OK, so Lydia Ko enters 2014 as a 2-time winner on the LPGA, a 5-time winner in professional events, and the #4 female golfer in the world, according to the Rolex Rankings. Given that they don't hand out the Rookie of the Year award in January, though, it's worth considering if any of her fellow rookies in the LPGA's Class of 2014 have a chance at taking it away from her. Who among the '14ers has the most long-term potential, regardless of where they stand on the LPGA's current Priority Status List? Who has what it takes to contend with the best of LPGA's "Generation Prodigy"? Dave Andrews has already weighed in with his top 3. Here are my predictions!
1. Lydia Ko (#85 on the 2014 priority status list): Her LPGA bio hits many of her high notes, but doesn't mention that she was the #1-ranked women's amateur in the world for 3 straight years on the WAGR. I don't see any reason for her not to run away with the ROY title. Yes, she'll face new pressures and adjustments like any other teenager moving halfway around the world, but she's been living a globe-trotting life for years now and has already proven she can hang with and face down the top players in the world anywhere in the world (most recently in Taiwan!).
2. Mi Rim Lee (#118): A 3-time winner on the KLPGA, with a win and another top 5 at the Korean Women's Open in the last 2 seasons, she's definitely the real deal, if not one of the top stars on a tour that's sent so many great players to the States. As even mid-level KLPGAers have shown strong staying power on the LPGA, I wouldn't be surprised if Lee exceeded expectations and pushed Ko over the next few seasons. But her 2014 transition will be at least as difficult as Ko's, even if it doesn't take place in the spotlight.
3. Xiyu Lin (#125): She's China's youngest pro (she turns 18 on February 25th) and may well already be its 2nd-best. Last season, she finished 2nd in 7 starts on the CLPGA's Order of Merit and 42nd in 12 starts on the LET's Order of Merit, coming in 6th in their Rookie of the Year race. In addition, she medalled at Monday qualifying for the Women's British Open. So I think she's ready for competition on the world's toughest women's tour. [Update (9:00 am): Apparently she's going by "Janet" now! I'm generally not a fan of these name changes.]
4. Amy Anderson (#120): An NCAA-record 20-time winner at North Dakota State, she made an immediate mark as a pro by medalling at Stage II of LPGA Q-School. Given how much trouble top female collegiate golfers have had adjusting to the rigors of professional competition, I'm taking a risk putting her this high, but I'm sensing something Stricker-like about this one.
5. Jaye Marie Green (#117): Although her stats were pretty good on the Symetra Tour in 2013, she finished only 29th on the money list, so nobody expected her to go -29 at LPGA Q-School. Which is a better predictor of LPGA success? Only time will tell, but I'm erring on the side of undervaluing her magical, record-breaking week in December 2013.
Quantum Leap Candidates
6. Giulia Molinaro (#87): She had solid stats in her rookie season on the Symetra Tour in 2013, building on her May win with 4 top 10s in her last 5 starts to leapfrog into 2nd on the money list and secure her LPGA card. Having grown up on a Kenyan game park, been a member of the Italian national team, and played for 4 years at Arizona State, she's well positioned to make a smooth transition onto the LPGA.
7. Yueer Cindy Feng (#161): A great junior golfer, she lost to Emma Talley in the championship match at the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur. On the bright side for 2014, she's been playing a pro-style schedule as an elite amateur for years. However, with her relatively low status on the LPGA in 2014, she's more of a long-term prospect than a real ROY candidate and will be most often putting her experience to good use on the Symetra Tour.
8. Line Vedel (#127): She finished 37th in 16 starts on the LET's Order of Merit in 2013, 21st in 17 starts in 2012, and 94th in 17 starts in her rookie season in 2011, so it's an open question how she'll adjust to the level of competition on the LPGA.
9. Joanna Klatten (#167): She finished 13th in 18 starts on the LET's Order of Merit in 2013, 25th in 19 starts in 2012, 82nd in 17 starts in 2011, so it was really disappointing that she didn't make it into Category 12 at LPGA Q-School. With such low status on the LPGA in 2014, I expect her to focus on the LET, where she's contended but not yet won.
10. Jennifer Kirby (#121): Although her NCAA career at the University of Alabama wasn't quite as impressive as the players I'm ranking below her, the Canadian standout was able to put it together at Q-School and will get a head start on them on the LPGA. Let's see how well she can take advantage of it.
11. Lindy Duncan (#179): This Duke star (6-time winner, 4-time 1st-team All-American) had solid stats on the Symetra Tour in only 7 starts last season, finishing 51st on the money list on the strength of 3 top 10 finishes, but given how poorly she played at Q-School, she'll be back in the minor leagues in 2014.
