overall finishes (almost 88%).  Where the real difference shows up is that Inky is making only about $38.3K per start and $43.7K per finish.  That gap between her and Park shows what winning a lot--and winning multiple majors--means.  But at least Inky moved up 12 spots in the Rolex Rankings in the past calendar year!

The Next Best

3. Eun-Hee Ji:  She hasn't been setting the world on fire, but she's found real consistency since extricating herself from a U.S. Women's Open-jinxed slump.  The next step is for her to start getting into the top 20 more often!  All it will take is incremental improvements in every aspect of her game....

Quantum Leap Candidates

4. Jane Park:  After years of back injuries, she's finally starting to play like Jane Park again!  She flew up 210 spots in the Rolex Rankings in the past calendar year as a result!!
5. Ji Young Oh:  She's definitely coming out her own deep slump, but she still hasn't gotten a top 20 in forever.
6. Kristy McPherson:  Her comeback from elbow surgery has been very slow.  Let's see if she can pick up the pace in 2014.

On the Bottom Looking Up

7. Irene Cho:  She's had a tough time with injuries the last few seasons, so it was great to see her follow up her silver in the Bahamas with a top 20 at the Manulife and a top 5 in Taiwan.
8. Paige Mackenzie:  She's got a classic straight shooter's kind of game (think Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lang), but she just doesn't take advantage of her ball-striking often enough.
9. Lisa Ferrero:  Somehow I've been overlooking her for years, but despite that indignity, she still managed to finish T13 at Q-School, so I'll do my best to notice her in 2014!
10. Lee-Anne Pace:  Apparently she played briefly on the LPGA in 2007 before joining the LET in 2008, but I've only found a leaderboard here or there with her name on it.  There's no LPGA player page, no mention of her on the LPGA's career money list....  Weird, eh?  She's in Category 17 for 2014, so I'm putting this LET superstar here for now!  Wondering how many chances she'll get to play outside Europe next season on the LPGA....  [Update (1/12/14, 4:28 am):  Not that many, it seems, as she's #169 on the 2014 LPGA Priority Status List.]

On the Outside Looking In

11. Song-Hee Kim:  According to her bio at Seoul Sisters.com, she suffered a neck injury at some point in 2012.  Despite starting only 11 times (all before July 4th), she didn't seek a medical exemption in 2013, instead playing under Category 13 (top 40 two years prior).  Well, it must still have been bothering her, as she made only 2 cuts in 11 starts and didn't enter Q-School.  Is she KLPGA-bound in 2014?
12. Angela Park:  From Rookie of the Year to no LPGA status in only 4 years is a very sad story.  In 2011, we heard that she was closing the books on her professional golfing career.  In 2012, we heard that she was attempting a comeback.  I didn't hear anything about her in 2013.  Did you?  I'd love to hear some happy news about her!  So far nothing new on her Seoul Sisters.com bio....
13. Jin Joo Hong:  She decided to concentrate on the KLPGA full-time in 2011 and has been there ever since.
14. Na On Min:  She took a big step back in 2011, barely squeaking into the top 100 on the money list after missing 8 cuts in a row in the 1st half of the season.  And 2012 was worse, with only 2 made cuts in 15 starts.  In 2013, she had Category 20 status on the LPGA and some kind of status on the Symetra Tour, but didn't tee it up on either tour all year (unless you count a WD in February on the latter).  I haven't noticed her name on Seoul Sisters.com's rundowns of KLPGA events in 2013, either, but I can't say I've been looking for it in particular.
15. Charlotte Mayorkas:  Last I heard (back before the 2011 season) she was recovering from a wrist injury and playing professionally in Canada.
16. Sophie Giquel-Bettan:  After finishing #22 on the 2011 LET money list in 21 starts and #47 in 2012 in 21 starts, it seems she's fully committed to playing in Europe.  Let's see if she she can improve on this season's #66 finish in 2014!
17. Su A Kim:  Her Seoul Sisters.com bio reports that she played on the KLPGA in 2012 but lost her status and played on mini-tours in 2013.

Over and Out

18. Seo-Jae Lee:  Is she back on the KLPGA or out of professional golf?  Even Seoul Sisters.com lists her status as unknown!
19. Becky Lucidi:  Don't know what she's up to, but Tony Mazzella does!
20. Sarah Lynn Sargent:  The former Associate Head Coach at Coastal Carolina is now head coach at UNC Greensboro.
21. Cindy Pasechnik:  After finishing her MBA at the University of Calgary, she's now a crude oil scheduler for Philips 66 and got married in July.
22. Jeanne Cho:  Seoul Sisters.com has her as an assistant coach at Duke since 2010.

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the December 2013 ranking.

2013 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on five key indicators of how well someone played last season--how much money they won, how they scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, how many greens they hit in regulation on average per round, and how many putts per green in regulation they took on average, plus how they ranked in each category (except for birdies, which LPGA.com ranks by total and not by average). Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I've incorporated into my career ranking (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the immediate past and future.

1. Inbee Park, $2.46M (#1), 69.869 (#3), 4.18 (#3), 72.6% (#16), 1.727 (#1)
2. In-Kyung Kim, $1.13M (#7), 70.488 (#7), 3.77 (#13), 70.5% (#25), 1.783 (#15)
3. Eun-Hee Ji, $332.0K (#44), 72.022 (#52), 3.15 (#22), 65.5% (#79), 1.807 (#32)
4. Jane Park, $267.8K (#51), 71.790 (#39), 3.05 (#40), 67.1% (#50), 1.825 (#57)
5. Irene Cho, $257.2K (#52), 72.733 (#80), 3.12 (#70), 60.6% (#126), 1.831 (#63)
6. Kristy McPherson, $108.6K (#83), 72.759 (#81), 2.93 (#79), 65.2% (#84), 1.840 (#79)
7. Ji Young Oh, $84.9K (#87), 72.558 (#70), 2.88 (#87), 65.5% (#77), 1.850 (#96)
8. Paige Mackenzie, $63.7K (#97), 72.388 (#64), 3.08 (#86), 65.3% (#83), 1.821 (#49)
9. Lisa Ferrero, $21.5K (#124), 72.261 (n.r.), 3.35 (#134), 68% (n.r.), 1.827 (n.r.)
10. Song-Hee Kim, $11.7K (#139), 73.727 (#126), 2.64 (#145), 60.9% (#125), 1.867 (#121)

Career Ranking:  Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately, the members of the Class of 2007 started at the same time, even if some of them have not had full status every season (although that in itself is an indication of how someone's career has been going!). What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Best of All Time ranking over at Hound Dog LPGA. In any case, building on an old analysis of finishes, I've developed a career ranking formula (the details you can check out on my spreadsheet), but since that includes only the top 8 players in the class, I'll continue giving the details on the lower-ranked players here, most of whom are off the LPGA.

1. Inbee Park, 2725 points.
2. In-Kyung Kim, 1759.
3. Song-Hee Kim, 1226.
4. Angela Park, 1114.
5. Eun-Hee Ji, 1047.
6. Ji Young Oh, 612.
7. Kristy McPherson, 604.
8. Jane Park, 475.
9. Na On Min, $.73M (#244), 100/0/0/1/3/9/2/0/42/56 (.560)
10. Irene Cho, $.72M (#247), 113/0/0/1/5/9/5/0/49/59 (.522)
11. Paige Mackenzie, $.67M (#254), 123/0/0/0/2/6/0/0/51/72 (.585)
12. Jin Joo Hong, $.58M (#?), 60/0/0/0/2/7/6/0/17/37 (.617)
13. Charlotte Mayorkas, $.28M (#?), 56/0/0/0/0/4/1/0/22/33 (.589)
14. Sophie Giquel-Bettan, $.12M (#?), 39/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/21/17 (.436)
15. Becky Lucidi $.10M (#470), 35/0/0/0/0/2/0/1/25/9 (.257)
16. Su A Kim, $.07M (#507), 26/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/13/12 (.462)
17. Seo-Jae Lee, $.07M (#509), 25/0/0/0/0/0/2/0/13/10 (.400)
18. Lisa Ferrero, $.07M (#517), 30/0/0/0/0/0/2/0/14/14 (.467)
19. Sarah Lynn Sargent, $.05M (#544), 26/0/0/0/0/0/14/12 (.462)
20. Jeanne Cho, $.02M (#599), 34/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/29/4 (.118)
21. Cindy Pasechnik, $.02M (#620), 19/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/14/5 (.263)
22. Lee-Anne Pace, ????

