Saturday, January 31, 2009

Go, Go, Sarah Oh--Again!

Just like last weekend, it's shaping up to be another Sarah Oh-Katherine Hull showdown on the ALPG, this time in the final round of the inaugural New Zealand Women's Open. Hull had a 3-shot advantage after the 1st round, thanks to a smashing 65, but Oh responded with her 2nd-stright 68 today to open up a 2-shot lead of her own. Kiwi-centric tv highlights aren't focusing on that story, of course; the NZ media is too busy rooting for the home team. But with the ALPG site down due to heavy traffic, there's not much else to pass along right now, besides this recent profile of Oh. More later!

[Update 1 (5:25 pm): OK, the ALPG site is back. Here's their round 2 game story. Oh actually had a 67, not a 68, as originally reported. Hull bogeyed 17 and 18 to drop 3 back. Here are the results after 36 holes. You'll note that the LET's Nocera, the KLPGA's Park, and the LPGA's Kemp are also within 5 shots of Oh, and such relatively big names as Wendy Doolan and Martina Eberl are not too far behind, while the LPGA's Mollie Fankhauser and Sarah-Jane Smith (formerly Kenyon) and LET's Lotta Wahlin and Yuki Sakurai are. But at least they're doing better than worldwide young guns Sunny Park, Kiran Matharu, Anne-Lise Caudal, and Stephanie Na, not to mention LPGAers Laura Davies, Beth Bader, and Diana D'Alessio. If you have the time and the interest this Super Bowl weekend, you can follow the live scoring from your home later tonight!]

[Update 2 (2/1/09, 12:37 pm): Too bad! Oh blew up with an 80 to fall back to T6 at -1 with Mollie Fankhauser, while Katherine Hull's 76 dropped her into a T2 with Nikki Garrett, Sarah Kemp, and Bo Bea Park at -2, 6 shots behind Gwladys Nocera, who won going away with a 69. Yuki Sakurai ended up T14 with Cecelia Cho, the low New Zealander at age 14.]

[Update 3 (2/2/09, 1:43 am: Liz Smith has more on how Nocera stayed calm in the wind while Hull struggled with her putter and Oh lost her composure.]

Soggy SunCoast Series Results

It's all snow all the time here, but I still have about an ounce of sympathy left for the LPGA and Futures Tour golfers who had a long wet slot last week in the SunCoast Ladies Series. Meredith Duncan caught Briana Vega at -5 in the second round and both were declared co-winners when the final round was cancelled due to heavy rain, denying Johanna Mundy her chance for her 3rd straight win. Looks like I should have added Mundy to my list of sleepers and wild cards heading into the '09 LPGA season. Moira Dunn, who I did put on my list, tied Mundy for 3rd at -3, beating M.J. Hur and Taylor Leon (E, T8), Hannah Yun (+1, T14), Jeehae Lee (+2, 16th), and Stacy Lewis (+4, T19), among many others. It's great to see that Moira's sharp already; when they update their current money list, she should be in the top 5. Lewis, meanwhile, who went 70-78, still has plenty of time to scrape the rust off her game before she begins her 1st full LPGA season. Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for her.

2009 LPGA Preview: Other Predictions

There's still time to join in the LPGA Prognostication Derby! If you're looking to find out what other people are thinking, check out the following sites. asks 3 questions:

Who will top the 2009 LPGA money list?
Where will Michelle Wie finish on the 2009 LPGA money list?
Will Michelle Wie win a LPGA tour event in 2009? compiles the betting lines on the 2009 LPGA money list leader race. has a discussion thread on the Rookie of the Year race. has one on the Player of the Year race.

The easiest ways to post your top 30 predictions for 2009 are to do a fanshot or fanpost over at Hound Dog LPGA or list them over at the Seoul discussion board. Good luck!

Friday, January 30, 2009

2009 LPGA Preview: Mostly Harmless Sleepers and Wild Cards

Having essentially extended my projected LPGA top 30 to a top 50 the last 2 posts, I still believe there are more players with a chance to crack the top 30 in 2009. Here's my list of top sleepers and wild cards for 2009 (excluding players who are expecting like Maria Hjorth, Catriona Matthew, Mhairi McKay, and Gloria Park):

1. Anja Monke: one of the hottest players in the world at the very end of the '08 season; can she sustain her momentum in '09?
2. Sarah Lee: great in '07, hurt in '08...back in '09?
3. Sandra Gal: had better stats than results in her rookie she due for a super sophomore campaign?
4. Juli Inkster: can the Hall of Famer close out her fantastic career with a successful stretch run heading into her last Solheim Cup?
5. Laura Davies: does she have those last 2 LPGA wins in her? or could she get into the LPGA Hall of Fame the quick way, with a win in a major?
6. Pat Hurst: why not a repeat of her million-dollar '06 season in '09?
7. Young Kim: has the swing to contend any week...
8. Shi Hyun Ahn: always plays a limited schedule, but if she keeps putting as well as she has...
9. Kyeong Bae: a birdie machine her 1st 2 seasons; was '08 a blip?
10. Giulia Sergas: one of the best Euros on tour...poised for a quantum leap in '09?
11. Alena Sharp: she's got some up-and-coming competition for best Canadian on tour--how will she respond?
12. H.J. Choi: a real fighter...
13. Grace Park: wouldn't you love to see her come back in '09 from her back troubles? [Update (9:36 am): The rumor mill is cranking on her pre-season preparations over at Seoul!]
14. Rachel Hetherington: another great player from earlier in the decade who's struggled in recent years...end of the line or time for a comeback?
15. Carin Koch: another one of the elite from a few years back and another mom on tour who showed signs of her former greatness in '08.
16. Helen Alfredsson: speaking of comebacks, as long as her back stays healthy, why shouldn't she continue her brilliant (if rather inconsistent) play and remain one of the toughest closers on tour in '09?
17. Mika Miyazato: wouldn't it be cool for the other Miyazato from Okinawa to have a great 1st season as a pro and validate her skipping the JLPGA, unlike most of her cohort of up-and-coming Japanese stars?
18. M.J. Hur: her only problem was closing strong on Sundays in '08 on the Futures Tour; would love to be the Angela Park of the rookie class....
19. Mindy Kim: won 3x on the FT in '08, so could surprise in '09 in the big leagues...
20. Brittany Lincicome: reached depths in '08 few golf writers (or bloggers, for that matter) would have believed at the end of '07; why not a comeback in '09?
21. Jennifer Rosales: her official story is that injuries have hurt her game the last several years; fighting for her card in '09....
22. Aree Song: she's been fighting a serious illness the last couple of years--it would be awesome to see her come back!
23. Louise Stahle: the former LET rookie of the year has full playing privileges on the LPGA in '09--is she finally ready for prime time?
24. Na On Min: fantastic '07 with limited starts, but struggled in '08...
25. Reilley Rankin: always seems to be threatening to break through, but still hasn't quite yet....
26. Birdie Kim: showed some signs of life in '08; aims to avoid "Korean Hilary Lunke" tag....
27. Ashleigh Simon: will she finally come into her own in '09, now that she has full LPGA playing privileges?
28. Charlotte Mayorkas: is she ready to break through in '09?
29. Moira Dunn: I'm hoping my childhood friend will keep her card for '10!
30. Anna Rawson: come on--you would have been watching for her, even if I didn't put her on this list, right? it'll be interesting to see how her 1st full year on the LPGA turns out....

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2009 LPGA Preview: The Mostly Harmless Not-Quite-Top 30

Here's who it hurt the most to leave out of my top 30 in the LPGA Prognostication Derby:

1. Stacy Prammanasudh
2. Karen Stupples
3. Katherine Hull
4. Laura Diaz
5. Inbee Park
6. Vicky Hurst
7. Meena Lee
8. Hee Young Park
9. Ji Young Oh
10. Sun Young Yoo
11. Allison Fouch
12. Natalie Gulbis
13. Nicole Castrale
14. Kristy McPherson
15. Teresa Lu
16. Lindsey Wright
17. Sophie Gustafson
18. Se Ri Pak
19. Minea Blomqvist
20. Louise Friberg

I wouldn't be at all surprised if more than half these players finished in the top 30. I expect the gap between the #30 and #50 player on the money list to continue to narrow in 2009.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2009 LPGA Preview: The Mostly Harmless Top 30

One year ago today, I posted a ranked list of who I thought had the best chance to become the LPGA Player of the Year in 2008. Having done only all right then, I'm giving it another try and joining Mulligan Stu, Hound Dog, and Bill Jempty today. Anyone else want in on the LPGA Prognostication Derby? There's still time!