12. Stacey Keating (#175): This ALPG star finished 25th in 16 starts on the LET Order of Merit last season and 6th in 22 starts in 2012, when she won twice. It's hard to imagine her choosing the Symetra Tour over the LET in 2014, but time will tell.
13. Daniela Holmqvist (#184): She finished 104th in 13 starts on the LET's Order of Merit in 2013, but she won as an amateur there in 2009, so I'm fairly high on her long-term prospects on the LPGA. I'm curious to see whether she decides to split her time between the LET and Symetra Tour in 2014.
14. Marta Silva (#183): This 4-time All-American at the University of Georgia (where she was National Player of the Year in 2011) is yet another promising member of the Spanish Armada, but she's had a tougher time adjusting to life as a pro, finishing 97th in 8 starts on the LET's Order of Merit and 42nd in 9 starts on the Symetra Tour last year. Wonder if she'll try for the same split in 2014 or focus more on 1 of the tours instead?
15. Kristie Smith (#178): A standout on the ALPG, she's been trying to get onto the LPGA for years. The closest she's come until now is the Symetra Tour, where she's won twice and finished 43rd on the money list in 2009, 24th in 2010, 18th in 2012, and 171st in 2013 (in only 2 starts; she ended up 64th on 11 starts on the LET's Order of Merit last season). She's another one who will probably spending most of her time on the LET in 2014.
16. Brittany Altomare (#182): Although she finished only 57th on the Symetra Tour money list in 2013 and struggled at Q-School, her performance stats in her 1st year as a pro were actually pretty good, so I'm hopeful that this 4-time All-American from UVA will make a big turnaround in 2014.
17. Megan McChrystal (#159): A 5-time winner at LSU and 2-time winner on the Symetra Tour with 2 top-20 finishes on their money list, she's a classic precision player who just needs more touch on and around the greens to make it on the LPGA.
18. Paula Reto (#132): This Purdue star had pretty good performance stats in only 7 starts on the Symetra Tour in 2013, where she finished 33rd on their money list. Let's see if the South African standout can build on her Symetra Tour experience and a strong Q-School performance in her rookie season.
19. Erica Popson (#128): An 8-time winner from the University of Tennessee, she played only 2 Symetra Tour events in 2013, missing the cut both times. Let's hope that's not a harbinger for her 2014 on the LPGA!
20. Kim Kaufman (#164): A 2-time All-American at Texas Tech, she beat Mitsuki Katahira in a playoff at the Island Resort Championship on the Symetra Tour, but faded to 12th on their money list with weak finishes at the end of 2013. She came this close to full-time status on the LPGA in 2014 at Q-School, but should benefit from another season of seasoning on the Symetra Tour.
21. Caroline Westrup (#170): A 5-time winner and 4-time All-American at Florida State, since 2010 she's been bouncing between the Symetra Tour (where she cracked the top 40 on their money list for the 1st time last season, finishing at #23) and LET (where she hasn't cracked the top 90 on their Order of Merit).
22. Natalie Sheary (#180): Like Nannette Hill before her, she's another Wake Forest teammate of Cheyenne Woods's who beat her to the LPGA. Will she have more staying power than Hill? I think so. But she'll have to improve on her Symetra Tour record, which includes finishes on the money list of 44th in 2013, 47th in 2012, and 35th in 2011, to even get there for real in the 1st place.
On the Bottom, Looking Up
23. Megan Grehan (#123): A repeat winner of the New York State Women's Amateur, 4-time AJGA All-American, and leader at Vanderbilt, this NYer played 7 times on the LET in 2013, finishing 127th on their Order of Merit, so to say her excellent Q-School performances were surprises would be an understatement. I'm hoping she takes advantage of her great LPGA status in 2014, but I'm not hopeful. That won't stop me from rooting for her, though!
24. Kelly Tan (#130): This 3-time winner of the Malaysian Ladies Open qualified for the LPGA on her 1st try, finishing her career as an amateur at #110 on the WAGR. Let's see if her time at the IMG Academy prepared her well for top-flight international competition.
25. Dottie Ardina (#174): She had a fantastic junior career, so let's see what she's capable of on the Symetra Tour in 2014.
26. Anya Alvarez (#168): This 2011 History grad from the University of Washington improved on the Symetra Tour from 2012 to 2013, but she'll need to pick up the pace if she wants to make it to the LPGA.
27. Emma Jandel (#172): This Ohio State grad has been struggling on the Symetra Tour since 2010, so let's see if can do better in 2014.