Other Career Measures: Rolex Rankings points (as of 12/30/13) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index score (as of 12/29/13) and rank, International Wins (on JLPGA, KLPGA, LET as of 12/30/13): This is a way of seeing how those '07ers who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, ALPG, Symetra Tour, LETAS, and CLPGA; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, LET, and Symetra Tour).

1. Inbee Park, 10.91 (#1), 69.13 (#3); 5 (4 JLPGA, 1 LET)
2. In-Kyung Kim, 4.63 (#10), 69.65 (#8); 1 (LET)
3. Lee-Anne Pace, 2.09 (#53), 71.63 (#75); 8 (LET)
4. Eun-Hee Ji, 1.40 (#79), 71.61 (#64); 4
5. Jane Park, 1.26 (#88), 71.40 (#53); 0
6. Irene Cho, 1.20 (#94), 73.26 (#154); 0
7. Kristy McPherson, .54 (#203), 73.08 (#145); 0
8. Ji Young Oh, .50 (#213), 72.78 (#130); 0
9. Paige Mackenzie, .44 (#227), 73.60 (#177); 0
10. Jin Joo Hong, .31 (#267), 73.85 (#189); 2
11. Sophie Giquel-Bettan, .23 (#305), 74.78 (#274); 1
12. Lisa Ferrero, .15 (#365), 73.81 (#185); 0
13. Song-Hee Kim, .07 (#489), 75.75 (n.r.); 0
14. Na On Min, .01 (#787), ?; 0

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2006, December 2013 Edition

The LPGA's rookie class of 2006 was the 1st that I started paying really close attention to as a group, at first because of the way in which Ai Miyazato dominated Q-School in late 2005 but over time because I became interested in the different kinds of career paths the various players followed.  Given that I started blogging here at Mostly Harmless not long after the '06ers started on the LPGA, it was a pretty obvious move to start tracking how each member of the class was doing, both season-by-season and from season to season.  By looking at key performance stats on an annual basis, from winnings and scoring average to birdies per round and greens in regulation, and combining those snapshots with an examination of career winnings, majors, wins, top 3s, top 10s, and top 20s, I developed a system for dividing the '06ers--and later rookie classes--into tiers and then ranking each player within her tier.  Before I knew it, I had a career ranking system for immediate cohorts and for tracking LPGA generations, which has now mutated into a big ol' spreadsheet that attempts to rank all the top rookies from the Classes of 2005 through the present.

The last time I did this for the Class of 2006 was early July, so let's see what's changed in the last 5 months!

Simply the Best

1. Ai Miyazato:  By just about every measure, she's light-years beyond of the rest of her class.  Ai-sama not only has 5 more wins than her nearest classmate (Seon Hwa Lee, who's been in a huge multi-year slump and needed to go to Q-School to keep her card for 2014), but she's got the highest rate in top-3 finishes (12%), top 10s (over 33%), and top 20s (over 52%).  On top of that, she's the best at finishing tournaments (without missing a cut, withdrawing, or getting disqualified, that is), doing it over 85% of the time.  So of course she's earning the most per start ($43.3K) and finish ($50.8K).  To be sure, all those numbers are down fairly dramatically from the last ranking, as Ai-sama's 2nd half of the season was worse than her 1st (despite her drastically improving her greens in regulation rate).  As a result, she's fallen 12 spots in the Rolex Rankings over the past calendar year.  But if she can get her putter going in 2014, there's no reason she can't turn things around quickly.

The Contender

2. Morgan Pressel:  The clear #2 in her class, she's tied with Sun Young Yoo for the most major victories in her class (1), tied with Yoo for 3rd-most wins (2), and 2nd in top-3 rate (at about 7%), top 10s (almost 24%), top 20s (over 41%), finishes (almost 85%), and winnings per start ($27.2K) and finish ($32.1K).  Things really fell apart for her in the 2nd half of 2012, but she finished climbing out of that hole in the 2nd half of 2013 and is poised for a great 2014, particularly if her iron play and short game remain as sharp as they've been of late.  Look for her to rise in the Rolex Rankings fairly quickly; her 9-spot slide from this time last year is much less significant than her meteoric rise up the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index over the last 5 months.

The Next Best

3. Sun Young Yoo:  Ranking the next set of players is a little bit tougher, as they each have different strengths in different areas.  I decided to keep Yoo at the head of this subclass, despite the fact that she's fallen 28 spots in the Rolex Rankings since this time last year, partly because 1 of her 2 victories came in a major, partly because she had the 3rd-best season in her class, and mostly because those behind her have struggled even more than she has.
4. Seon Hwa Lee:  The former #1 in the class's career-threatening plunge showed few signs of slowing during 2013.  Let's hope her 6th-place finish at Q-School turns out to be a sign of stabilization!
5. Jee Young Lee:  By contrast, Jelly has clearly stabilized her game in 2013, despite her putter going cold in the second half of the season.  
6. Brittany Lang:  If I had done this ranking at the end of 2012, Brittany would have been #5 or better, but she was working on a swing change in 2013 and started to groove it only in the 2nd half of the season.  If she keeps up her solid play of that run or improves on it in 2014, she can make a big move up these rankings.  The key for her is to make more birdies!

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Julieta Granada:  Back to the LPGA full-time for the past 2 seasons after splitting her time in the previous several years between the LPGA and LET, Granada raised expectations in the 1st half of 2013 but backslid in the 2nd half.  You can tell how disappointing her 2013 was by comparing her LET results this past year (4 starts, #115 on the 2013 Order of Merit) with her amazing performance the year before (6 starts, #4 on the 2012 Order of Merit).  Let's see if she can bounce back in 2014

On the Bottom Looking Up

8. Katie Futcher:  She had a really disappointing 2013 but at least she didn't have to go back to Q-School.  Let's see what she does with the clean slate that is 2014!
9. Sarah Jane Smith:  She had a better year than Futcher, but that's not saying much.  She never improved on her T15 to start last season Down Under.  Let's see if she can do better this coming year.
10. Karin Sjodin:  After a really good 2012, she had to cut her 2013 short due to a severe back injury.  I'm assuming she's gotten a medical exemption from the LPGA for the start of the 2014 season, although the new priority status list hasn't been released yet.  [Update (1/12/14, 4:42 am):  The 2014 Priority Status List has been released and Sjodin did indeed get a medical exemption, so at #46 she'll get all the starts she wants this coming season!]

