Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2008, January 2014 Edition

I used to group together the LPGA's rookie classes of 20062007, and 2008 into a generation I called "Young Guns," in honor of the noise so many of them were making in the upper echelons of women's professional golf so soon after they joined the top tour in the world.  Then Ya Ni Tseng exploded in 2011 and even I had to admit that this generation should be known as the "Tseng Dynasty," as bangkokbobby so memorably coined it.  Even with Tseng's well-documented struggles the last year and a half, she's still the top player in her generation over the course of their careers and it's really not even close.  More on that topic soon.  For a preview, you can scan the key career numbers for yourself!

The Class of 2008 will probably go down in history as Tseng's, but I wouldn't be surprised if her rival for Rookie of the Year in 2008 and for Player of the Year in 2010, Na Yeon Choi, plays Karrie Webb to Tseng's Sorenstam.  And let's not forget the rest of the class, which is not only big, but deep in top-tier talent, even with the departure of Momoko Ueda for the JLPGA in 2014.  Every single one of the top 6 players in this class was in the American top 40 in every single one of the 5 statistical categories I track (except for Ya Ni Tseng, whose greens in regulation rate was the only one of the 30 outside the top 40)!  That compares to 0 players among the '06ers and 2 among the '07ers.

Simply the Best

1. Ya Ni Tseng.  As you can see below, Ya Ni plunged around 30 spots in most of the key statistical categories (both performance- and results-oriented) from beginning to end of 2013.  But compared to slumps by top players from other classes, that's not such a horrible drop-off.  If she just focuses on hitting greens in 2014, the rest of her game should come back online pretty quickly.  Easier said than done, I know, for a power player who went from finding the fairway in the low-to-mid-60s percentage range in her 1st 3 seasons on tour to the high-50s the last 3, but she had her best overall season in 2011 despite posting her worst driving accuracy stats of her career--until 2013, that is!  The thing is, she won the Wegmans LPGA Championship in 2011 with one of the best performances off the tee in her life--it was probably the best tournament of her life, all things considered--on one of the narrowest courses on tour.  Until she gets that kind of confidence back in her driver, she won't be dominant again.  But she can still contend and win if she gives herself chances to hit greens.  And that's probably all she needs to do to keep her lead on everyone else in her generation comfortably large in 2014.

The Contender

2. Na Yeon Choi.  She's not only the clear #2 player in her class, she's also the clear #2 player in her generation, as well.  She had a very good 2013 by most players' standards, with excellent performance stats, but she never really put it together for an entire week.  As a result, 2013 was her 1st year on tour that she fell short of the $1M mark and 1st since 2008 during which she didn't enter the winner's circle.  If anyone's due for a win early in 2014, it's NYC.

The Best of the Rest

3. Shanshan Feng.  I'm going to rank the players in this category largely by number of wins, as they're fairly closely bunched in my career ranking system (see below) and have different kinds of strengths.  Feng doesn't make cuts or get a whole lot of top 20s compared to the best golfers in her generation (on which more in a future post), but it's hard to argue with the way she won the 2012 Wegmans LPGA Championship or her 2 victories at the end of 2013.  As a result, I argued last month that she was the closest last season to turning the LPGA's Big 3 into a Big 4.  I'm predicting a breakout year for her in 2014.
4. Hee Young Park.  The Rocket is best in this group at converting good play into wins--she got her 2nd by going subterranean at the Manulife--although in certain ways she's the least consistent of the bunch (as her nickname would suggest).  If she can heat up her putter in 2014, watch out for her.
5. Amy Yang.  She actually has the best career stats of the players in this category and is among the very best in her class and generation at making cuts (and isn't bad at snagging top 20s), but her putter was holding her back until this season, so her 1st career LPGA victory in Korea near the end of 2013 was both long-overdue and fantastic.  I was a bit off in suggesting back in June 2011 that Yang was most likely to challenge Tseng for #1, but as you can probably tell by the phrasing of this sentence's beginning, I still believe she has what it takes to be the best in the world of women's golf.  If she can keep her putter hot in 2014, she's yet another one to watch out for from this class.

Quantum Leap Candidate

6. Sandra Gal.  She came on at the end of the year, finishing in the top 30 in her last 9 starts.  Given that she was the top putter in her class despite an uneven opening 2/3 of the season in 2013, her prospects are also rosy for 2014.

