Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Best of the Young Guns: Senior Standouts, June 2009 Edition

With the rookie class of 2009 rocking the Wegmans and Ji-Yai Shin getting her 2nd LPGA victory as a rookie (and 5th overall) last week, Hound Dog's suggestion that the reign of the rookie class of 2006 as the LPGA's best ever may be a short one is well taken. But even if the '09ers surpass the '06ers over the course of a single season, what about the long run? Let's put it this way: the Senior Standouts have 7 players in the million-dollar club in career winnings (and 3 more could get there by season's end). How many other rookie classes are that deep? We'll check in on their closest competition in the Young Guns generation--the Junior Mints--next month, but now let's take a closer look at the frontrunners.

Simply the Best

1. Seon Hwa Lee: She's suffering through the 1st so-so season of her career. But if she can just start hitting a few more greens per tournament, she could be back in the winner's circle any given week. Her putting's been pretty solid and has been improving of late, so she just needs to give herself more birdie chances to get back to contending. She's hitting an astounding 82.7% of her fairways and has average distance, so clearly it's time to work on her irons. Check out Happy Fan's career overview to see why I've put her at #1 in her class for what feels like forever.
2. Morgan Pressel: Isn't it so typical of golf that just as the swing changes you've been working on for a long time start to groove, your putter heads south? That was the story of Pressel's season until the Wegmans last week, when her putter came back online and she put herself in contention through 63 holes. But even though she's added distance this season (she's now averaging just over 240 yards off the tee), she's not quite accurate enough off the tee (her 74.1% average is down from 77.1% in 2008 and 76.7% in 2006, which is worse than it sounds because so many more players are hitting 70% or more of their fairways this year than in previous years) to compete with the LPGA's elite on a regular basis. Still, even with her disastrous final 9 at the Wegmans, she still hit over 78% of her fairways, so maybe she's on the right track for the rest of the season. It couldn't happen any sooner, as Jee Young Lee is ahead of her in every major statistical category except wins. So I'm going to go against both major ranking systems and keep Pressel at #2 in her class over her career--for now.
3. Jee Young Lee: Her driving stats are remarkably similar to Ya Ni Tseng's, but she's hitting far fewer greens and taking more putts than the best player among the Young Guns. I suspect she, like her namesake at the top of this list, needs to work on her approach shots. Why? So she can either move to #1 on my ranking of the best players on tour without a member win or get off it completely. Check out this profile by Brian Heard and career overview by Happy Fan to understand why Hound Dog and I are so high on her prospects.

The Contenders

4. Ai Miyazato: She's having the best season of any of the Senior Standouts thus far and still has loads of room for improvement. She's only put together 3 rounds in the mid-60s this season, despite being on in every aspect of her game, which helps explain why her ongoing 6-event top-20 streak only has 3 top 10s mixed in the stretch and why she hasn't been able to crack the top 3 just yet. I still think she made a mistake to go home to play in the Suntory Open and celebrate her birthday in Japan, but she should be fully recovered from jet lag and ready to contend from now on.
5. Brittany Lang: She's having the 2nd-best season of the Senior Standouts, is one of the best drivers on tour, and has been hitting a ton of greens, so she could win any week her putter gets hot. It wouldn't hurt to work on her irons, too. She should be making a lot more birdies than she has been this season and it can't all be her putter's fault.
6. Sun Young Yoo: This late bloomer continues to quietly impress this season. She's one of the better drivers on tour, is hitting a bunch of greens, and putting pretty well, so it was great to see her get her 2nd top 10 of the season last week at the Wegmans, breaking a 5-event string in which she struggled just to make cuts. Perhaps this is the start of another top-20 streak like the 5-event one she started the season with? Or something a bit more impressive? In any case, she deserves a promotion--her quantum leap has been made.

