Thursday, August 21, 2008

The LPGA's Tournament Eligibility Priority List for 2009

Thanks to recent commenter Sekar, and picking up where Hound Dog and Brent Kelley left off, I was able to track down and now share the 3 July 2008 memo laying out the priority list for entering standard eligibility LPGA tournaments in 2009.

There are 21 categories, most of which seem designed to mirror the rules and results for this season. Sure, the top 90 has been winnowed down to a top 80 who get first dibs on any non-major/non-limited-field event they want to enter in 2009. And, starting in 2010, those who finished in the top 40 2 seasons before will drop from very high on 2009 priority list (category #1a) to almost the bottom of the high-priority categories (category #12). But much remains the same. Major winners (category #3) still will get very high priority for the next 5 seasons after their wins; those who win 3 times in the same year (category #5a) still will get 5 seasons and only slightly lower priority-standing; anyone who wins even 1 event still will get high priority for the next 3 seasons (category #6--although starting in 2010 it'll go down to 2); and any member who gets a top 10 still will get into the next standard event, even if their priority-standing wouldn't otherwise have gotten them into it.

Still, there are a few innovations and reorderings apparently designed to reward members playing well in 2009 who didn't have that great a 2007 or 2008 (as well as non-members and those who weren't playing professionally in previous seasons).

1) There is now a battlefield promotion for players who get their 3rd win in the same season on the Futures Tour (category #13). I wonder if those who get priority status this way would be considered LPGA members (and potentially LPGA rookies) in that season or not? I assume not--that their rookie year would come the following year if it hadn't already come--but haven't seen anything official to that effect.

This one would have benefitted Vicky Hurst and Mindy Kim. They would still have had to watch their position on the Futures Tour money list and do their best to ensure they came in the top 5 at the end of the FT season (category #9), but they could definitely have entered more LPGA events than they actually were able to get into. And if they had done well and these rules were in place, they could have gotten even higher-priority standing--not just by finishing in the top 80 on the money list, but with an LPGA win at any time in the season.

2) Anyone who wins gets high priority for the rest of the season (category #5)--even non-members who join the LPGA will benefit from this priority-standing. Non-members who choose not to join the year of their win still get high priority in the following year (category #7). And by becoming LPGA members, they get the same category #6 bonus as everyone else gets in the following years, as I read the rules, at least.

Even this year, Ji-Yai Shin could have applied to become an LPGA member after her Women's British Open win, but under the soon-to-be-superseded rules, she would have had very low standing when it came to actually trying to get into events. If the new system had been in place this season, she'd have found it quite easy to get into just about as many events as she wanted if she joined the LPGA immmediately after her WBO win. This category would have been open to Hurst and Kim from the Futures Tour and to unaffiliated professionals like Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie who wanted to get immediate high priority into LPGA events following a win, provided they were willing to become LPGA members.

3) Any LPGA member in the top 40 on the money list right after the 7th, 14th, and 21st events of the season gets fairly high priority (category #8) for entering any of the next 7 events on the schedule. Those in the top 40 right after the 28th event are basically guaranteed to get into all the standard events for the rest of the season from the 30th on.

What's nice about this category is that LPGA members can get into as many events as they want so long as they can get and stay in the top 40. It wouldn't have benefitted non-members like Hurst, Kim, Lewis, and Wie had it been implemented this season, but it gives anyone from the top 125 of the LPGA money list, top 10 of the Futures Tour money list, and top 40 from Q-School a fighting chance to finish in the top 80 on the 2009 money list.

4) Any LPGA member who's won at least twice in the previous 4 seasons (category #4) gets very high priority (right behind major winners and just ahead of current-year winners).