On the Bottom, Looking Up

7. Ashleigh Simon.  For a time, she was one of the better players on the LET (#17 on their Order of Merit in 2010, #15 in 2011), but she fell to #38 in 2012 and continued her downward trend in the 1st half of 2013.  I'm happy to report, though, that she turned it around in the 2nd half of 2013, moving up to #15 on the LET's 2013 Order of Merit in only 10 starts and regaining full LPGA status for 2014 by coming in 1st in a 4-person playoff for the last 2 Category 12 spots at Q-School.  So I'm much more confident that she's ready to compete on the LPGA in 2014 than she was in the late aughts.
8. Hannah Jun.  After splitting her time between the Symetra Tour and LET in 2012, she focused on the Symetra Tour much more in 2013, finishing 7th on their money list and earning full LPGA status for 2014.  Let's see what she can do with it.
9. Sarah Kemp.  Her comeback from her broken foot continued to limp along in 2013, as she finished just outside the top 100 on the LPGA's money list and will have fairly low status for 2014 in Category 16.  [Update (1/12/14, 4:25 am):  Actually, she ended up at #141 on the LPGA Priority Status List for next season, so she'll get all the starts she wants!]
10. Louise Friberg.  After missing every single cut in 2011, she pulled the plug on her competitive career and pursued a teaching/writing career in the golf industry.  (She played 1 event each in 2012 and 2013, keeping that missed cut streak alive.)  But then she got the golf bug again and actually squeaked into the top 45 at 2013 Q-School!  So from the LPGA's Category 17, she'll most likely be spending most of her time on the Symetra Tour in 2014....  [Update (1/12/14, 4:25 am):  Definitely so, as she's #176 on the priority status list.]

On the Outside, Looking In

11. Momoko Ueda.  After her worst season on the LPGA in 2013, she announced that she's focusing on the JLPGA in 2014, although any majors she qualifies for and the Mizuno Classic (which she's won twice) would count toward her career totals on the LPGA, as she's technically still a Category 11 member.
12. Eunjung Yi.  She played only 2 events on the Symetra Tour in 2013 and didn't make the 72-hole cut at the final stage of LPGA Q-School, so it's unclear where she'll be playing in 2014.
13. Taylor Coutu (formerly Leon).  She had a decent 2012 but, despite having solid status on the LPGA in 2013 (#110 on the priority status list), didn't tee it up at all, then came in DFL when the 72-hole cut was made at the final stage of Q-School.  If she was injured, I don't understand why she didn't just apply for a medical exemption for 2014....
14. Jimin Jeong.  She's been fighting to move from Korea's Dream Tour to the KLPGA, according to her bio at Seoul, but it hasn't yet been updated for 2013, so I don't actually know what she's doing.
15. Anja Monke.  She was back on the LET full-time; however, having moved from #11 on their money list in 2010 to #58 in 2011 to #46 in 2012, she doesn't appear on it in 2013, most likely because she was due to give birth to her 1st child around March.
16. Leah Wigger.  As an assistant coach at UNC, she's trying to keep her LPGA dream alive, playing 2 events on the Symetra Tour in 2013.  But she didn't enter Q-School in the fall, so it's unclear in what way it will get off life support.
17. Onnarin Sattayabanphot.  She remained a full-time member of the JLPGA in 2013 and her 1st career win there in May helped her finish at #18 on their money list.
18. Sarah Oh.  She finished 10th on the ALPG Order of Merit in 2011, 13th in 2012 (when she got limited status on the KLPGA), and 38th in 3 starts in 2013.  Both her ALPG profile and Seoul bio place her on the KLPGA in 2013, where she apparently finished 65th on their money list.
19. Emma Cabrera-Bello.  She's played a limited schedule on the LET the past 3 seasons while getting a Master's degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Esade.

Over and Out

20. Anna Grzebien.  She retired at the end of the 2012 season.
21. Anna Rawson.  I'm assuming the "sabbatical" from professional golf that she announced awhile back is now permanent, but I haven't really dug into her web site to check.
22. Carolina Llano.  I'm assuming she's calling it quits, competitive golf-wise.
23. Nicole Hage.  She qualified for the WBO and made St. Andrews her last professional start.
24. Liz Janangelo.  A local paper reported she's going to continue competing professionally here and there, but will primarily focus on a career as a teaching pro.
25. Chris Brady.  Have to assume her competitive career is over.
26. Amie Cochran.  Ditto.
27. Violeta Retamoza.  I can't find any golf-related news on her.  I'm assuming she's done with her competitive career.
28. Hwanhee Lee.  Ditto. Perhaps she's continuing to focus on her fashion design career?
29. Sofie Andersson.  She had hand surgery in fall 2011 and back troubles in summer 2012 and is not listed as a member of either the LET or the Symetra Tour in 2013.
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff.  Done, right?

For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the January 2014 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 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. Shanshan Feng, $1.72M (#4), 70.371 (#6), 3.59 (#39), 74.6% (#5), 1.798 (#24)
2. Na Yeon Choi, $930.0K (#9), 70.307 (#5), 3.94 (#5), 72.7% (#15), 1.782 (#13)
3. Hee Young Park, $848.7K (#10), 71.066 (#19), 3.68 (#7), 70.6% (#23), 1.804 (#28)
4. Amy Yang, $719.5K (#18), 70.756 (#13), 3.60 (#25), 71.2% (#19), 1.782 (#14)
5. Sandra Gal, $420.1K (#35), 71.253 (#25), 3.57 (#20), 68.7% (#36), 1.781 (#12)
6. Ya Ni Tseng, $405.1K (#38), 71.707 (#35), 3.48 (#35), 65.9% (#69), 1.792 (#22)
7. Momoko Ueda, $83.3K (#88), 72.661 (#76), 2.68 (#87), 61.8% (#118), 1.848 (#94)
8. Sarah Kemp, $48.7K (#103), 73.523 (#117), 2.70 (#99), 61.0% (#124), 1.867 (#122)
9. Ashleigh Simon $10.6K (#142), 73.750 (n.r.), 1.75 (#177), 78% (n.r.), 1.946 (n.r.)
10. Nicole Hage, $5.3K (#151), 72.571 (n.r.), 3.06 (#148), 67% (n.r.), 1.847 (n.r.)
11. Louise Friberg, $0 (n.r.), 75.500 (n.r.), 3.50 (n.r.), 64% (n.r.), 1.826 (n.r.)
12. Eunjung Yi, $0 (n.r.), 77.800 (n.r.), 1.20 (#180), 50% (n.r.), 2.089 (n.r.)