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Meaghan Francella: She's finally healthy and playing well again. If she could capitalize more on her ability to hit fairways (she's doing so 77% of the time), she'll hit more greens, give herself better birdie chances, and start making more birdie putts. That 1.83 PPGIR rate needs improvement if she's going to contend for win #2 any time soon--or beat Teresa Lu and Kyeong Bae to the $1M mark in career winnings.
8. Teresa Lu: I think she's playing hurt, as she WDed from the Sybase and hasn't broken into the top 50 since. But if she ever gets her irons going, watch out for her. With a 1.87 PPGIR rate, she clearly isn't putting the ball close to the hole that often, but still is averaging 3.19 birdies per round, despite hitting the green in regulation 64.4% of the time. Brian Heard argues she's here to stay, and I agree.
9. Kyeong Bae: Finished 4th at the LPGA Championship, but a final-round 79 at the Wegmans torpedoed what had been a decent comeback from her 1st-round 74. If she could become a better wind and rain player, she'd be a lot more consistent, but when the weather's good, watch out for her. She's averaging 3.25 birdies per round despite hitting the fairway less often (just under 66% of the time) than she hits the green (just over 68% of the time) and averaging 1.85 PPGIR. If she's ranked this high when she's struggling as much as she has this season (and frankly, over much of her LPGA career), I wonder where she'll be when she starts realizing her potential?
10. Hye Jung Choi: Enduring the worst season of her LPGA career thus far, she needs to improve almost every aspect of her game. Minea Blomqvist is hot on her heels and showing signs of life.
11. Minea Blomqvist: She's still not hitting many greens this season, but is making a bunch of birdies, so watch out for her once her ballstriking improves, as it's bound to do soon.
12. Julieta Granada: She's finally got a decent run going, having made her last 3 cuts in a row, but unless she plays great the next 2 weeks, look for her to spend most of the summer in Europe, where she has full status on the LET.

On the Bottom Looking Up

13. Allison Fouch: After a hot 2008, she's enduring a cold 2009. She's only made 2 cuts since the Corona, and finished T68 both times. Just about every aspect of her game needs serious improvement.
14. Linda Wessberg: If Fouch has been cold this season, Wessberg has been frigid. She's played 3 events on the LET, but only sits at #66 on their money list. Still, she's made more money there than on the LPGA, where she's riding a 3-event missed cut streak and hasn't played since the Corning. As she isn't in the final field for the Farr, my guess is she's trying to find her game in Europe in hopes of qualifying for the Evian Masters and Women's British Open--and may stay there even if she doesn't.
15. Karin Sjodin: Having a fine 2009 stats-wise, if not yet results-wise. She's now Blomqvist's top competition for best Euro among the Senior Standouts.
16. Katie Futcher: I used to think of her as the Kristy McPherson of the Senior Standouts, but whereas McPherson has clearly made a quantum leap this season, Futcher has stalled out. A top 10 at the MasterCard Classic is the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal season thus far.
17. Louise Stahle: Has played terribly since her 1st career LPGA top 10 at the Sybase. She's trying to break a 3-event missed cut streak this week at the Farr.
18. Kim Hall: The 2nd half of the last 2 seasons, she nabbed a great finish out of the blue to allow her to keep her card, but I'd be amazed if she can pull the feat off this season.
19. Sarah Jane Smith: Has cracked the top 50 once in 10 starts in her 1st full season on the LPGA. Will need to do much better if she wants to have a 2nd.
20. Danielle Downey: I have to guess she's injured, as she hasn't played since late March, despite sitting pretty at #129 on the current priority status list.
21. Na Ri Kim: With Category 16 status, she has gotten into a few LPGA events already this season, but hasn't done anything special. In that, at least, she's been consistent. Still, she got into the Farr, so at least she gets to keep trying to play her way through her troubles.

On the Outside Looking In

22. Virada Nirapathpongporn: Recovering from shoulder surgery, she'll spend a lot of time on the Futures Tour in 2009. So far she's played 2 events and is languishing near the bottom of the money list. It's all practice for Q-School, unless her recovery proceeds quicker than expected.
23. Nina Reis: Playing the LET full-time in '09 and sits at #51 on their money list through 7 events.
24. Veronica Zorzi: Ditto, except she's at #34 in only 5 events.
25. Ashley Johnston: She's listed as a former member--guess she didn't get that medical exemption that she didn't use last season extended.


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

2009 LPGA Money List (rank), stroke average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on four key indicators of how well someone is playing this season--how much money they've made, how they've scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, and how many greens they've hit in regulation on average per round, plus how they rank in each category (except for birdies, which LPGA.com ranks by total and not by average). I figure I can figure out how well they're hitting their irons and putting by comparing the last three figures, so I don't include putts per green in regulation here. Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I'm looking at in the career stats (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the present and future.