1. Lorena Ochoa
2. Paula Creamer
3. Ji-Yai Shin
4. Seon Hwa Lee
5. Ya Ni Tseng
6. Suzann Pettersen
7. Na Yeon Choi
8. Jee Young Lee
9. Cristie Kerr
10. Amy Yang
11. In-Kyung Kim
12. Morgan Pressel
13. Mi Hyun Kim
14. Eun-Hee Ji
15. Jeong Jang
16. Ai Miyazato
17. Angela Park
18. Jane Park
19. Hee-Won Han
20. Stacy Lewis
21. Karrie Webb
22. Song-Hee Kim
23. Momoko Ueda
24. Christina Kim
25. Angela Stanford
26. Brittany Lang
27. Shanshan Feng
28. Shiho Oyama
29. Candie Kung
30. Michelle Wie

Tomorrow: Those it hurt me the most to leave off this list.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Best Blogs on Women's Golf: Seoul Sisters

I can't tell you how excited I am that Happy Fan, founder of the Seoul Sisters web site, magazine, and discussion board, has begun blogging at Seoul Sisters. Eric is the English-speaking authority on the KLPGA and has closely followed the Se Ri Pak effect on the LPGA for most of this decade. With all due respect to the other top bloggers on women's golf that I'll be discussing over the next several weeks, I'm ranking him right after Hound Dog based on his blog's promise from the record he had built up over the years, not to mention his first 3 days of posting. Over those 10 posts detailing his rationales for his 2008 awards, Eric has topped most every recap of last season that I've seen.

Want the definitive profile of Ji-Yai Shin, his 2008 Player of the Year? Let's just say he outdid his capsule bio of her and easily matched his best previous articles on her.

How about a thoughtful critique of the LPGA's language policy? There's a lot the LPGA could learn from in that post. And the one joining me in blasting the singling out of Eun-Hee Ji's post-victory verbal performance as the catalyst for the now-rescinded policy, too.

Want to know who will be starring on the KLPGA after Ji-Yai Shin's departure? You should--expect Hee Kyung Seo, He Yong Choi, and So Yeon Ryu to play outside Korea more often in coming years and do quite well.

Want to know more about LPGA rookies not named Wie, Lewis, Shin, Oyama, or Hurst? If M.J. Hur or Mindy Kim exceed expectations in '09, Eric will have played amateur Nostradamus successfully for the 2nd year in a row.

There's more there and more to come. Here's hoping Eric decides to participate in the LPGA Prognostication Derby this season, pays close attention to the fantastic Korean players on the JLPGA, continues to look globally for up-and-coming talent of Korean descent, and throws in a few posts on Seoul Brothers Anthony Kim and Danny Lee over the course of the year.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lessons from Last Week around the World of Women's Golf

Many top women golfers aren't waiting for February to kick off their 2009 season. Whether in Australia, Brazil, or Florida, we got early peeks this past week at who's already ready to handle heat, rain, wind, and the other vicissitudes of competitive golf, well before the LPGA season begins. Among the LPGA regulars this season, it appears that Paula Creamer, Katherine Hull, Kristy McPherson, M.J. Hur, Laura Davies, Mollie Fankhauser, and Sarah Kemp are already pretty sharp, even if none of them could manage to get a win.

20-year-old Sarah Oh was the hometown favorite in New South Wales and she didn't disappoint, coming through for the biggest victory of her fledgling career by holding off Hull in the Women's NSW Open. As Liz Smith reports, another player's caddy asserted that Oh deserved penalties for seeking advice from her dad and improving her stance in a bunker, but the rules officials disagreed, so Oh's 3-stroke victory held. Others getting top 10s included Davies, Fankhauser, and Kemp. For the full results, you can download the spreadsheet off the Women's Golf New Zealand web page--a final-round 78 dropped Nocera out of contention, while her LET cohorts never really got much of anything going and Stephanie Na and Sunny Park settled for T45s.

Meanwhile, in Rio, as the LPGA has announced, Hound Dog has covered, and Jay Busbee has praised, Catriona Matthew will go down in history as the first champion of the inaugural HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup. Not only was Matthew the only one in the 15-player field to break 70, she did it twice in a row--a feat made even more impressive by the fact that she's 5 months pregnant and hadn't touched a club for a month leading up to the exhibition. That $100K winner's check will sure help make her 2009 a lot more pleasant, not least because she plans to play only 1 more tournament before taking a maternity leave from the LPGA. McPherson was the only other player under par for the tournament, so gets her season off on the right foot. Louise Friberg and Leta Lindley can take solace in the fact they bounced back from terrible opening rounds on Sunday. Everyone else got a good sense of just how much rust they have to scrape off in the next several weeks, ranging from a little (Angela Park, Laura Diaz, Allison Fouch) to a lot (Eun-Hee Ji, Christina Kim, Karen Stupples).

Last but not least, Creamer competed with several other LPGAers on the SunCoast Ladies Series at Forest Lake GC this past weekend. Of them, only Hur was really sharp, but still not sharp enough on Sunday to hold off the LET's Johanna Mundy (formerly Head), who got her 2nd win of 2009 on that tour by chasing her down. Creamer had to settle for a tie for 5th, after a pair of closing 71s weren't enough to make up for an opening 75 in terrible weather.

Starting tomorrow, Stacy Lewis is the big name in the SunCoast Series field, joining Mundy, Hur, and Moira Dunn--who played college golf in Florida--along with Hannah Yun, Jeehae Lee, and a number of other players you can expect to see on the LPGA, the Futures Tour, or both in '09. We'll see if more fans turn out after Dave Andrews criticized the lack of publicity for the 1st 2 events.

Later this week, the ALPG's New Zealand Women's Zealand Open kicks off. I haven't found a field list on their site, but the tournament organizers have announced that Hull, Davies, and the LET's 2008 money list leader Gwladys Nocera will be in it. Peter Thorley profiles one of the top amateur New Zealanders in the field, if you're looking for local talent to root for. For more on the event and the course, check out Liz Smith's post. Assuming Anna Rawson isn't in the field, maybe she can find a nice hat to wear on the LPGA this season by checking out the photos from 1908 that the local library has made available!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mostly Harmless Synergy: Gackt Interviewed Miho Koga

Yes, you read that right. Gackt interviewed Miho Koga. It's not as surreal as I expected it to be--nor as fiery--but the transcript of their dialogue is an MH must-link.

Go, Go, Sarah Oh!

How cool would it be if Sarah Oh were able to hold off Katherine Hull, Gwladys Nocera, Laura Davies, and others in the final round of the Women's NSW Open today? As Liz White reports, Oh has a 4-shot lead on her nearest competitor (Hull) after following up her course-record 65 (matched by Nikki Garrett that day) with a 67. (For the full field's scores, check out The Daily Telegraph's game story.)

Why would a win on the ALPG be such redemption for Oh? Well, she inadvertently found herself in the middle of a controversy at LPGA Q-School, when the LPGA made 2 mistakes: holding a playoff for the last Category 11 spots in the tour's 2009 priority status list at all, and holding it among the players at T21 instead of at T25. Oh, a 2008 LPGA rookie, played just badly enough on the last day of Q-School to put herself in a position where the playoff needed to be at T25 for her to have a chance at Category 20 status. So she has no LPGA status in 2009. I'm waiting to see whether she has Futures Tour status; the Australian media leads me to believe she does, but I'm waiting for confirmation from the FT itself. In any case, I'm rooting for Oh to finish out the ALPG season in style and move up their Order of Merit. If she can start a winning streak this week and keep it going, she could even qualify for the HSBC Women's Champions event in early March--and if she wins that, she can apply for LPGA membership and play most any event she wants this season.