On the Outside Looking In

11. Teresa Lu:  After leaving the LPGA at the end of the 2009 season, she struggled on the JLPGA until 2013, when she finished #3 on their money list and won the Mizuno Classic.  It's unclear how many LPGA starts she'll make in 2014; I'm hoping she strikes while the iron is hot!  [Update (1/12/14, 4:42 am):  Her name doesn't appear on the priority status list, so it's now clear that the number of LPGA starts as a member will once again be 0!]
12. Kyeong Bae:  She's playing full-time on the KLPGA now.  Having finished 23rd on their 2012 money list last season in a limited schedule, she should be showing up on the 2013 list, but I can't find her name.  Let's wait for HappyFan to update her Seoul Sisters.com bio!
13. Meaghan Francella:  I don't know if she even has Symetra Tour status for 2014, but nobody can take that playoff victory over an injured Annika Sorenstam away from her! [Update (2/5/14, 8:34 pm):  Well, she's moving to the "Over and Out" category next ranking.  Ron Sirak reports she's caddying for Heather Bowie Young now.]
14. Hye Jung Choi:  She played full-time on the KLPGA in 2011 and won in late September, but basically took a maternity leave in 2012; if I'm reading the KLPGA money list correctly, she finished #17 this season.  Let's wait for a bio update at Seoul Sisters.com for confirmation.
15. Linda Wessberg:  She finished 14th on the LET's 2011 Order of Merit, 43rd in 2012, and 22nd in 2013.
16. Na Ri Kim:  She's actually played much better golf than Lu over the long haul on the JLPGA, finishing #11 on their money list in 2010, #23 in 2011, #28 in 2012, and #26 in 2013 (thanks in part to her 2nd career win on tour in mid-April).  But she's shown no interest in returning to the LPGA.  Here's her Seoul Sisters.com bio.
17. Minea Blomqvist:  She hasn't been the same golfer since becoming a mom, and her 2012 on the LPGA is best forgotten, but she improved on her LET finish of 89th on the 2012 Order of Merit with a 46th-place finish this year.  Let's see if one of the most interesting personalities in golf can continue on her comeback trail!
18. Veronica Zorzi:  She's been a full-time LETer for years now.  In 2009, she finished 29th on the LET money list in 14 starts; in 2010, she ended up 31st in 21 starts; in 2011, she dropped all the way to #55 in 19 starts; in 2012, she fought back to 34th; and this season, she finished 38th.

Over and Out

19. Allison Fouch Duncan:  She made 8 of 13 cuts on the Symetra Tour in 2012, but didn't tee it up there this year, as she had a baby girl in February or March.  So her announcement of her retirement in November should come as no surprise.  Last event:  Navistar Classic in September 2012.
20. Nina Reis: I haven't seen her name on a money list in the last 4 seasons and she doesn't appear in any world rankings, so I'm assuming she's done with professional golf.  I saw she tried to make an LET comeback in 2012 as a new mom, but it seems nothing came of it.
21. Virada Nirapathpongporn:  Retired in 2011. Last event: Kapalua Classic in October 2008.
22. Louise Stahle:  She finished #64 on the 2011 LET money list in 13 starts, but I haven't seen her on a money list anywhere in the world of women's golf since then, so I'm assuming she's done with professional golf.
23. Kim Hall:  Retired in 2010. Last event: LPGA Tour Championship in November 2009.  Was VP of the LPGA's Board of Directors for a time during her 3-year term; check out this nice April 2012 article on her by Tommy Hicks.
24. Ashley Hoagland Johnston: Retired in 2009. Last event: sometime in 2007 season.
25. Danielle Downey: I seem to recall reading somewhere that she took a coaching position.  If she's retired from professional golf, her last LPGA event will have been the P&G NW Arkansas Championship in September 2010. [Update (1/31/14, 10:16 am): The Auburn assistant coach just died in a car accident.  So sad!]
26. Libby Smith:  She lost trust in her driver in 2011 and had trouble breaking 80 far too often to get it back.  She's now a teaching professional in VT.


For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the December 2013 ranking.

2013 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on five key indicators of how well someone played last season--how much money they won, how they scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, how many greens they hit in regulation on average per round, and how many putts per green in regulation they took on average, plus how they ranked in each category (except for birdies, which LPGA.com ranks by total and not by average). Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I've incorporated into my career ranking (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the immediate past and future.

1. Ai Miyazato, $527.0K (#27), 71.294 (#26), 3.60 (#41), 68.1% (#42), 1.788 (#19)
2. Morgan Pressel, $504.2K (#28), 71.701 (#33), 3.32 (#37), 64.1% (#100), 1.778 (#11)
3. Sun Young Yoo, $383.7K (#39), 71.500 (#28), 3.64 (#47), 65.9% (#68), 1.807 (#30)
4. Brittany Lang, $355.8K (#42), 71.967 (#46), 3.05 (#28), 67.0% (#51), 1.812 (#38)
5. Julieta Granada, $224.7K (#55), 72.358 (#60), 2.79 (#52), 64.8% (#92), 1.834 (#71)
6. Jee Young Lee, $172.7K (#65), 72.369 (#61), 3.05 (#62), 65.6% (#74), 1.841 (#83)
7. Sarah Jane Smith, $92.9K (#86), 73.109 (#102), 2.77 (#76), 63.1% (#107), 1.824 (#54)
8. Katie Futcher, $67.7K (#93), 73.250 (#106), 2.73 (#93), 64.6% (#93), 1.855 (#101)
9. Karin Sjodin, $22.7K (#121), 73.000 (n.r.), 3.10 (#142), 69.4% (n.r.), 1.864 (n.r.)
10. Seon Hwa Lee, $19.3K (#126), 72.969 (#93), 2.31 (#136), 59.5% (#130), 1.837 (#75)
11. Meaghan Francella, $7.8K (#148), 74.097 (#133), 2.71 (#129), 54.8% (#143), 1.840 (#78)

Career Ranking:  Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately, the members of the Class of 2006 started at the same time, even if some of them have not had full status every season (although that in itself is an indication of how someone's career has been going!). What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Best of All Time ranking over at Hound Dog LPGA. In any case, building on an old analysis of finishes, I've developed a career ranking formula (the details you can check out on my spreadsheet), but since that includes only the top 10 players in the class, I'll continue giving the details on the lower-ranked players here, most of whom are off the LPGA.

1. Ai Miyazato, 2218 points.
2. Morgan Pressel, 1355.
3. Seon Hwa Lee, 1224.
4. Sun Young Yoo, 1065.
5. Jee Young Lee, 1008.
6. Brittany Lang, 937.
7. Julieta Granada, 754.
8. Teresa Lu, 543.
9. Meaghan Francella, 449.
10. Katie Futcher, 382.
11. Kyeong Bae, $1.44M (#148), 140/0/0/2/10/23/5/0/41/94 (.671)
12. Karin Sjodin, $.99M (#199), 138/0/0/0/6/20/0/0/52/86 (.623)
13. Hye Jung Choi, $.73M (#243), 84/0/0/0/8/12/2/0/26/56 (.667)
14. Minea Blomqvist, $.69M (#250), 105/0/0/1/3/8/3/1/49/52 (.495)
15. Sarah Jane Smith, $.58M (#267), 100/0/0/0/4/11/0/0/42/58 (.580)
16. Allison Fouch Duncan, $.56M (#269), 78/0/0/1/4/8/1/0/36/41 (.526)
17. Kim Hall, $.35M (#328), 75/0/0/1/3/4/0/0/45/30 (.400)
18. Linda Wessberg, $.34M (#?), 43/0/0/0/5/6/0/0/17/26 (.605)
19. Louise Stahle, $.23M (#381), 59/0/0/0/1/2/1/0/30/28 (.475)
20. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.23M (#382), 56/0/0/0/1/4/0/0/28/28 (.500)
21. Nina Reis, $.23M (#384), 51/0/0/0/3/4/0/0/23/28 (.549)
22. Danielle Downey, $.15M (#418), 49/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/34/15 (.306)
23. Na Ri Kim, $.15M (#?), 50/0/0/0/0/0/3/0/24/23 (.460)
24. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#?), 16/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/3/13 (.813)
25. Libby Smith, $.05M (#540), 36/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/27/8 (.222)
26. Ashley Hoagland Johnston, $.05M (#?), 13/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/7/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Rankings points (as of 12/30/13) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index score (as of 12/29/13) and rank, International Wins (on JLPGA, KLPGA, LET as of 12/30/13): This is a way of seeing how those '06ers who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, ALPG, Symetra Tour, LETAS, and CLPGA; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, LET, and Symetra Tour).