1. Ai Miyazato, $328.6K (#19), 70.84 (#10), 3.67 (#12), 70.3% (#15)
2. Brittany Lang, $286.0K (#20), 71.12 (#17), 3.38 (#9), 72.7% (#5)
3. Jee Young Lee, $260.5K (#24), 71.56 (#24), 3.67 (#7), 68.4% (#32)
4. Sun Young Yoo, $241.4K (#28), 71.26 (#18), 3.45 (#19), 70.4% (#13)
5. Seon Hwa Lee, $207.4K (#31), 71.35 (#19), 3.21 (#22), 67.1% (#42)
6. Meaghan Francella, $186.4K (#34), 72.24 (#44), 2.87 (#50), 67.4% (#40)
7. Kyeong Bae, $159.0K (#38), 72.88 (#73), 3.25 (#58), 68.2% (#33)
8. Morgan Pressel, $132.8K (#41), 71.76 (#28), 3.07 (#36), 65.7% (#59)
9. Teresa Lu, $131.9K (#42), 72.49 (#52), 3.19 (#26), 64.4% (#81)
10. Louise Stahle, $83.7K (#63), 72.69 (#64), 2.92 (#98), 69.6% (#23)
11. Minea Blomqvist, $75.2K (#69), 72.80 (#68), 3.35 (#28), 57.5% (#138)
12. Karin Sjodin, $70.2K (#75), 72.00 (#35), 3.46 (#66), 69.0% (#26)
13. Katie Futcher, $68.3K (#77), 73.68 (#106), 2.60 (#58), 62.5% (#99)
14. Hye Jung Choi, $52.2K (#87), 73.82 (#111), 1.94 (#114), 58.1% (#135)
15. Allison Fouch, $50.4K (#90), 74.55 (#132), 2.73 (#50), 65.4% (#63)
16. Julieta Granada, $27.3K (#112), 75.33 (#146), 2.33 (#106), 54.6% (#145)
17. Sarah Jane Smith, $18.5K (#123), 73.96 (#115), 2.65 (#108), 64.8% (#74)
18. Na Ri Kim, $16.9K (#126), 74.18 (#119), 2.71 (#137), 60.7% (#112)
19. Kim Hall, $10.8K (#135), 74.91 (#141), 2.44 (#127), 59.3% (#123)
20. Linda Wessberg, $8.1K (#139), 75.32 (#145), 2.10 (#141), 55.1% (#144)
21. Danielle Downey, $3.1K (#149), 76.38 (n.r.), ? (n.r.), ? (n.r.)

Career LPGA Money List (rank), # of LPGA events entered/majors/wins/top 3s/top 10s/top 20s/cuts made (made cut rate): About the only thing these stats are useful for is comparing people who entered the LPGA in the same year (although if you count generations by 3 years, it can be interesting). 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 Senior Standouts haven't been at this all too long, so the career money list is a decent stat for comparing them, even if it's a bit unfair to people who have not been exempt both years. 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 has posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Top 50 ranking over at Hound Dog's place. In any case, I include these other ways of seeing how the Senior Standouts finished relative to their competition in the tournaments they entered because they reveal a lot about how well someone is able to compete at every level, from just making cuts to grinding out top 20s and top 10s to contending for wins. Many thanks to the LPGA for updating their 2009 Performance Chart after every event!