First things first, though. I'm hoping she nails down this win today.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Momoko Ueda's Prospects in 2009

Having looked at my favorite golfer's prospects for the coming season last Saturday, I figured it would be fun to check out Momoko Ueda, the first of what may turn out to be many of her fellow countrywomen to follow her to the LPGA. Ueda's rookie season was nothing to write home about, even if she did finish it 3rd in her class and 13th in her generation.

In fact, Ueda earned more in her 13 JLPGA starts than she did in her 19 LPGA starts in 2008. Like Miyazato in 2006, Ueda won twice on the JLPGA in her rookie season, but the fact is that the rookie Miyazato outdid her in every other measure. Miyazato earned $532.1K in 21 starts (including 7 top 10s) against Ueda's $413.6K in 2 fewer starts (including 3 top 10s) on the LPGA; on the JLPGA, it was ¥58.60M for Miyazato in 7 starts against Ueda's ¥54.62M in 13. Miyazato also scored better than Ueda: 71.22 vs. 71.74 on the LPGA and 70.63 vs. 71.28 on the JLPGA. Ueda wasn't nearly as proficient on the greens as Miyazato was in her rookie season, either; Ueda was consistently near 3.19 birdies per round and 1.825 putts per green in regulation on both tours, while Miyazato was at 3.71 and 1.78 on the LPGA and even better in PPGIR on the JLPGA, at 1.728 (I still haven't been able to locate her JLPGA birdie rate in 2006). Although Ueda was slightly longer than Miyazato (by about 3 yards), Miyazato was much more accurate off the tee and with her approach shots. Where Ueda could only manage to hit 62% of her fairways and 63.6% of her greens in regulation, Miyazato was fantastic, at 75.3% and 69.3%.

Those last stats are the key to Ueda's 2009, in my opinion. I'm not so worried about her putting--she averaged 1.78 PPGIR and 3.47 birdies per round on the JLPGA in 2007, when she won 5 times--so she knows how to get the ball in the hole and perform under pressure. The challenge will be getting better at ballstriking and course management this season. If she can become just a little bit more accurate off the tee, she could end up in Hound Dog's top 20 for total driving rather than #71, as she was in 2008, and thereby increase the odds of hitting more than 2/3 of her greens in regulation and giving herself more--and better--birdie chances. Ballstriking is what really what separated Na Yeon Choi's 2008 from Ueda's (where Ya Ni Tseng outdid both of them was in total putting). There's no reason that Ueda can't be in their league in all these categories this coming season.

Like Miyazato, Ueda will need to get off to a fast start in 2009, given the temptations of relatively easier money on the JLPGA and the gaps in the LPGA schedule for those ineligible to compete in the Solheim Cup. But I'm going to be stubborn and put her, too, back in my top 30 for 2009 next week. I expect her sophomore season to be much better than her rookie one.

Friday, January 23, 2009

LPGAers Competing Down Under at Women's NSW Open

There are a good number of LPGA regulars competing in Australia at the Women's New South Wales Open this weekend, along with the ones competing in Brazil. In today's round, Laura Davies and Wendy Doolan are playing with the JLPGA's Nikki Campbell, Sarah Kemp and Mollie Fankhauser with the LET's Marianne Skarpnord, and Katherine Hull with the LET's Nikki Garrett and amateur Julia Boland. In addition, Sarah Oh, Stephanie Na, and Sunny Park (familiar names from LPGA and LET Q-Schools) will be trying to jumpstart their careers down under (Oh will be playing with '08 LET money list leader Gwladys Nocera). Worth a look to see what kind of games they're all bringing to the '09 season.

HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup Preview/Pairings/Predictions

What better place for an LPGA exhibition than Rio? The 36-hole HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup kicks off the 2009 LPGA preseason tomorrow. I'd love to see a showdown between Angela Park and Eun-Hee Ji, the top 2 players in the Class of 2007, in their 1st appearance as Junior Mints.

But each threesome is interesting. Veterans Jill McGill, Leta Lindley, and Catriona Matthew start things off, followed by Young Guns Allison Fouch, Kristy McPherson, and Louise Friberg. Brazilian amateur Patricia Carvalho gets to measure her game against the likes of Ji and Karen Stupples, while struggling Brazilian professional Candy Hannemann gets to measure hers against Jimin Kang and Christina Kim. The final trio consists of Angela Park, Laura Diaz, and Carin Koch. I'm curious to see if Matthew and Kang can get '09 started right after a disappointing '08s, if Koch can get a career jumpstart a la Lindley in '08, how prepared Kim and Diaz are for their Solheim Cup runs the 1st half of this season, and whether Fouch, McPherson, and Friberg are ready to break through after solid campaigns last season.

I wouldn't put too much weight on bad or indifferent starts for anyone, but we'll get a pretty good sense of who's already pretty sharp if we see any really good rounds this weekend. With the LET's ANZ Ladies Masters only a couple of weeks away, it's never too soon to start putting up some low numbers. Here's my sense of who'll be best prepared for this week, taking into account the numbers of moms with families likely tagging along and the pressures on the 3 Brazilians unofficially hosting the unofficial event:

1. Ji
2. Fouch
3. Kim
4. Park
5. Stupples
6. Diaz
7. McPherson
8. Friberg
9. Matthew
10. Koch

I agree with Jason Sobel that it would have been nice if more of the top LPGA stars had chosen to play here, but as long as this event remains an exhibition, it's going to be hard to draw more than a few of them a year. My suggestion would be to get HSBC to make this the new site for their Women's World Match Play Championship (on hiatus since 2007). What better place to enjoy yourself if you get bounced in the 1st round than Rio? And what better way to kick off the LPGA season than with a showdown between the previous year's top-ranked players?

Whatever the future holds for this event, be sure to follow the LPGA Insider's on-site reports this weekend!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Has More Upside, Fujikawa or Ishikawa?

Yes, this is going to be a post on men's golf.

I couldn't help but notice the American golfy media going nuts over Tadd Fujikawa's performance in the Sony Open last week. Monday qualifying with a 67 and shooting the best round of the tournament on Saturday, a 62, will do that to anyone. It kind of reminded me of the Japanese media's treatment of Ryo Ishikawa, except that Ishikawa's already won twice on the Japan Tour and made over 100 million yen in his rookie season last year.

As Dave Seanor recently pointed out, Fujikawa more than doubled his career earnings last week, despite his disappointing final round, but still has made less than $50K. Last May, Ann Miller noted how much more backing Ishikawa is getting. So it's clear that Ishikawa is well ahead of Fujikawa at this very early point in their careers. But where will they end up? Here are two yutube clips to help you decide!



[Update 1 (1:18 pm): Hmm, maybe Arnold Palmer agrees with me!]

[Update 2 (10:16 pm): Mostly Harmless talks, Augusta listens? Or coincidence?]

[Update 3 (1/24/09, 11:39 pm): Brent Kelley totals up the PGA events Ryo will be playing in the coming months over at's golf blog.]

[Update 4 (1/29/09, 4:55 am): Ron Sirak weighs in with some cautionary tales for Ryo.]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

LPGA Prognostication Derby Blues

So I've been thinking off and on lately about how to improve on my 3rd-place finish in the competition to identify 2008's best 30 golfers on the LPGA. For 2009, it seems to me I'm doing all right if I get 10 picks about right, 10 a bit off, and 10 wildly off. It's pretty rare for an acknowledged top 10 player to fall all the way out of the top 30, so I'm not too worried about the 1st two of those challenges. But how to minimize that last number? Well, I have to figure out how to approach the following problems:

  • Schedule Speculation. Not that many golfers are as decisive--or transparent--about their 2009 schedules as Lorena Ochoa. It's an open question, for instance, how many JLPGA starts Ji-Yai Shin, Momoko Ueda, Ai Miyazato, and Shiho Oyama will make this coming season. Team Wie is spreading the word not to expect her to make more than 14 LPGA starts in her rookie season on the LPGA. How to factor in known or suspected limited schedules among the top/up-and-coming players on tour?
  • Hot Streak or Quantum Leap? When you look at the LPGA's 2008 Performance Chart, it's clear that Shanshan Feng, Sun Young Yoo, Laura Diaz, Ji Young Oh, Karen Stupples, Brittany Lang, Katherine Hull, and Angela Stanford joined Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen, Jeong Jang, Seon Hwa Lee, Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Hee-Won Han, Jee Young Lee, and Meena Lee in finishing last season off in style. The 1st group of names are those who surprised me by doing this, while the 2nd group either stayed at or played up to my preseason expectations. That's 19 players right there (minus Sorenstam) who are fantastic top 30 candidates for 2009. But who among them (aside from the usual suspects) have really made a quantum leap? And how many are due to cool off or go cold?
  • Bounceback Time: Whether it's from injury, swing changes, or life-changing events (like death in the family, getting engaged or married, or having a baby), a significant portion of the candidates for the top 30 will have some serious bouncing back to do in 2009. Who will be as successful at coming back from an injury as Helen Alfredsson or Candie Kung were last season? I expect a youngster like Ya Ni Tseng to come back fully healed from her triceps injury, but are Natalie Gulbis's back problems and Jeong Jang's wrist problems as chronic and serious as, say, Grace Park's have been? Will Han, Stupples, and Catriona Matthew prove as adept at infant/toddler wrangling and elite golfing as Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst? How will engagement affect Ochoa's game and marriage Mi Hyun Kim's? Will Morgan Pressel finally groove her new swing?
  • Blip or Trend? Will a healthy Alfredsson remain among the game's elite for the next few years, or was 2008 her swan song? Has Se Ri Pak put her worst season since 2005 behind her? Have we seen the last of Inkster, Laura Davies, Sherri Steinhauer, Hurst, Carin Koch, and Rachel Hetherington in the top 30? And what about other players who have fallen on hard times lately like Grace Park, Gloria Park, Jennifer Rosales, and Dorothy Delasin? And how about players in their prime like Young Kim, Shi Hyun Ahn, Sarah Lee, and Brittany Lincicome who are coming off rather (or very) disappointing seasons?
  • Young Gun/New Blood Mysteries. Sure, the very best in the rookie classes of 2006 through 2009 are pretty well known, but how will former rookies playing their 1st full season like Amy Yang, Anja Monke, Anna Rawson, and Ashleigh Simon do in '09? Will Ai Miyazato and Brittany Lang be better than ever in 2009? Should we write off Julieta Granada and Meaghan Francella? Should we trust that the improved 2008 stats of players like Song-Hee Kim, Sun Young Yoo, Ji Young Oh, and Teresa Lu will result in even better results in 2009? And who among this year's rookies will step up and surprise?

And that's just the known unknowns. What about the unknown unknowns? I'm not looking for your best What Would Don Rumsfeld Do lines (although they would be much appreciated), but if you have other things I should be plugging into that 100-yen Nishijin crystal ball I'm using next week, let me know in comments!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

オバマmania II

A little tribute to today's historic inauguration for MH fans: American Jedi painter Chaz Guest visited Obama City, Japan, recently. James at Japan Probe has the details, as usual. Here's the background in English:

And the Japanese TV report (which is where his Jedi roots become apparent):

Monday, January 19, 2009

Make It Hikaru Utada in 2009!

Hat tip to Bill Benzon for sending me to the Japan Times for this piece by Daniel Robson on the coming J-pop assault on America's top 40 charts. Here's hoping the 1st artist he features, Hikaru Utada, does as well in the English-speaking world in 2009 as Jero did in the Japanese-speaking world in 2008.

Here's the video for one of her older songs, "Travelling," which gets a lot of play on our Saturday rides to onechan's yochien:

Here's "Can U Keep a Secret," which stars not one but two robots:

Here's her debut single, "Automatic," which was released in late 1998, just before she turned 16:

By that point, she had been performing for 5 years already, mostly with her mom, Keiko Fuji, an enka singer in the '70s. Here's Utada covering the Carpenters, back when she started her solo career in Cubic U (a reference to her being a 3rd-generation female performer--her grandmother was a blind shamisen player):

Happy birthday, Hikki, and good luck! (Going by her first single, she won't need it....)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Japanese Star Wars v. Japanese Spider-Man

I would be remiss in my ongoing attempt to unite animation, sf, music, and golf otaku of all genders, ages, and nationalities were I not to pass along these gems from the 1970s:

Which is better at blowing your mind? Note how both the giant robot and Kamen Rider traditions are invoked in the latter. But the former's lyrics must not be underestimated.

Can you top these?

[Update 1 (9:57 am): I vote for the latter, on the grounds that its opening probably influenced The Tick's theme song:

But I'm willing to be persuaded.]

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ai Miyazato's Prospects in 2009

Ben Gibson takes a look at Ai Miyazato's LPGA career for bleacher report and gets a lot wrong. It's not just basic facts like her number of wins on the JLPGA in 2005 (6, not 5), her total number of JLPGA victories (14, not 15), or which peers from the JLPGA moved or are moving to the LPGA (Momoko Ueda already joined her in 2008, and it's Shiho Oyama, not Yuri Fudoh, who's coming in 2009) that Gibson butchers, but the reasons for her struggles since leaving the JLPGA.

Where Gibson rightly praises Miyazato's putting and attributes much of her difficulties to her low greens in regulation rate the past 2 seasons, he fails to note that injuries played a major role in her ballstriking problems in the 2nd half of 2007 and the 1st half of 2008. It's not so much her ball flight that's to blame (Gibson's hypothesis) as the swing flaws and loss of confidence that contributed to her downward spiral following the leg injury she sustained while getting to the finals in the HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship (where she eventually lost to fellow '06 rookie Seon Hwa Lee). I'm still searching the JLPGA site to see if I can find stats on her driving and approach shots from 2004 to 2006 (her bio page isn't as informative as the LPGA's 2006, 2007, 2008 performance charts), but I already have good evidence to support my argument. In 2006, when she was adjusting to life on the LPGA (and winning twice in 7 events on the JLPGA) she averaged 253 yards off the tee, hit over 75% of her fairways and 69% of her greens in regulation, and averaged 3.71 birdies per round and 1.78 putts per green in regulation. Those numbers dropped to roughly 240, 62%, 57%, 2.87, and 1.82 in 2007 and only improved slightly to around 243, 67%, 62%, 2.78, and 1.83 in 2008. When you're driving the ball shorter and wilder, of course you're going to hit fewer greens and find yourself further away from the hole when you do. (Keep in mind, too, that at her lowest point in her sophomore season, she stopped using her driver altogether.) To understand the size of the cliff Miyazato fell off, particularly on her tee shots, consider that she ranked outside Hound Dog's top 100 in total driving in 2008, but if you plug her 2006 numbers into his formula, she would have placed among the top 5 this past season.

Given this context that Gibson misses, it's no surprise that Miyazato has fallen so far in the world rankings since 2006. But she's already fought her way back from the brink, having broken back into the top 50 of the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index after nearly falling out of its top 100 at her worst. Along with her difficulties on the LPGA, her inability to add to her JLPGA victory total in 2007 and 2008 helps account for the fact thatFudoh and Ueda have remained well ahead of her on the Rolex Rankings, that she's been passed by Sakura Yokomine and Miho Koga, and that Mi-Jeong Jeon, Oyama, Ji-Hee Lee, Akiko Fukushima, Yuko Mitsuka, Hyun-Ju Shin, and Eun-A Lim from the JLPGA are all in her league. But when you consider that she made my top 10 on the JLPGA last season despite playing a limited schedule--after falling off the map the season before--I expect to see her climbing both the Sagarin and Rolex charts in 2009.

In fact, as Miyazato enters 2009 both injury-free and with plenty of time to have shaken off its after-effects, the real question is how close she can come to her peak performances from 2004 to 2006? I don't see any reason for her not to surpass her rookie season in the next few years. If she can get the driver working for her again like it was before her injury, look for that to happen sooner than later.

[Update 1 (1/18/09, 10:33 am): Check out the exchange between Gibson and me over at b/r. I certainly could have done more to highlight our areas of agreement, and for not doing that, I apologize. We both think Ai-chan is overdue for an LPGA win and that it could come sooner than many people think.]