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 2008 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 7 players in the class, I'll continue giving the details on the lower-ranked players here, most of whom are off the LPGA.

1. Ya Ni Tseng, 3924 points.
2. Na Yeon Choi, 2824.
3. Shanshan Feng, 1623.
4. Amy Yang, 1239.
5. Hee Young Park, 1127.
6. Momoko Ueda, 765.
7. Sandra Gal, 730.
8. Louise Friberg, $476.6K (#295), 74/0/1/1/3/4/0/0/49/25 (.338)
9. Eunjung Yi, $475.7K (#296), 66/0/1/1/1/2/2/0/31/33 (.500)
10. Taylor Coutu, $371.9K (#319), 69/0/0/0/3/7/0/0/35/34 (.493)
11. Sarah Kemp, $361.0K (#325), 92/0/0/0/2/9/0/1/49/42 (.457)
12. Anna Grzebien, $266.7K (#361), 65/0/0/0/0/5/3/0/32/30 (.462)
13. Jimin Jeong, $198.8K (#393), 51/0/0/0/2/3/2/0/26/23 (.451)
14. Anna Rawson, $166.9K (#408), 46/0/0/0/1/4/1/0/29/16 (.348)
15. Carolina Llano, $111.3K (#456), 40/0/0/0/1/1/0/0/25/15 (.375)
16. Anja Monke, $109.3K (#462), 22/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/10/12 (.545)
17. Ashleigh Simon, $83.4K (#488), 31/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/17/14 (.452)
18. Nicole Hage, $74.2K (#502), 47/0/0/0/0/1/1/0/34/12 (.255)
19. Leah Wigger, $58.8K (#527), 36/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/24/12 (.333)
20. Liz Janangelo, $38.1K (#570), 35/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/24/10 (.286)
21. Hannah Jun, $32.0K (#577), 12/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/7/5 (.417)
22. Amie Cochran, $17.2K (#625), 5/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/4/1 (.200)
23. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, $8.6K (#?), 8/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/6/2 (.250)
24. Chris Brady, $6.1K (#690), 4/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/2 (.500)
25. Violeta Retamoza, $2.2K (#735), 19/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/17/1 (.053)
26. Emma Cabrera-Bello, $0K (n.r.), 2/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/2/0 (.000)
27. Sarah Oh, $0K (n.r.), 3/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/3/0 (.000)
28. Hwanhee Lee, $0K (n.r.), 5/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/5/0 (.000)
29. Sofie Andersson, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)
30. Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff, $0K (n.a.), 0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/0 (.000)

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 '08ers 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. Shanshan Feng, 6.47 (#6), 69.35 (#5); 5 (all JLPGA)
2. Na Yeon Choi, 5.75 (#7), 69.40 (#6); 7 (all KLPGA)
3. Amy Yang, 4.08 (#15), 70.48 (#25); 4 (3 LET, 1 KLPGA)
4. Hee Young Park, 3.80 (#18), 70.60 (#29); 4 (all KLPGA)
5. Ya Ni Tseng, 2.71 (#34), 71.78 (#75); 6 (all LET)
6. Sandra Gal, 2.34 (#45); 71.18 (#45); 0
7. Momoko Ueda, .85 (#135), 72.11 (#92); 9 (all JLPGA)
8. Onnarin Sattayabanphot, .82 (#142), 71.77 (#74); 1 (JLPGA)
9. Ashleigh Simon, .68 (#170), 73.20 (#148); 2 (LET)
10. Sarah Kemp, .42 (#232), 73.59 (#175); 0
11. Hannah Jun, .25 (#288), 74.01 (#201); 0
12. Sarah Oh, .18 (#346), 74.05 (n.r.); 0
13. Taylor Coutu, .13 (#392), n.r.; 0
14. Anja Monke, .09 (#443), n.r.; 3 (LET)
15. Nicole Hage, .04 (#595), 75.25 (n.r.); 0
16. Anna Grzebien, .03 (#599), n.r.; 0
17. Emma Cabrera-Bello, .03 (#617), 76.01 (n.r.); 0
18. Leah Wigger, .03 (#655), 73.61 (n.r.); 0
19. Eunjung Yi, n.r., 77.39 (n.r.); 0
20. Louise Friberg, n.r., 75.45 (n.r.); 0

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