1. Ai Miyazato, 3.66 (#21), 70.50 (#26); 17 (15 JLPGA, 2 LET)
2. Morgan Pressel, 2.27 (#47), 71.60 (#62); 1
3. Sun Young Yoo, 2.15 (#51), 71.43 (#54); 0
4. Teresa Lu, 2.06 (#55), 70.44 (#23); 1
5. Brittany Lang, 1.76 (#62), 71.93 (#81); 0
6. Julieta Granada, 1.12 (#104), 72.41 (#105); 0
7. Na Ri Kim, 1.01 (#114), 71.75 (#71); 1
8. Hye Jung Choi, .98 (#120), ? (n.r.); 2
9. Jee Young Lee, .90 (#126), 72.34 (#102); 1
10. Karin Sjodin, .63 (#177), 73.17 (#143); 1
11. Kyeong Bae, .60 (#181), ? (n.r.); 3
12. Sarah Jane Smith, .59 (#187), 73.20 (#147); 0
13. Veronica Zorzi, .56 (#194), 73.23 (#153); 2
14. Katie Futcher, .56 (#198), 74.39 (#228); 0
15. Linda Wessberg, .49 (#215), 73.00 (#142); 3
16. Minea Blomqvist, .34 (#258), 74.81 (#279); 5
17. Seon Hwa Lee, .13 (#394), 74.58 (#249); 3
18. Meaghan Francella, .03 (#611), 75.64 (#328); 0
19. Louise Stahle, .00 (#833), ? (n.r.); 0
20. Allison Fouch Duncan, .00 (#839), ? (n.r.); 0

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 JLPGA Year in Review

2013 was a fantastic year on the JLPGA.  Thanks to PhilK_NJ over at Seoul Sisters.com, non-Japanese speakers now can see how 2 youtube channels devoted to the JLPGA covered 2013.  But since they're in Japanese, here are my top stories of the season!

Rikako Morita and Mamiko Higa Lead Japanese Youth Movement.  The JLPGA is a tour that's been dominated by experienced players for most of the 21st century, from the legendary Yuri Fudoh and her main rival Akiko Fukushima to their top challengers who have now become veteran superstars in their own right, such as Sakura Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Ji-Hee Lee, and Shiho Oyama.  It's also seen global superstars from other tours like Sun-Ju Ahn, Ji-Yai Shin, Inbee Park, Bo-Mee Lee, and Shanshan Feng breeze in and dominate right off the bat.  Meanwhile, top new Japanese talents like Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Momoko Ueda, Chie Arimura, and Ayako Uehara decided to focus on the LPGA at different stages in their careers.

So it's a huge deal that Rikako Morita (23) won the money title (beating out Yokomine by less than 2 million yen) and Mamiko Higa (20) won Rookie of the Year in 2013.  Morita did it in style, too, winning her 4th title of the year the week after Yokomine won hers, leapfrogging her back into the top spot on the money list in the next-to-last event of the year.  Overall, Morita played well in bunches, starting the season with a bang by winning the Daikin Orchid Ladies (in a playoff over--you guessed it--Yokomine!) and following it up with a silver and a pair of bronzes in an opening run of 5 top 10s, then getting 2 wins, a silver, and 2 bronzes in 6 starts midway through the season, and finishing the season strong with a pair of top 5s at and after the Japan Women's Open and by sandwiching her final victory between a T10 and a 12th-place finish.

But Morita and Higa were just the tip of the iceberg.  Natsuka Hori (21) and Yuki Ichinose (25) won early in the season (Hori got another in June), while Misuzu Narita (21) joined them in the winner's circle mid-way through; they were joined in the top 25 on the money list by Erika Kikuchi (25), Kumiko Kaneda (24), and Mayu Hattori (25).  Harukyo Nomura (21) made it 9 Japanese youngsters in the top 30 and there were 16 in the top 50.  Compare that to the numbers of South Koreans a few paragraphs down and you'll see what a big deal this is!

Don't Call it a Comeback:  Sakura Yokomine Takes Player of the Year; Shiho Oyama Wins for 1st Time Since 2011.  As noted above, Sakura Yokomine came within about 2 million yen of taking the money title for the 2nd time in her illustrious career.  How illustrious, you ask?  Well, she's poised to become the 2nd golfer in JLPGA history to break the 1 billion yen barrier in career winnings!  With her 4 wins this season, Yokomine has caught Mi-Jeong Jeon at 22 career JLPGA victories and pulled well ahead of Ji-Hee Lee (17).  She capped off the season by winning Player of the Year.  Oyama, meanwhile, knocked on the door all season and finally busted it down in the final tournament and final major of the year, garnering her 1st win since 2011, her 3rd major, and her 13th win on tour.

Mika Miyazato Wins Japan Women's Open for 2nd Time.  Mika Miyazato had a tough year on the LPGA, as she struggled with her putting mightily early in the season and couldn't seem to sustain runs of good play, but you can't say you had a bad year when you win the Japan Women's Open for the 2nd time in the last 4 years!  The fact that she made an amazing walkoff birdie putt to take the title made it all the sweeter.

Seoul Sisters Struggle.  Sure, Sun-Ju Ahn came back to finish 4th on the season-ending money list and Bo-Mee Lee joined her in the top 10 at #7, but that's the smallest number of golfers from South Korea in the JLPGA top 10 since Mi-Jeong Jeon stood alone in 2007.  Even more telling, Rikako Morita's winning the money title marked the 1st-non-Korean to accomplish that feat since Sakura Yokomine did it in 2009.  It's not like the Seoul Sisters disappeared, though.  Na-Ri Lee won twice and finished #11 on the money list, last year's money-list title-holder Mi-Jeong Jeon ended up at #12, and Da-Ye Na squeaked into the top 20 thanks to her 1st JLPGA victory.  In all, there were 9 Seoul Sisters in the top 30 and 12 in the top 50, including Soo-Yun Kang and Young Kim, who also broke through for their 1st JLPGA victories this season.

Global Stars Fight for 2014 Membership.  It came down to the wire for Momoko Ueda and Ji-Yai Shin, but they both squeaked into the top 50 on the 2013 money list, Ueda in the next-to-last event of the year and Shin in the last.  Soon after securing membership for 2014, they each announced they were going to focus much more (Shin) or exclusively (Ueda) on the JLPGA.

Teresa Lu Breaks Through.  It took her 4 years on the LPGA and 4 more on the JLPGA, but Teresa Lu finally found a way to win on both tours for the 1st time when she took the Mizuno Classic.  Lu finished 2nd 4 times, in the top 5 9 times, and in the top 10 15 times in 2013, so it's no surprise she ended up #3 on the JLPGA money list with nearly 95 million yen in winnings and a 70.94 scoring average.  It'll be interesting to see how she decides to split her time between the LPGA and JLPGA in 2014, given that Shin and Ueda have decided to focus on the JLPGA while Harukyo Nomura decided to join the rest of the Japanese LPGAers in prioritizing the Big Tour.

Yumiko Yoshida Has Career Year.  The 26-year-old had a breakthrough year in 2013, winning 3 times and finishing 5th on the money list.  Yoshida had gotten her 1st victory last season and finished in the top 20 on the money list for the 1st time in her 6th season on tour, but it was her 7th season that turned out to be the charm.  In addition to her 3 victories, Yoshida got 2 silvers and a bronze, finishing in the top 5 10 times.  Her scoring average of 71.26 was by far the lowest in her career.  Let's see if she can top it in 2014.

Miki Saiki Establishes Herself Definitively Among JLPGA's Finest.  With her back-to-back victories in 2013, Saiki extended her winning streak on the JLPGA to 4-straight seasons, a streak during which she finished on the top 10 in the money list every year, as well.  In fact, in her 7 seasons on tour, she's never finished outside the top 20 on the money list and is now #25 on the career money list.  Saiki started the season with a bang, as her 2 wins came in the midst of a 6-event top 10 streak and a 12-event run in which she finished no worse than T21.  Although she cooled off a bit in the 2nd half of the season, her best chance for her 1st major title came during the Japan Women's Open, where she finished T2 behind Mika Miyazato.  Next step for the 7-time winner on tour is to get that 1st major!