[Update 2 (1/20/09, 10:36 pm): The JLPGA's stats don't have everything I'm looking for, at least as far as I can see, but I'm finding more indirect support for my belief that it's a combination of driving and approach shots that are most to blame for Miyazato's recent struggles. In 2005, she averaged 3.70 birdies per round (tied for the best on the JLPGA), which is very close to her 2006 LPGA average, and had the lowest scoring average of her career, 70.59 (over a half-stroke better than her 2006 LPGA average of 71.22, and even better than her 2004 JLPGA average, 70.85). In both 2004 and 2005, she averaged under 1.77 putts per green in regulation, #1 or #2 on the JLPGA, and in only 7 events in 2006, had an incandescent 1.728 PPGIR rate but "only" a 70.63 scoring average. To give herself so many good birdie chances, she had to be an excellent ballstriker. Now if only I can find direct evidence of that! More later....]

[Update 3 (1/22/09, 1:50 am): Hound Dog has more on Miyazato and total driving.]

[Update 4 (7/27/09, 4:15 am): Well, it took a bit longer than I hoped for, but Ai-chan's win at the Evian Masters was well worth the wait. The thing I find most heartening from it is that she didn't have to play out-of-this-world fantastic to win. She just put together 4 good rounds--not great ones, but good enough to pull it out. She doesn't seem to be riding a hot streak to me; she just seems to be playing very well. I don't see any reason why this can't continue for a long while.]

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rethinking the LPGA's Rookie of the Year Race

Warming up the Mostly Harmless 100-yen Nishijin crystal ball for my top 30 predictions with another look at the Class of 2009, and taking into account the fact that Wie will be spending a good part of the spring in class, Nordqvist will be spending most of the season on the LET (taking the Amy Yang route to world domination), and that Oyama will likely be spending a good part of the season on the JLPGA), here are my revised predictions in the Rookie of the Year Race.

Simply the Best
Ji-Yai Shin
Stacy Lewis
Shiho Oyama
Michelle Wie
Vicky Hurst

The Contenders
[high priority status]
Mika Miyazato
Mindy Kim
M.J. Hur

Quantum Leap Candidates
[high priority status]
Chella Choi

On the Bottom Looking Up
[high priority status but...]
Jeehae Lee

On the Outside Looking In
[low priority status]
Song Yi Choi
Haeji Kang
Anna Nordqvist
Tania Elosegui
Pornanong Phatlum
Jessica Shepley
Nontaya Srisawang
Sunny Oh
Angela Oh
Samantha Richdale
Kim Welch

Two questions: does anyone have a chance to outdo Shin in '09? and how would you rank the rookies?

[Update 1 (1/20/09, 8:52 pm): Here are Hound Dog's thoughts on the Class of 2009.]

Nordqvist Wins LET Q-School

2008 Women's British Amateur champion Anna Nordqvist bounced back from her disappointment at the LPGA's Q-School last December in a big way: she fired her 3rd straight sub-70 round to win the LET's Q-School. How did the players on the Mostly Harmless watch list finish? 6 of the 7 got virtually full playing privileges for 2009:

1st/-13 Nordqvist 75-69-67-68
4th/-6 Christel Boeljon 72-75-69-70
6th/-4 Beth Allen 70-71-72-75
10th/-2 Julieta Granada 72-72-72-74
19th/+2 Smriti Mehra 74-70-73-77
25th/+3 Jessica Ji 69-78-72-76
40th/+8 Stephanie Na 75-78-72-75

It'll be very interesting to see what kind of schedules dual LPGA/LET members Nordqvist and Granada decide on this season. If Nordqvist is as successful on the LET in '09 as Amy Yang was in '08, don't look for her to play many events on the LPGA outside of Europe. She's already stated she wants to qualify for the European team in the 2009 Solheim Cup (more good news for the Americans in the LPGA's Class of 2009!), so LET Rookie of the year has to be in her sights, as well. On the other hand, I expect Granada to focus on the LPGA at the start of the season after testing LET waters in Australia. It all depends on how she plays, then. If her futility on the LPGA continues, look for her to jump ship reasonably early. Similarly, if she can get comfortably in the LPGA's top 80 early in the season, look for her to play more on the LET, so she can maintain dual membership in '10. The only scenario I can imagine where she plays fewer than 10 events on the LET is if she's having a great LPGA season.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Best Blogs on Women's Golf: Hound Dog LPGA

On Monday I surveyed my goals in my golf writing at Mostly Harmless and promised I'd address "what I value from the best golf bloggers I've come across." The obvious place to begin fulfilling that promise is Hound Dog LPGA, Ken Hartis's golf blog.

Ken may be nothin' but a Hound Dog, but I'll take his incessant barking over anything the AP dishes out. Not only does he manage to survey who played well on any given Thursday, Friday, or Saturday every week the LPGA is playing in an elegant, inclusive, and unbiased fashion, his Sunday recaps, with their focus on what the players in contention actually did, are works of art. For someone like me, who's only paying for a high-speed internet connection and not for cable, his Sunday stories are just what I need to flesh out the drama I'm often tracking on's live leaderboard or catch me up if I've been doing family stuff rather than not-quite-live-blogging the LPGA. I really like the balance he has struck between identifying who's played the best in a given week, in a given stretch, over the course of a season, and over several seasons. Unlike too many golf writers who are paid to cover the LPGA, he doesn't focus exclusively on how the most dominant players in the field did (Sorenstam, Ochoa) or go on and on about media favorites who haven't been playing well (Wie for most of the past 2 seasons, but also Lincicome [who wilted in the spotlight soon after getting her 2nd career win], Gulbis, Rawson, and, to a lesser extent, Pressel and Castrale [who haven't actually played all that badly, just not as well as, say, Angela Stanford, Katherine Hull, Brittany Lang, or Jee Young Lee, to pick some names from the end of the '08 season]) or ignore anyone with an Asian-sounding last name (as Golf Channel highlights are wont to do). What he does focus on, as his end-of-season profiles each year make clear, is the players who have performed the best over the course of a season. But he also pays attention to those struggling with their games and trying to kick-start (or restart) their careers. He started looking at the race to keep your card back in September and October 2006 and has done it every season since.

Still, Hound Dog's game stories, player profiles, and features are only a small part of why his blog is the 1st--and best--source for all things LPGA. As I said before, he's the top dog when it comes to golf stats. It's not just that he has a nose for combining the most relevant existing stats to develop a better ranking system than Rolex or Sagarin, testing it out on the KLPGA, JLPGA (twice), Futures Tour, pushing it back over time to help him develop a list of the top 50 LPGA greats ever, and using it to help him make his preseason top 30 picks the last 2 seasons. And it's not just his deftness at explaining his statistical reasoning in standalone posts and responses to commenters. It's the fact that he has developed great new stats, like total driving, total putting, and strength of field, that allow him and us to put the accomplishments of the LPGA's best in context and to better appreciate them. Plus, he throws a statistical curveball here or there, such as in his round of the day, most average player, fluke victory lists.

Is it any surprise, then, that he was the 1st in the world of golf writing to project how soon Lorena Ochoa would qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame?

I've learned a lot from Hound Dog's non-statistical research, as well. His focus on the fluctuations of the LPGA schedule from season to season is the most informative and balanced treatment I've seen on the web--and that's including pros like Jon Show who actually do a great job. His analysis of the LPGA's new eligibility and priority standards and the controversies they have generated at Q-School can't be beat. Speaking of controversies, he's one of the most level-headed and fair-minded bloggers in the middle of one that you're likely to come across.

It's no surprise, then, that in 2008 Hound Dog moved from blogger to join Rayn Ballengee of Waggle Room at SBNation, which has features that allow his readers to add supplemental posts and links to his main page, or that he's started co-hosting Inside the LPGA, one of the podcasts at Prime Sports Network. It's no wonder that other golf bloggers like Bill Jempty at The Florida Masochist and Jamie R. Saengsawang at Crosscourt Birdies are regulars at Hound Dog LPGA or that he has the best-informed commentariat of all the LPGA bloggers. One thing you can count on is that Ken's blog will remain LPGA Central in 2009.

[Update 1 (11:40 am): Looks like it's Hound Dog Day on teh internets.]

[Update 2 (1/16/09, 2:12 am): The good Dr. Frankenstat has struck again.]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Could Ochoa's Limited '09 Schedule Hurt Her POY Chances?