This one replaces the 4-year exemption for anyone who wins twice in a single season, so more players are eligible for it, but it ends up being a shorter time on the high-priority list, as eligibility ends 4 years after their 1st win. So Seon Hwa Lee gets 4 years of high-priority standing for her 2 wins this season. Mi Hyun Kim and Brittany Lincicome got 1 win each in 2007 and 2006, so they'll be in this high-priority category through the 2010 season--good for them, as Kim is dealing with injuries and Lincicome is mired in a terrible slump. Hee-Won Han, who won twice in 2006, also has insurance in case of a bad 2009. Stacy Prammanasudh, who won in 2005 and 2007, has the same insurance, but because of category #6. Pat Hurst and Meena Lee, who won in 2005 and 2006, are thus in for the 2009 season, no matter how badly they do in 2008 (although with over $200K in winnings already, Hurst is already a lock for the top 80, while Lee is just outside the top 30 already).

Now, if Louise Friberg, Leta Lindley, Eun-Hee Ji, Ji Young Oh, Helen Alfreddson, or Katherine Hull were to notch a 2nd win this season, she, too, would have very high-priority status, regardless of her place on the money list, over the next 4 seasons. But if Meaghan Francella, Silvia Cavalleri, Young Kim, Nicole Castrale, Natalie Gulbis, Maria Hjorth, or Momoko Ueda were to win this season, they'd only have high priority for 3 more seasons, because their first win came in 2007. And if 2006 winners Joo Mi Kim, Meena Lee, Juli Inkster, Sung Ah Yim, Jin Joo Hong, or Julieta Granada were to win in 2008, they'd really be benefitting from category #6, which gives them fairly high priority for the 3 seasons following a win. And for those whose last win came in 2005--Jennifer Rosales, Wendy Ward, Carin Koch, Jimin Kang, Marisa Baena, Heather Young, Soo-Yun Kang, Nicole Perrot, Jee Young Lee, or Christina Kim--the same holds, although everyone except Perrot is already inside the top 80 on the money list (but Young, Rosales, and Baena have their work cut out to stay there). So basically this category offers an extra benefit only to those who get their 2 wins in the same season, at least until 2013, when you could have won in 2009 and 2010 but had terrible years in 2011 and 2012 and still get into just about any standard tournament you were interested in playing.

5) Those who fall between #81 and #100 on the 2008 money list get roughly equal status with the top 20 2008 Q-School qualifiers (category #11). The Q-School winner gets top priority in this category, then #81 on the money list, then the Q-School runner-up, then #82 on the money list, and so on.

Only very rarely would those at the bottom of the ensuing priority list not get into a standard tournament from this category. You'd need 25 players to enter under categories #2 through #10 for the 40th player in this category to get knocked out of a usual 144-player field. This levels the playing field for the "bottom 20" LPGA players and "top 20" Q-School graduates.

6) Those who fall to #101 through #125 on the 2008 LPGA money list (category #15) and who get into #6 through #10 on the 2008 Futures Tour (category #17) thus have every reason to enter the 2008 Q-School. If they do decently and finish 21st through 30th (category #16), the Futures Tour players at least have moved up a category. But if they do well and finish in the top 20, they move up to category #11.

Here's why that matters a lot for these players in particular: all the players in categories #14 through #20 get their priority status reordered based on their money list position after the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th events of the 2009 season. But the highest they can rise is having a lower priority than those who win a Futures Tour battlefield promotion (category #13). That is, unless they get all the way into the top 40 of the current money list at these checkpoints and enter category #8 (see #3 above), they'll always have lower standing than Q-School grads, those between #81 and #100 on the previous season's money list, and even those with hot hands on the Futures Tour that season. As it should be.

7) The new rules place an incentive (category #2) and disincentive (category #14) for those players who are considering applying for a 1-time exemption based on their position on the career money list. Those in the top 20 can still get 2 years of very high-priority status, but those in the top 40 who exercise their option won't be able to use their top 20 exemption and will only get lower priority than Futures Tour players with battlefield promotions, with no chance to go higher unless they win or fight their way into the top 40 of the money list during that season and only that season to improve their standing by finishing in the top 80, top 100, or top 125 of the money list.