So here are the top Japanese golfers in the Rolex Rankings in the run-up to determining who'll play in the International Crown this year:

#21 Ai Miyazato
#22 Mika Miyazato
#35 Sakura Yokomine
#38 Rikako Morita


#44 Miki Saiki
#49 Shiho Oyama
#51 Mamiko Higa
#52 Yumiko Yoshida
#66 Chie Arimura
#82 Ritsuko Ryu
#83 Yuki Ichinose
#84 Ayako Uehara
#87 Yuri Fudoh
#96 Mayu Hattori
#100 Natsuka Hori

The top 4 will be determined on Monday, March 31, 2014, at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.  The competition's going to be fierce!  There'll be 4 JLPGA events before then, but I expect many of these players to get into at least some of the LET and LPGA events in late January and February in an effort to climb the rankings quickly.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mamiko Higa Awarded JLPGA Rookie of the Year

Mamiko Higa is the 2013 JLPGA Rookie of the Year!  The 20-year-old Okinawan had 2 wins, 2 runner-ups, and 2 bronzes in a season in which she notched 9 top 10s and 14 top 20s and finished 8th on the tour's money list with almost 80 million yen in winnings.  Let's see if she can climb into the top 4 from Japan and join Ai and Mika Miyazato at the International Crown in 2014!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Recommended Reading: Year-in-Review Stories

The LPGA has been counting down the top 13 stories of 2013.  What do you think of their choices?  You can tell what I think perhaps by the made-up titles I give them....

#5:  Suzann Pettersen Surfs Solheim Cup Wave to Late-Season LPGA Dominance
#6:  Rain, Rain, Go Away!
#7:  Hi, I'm Inbee Park, and I'm the #7 Story of 2013.  You Heard Me Right.  #7.  Yup.
#8:  Shanshan Feng Wins 1st LPGA Event in Home Country's Mainland with Walkoff Eagle.  And Is #8.
#9:  Look Out, World, Lexi's Learned How to Putt!
#10:  Meet the World #1s of 2013.  You May Have Heard of Them.
#11:  Karrie Webb Wins #39 for Grandma
#12:  Ariya Jutanugarn to Inbee Park:  After You!
#13:  The LPGA's Back, Baby!

Perhaps more imaginative (although it takes a lot of imagination to put Inbee's run for the Grand Slam anywhere but #1!) is bangkokbobby's approach of profiling the top 30 LPGAers and WTAers by pairing the #30, #29, and so on from each sport together.  I won't link to them all, but here are my faves thus far:

#3:  Li Na/Stacy Lewis
#4:  Maria Sharapova/Shanshan Feng
#5:  Agnieszka Radwanska/So Yeon Ryu
#7:  Marion Bartoli/In-Kyung Kim
#9:  Na Yeon Choi/Angelique Kerber
#11:  Paula Creamer/Roberta Vinci
#22:  Ji-Yai Shin/Hsieh Su-Wei
#27:  Ai Miyazato/Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#28:  Morgan Pressel/Lucie Safarova

So what have been your favorite year-in-review stories?  I found The Sports Network's to be all right (although there was no rock involved in Feng's approach on 18 in China)....  Haven't had time to read Golfweek's multifaceted approach.  But I did enjoy Randall Mell's incredulity that Inbee Park didn't win the AP's Female Athlete of the Year award.

[Update 1 (12/31/13, 10:11 am):  Here are the LPGA's top 4 stories of 2013:

#1: The Year of Inbee
#2: Enter the Ko
#3: Euros Take 1st Solheim Cup on U.S. Soil
#4: Stacy Tames the Road Hole

OK, so move the weather story to #13 and make it clearer that the intermediate Inbee story is just that and I'm pretty ok with this list, as snarky as I was earlier....]

[Update 2 (10:15 am):  Inbee only made #6 in Golf Channel's year-end review.  What do you all think?  Behind "controversy" and "anchored stroke"?!  Come on!]

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Congratulations to Cristie Kerr and Natalie Gulbis!

I guess the late-December theme of Mostly Harmless is "transitions"!  Q-School results, Harukyo Nomura choosing the LPGA over the JLPGA for 2014, Paula Creamer's engagement, Ji-Yai Shin cutting back on her LPGA schedule in 2014, Momoko Ueda leaving the LPGA for the JLPGA next season, Lydia Ko leaving her life-long coach Guy Wilson as she relocates to the States....  In that vein, let me pass along my belated congratulations to Cristie Kerr and Erik Stevens on the birth of their son Mason (via surrogacy) and to Natalie Gulbis and Josh Rodarmel on their wedding!

[Update 1 (12/27/13, 7:57 am):  'Tis the season indeed!  Irene Cho is tying the knot on 2/1/14!]

[Update 2 (12/31/13, 9:03 am):  Mariajo Uribe recently tied the knot, too!]

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry QSMS from Mostly Harmless!

QSMS is of course how onechan first tried to spell Christmas.  Speaking of which, we don't celebrate it in this Jewish-Buddhist-not-very-religious Constructivist household--and imoto doesn't like it.  So she hung up one of her socks by the fireplace and tried to stay up for Santa as long as she could.  I was glad for the company while I was up grading (she was paging through some Simpsons comic books I took out from the local library until they put her right to sleep, but before that we had a fun discussion on whether Santa is real).

Ah, I should call it a night so I'm fresh for Mongolian buffet for dinner tonight!  Hope your Christmas is going to be as awesome as ours....

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When the Personal Meets the Professional Meets the National Meets the Global: Lydia Ko Edition

There are so many layers to the most recent twist in the Lydia Ko story that it's no surprise onions are a New Zealand export.  If the break-up only a few days before Christmas of an 11-year player-coach mentoring relationship--one often compared to sibling or parental dynamics to convey its depth and scope--isn't enough to bring you to tears of sadness, maybe the paucity of hard facts and the complicated agendas of those who best know them but aren't sharing them are enough to evoke tears of frustration.  I mean, we should be used to the eagerness of onlookers and outsiders to quip and judge on what amounts to a whim--it is the intertubes, after all--but when a teenager the media has helped build up seems to turn on her on a dime, handing stones to the stoners....  Well, let's just say, welcome to the big time, Lydia Ko!

For those interested in the truth, very little of what's been said publicly stands up to much scrutiny.
  • Ko's emphasis on the logistical complications of her moving to the States and competing full-time on the LPGA while her life-long coach Guy Wilson remains in New Zealand begs the question of whether she asked him to go with her, belies the fact that they had made a quasi-long-distance relationship work quite well during her amazingly successful amateur and early professional career, and fuels speculation that her new representatives at IMG are really behind the switch to Sean Hogan and David Leadbetter.
  • Wilson's generous and moving statement in response to his firing (reprinted in full by Golfweek) is frankly undermined if Steve Williams was acting as his surrogate when he was interviewed on Radio New Zealand.  Williams's "I don't think he had any inkling" of the decision can't possibly be right when ONE Sport mentioned, in an article posted on November 21, that Williams was "among those stunned Lydia Ko has yet to sort out her coaching and management team."  (Matt Richens confirms that neither Ko nor Wilson had been acting normally over the past month.)  Williams's claim that Wilson has "had no compensation for his time and effort" similarly stretches credulity (particularly when we don't know the terms of their relationship, much less what kind of Christmas gifts or New Year's bonus the Kos are planning for Wilson).
  • Leadbetter's claim that Ko and her family initiated contact with him is also a little hard to believe, given his partnership with IMG:
At least Leadbetter understands the catch-22 he's in.  As he told Randall Mell, "If she plays well, it will be because she's a great player....  If she doesn't, we will be the bad guys."

Probably the truth is a little embarrassing for all the parties involved.  Like contract negotiations with Wilson broke down when IMG refused to offer him enough to move to the States or make his trans-hemispheric travel worthwhile....

Rather than go down that speculative road myself, however, I'd rather focus on what others' speculations reveal about the intersecting personal/professional/national/global relationships brought out by Lydia Ko's meteoric rise to the top 5 in the world of women's golf.