Lorena Ochoa's posted her 2009 LPGA schedule on her website. She's committed to playing 21 events (by my count), which is 1 fewer than her family-tragedy-shortened 2008 and 4 fewer than her previous 2 POY years. Meanwhile, Ji-Yai Shin played 37 events around the world in 2008, won more often, and earned more on the course than Ochoa did. Either Ochoa is supremely confident in her ability to face down her ever-growing lead chase pack (which includes Paula Creamer, Ya Ni Tseng, Cristie Kerr, and Suzann Pettersen, as well) this coming season, or she's resolved to seek a balance between her family life and professional life in her last 4+ seasons on tour and will let the chips fall where they may. What do you all think? More to the point, how many wins do you expect for her in '09 and how high on the money list do you expect her to finish?

7 to Watch at LET Q-School

The Ladies European Tour has been holding the final stage of its Q-School in Spain this week. After the 1st round, Korean Jessica Ji led at -4, American Beth Allen was 1 shot back, the LPGA's Julieta Granada and pre-qualifying stage medalist Christel Boeljon of the Netherlands were 3 shots back, India's Smriti Mehra was 5 back, and Sweden's Anna Nordqvist and Australia's Stephanie Na were another shot back. After the second round, Allen jumped into the lead with a 71 (-2), bringing her total though 36 holes to -5. Nordqvist leaped back into contention with a -4 round of her own that pulled her into a tie for 4th with Granada and Mehra 3 shots back, while 78s by Ji and Na dropped them 6 (tied with Boeljon) and 12 shots back, respectively.

There will be a cut to the top 50 after the end of today's round, so Na will need to improve on her T62 standing. After tomorrow's round, the top 30 players will get the equivalent of exempt status for 2009, while the remaining 20 will also have LET membership but only be able to get into a limited number of events.

[Update 1 (7:58 pm): Here are the 3rd-round results for the players I'm following:

Nordqvist 67, -8, 1st
Allen 72, -6, 3rd
Boeljon 69, -3, T7
Granada 72, -3, T7
Mehra, 73, -2, T10
Ji 72, E, T14
Na 72, +6, T43

The only name I know among those who missed the cut was Miriam Nagl, whose 76 today dropped her to +8/T56, just on the wrong side of the cut line.]

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

ANZ Ladies Masters Update: Ai Miyazato In, Amy Yang Out

Thanks to Chigger at Seoul for bringing to my attention this piece by Terry Wilson on the ANZ Ladies Masters, which looks at Amy Yang's difficult decision to skip the Australian tournament that she won as a 16-year-old amateur in 2006. Along the way, Wilson reveals that Ji-Yai Shin, Ya Ni Tseng, Inbee Park, Karrie Webb, and Ai Miyazato have committed to starting their seasons down under. They'll be joining the usual contingent of LET stalwarts, among them Laura Davies, Gwladys Nocera, Martina Eberl, Lotta Wahlin, Rebecca Hudson, Melissa Reid, Becky Brewerton, and Yuki Sakurai, along with players with dual LPGA/LET membership like Linda Wessberg, Anna Rawson, Ashleigh Simon, and Tania Elosegui (barring withdrawals in the next couple of weeks).

[Update 1 (1/14/09, 3:22 am): Yes, I did just confuse Amy Yang and Vicky Hurst! Somehow they occupy the same category in my brain: young golfers of Korean descent with strong ties outside Korea (Yang to Australia, Hurst to the U.S., where, as Jamie R.S. points out in comments, she was born in Melbourne, FL!) whom I expect to have breakout seasons in 2009. My bad!]

Look for Mina Harigae on the Futures Tour in '09

Well, well, well. Hannah Yun isn't the only talented young thing who's decided to strike while the iron is hot and leave a promising college golf career behind. Ryan Herrington reports that '08 Curtis Cupper and 2007 Women's Amateur Public Links champion Mina Harigae intends to turn pro in 2009. (See the Duke press release for more details.) While ranked only 49th among women amateurs, she was ranked 6th in the NCAA last November.

Harigae should fit right in among her peers who qualified for the Futures Tour in 2009. With each tournament reserving 3 spots for top 20 players in Golfweek's 2 rankings, she should be drafting her letters of request ASAP. Others looking to get into multiple FT events like Amanda Blumenherst and Tiffany Joh will likely be following in Stacy Lewis's footsteps and securing '10 status there as a fallback, in case they can't win enough through sponsor exemptions on the LPGA to get membership via an '09-money-list-top-80 equivalence--or disappoint at the LPGA Q-School like Alison Walshe. Walshe did earn exempt status on the Futures Tour for '09 with her T7 finish in their Q-School last November, so she'll be yet another player in the pipeline to watch this coming season.

Looks like I'll be doing some FT previews as well as LPGA ones later this month!

[Update 1 (1/16/09, 2:40 pm): Kevin Merfeld has more.]

[Update 2 (3/8/09, 12:09 am): Beth Ann Baldry has a Harigae update, after focusing on Ochoa and Hurst for most of her column. Not bad company!]

2009 Preseason Top 30 Predictions: Let the LPGA Prognostication Derby Begin

Hound Dog has kicked things off when it comes to predicting the top 30 at the end of the 2009 LPGA season, just as he did last year. I'll be entering the LPGA Prognostication Derby on the 1-year anniversary of my last attempt to fire up the Mostly Harmless 100-Yen Nishijin Crystal Ball (which apparently is a bit less reliable than the Mostly Harmless jinx).

For those of you who don't blog, feel free to join Seoul discussion board and participate in the Pakpicker thread I've started. Or just post your top 30 in comments or in an email to me at the_constructivist18[at] Good luck, and happy picking!

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Hitchhiker's Guide to Mostly Harmless's Golf Writing

Bill Jempty, Ryan Ballengee, and Patricia Hannigan have started a conversation on Sal Johnson's take on the future of golf and the media that's worth contributing to. But how? I have nothing to say about the value of blogging or the tensions between journalists and bloggers that Michael Berube hasn't said better--and much funnier. So what to do? I'll focus here for a start on how I approach golf blogging. In a later post, I'll discuss what I value from the best golf bloggers I've come across.

My training as a scholar and teacher shapes my approach to golf blogging. My aim is to produce quality research, use it to educate a few people, and have a little fun in the process. Which is to say, (1) I don't aspire to become a golf journalist, much less somehow undermine or supplant golf journalism, (2) I follow established academic ethical codes (support claims with evidence, cite sources, and so on) and emergent bloggy ones (link link link!), (3) I pursue what I'm curious, excited, and enjoy writing about in the world of women's golf (with a few visits to other worlds sprinkled in here and there), (4) I try to develop a particular niche and a distinctive voice for my Mostly Harmless golf writing, (5) I am more interested in gaining the respect of the golf writers, bloggers, and commenters that I respect and admire than in making any money off my golf writing, and (6) I won't do anything to draw in a bigger audience to my golf writing that would sacrifice these goals and principles.

On the research side, one thing I enjoy doing is dusting off some ancient and atrophied math skills (back in the day I was a double major in English and math) by developing my Best of the LPGA, Best of the Young Guns, and Best Off the LPGA ranking systems. Although I've made other forays into the wide wide world of golf stats, Hound Dog's the leader of the pack in this neighborhood. So even though I'm sometimes in his league when it comes to predictions and competitions, the math stuff is mostly a fun side gig for me.

Where I actually can make the best contribution, I believe, is by drawing on my own areas of expertise in cultural, ethnic, and postcolonial studies to examine attitudes toward the sport and undercurrents in golf media and fan discourse, not to mention issues of language and culture, race and gender, and globalization and nationalism in golf. What draws me to the LPGA in particular is how global the women's game has become and the range of ways that players, tours, fans, sponsors, and the media have been responding to--and contributing to the (re)construction of--cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences. With Seoul ably covering the KLPGA and the accomplishments of the LPGA's Korean contingent (along with the top Korean players and golfers of Korean descent on other tours), I've been free to branch out to consider the future of international team golf competitions, the prospects of women's professional golf in China, and the LPGA's new event in Brazil. But my particular research focus has gravitated toward the place of Japan in the world of women's golf and on golf's global youth movement.