1. Seon Hwa Lee, $3.39M (#47), 98/0/4/10/25/50/91 (.929)
2. Jee Young Lee, $2.60M (#68), 91/0/0/7/27/51/85 (.934)
3. Morgan Pressel, $2.28M (#83), 85/1/2/6/24/40/73 (.859)
4. Julieta Granada, $2.17M (#87), 93/0/1/5/10/21/60 (.645)
5. Ai Miyazato, $2.06M (#89), 80/0/0/4/22/34/66 (.825)
6. Brittany Lang, $1.80M (#103), 94/0/0/4/20/38/72 (.766)
7. Sun Young Yoo, $1.29M (#134), 91/0/0/1/11/26/71 (.780)
8. Kyeong Bae, $.92M (#190), 85/0/0/2/8/14/60 (.706)
9. Teresa Lu, $.92M (#191), 81/0/0/1/6/19/60 (.741)
10. Meaghan Francella $.82M (#207), 64/0/1/1/6/12/39 (.609)
11. Minea Blomqvist, $.65M (#232), 70/0/0/1/3/8/47 (.671)
12. Hye Jung Choi, $.61M (#240), 65/0/0/0/7/11/44 (.677)
13. Karin Sjodin, $.49M (#270), 74/0/0/0/3/10/44 (.595)
14. Katie Futcher, $.45M (#278), 75/0/0/0/4/6/51 (.680)
15. Alison Fouch, $.43M (#281), 43/0/0/1/3/6/27 (.628)
16. Kim Hall, $.35M (#304), 67/0/0/1/3/4/28 (.418)
17. Linda Wessberg, $.34M (#310), 43/0/0/0/5/6/26 (.605)
18. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.23M (#367), 57/0/0/0/1/4/28 (.491)
19. Nina Reis, $.23M (#369), 52/0/0/0/3/4/28 (.538)
20. Louise Stahle, $.14M (#429), 31/0/0/0/1/2/16 (.516)
21. Danielle Downey, $.14M (#430), 35/0/0/0/1/2/11 (.314)
22. Sarah Jane Smith, $.12M (#444), 28/0/0/0/1/3/11 (.393)
23. Na Ri Kim, $.11M (#457), 43/0/0/0/0/2/18 (.419)
24. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#488), 16/0/0/0/0/1/13 (.813)
25. Ashley Johnston, $.05M (#550), 13/0/0/0/0/0/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Ranking (as of 6/29/09) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index (as of 6/28/09) and rank, International and Non-Member LPGA Wins (as of the end of the 2008 season): This is a way of seeing how those Senior Standouts 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, LET, JLPGA, KLPGA, and Futures Tour; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on all these tours except the KLPGA).

1. Seon Hwa Lee, 3.75 (#16), 70.77 (#23); 3
2. Jee Young Lee, 3.33 (#20), 70.73 (#21); 2
3. Ai Miyazato, 2.96 (#27), 70.51 (#16); 14
4. Brittany Lang, 2.85 (#31), 70.88 (#26); 0
5. Morgan Pressel, 2.51 (#37), 71.66 (#44); 0
6. Sun Young Yoo, 2.50 (#38), 71.11 (#31); 0
7. Teresa Lu, 1.73 (#60), 71.89 (#57); 0
8. Minea Blomqvist, 1.39 (#71), 72.08 (#66); 5
9. Meaghan Francella, 1.31 (#77), 71.89 (#56); 0
10. Allison Fouch, 1.09 (#83), 73.50 (#157); 0
11. Kyeong Bae, 1.06 (#185), 73.40 (#212); 3
12. Hye Jung Choi, .84 (#108), 72.55 (#89); 1
13. Katie Futcher, .78 (#114), 72.26 (#76); 0
14. Louise Stahle, .72 (#123), 73.30 (#140); 0
15. Karin Sjodin, .59 (#141), 73.31 (#142); 1
16. Linda Wessberg, .55 (#151), 74.18 (#141); 6
17. Kim Hall, .54 (#153), 74.53 (#249); 0
18. Julieta Granada, .46 (#173), 74.29 (#224); 0
19. Sarah Jane Smith, .40 (#191), 73.21 (#134); 0
20. Danielle Downey, .35 (#204), 74.22 (#218); 0
21. Na Ri Kim, .29 (#226), 73.92 (#185); 0
22. Veronica Zorzi, .28 (#230), 74.15 (#206); 2
23. Nina Reis, .21 (#257), 73.66 (#168); 5
24. Virada Nirapathpongporn, .14 (#301), n.r. [too few events in database]; 0

FYI, here's the rest of my 2009 schedule:

July: Class of 2007 (pre-WBO)
August: Class of 2008 (post-Safeway)
September: Young Guns (post-Longs Drugs)
October: Class of 2006 (post-Korea)
November: Class of 2007 (post-Stanford)
December: Class of 2008 (post-Q School)
January '10: Young Guns (final 2009 ranking)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dear Media: Women's Golf Cheat Sheet

Pssst. You there, golfy media. Want a few tips for understanding the world of women's professional golf? Here they are. You can make your editors and audiences think you've done a lot of homework just by knowing the following fun facts.