Randall Mell is on to something when he points out that nationalism has a lot to do with the intensity of the reaction to Ko's decision coming out of many in the New Zealand media and golfing establishment:
There’s more behind the emotional reaction to Ko’s decision than just coaching implications. For New Zealanders, it’s about her Kiwi connections and nationalistic pride. In fact, in presenting news of the coaching change, a Television New Zealand reporter asked if it might “signal a shift away from New Zealand Golf.” 
Ko is something of a national treasure in New Zealand, and her rise in fame has brought with it concerns over loyalties and how she plans to align herself in the future. During Ko’s first news conference after announcing she was turning pro in October, New Zealand media peppered her with questions about where she planned to establish her professional base and even what nationalistic affiliation she planned for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. 
Ko was born in South Korea but her family moved to New Zealand when she was 6. She became a New Zealand citizen when she was 12. That evolved partly out of her former coach’s push for citizenship so Ko would become eligible for national funding. In fact, New Zealand Golf has funded Ko’s world travels the last three years. There are questions back in New Zealand over whether Ko will re-establish her connection to South Korea, where women’s golf is immensely popular and more endorsement opportunities for women abound.
Matt Richens is one of the New Zealanders raising such questions:
If this is a Ko decision, it seems an odd one. The pair have always seemed to get on well off the course and their success on it was first rate. 
Ko was the world's No 1 amateur as a 13-year old, a title she held until turning professional. She won four professional tournaments as an amateur and one as a professional and has never missed a cut in any of her 27 professional tournaments. 
She's brilliant and Wilson has played a huge part in that. It also continued while Ko was travelling and Wilson stayed in New Zealand. 
If it's not Ko's decision, but one from IMG, then there is more reason to worry for New Zealand. 
If IMG can persuade her to leave her longtime coach and someone with whom she shared more of a brother-sister relationship than a coach-player one, then what else can it do? 
In October, Ko said she would always play for New Zealand and wanted to represent this country at the 2016 Olympics. 
But should IMG start throwing its considerable weight around, what's to stop it working out it could get a far bigger bang for its buck in the Asian market if Ko played under the Korean flag and turned her back on New Zealand all together. 
If IMG is calling the shots, it could happen.
I can see why the worries are so intense that Ko might choose Kimchi Nation over Kiwi Nation as part of an IMG-led effort to turn her into a global brand, but it seems to me they're at least a bit overblown.  Let's face it, a huge part of what makes Ko so distinctive globally is precisely her New Zealand connection.  That video with her buddy from the All-Blacks in which she announced she's going pro?  Brilliant.  That accent and attitude?  Endearing.  Why would she reject her adopted country, her hyphenated identity, and national hero status to become one of at least a dozen world-class South Korean golfers?  Why would IMG think that's a more profitable path?  Yes, she's leaving the nest, moving to the U.S., and taking on the world via the LPGA.  But Ai Miyazato is no less Japanese for doing that.  Se Ri Pak is no less Korean.  Karrie Webb is no less Australian.  Suzann Pettersen is no less Norwegian.  Lorena Ochoa was no less Mexican.  Annika Sorenstam was no less Swedish.  And so on.

Admittedly, these players aren't perfect examples, as they lived in their home countries for a long time and are natural-born, not naturalized, citizens.  But who would be a good example?  Amy Yang didn't move to Australia until she was 15 and didn't stay Down Under long enough for a sense of pride in her accomplishments to turn into a widespread sense of betrayal or ingratitude at her departure.  Maybe the Wongluekiets/Songs?  Well, they chose their father's nationality when they turned pro instead of their mother's, while both Ko's parents are South Korean.  And therein lies the rub.  Already you can find in some corners of the intertubes the same criticisms of Ko's parents being floated and tried on for size as have been circulated ad nauseum about Michelle Wie's parents.  Greedy.  Controlling.  Clueless.

I guess personal and professional and national loyalty is a particularly touchy issue for immigrants-turned-citizens.  (And not just in New Zealand.)  It's almost as if someone who's chosen to become a citizen of another country has to keep making that choice whenever her circumstances change in the slightest.  Don't get me wrong:  this is a huge change.  And Ko's only been a New Zealand citizen for something like 4 years (or a quarter of her life), even though culturally she's been a Kiwi for almost 3 times that long.  Sure, the level of concern at possibly losing Ko helps outsiders understand how much she is valued and appreciated by her fellow citizens and how crucial her success is to building a new New Zealand identity.  But Kiwis who might be tempted to turn on Ko out of a feeling that she did one of their own wrong or who jump to conclusions about her parents' motivations or her future plans should understand that they run the risk of inflaming a backlash that could do more to drive her out of the country than anything else.

I think it's time for everyone involved to be their best selves and set an example for the rest of us.  The Kos ought to find as many ways as possible to thank the individuals and organizations who helped Lydia become the golfer and person she is, reassert her commitment to Kiwi Nation, and give back in tangible and intangible ways to golf in New Zealand.  Wilson ought to speak for himself, stick up for his former student, and encourage his mates to show a little more respect for Ko's decision.  Leadbetter and Hogan had better be praising Wilson effusively every time Ko does something good in 2014 (which should be quite often).

Let's face it:  what's done is done.  As much as onlookers, outsiders, and even insiders may wish New Zealand were closer to the places Ko will be competing, and that Ko could maintain an uncomplicated Kiwi identity for the rest of her life, that's not going to happen.  There will be complications no matter what she chooses.  For those who wish she had brought her entire New Zealand team with her to the States--bringing a little bit of home to her new base of operations in a time of transition--consider that her team would have been facing culture shock just as intensely as she would and would have had to be learning the ropes and putting down roots for themselves while allowing Ko to focus single-mindedly on golf.  For those who wish she had waited till after Christmas and New Year's to make her decision, consider that Wilson's holidays would have been ruined by stress, anxiety, and uncertainty as surely as they've been ruined by rejection and disappointment.  And given that the new LPGA season starts in January in the Bahamas, Ko couldn't have kept everyone on the hook for much longer.

The bottom line is that things are going to get more complicated for Ko down the road, not less.  I don't know whether she's a dual citizen of New Zealand and South Korea, but let's assume for the moment that she is.  If New Zealand's and South Korea's citizenship laws are anything like the U.S.'s and Japan's, Ko has about 4 years before she has to decide which one to keep and which one to drop; if they're more liberal (and sensible), she could remain a dual citizen for the rest of her life.  It gives me a headache to even start thinking about what country's (or which countries') tax laws are going to apply to her in 2014, much less beyond!

But that's part of the deal these days when it comes to trying to make history on a global stage, as Ko is no doubt focused on doing.  What's exciting about the attempt is that no matter how many scripts she's trying to write or how many the rest of the world is trying to impose on her, none of us know which ones will end up being performed and enacted, or for how long before they get disrupted or replaced.  All that's certain is that Ko will need every ounce of resilience and persistence she's accumulated over her 1st 16 years to make the next 16 truly amazing!

[Update 1 (1:28 pm): Paul Lewis of the New Zealand Herald makes very good points about Ko's future challenges.]

Monday, December 23, 2013

Daisuke Takahashi Going to Sochi!!

Daisuke Takahashi will be the 3rd Japanese male skater--along with Yuzuru Hanyu and Tatsuki Machida--to go to the Winter Olympics, according to Japan TV.  After pulling out of the ISU Grand Prix Finals at the start of the month due to a leg injury--I've heard it reported as a stress fracture near his knee--Takahashi finished 5th at Japan Nationals, jeopardizing his hopes of returning to the Winter Olympics.  This will be the 2nd time in a row that Takahashi will be rushing a recovery from a major injury to compete in the Olympics.  Let's hope he can bounce back quickly!

Here are his skates:

Here's his emotional interview right after he finished 5th:

I was really afraid this was a career-ending injury. I'm relieved that we'll get a chance to say goodbye to him at Sochi.

[Update 1 (11:02 am):  The Full Metal Archivist pointed me toward this recent interview with his choreographer Lori Nichol.  Helps put his journey and his free skate in perspective.]