I've focused on Japanese golfers on the LPGA and the JLPGA for a variety of reasons, not least among them that I started LPGA blogging while living in Fukuoka and teaching American literature and culture on a Fulbright. My wife is Japanese and my two daughters (onechan, 5, and imoto, 2) have dual Japanese and American citizenship, so it's probably no surprise that Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda are among my favorite players (while onechan favors Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, and Karrie Webb), but it took me until last March to work on my rudimentary reading skills in Japanese and dive into the JLPGA web site. In addition to trying last season to produce better round-by-round overviews of JLPGA events than Kyodo News or Golfweek (which was far far easier than it oughtta be), I became interested in who were the JLPGA's finest golfers, why there has been a Se Ri Pak effect but no Ayako Okamoto effect on the LPGA, who from the JLPGA would be most likely to succeed on the LPGA, what American players and the LPGA could learn from Patti Rizzo, and what kind of schedules those with dual JLPGA/LPGA membership might put together in 2009. I still have a ways to go before I'm ready to focus on a book project that's come out of this research, but at least I have the idea and can continue to make progress on it here.

An outgrowth of my attention to Ai Miyazato's and Momoko Ueda's fellow LPGA rookies and to the up-and-coming players on the JLPGA (and, to a lesser extent, the KLPGA) has been my focus on the teens and 20somethings in the world of women's golf who are changing the face of the LPGA. Women's golf's global youth movement picked up a lot of steam in 2008, as Seon Hwa Lee became the 1st among the LPGA rookie classes of 2006, 2007, and 2008 to post multiple wins in a season and Morgan Pressel became the 1st to join her in emerging from the fast-growing pack of 1-time winners in their generation. With Ya Ni Tseng and Louise Friberg from this past year's rookies joining Super Sophs Inbee Park, Eun-Hee Ji, In-Kyung Kim, and Ji Young Oh and Junior Mints Julieta Granada and Meaghan Francella, that's 14 wins and counting from the Young Guns. Who will be next? Na Yeon Choi? Angela Park? Amy Yang? Ai Miyazato? Brittany Lang? Song-Hee Kim? Jane Park? Hee Young Park? Shanshan Feng? Or will Jee Young Lee or Momoko Ueda follow up on their non-member wins (in Korea and Japan, respectively) before them? Or perhaps someone from the much-heralded Class of 2009 will live up to her hype and steal the Young Guns' thunder? When you look at the list of young winners on the KLPGA and JLPGA in recent years not named Ji-Yai Shin--Hee Kyung Seo, Ha Neul Kim, Sun Ju Ahn, He Yong Choi, So Yeon Ryu, Sakura Yokomine, Miho Koga, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Yuko Mitsuka, Hyun-Ju Shin, Bo-Bae Song, Eun-A Lim, Erina Hara, Ayako Uehara, Akane Iijima, Mayu Hattori, Miki Saiki, Yukari Baba, Chie Arimura, Maiko Wakabayashi, and Na Zhang--you have to wonder who else will be coming over to the LPGA soon from Asia and making a big impact on the New Blood generation. (That's to say nothing of the NCAA and Futures Tour, which I plan to pay more attention to in 2009).

One area that I didn't expect to get so interested in researching, despite the fact that it connected closely to my interest in globalization and transnationalism, was the infrastructure (both organizational and financial) of women's professional golf--from how tour schedules get put together to how they connect with TV deals, from the new rules for membership and priority status on the LPGA to a controversy (like over tying membership to language ability--and backtracking [with good reason]) or two. As a result, I'm actually more optimistic than most everyone I've been reading on the LPGA's prospects for a new TV contract for 2010-2015. (But more on that later.)

On the teaching side, my major aims are to help LPGA fans (whether casual or devoted) dig deeper and perhaps even educate the golf media in the process. With no regular AP writer covering the LPGA last season and with many good local golf writers getting the ax in '08, there was a serious lack of context and perspective, not to mention detail, in the game stories that get the widest audience on sports pages and news aggregators. Outside of Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, and Michelle Wie, the casual sports fan might have heard of only a handful of other LPGA players, mostly American (and blonde), and the AP was doing little (if anything) to change that. Even the magazine writers paid to cover the LPGA left me looking for more on and So I worked out a more systematic approach to previewing and commenting on LPGA events this season than last, trying to uncover the rounds and the players that even the best LPGA bloggers weren't attending to all that closely. (I tried to do the same, on a smaller scale, for the JLPGA in 2008.)

In addition, by raising questions, identifying turning points, noting trends, marking milestones, offering criticisms of bad reporting, analysis, and opinion writing in the golf media (by Steve Elling [twice], Ron Sirak [twice], Jason Sobel [twice], Doug Ferguson, and Sal Johnson [twice]), and looking for future LPGA stars (like Mika Miyazato, Hannah Yun, Cheyenne Woods, Kyung Kim, and others), I built in 2008 on my attempts the previous year to call attention to the quality of competition on the LPGA by organizing LPGA-centric blog carnivals, identifying LPGA generations, and introducing well-known, better-known, and lesser-known LPGA players. I see last week's 6-part series as the culmination of these efforts to highlight the very best players on tour.

But just as important to me has been my attempt to convey the struggles of those trying to make it as professional golfers by following the ups and downs of the budding careers of everyone in the Young Gun generation, not just the heads of the class. In my 1st junior golf tournament, I was paired with Moira Dunn, who would go on to join the LPGA in 1994. I've followed her career ever since and even though she's had a handful of good seasons and has 1 career win, she's been struggling to hold onto her card the last several seasons. While I've been attuned for a long time to following her competition in the middle and lower reaches of the LPGA, I've enjoyed tracking more closely over the past 3 seasons how the newbies have been doing relative to her. I hope my readers gain perspective on career arcs and come to appreciate how good the best of the newbies have to be to outdo tough competitors like Moira.

When I consider my research and teaching efforts as a whole, I'm hoping that those bloggers and journalists who reach a wider audience than me might consider what they can learn from what I've done here and how to incorporate some of it into their own golf writing. In a broader sense, the golf writing I do here at Mostly Harmless is an experiment in how much and what kind of an influence I can have on its various constituencies and institutions, from fans, players, and tournament organizers to writers, sponsors, and tour officials.

So, yes, this blog is for fun--which means I can experiment with more free-form autobiographical pieces and on-course reports (3 of my favorite posts evah), focus on a cute moment between Tiger and Sam Alexis Woods, make poetry out of a Momoko Ueda fingernail injury, explain why the LPGA is more interesting than the PGA, and root on my favorite golfers (Ai-chan, Moira Dunn, Seon Hwa Lee, Ya Ni Tseng, Momo-chan, In-Kyung Kim, Mi Hyun Kim, Jeong Jang, Eun-Hee Ji, Na Yeon Choi, and Jane Park)--but that doesn't mean I take my golf blogging any less seriously.

Simply put, my ultimate aim is to become one of the preeminent American experts on the LPGA and JLPGA on the web. And maybe someday, off it, too. Mostly Harmless is my means to these ends.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ranking the 2008 LPGA Top 30 Predictors

In yesterday's post, I surveyed how my preseason top 30 picks for the 2008 LPGA season panned out and generated an overall 2008 ranking that's an average of the 5 top systems in place for identifying the best players on the LPGA. In this one, I'm modifying the scoring system for Seoul's Pakpicker competition to determine how I did relative to Hound Dog, Mulligan Stu, Bill Jempty, and Ron Sirak.

Here's how it works. First, we get points for each of our picks who finished in the top 30 (including ties), on the following scale: 30 for 1st, 29 for 2nd, 28 for 3rd, and so on, down to 1 for 30th. Next, we get bonus points for the accuracy of our picks: 20 points for nailing a pick and a point off for every spot we're off (up to 19, to avoid turning the bonus into a penalty). The maximum number of points you can get for a single player, then, is 50 (picking as our top player the actual #1).

(Drum roll, please.)