The effect is to give incentives to those outside the top 20 on the career money list who have hit hard times to give the Futures Tour and even Q-School a try before exercising their 1 lifetime exemption. If you see any hope at all of breaking into the top 20, you're better off saving the top 40 exemption as a last resort, to be used only after you've exhausted your FT and Q-School options.

8) Those who have won a tournament in the last 20 years will get even lower priority than those who exercise the 1-time top 40 career money list exemption (category #15a is being phased out after 2010 and will be replaced by category #19--which comes after those who finish 31st through 40th in Q-School [category #18]--and category #21, the lowest-priority one).

So besides the usual 2 spots for sponsor exemptions, the open invitation to Hall of Famers, and the chance for local qualifying, those on the downside of a long career will have little incentive or ability to get into more than a few events a year. This, too, will help open up more spots for players in the LPGA pipeline, young guns, and mid-career vets who have a legitimate chance to compete at a higher level for the first time or again.

9) There is a cool little loophole that I had speculated about in July. Tournament organizers may open their local qualifiers to non-members.

If this rule had been in place this year, I wonder if any of the closing tournaments of the year after the Canadian Women's Open would have encouraged Michelle Wie to take another shot at getting into the top 80 of the money list as a non-member (category #10). Or if Stacy Lewis would be trying Monday qualifying of the rest of the season and not hoping for more sponsor exemptions than what remains on her plate already.

So what do you all think of this priority list?

[Update 1 (8/28/08, 10:52 pm): Hound Dog likes it.]

[Update 2 (1/12/09, 3:41 pm): I'm still not convinced the tournament organizers at Q-School interpreted them correctly. I'd like to see a rewrite of certain parts of the rules.]

[Update 3 (4/11/09, 12:44 am): Since this page is still getting a lot of hits, it's worth updating it again to note that Hound Dog has recently offered a great clarification of how the priority list reordering after the 7th event of the season could play out after the Corona.]


sag said...

I like the priority list both in concept and as it currently looks on paper. Great post, TC, just one part to quibble with. You say "9) There is a cool little loophole that I had speculated about in July. Tournament organizers may open their local qualifiers to non-members."

I don't see such a change in the LPGA's document. The closest I see is "Note: Only LPGA Tour members are entitled to enter tournaments under the foregoing priority list and special entries, except for Sponsor Exemptions, Local Qualifying and the T&CP Category."

If that's the verbiage that you're seeing as the proof of your claim, then you may be reading too much into it. The non-LPGA Tour members that might, by succeeding in a local qualifier, get into an LPGA event are AMATEURS. I think that's what the note is referring to.

In the absence of explicit verbiage allowing non-LPGA-member PROFESSIONALS into local qualifiers, I'll proceed under the assumption that eligibility for local qualifiers hasn't been changed.

The Constructivist said...

That's exactly what I'm looking at, sag.

Can you think of a Monday qualifier that's been open to amateurs this season? Think of the Safeway Classic. They had a tournament for amateurs--for one of their sponsor exemptions.

I think what they may have meant is that Futures Tour members who aren't LPGA members can try Monday qualifying. But if they meant this or your read, they should have said so explicitly. Otherwise they open themselves into exactly my potential overreading.

Shaker said...

The local qualifying is explicitly explained under Special Entries - "2 Places will be reserved for players competing in a local qualifying round". So Yes, this does open LPGA events to non members.

We also need to remember that this doesn't automatically mean that any one can walk into a Monday qualifier. As in the PGA tour open events (Like Byron Nelson in Dallas), players who are not tour members have to go through some form of sectional qualifying. The way I read it, these 2 spots are separate from the Monday qualifier spots (Which incidentally requires LPGA membership).

The Constructivist said...

Ah, so you see the local qualifier as distinct from the usual members-only Monday qualifying? Interesting.