[Update 2 (11:38 am):  Wow, this Japan Nationals was one for the history books!  Akiko Suzuki won the women's gold in her last appearance at nationals with her mom watching her skate for the first time ever.  Yuzuru Hanyu broke 100 points on his short program in winning the men's gold.  Kanako Murakami skated a fantastic long program and broke 200 to take the silver, qualifying for Sochi at the same time along with Suzuki and Mao Asasa, who skated a great short program and a so-so long.]

The World Is a Big Place Files: Lydia Ko Edition

So it seems Lydia Ko has split with Guy Wilson, her coach of 11 years.  Alarm bells are ringing for Geoff Shackelford, who's already shaping up a story of how IMG and David Leadbetter are about to ruin another young phenom.  But what if this is just about what Ko told New Zealand TV this is about?
With Wilson remaining in New Zealand and unable to join her throughout the 2014 LPGA Tour, the decision was a logical one for Ko.
"I'm going to be away from home and I'm not a player that likes to (not) have my coach out at tournaments, so it doesn't really work, him being here and him coming on the weeks that I'm not playing a tournament," Ko told ONE Sport at the Gulf Ha[r]bour Country Club today.
"That means I'd only see him like 10 times a year and to me that kind of situation didn't work out so that's why I thought it might be better to have a coach based somewhere in the States."
I mean, as Ji-Yai Shin's and Momoko Ueda's recent decisions to focus on the JLPGA make clear, the world is a big place.  Here's how Ko put it to TVNZ:  "Playing on the LPGA Tour it's going to be hard coming back home. Obviously it's so far to get from here to anywhere apart from Australia."  So unless Wilson is willing to uproot himself and move halfway around the world to keep coaching Ko, how can their partnership continue?  Wilson himself sounds a lot more resigned and accepting (or at least diplomatic) in the New ZealandAustralian, and Canadian media than in the U.S. media (although Golfweek has Wilson's complete statement).

Kris Shannon looks at the decision from both sides, calling the split "inevitable" but questioning the timing and possible repercussions on Ko's swing and game: 
Set to spend next season on the LPGA Tour, Ko will be based overseas for much of the year, but she already had a hectic travel schedule during her unprecedented amateur career. 
"I'm sad to hear it because they can do most of the coaching over the phone, with all the videos and different stuff," Lister said. "If [Wilson] was to see her once every three or four months, it would be plenty. She doesn't need somebody every day. 
"I'd be very reluctant to be changing anything with Lydia. She's done pretty damn well with what she's doing, and if it ain't broke don't go and fix it."
Ko herself is well aware of possible pitfalls but hopes to avoid them:
 "It's going to be a huge change. Swing-wise obviously not every coach has the same swing technique but even my parents and I said we don't want huge changes, just little changes, that if someone else saw my swing they wouldn't know that anything's changed. 
"Golf isn't really all about having the perfect swing, it's about getting out there and scoring well as well." 
She remains undaunted by stories about players falling on hard times after changing coaches and insists such speculation does not apply to her situation with Wilson. 
"Not really. I've heard those rumours and Tweets where people say lots of people have left their coaches after they've succeeded and stuff, but to me it's not like I left him because he was a bad coach. 
"It was because that situation, we knew there was going to be a problem. I know it's a change but fingers crossed that nothing bad happens."
The fact is, you never know how changes like these are going to turn out.  I'm reminded of how the size of the planet played a role in Ji-Yai Shin's slow-motion split with her long-time caddie Dean Herden back in 2011.

Bottom line is that it's Ko's career and her decision.  If she's convinced a long-distance relationship won't work for her, better to act on that conviction than draw out the transition.  It seems to me that all outsiders and onlookers can do is wish both Ko and Wilson the best.

[Update 1 (8:57 am):  Stevie Williams, a friend of Wilson's, strongly criticizes Ko's decision.]

[Update 2 (9:09 am):  I can only hope Lydia and her parents each have great Christmas presents for Wilson and that IMG is ponying up serious severance pay for him!]

[Update 3 (9:31 am):  Ladies on Tour notes that Ko's mother was talking about finding a U.S.-based coach at the CME Titleholders.]

[Update 4 (9:51 am):  Brent Kelley has a good overview.  But is nobody else seeing that Lydia mentions Sean Hogan by name in that TVNZ story?]

[Update 5 (11:16 am):  Randall Mell just tweeted:  "Just off phone w/ David Leadbetter, Lydia Ko will work w/ him & Sean Hogan of his staff. 'It's about guiding, not re-inventing the swing.'"]

[Update 6 (11:50 am):  Here's Emily Kay's Steve Williams-centered overview.]

[Update 7 (12:28 pm):  So much for this being a sudden decision.  There was even pre-decision blowback before Thanksgiving in the NZ media.]

[Update 8 (8:03 pm):  Randall Mell covers reaction from Kiwi Nation and statements from David Leadbetter.]

[Update 9 (8:07 pm):  And here's Stephanie Wei's recap.]

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Momoko Ueda Announces Departure from LPGA

Just yesterday I speculated that Momoko Ueda might try to limit her LPGA schedule in 2014 to the minimum number of starts required to keep her card for 2015.  So I decided to check out her blog to see if she's said anything recently about her plans for next season.  It turns out she announced just after Thanksgiving that she won't be playing on the LPGA in 2014.  In her announcement, she looked back on her 6 years on the LPGA, explained her decision to focus exclusively on the JLPGA next year, thanked Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Ayako Uehara, and Shiho Oyama, along with her family, her team, and her fans, and let everyone know that after a brief hibernation she wants to start the spring healthy and go after new dreams and new goals.  She hasn't given up on her goal of winning in the United States, though.  She said that she still intends to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Ueda qualified for the LPGA by winning the Mizuno Classic in 2007 in part because of a super-rare double eagle in the final round.  That year, she won 4 other times on the JLPGA and led the tour's money list.  In the midst of her rookie year on the LPGA the following season, Ueda won twice more on the JLPGA, but followed them up with only 2 more wins in Japan, the AXA Ladies in 2009 and the Mizuno Classic in 2011.  Those 2 Mizuno wins count as LPGA wins, as well, and they're Ueda's only ones in her 6 years on tour.  By my count, Ueda played 107 events as an LPGA member; her only top 3s came from those Mizuno wins and she added only 6 more top 10s.  Even though she made the cut 78.5% of the time on the LPGA and won almost $1.70M, it's clear that her expectations and goals were much higher and that not being close to contention over 90% of the time weighed heavily on her.  She didn't join the LPGA just to make cuts and collect paychecks.  Not long before she turned 27, she decided it was time to play the JLPGA full-time.

So Ueda finishes this phase of her LPGA career ranked 34th among the players who joined the tour since 2005, ranked 6th (as of July) in her rookie class of 2008, and ranked 7th (as of March) among the LPGA's 2-time winners.  Let's see if she can make like Shiho Oyama and fight her way back to being one of Japan's top female golfers again!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ji-Yai Shin to Focus on JLPGA in 2014

Courtesy of the Seoul Sisters.com message boards, I came across this story from the Yonhap News that Ji-Yai Shin will be spending most of her time on the JLPGA next season.  According to the article, she'll still play the 12 LPGA events required to be eligible for membership in 2015, but will be making the JLPGA her primary tour for 2014.

Although this goes against the grain of the trend I just identified of formerly dual LPGA-JLPGA members deciding to focus exclusively on the LPGA, I can see why Shin is making this decision.  She can play 20+ events in Japan and have a legitimate chance of contending in most of them, which will be great for her confidence and competitive edge.  She can play more 54-hole events and travel much shorter distances, which will be great for the fatigue issues cited in the Yonhap story.  She'll be much closer to friends and family in South Korea, as well, and can also enter the occasional KLPGA event without changing time zones.