Here's how I rank the 2008 LPGA top 30 predictors:

1st Mulligan Stu (646)
2nd Hound Dog (604)
3rd The Constructivist (569)
4th Bill Jempty (529)
5th Ron Sirak (518)

Congratulations to Mulligan Stu! So what accounted for his dominating victory? The most important factor was that he was the only one of us to pick Ya Ni Tseng to make the top 30 (bringing his total of correct top 30 picks to 21; what sunk Jempty and Sirak was that they missed an additional 3 top 30 players). The rest of his lead can be accounted for mainly by the fact that he picked Inbee Park and Maria Hjorth higher and Jee Young Lee and Morgan Pressel lower than Hound Dog and I.

So there you have it. Once again, the mainstream golf media loses to mere golf bloggers. Better luck this year, Ron!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Before there was J-pop . . .

I remember this song from my youth:

It's the first (and only) Japanese-language song to be a hit in America.

2008 Preseason Predictions, Revisited

Last January I joined Hound Dog, Mulligan Stu, Bill Jempty, and Ron Sirak in attempting to predict the top 30 on the LPGA at the end of the 2008 season. Hound Dog and I checked in with mid-season reports, but how did I end up doing? Here's my predicted top 30, with their actual 2008 results in parentheses (from the LPGA Official Money List, the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, Hound Dog's Top 70, Mostly Harmless's Best of the LPGA: average ranking), along with a few comments:

1. Lorena Ochoa (#1, #1, #1, #1, #1: 1). Big surprise--everyone got this pick right.
2. Paula Creamer (#2, #4, #3, #2, #2: 2.6). I'd say she's the consensus #2, wouldn't you?
3. Seon Hwa Lee (#6, #11, #15, #9, #8: 9.8). She got 2 wins, but didn't finish as consistently well as in previous seasons. Not the breakthrough year I was looking for.
4. Jee Young Lee (#21, #15, #16, #22, #18: 18.4). Nice push at the very end of the season turned what could have been a big disappointment into a medium-sized one.
5. Annika Sorenstam (#4, #3, #5, #4, #3: 3.8). She exceeded my expectations, despite struggling after a near-perfect Michelob Ultra (her last LPGA win).
6. Morgan Pressel (#24, #19, #48, #27, #25: 28.6). Another Young Gun who really let me down this season, even though she did get her 2nd career win. But she gave onechan an autographed ball at the Wegmans, so all is forgiven!
7. Jeong Jang (#12, #13, #7, #12, #12: 11.2). Came close so many times in early '08, but between those near misses and her persistent wrist problems, she didn't meet my expectations in '08.
8. Hee-Won Han (#19, #18, #13, #16, #15: 16.2). She did ok coming off maternity leave, but not as well as I hoped she would.
9. Se Ri Pak (#52, #31, #93, #63, #44: 56.6). The 1st of my picks to miss the top 30 completely. Ouch.
10. Mi Hyun Kim (#40, #29, #22, #29, #27: 29.4). Didn't bounce back from off-season knee surgery as quickly or as effectively as I'd hoped.
11. Angela Park (#17, #22, #27, #25, #21: 22.4). Got hit by the sophomore jinx early in the season when she took a slow-play penalty while in contention in Hawaii, took a long time to bounce back, and finished kind of blah.
12. Stacy Prammanasudh (#37, #34, #44, #36, #36: 37.4). Another big disappointment--the 2nd of my picks to miss the top 30 entirely.
13. Cristie Kerr (#10, #7, #6, #6, #6: 7). Extended her million-dollar season streak to 5 with a great second half that included her 11th career win.
14. Natalie Gulbis (#56, #39, #79, #56, #46: 55.2). Her recurring back injury really limited her play the second half of the season, which explains why she's my 3rd pick to miss the top 30.
15. Suzann Pettersen (#7, #5, #4, #7, #5: 5.6). Even though she couldn't find that next LPGA win in '08, she had a very consistent and successful season--definitely exceeded my expectations.
16. Ai Miyazato (#46, #37, #46, #49, #41: 43.8). Made a decent comeback from her woes in the 2nd half of her sophomore season (leg injury, swing flaw, confidence loss), getting into contention a couple of times in '08, but she's still my 4th pick to miss the top 30 and yet another Junior Mint disappointment.
17. In-Kyung Kim (#22, #25, #28, #20, #22: 23.4). This "punk kid" (as she described herself) got her 1st LPGA win in '08, coming back from a so-so start to the season, but still didn't perform up to my expectations.
18. Momoko Ueda (#45, #14, #26, #35, #28: 29.6). Without her 2 wins on the JLPGA, she would have dropped sharply in the world rankings and dropped out of the top 30 (she's already out in winnings and Hound Dog's ranking). But I'm not complaining.
19. Eun-Hee Ji (#15, #17, #14, #13, #14: 14.6). I ranked her as the top Super Soph at one point this season (soon after she got her 1st LPGA win) and she'll be back there again if she continues to outperform her peers. Her consistency reminds me of Seon Hwa Lee.
20. Jane Park (#29, #47, #32, #34, #33: 35). Didn't have the breakthrough season I predicted, and a late slump made her my 5th pick to miss the top 30.
21. Karrie Webb (#18, #10, #10, #15, #10: 12.6). Even though she didn't win on the LPGA in '08, she still exceeded my expectations by a lot.
22. Brittany Lincicome (#92, #63, #168, n.r., n.r.: too high). My 6th pick to miss the top 30 is my pick for biggest disappointment of the year.
23. Christina Kim (#27, #38, #30, #26, #29: 30). She just squeaked into the top 30, but always seems to have an off-year when the Solheim Cup isn't being played.
24. Shi Hyun Ahn (#55, #43, #64, #47, #49: 51.6). She only played 18 events in '08, so I suspect injuries curtailed her usually-limited LPGA schedule. Whatever the reason, she's my 7th pick to miss the top 30.
25. Angela Stanford (#9, #9, #12, #8, #7: 9). She's definitely the biggest upside surprise in my entire top 30, thanks to a torrid finish to the '08 season that included 2 wins.
26. Juli Inkster (#38, #24, #18, #32, #26: 27.6). Another vet who benefitted from high world rankings, but given her extremely limited schedule, I'll take what I can get at this point.
27. Meena Lee (#38, #58, #42, #38, #37: 42.6). My 8th pick to miss the top 30 was one of the smaller disappointments of '08, all things considered.
28. Laura Davies (#95, #68, #96, n.r., n.r.: too high). Dropped off the face of the LPGA earth in '08, but at least she has an excuse.
29. Sophie Gustafson (#28, #33, #55, #37, #34: 37.4). Her season could have been entirely different if she had held it together 1 Sunday in early June, but as it is she's my 10th pick to miss the top 30. Came pretty close to perfect on her money list position, though.
30. Inbee Park (#8, #21, #34, #13, #11: 17.4). Got that 1st win--and made it a major--but seriously slumped after it. Even so, she exceeded my expectations by a wide margin.

So who'd I miss? Ya Ni Tseng (avg. 4.4), Na Yeon Choi (13.4), Karen Stupples (17.8), Helen Alfredsson (18.4), Candie Kung (20.4), Laura Diaz (20.8), Song-Hee Kim (21), Maria Hjorth (24), and Katherine Hull (24.4) were the only other players whose average ranking was less than 30. Others who came closer to the top 30 than many of my bad picks included Ji Young Oh (32.6), Brittany Lang (33.8), Sun Young Yoo (36.4), Nicole Castrale (38.6), Catriona Matthew (39.4), Lindsey Wright (40.8), Teresa Lu (41.6), and Hee Young Park (44.8).

Using this average ranking system, here's the consensus top 30 for 2008:

1. Ochoa
2. Creamer
3. Sorenstam
4. Tseng
5. Pettersen
6. Kerr
7. Stanford
8. SH Lee
9. Jang
10. Webb
11. NY Choi
12. Ji
13. Han
14. I Park
15. Stupples
T16. JY Lee, Alfredsson
18. Kung
19. Diaz
20. SH Kim
21. A Park
22. IK Kim
23. Hjorth
24. Hull
25. Inkster
26. Pressel
27. MH Kim
28. Ueda
29. C Kim
30. Oh

FYI, here are the best of the rest (those with average rankings under 50):

31. Lang
32. J Park
33. Yoo
T34. Prammanasusdh, Gustafson
36. Castrale
37. Matthew
38. Wright
39. Lu
40. M Lee
41. Miyazato
42. HY Park

Next post I'll compare my results to everyone else's....