If all goes well, Shin can revitalize her game on the JLPGA like Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng have done in recent years.  And if her comeback comes quicker than expected, there's no reason she can't add more LPGA events to her 2014 schedule than currently planned.  With 9 LPGA events in the Asia-Pacific region and 5 majors, there are plenty of obvious candidates, but it would be easy to put together a worldwide schedule that minimizes travel and maximizes wins and winnings potential.  Conceivably, she could play all February on the LET and LPGA, all March on the JLPGA (perhaps playing the LPGA's Kia Classic at the end of the month), compete in the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April, take a break in Hawaii and wait till the LOTTE, then stay on the JLPGA except for trips to the U.S. Women's Open in June, the Ricoh Women's British Open in July, the Wegmans LPGA Championship in August, and the Evian Championship in September, and finally take her pick from among the LPGA's 6 Asian swing events in the fall to round out her schedule.  If she's in the hunt for season-ending LPGA titles and the Hall of Fame points that go with them, she can play more of them and add Lorena's event and the CME to her schedule; if she's got a better chance to win the JLPGA money-list title, she can play the minimum required to get to 12 starts and keep her LPGA card for 2015.

I'll be very interested in comparing and contrasting Shin's approach to scheduling in 2014 with fellow dual-LPGA-JLPGA members Shanshan Feng and Momoko Ueda.  I would hope that Feng realizes she is a legitimate pre-season favorite for LPGA end-of-season honors in 2014 and makes the LPGA her primary tour.  I wouldn't be surprised if Ueda frontloads her LPGA schedule and doesn't play on the JLPGA until May or return to the LPGA until the fall Asian swing (except for the occasional LPGA major she qualifies for).

[Update 1 (1:42 pm):  More on this tomorrow, but it's looking like Momoko Ueda won't be playing on the LPGA in 2014 much, if at all.  With Harukyo Nomura doing the opposite and choosing the LPGA over the JLPGA, that leaves just Shin and Feng as dual LPGA-JLPGA members, although it should be noted that Teresa Lu's Mizuno Classic victory means she will also be a dual member next season....]

[Update 2 (10:18 pm):  Clark Miyazaki tweeted me a link to a longer Yonhap story on Shin's decision.  It notes that her sponsorship with Mirae Asset ends this February and will not be renewed, so she'll be seeking a Japanese sponsor in 2014.  And it emphasizes that between exhaustion and injuries to her back and wrist, the 25-year-old has been pulled thin by her hemisphere-hopping.]

[Update 3 (12/22/13, 11:07 am):  Thoughtful response from Ruthless Mike.]

[Update 4 (1/15/14, 9:34 am):  Well, Shin's name no longer appears on the 2014 LPGA Priority Status List.  She's focusing exclusively on the JLPGA in 2014!]

Friday, December 20, 2013

Welcome to Double Digits, Onechan!

Onechan is 10 today!  Shocking.  It seems all the videos I found for her earlier birthdays have been taken off youtube.  So here are some more!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Oh, How the Times Have Changed! Q-School Edition

Take a look at this post from 3 years ago where I argued that the JLPGA attracted more talent via its Q-School than the LPGA did.

First point:  boy, was I ever right.  New JLPGA members (at the time) Shanshan Feng, Hee Young Park, and Bo-Mee Lee turned out to be world-class talents, Shiho Oyama, Teresa Lu, Soo-Yun Kang, Onnarin Sattayabanphot, Kaori Ohe, and Kumiko Kaneda have proven themselves to be among the best on the tour, and several others maintained their membership for years.  Yes, Jessica Korda, Pornanong Phatlum, and Tiffany Joh have had varying degrees of LPGA success, and I still have fairly high hopes for Belen Mozo, Pernilla Lindberg, Dewi Claire Schreefel, and Paola Moreno, but the rest haven't established themselves as LPGA regulars.

Second point:  oh, how the times have changed!  Compare LPGA Q-School and the rookie class of 2014 to the JLPGA's and LET's Q-School results and you'll notice that no prominent or even struggling LPGAers sought out dual membership for 2014 (with Harukyo Nomura giving up her JLPGA membership, there are only 4 dual LPGA-JLPGA members in 2014, Shanshan Feng, Ji-Yai Shin, Momoko Ueda, and Teresa Lu).  The LPGA attracted the KLPGA's Mi Rim Lee, the LET's Lee-Anne Pace, Ashleigh Simon, Maria Hernandez, Line Vedel, Joanna Klatten, and Xiyu Lin, and the ALPG's Kristie Smith.  Even putting aside Lydia Ko and Giulia Molinaro, who got to the LPGA by other means, the LPGA's '14ers are more impressive than either other tour's.  I'd put youngsters Jaye Marie Green, Yueer Cindy Feng, Xiyu Lin, Amy Anderson, Erica Popson, Lindy Duncan, and Natalie Sheary up against the JLPGA's Hikari Fujita and Haruna Taguchi or the LET's Sally Watson, Nobuhle Dalimi, Karolin Lampert, and Nina Muehl with great confidence.  And the caliber of the LPGA's returning players--from Lorie Kane to Silvia Cavalleri to Seon Hwa Lee to Lee-Anne Pace to Ashleigh Simon and beyond--is way higher than either other tour's (although I am excited about Na Zhang's comeback on the JLPGA and happy for LET medalist Caroline Martens, who's bouncing back from serious injuries to both her shoulders earlier this season).

Yup, the LPGA is the place to be once again.  Even though the JLPGA is attracting more KLPGAers, that's its only advantage over the LPGA now.  And you can make an argument that the LET is catching up to the JLPGA in terms of attracting new (but not returning) talent, although that might just mean that it's tougher to break into the JLPGA because it's a stronger tour (in terms of talent and schedule) than the LET.

So congratulations are in order to LPGA commissioner Mike Whan and his leadership team, but even more to the LPGA members who have set such a high standard for the rest of the world and made most of the top players on the planet eager to compete against them.  We're going to have to wait awhile for the likes of Sun-Ju Ahn, Bo-Mee Lee, Ha Na Jang, Hyo Joo Kim, Ha Neul Kim, Ariya Jutanugarn, Rikako Morita, Mamiko Higa, and Charley Hull to make it to the LPGA, but it's hard to doubt that most of them will be coming soon.  I wouldn't have had such confidence about similar-caliber non-LPGAers in 2010.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

LET Q-School Day 5: Caroline Martens Medals on Strength of Final-Round 64

Norway's Caroline Martens had been hanging around the top of the leaderboard at LET Q-School since she opened the week with a 67, even co-leading with American Tessa Teachman after 36 holes.  But today she stopped hanging around and started dominating the field, following up her opening 33 with a 31 coming home to get to -13 for the week and beat Scotland's Sally Watson (68) and Germany's Steffi Kirchmayr (73) by 8 shots in a performance reminiscent of a certain countrywoman of hers.  On a day when there were only 5 rounds in the 60s and the line between a full and partial 2014 LET schedule stayed at +2, Martens was bogey-free and on fire.

Others who finished strong include the #6-ranked amateur in the women's WAGR, Swaziland's Nobuhle Dlamini (69, -4), along with Sweden's Viva Schlasberg (73, -4), Josephine Janson (71, -4), and Julia Davidsson (72, -3), Spain's Virginia Espejo (69, -3), Germany's Isabell Gabsa (70, -3), and France's Lucie Andre (69, +1).  Despite closing with a 74 and a 78, respectively Brazil's Victoria Lovelady and England's Charlotte Thompson squeaked into the top 30, as well.

Here are the notables who will be joining them as LET members next season in Category 8a:

-2 Rebecca Sorensen, Tessa Teachman
-1 Cathryn Bristow, Isabelle Boineau, Maria Salinas
E Elina Numenpaa, Julie Tvede, 
Fiona Puyo
+1 Karolin Lampert, Nina Muehl

And here are some of the players who will have to settle for Category 9b:
+3 Mia Piccio
+4 Sophie Sandolo

+5 Maha Haddiqui
+8 Carmen Alonso
+9 Smriti Mehra, Jessica Ji
+15 Jacqueline Hedwall

Congratulations to all the golfers!

[Update 1 (4:54 pm):  Nice overview from the LET.]