Let's start with the most competitive and wealthiest women's tour in the world. You're going to have to stop writing stories that replace "Tiger Woods" with "Lorena Ochoa" (as in "Tiger Woods Lorena Ochoa is the most incredibly dominant golfer in the history of the planet" or "the era of Tiger Woods's Lorena Ochoa's incredible dominance may well be over") and instead dust off the stories from the late 1990s and early 2000s on the LPGA, when the "Big 4" of Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, and Juli Inkster were winning like nobody's business. Because get this, see? There's now a Big 6 on the LPGA: Lorena Ochoa, Ji-Yai Shin, Ya Ni Tseng, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, and Suzann Pettersen. Guess which one of them was the 1st to get 2 wins this season. How about the 1st to make a million dollars? Time to focus on the rivalries among the LPGA's elite--and keep watch to see if anyone else can break into the new cartel on tour.


There's a fantastic face-off going on this season between 2 3-time winners, Sakura Yokomine and Shinobu Moromizato, both of whom have won as much or more money as everyone in the LPGA's Big 6 (depending on exchange rate calculations) except the current leader of the pack. But within striking distance of them on the money list are Yuko Mitsuka, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Chie Arimura, and Ji-Hee Lee, and lurking are Miho Koga, Akiko Fukushima, and Yuri Fudoh.


The rivalry between Hee Kyung Seo, who started the season hot, and So Yeon Ryu, who's come on strong with 3 wins in her last 4 starts, is what you need to know. But watch out for Ha Neul Kim, He Yong Choi, and Sun Ju Ahn to try to cut into their dance when the 2nd half of the season resumes.

Futures Tour

The rivalry between Mina Harigae and Jean Reynolds is the one to watch right now, as each has 2 wins and they're racing to see who can get the 1st battlefield promotion in FT history (not to mention finish at the top of the money list), but Misun Cho is hot on their heels and the tour's newest pros, most notably Pernilla Lindberg and Amanda Blumenherst, may still end up being a factor over the 2nd half of the season.


I think you can make a case that the LET is the weakest of the major women's tours now. But check out their money list to see if Gwladys Nocera continues her hot play there and whether Melissa Reid can continue to challenge her over time. Note that Tania Elosegui is an LPGA rookie with very low status on tour, yet she's #4 on this season's LET money list, and try to figure out what that means.

With the U.S. Women's Open on the horizon, not to mention the Evian Masters, Women's British Open, and Solheim Cup, it's time to pan out for awhile and try to take in the big picture. Good luck!

[Update 1 (9:54 am): The SI guys need a special tutorial of their own. It's all well and good that Van Sickle was into Shin early and that Shipnuck thinks the LPGA is the most interesting tour, but they sure bring the stupid otherwise. Cheyenne Woods should avoid the Michelle Wie path b/c LPGA pros are a bunch of catty, jealous bitches? How about b/c she doesn't have 1/10 of Michelle's game and needs to develop as a player first before she can even think about making cuts on any professional tour? Wie missed the top 10 at the Wegmans? That's news to me. She got a very unexpected top 10 on a course that doesn't suit her game at all. Lincicome among the LPGA's elite? The Solheim Cup is a joke b/c it excludes most of the world's best women players? What a news flash! And now that the Lexus Cup is dead, there's even more impetus to reconfigure the Solheim. Wie as a great captain's pick for the Solheim Cup? Don't count out her earning her way onto the team just yet, boys. Everyone ahead of her on the list that's not already a lock for the team is either playing badly (Kim, Diaz), injured (Park), wildly inconsistent (Pressel, Lincicome, Hurst), or capable of playing great but a question mark to outplay Wie over the summer (Ward, Inkster). Heck, Stacy Lewis could make the team if she wins a major.]

[Update 2 (9:15 pm): The national media can take some lessons from the Buffalo News and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle during Wegmans week. If you read their entire coverage (as Jay Flemma failed to do), they did profiles on a range of players and not just the usual suspects. Would still be nice if they had done more before the tournament started on likely contenders like Ji-Yai Shin, In-Kyung Kim, and Ai Miyazato....]

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Futures Tour Horseshoe Casino Classic Sunday: Reynolds Tames the Wind and Wins Again

For the 2nd week in a row, a showdown I expected between some of the Futures Tour's newest stars got preempted, but unlike last week when a relative unknown stole a win, this week it was a familiar name who took advantage of wind troubles by Misun Cho and Mina Harigae at the Horseshoe Casino Classic. The week's only 65-Club members both shot 79s today--and they only dropped to T2 and T4. So despite finishing +2 over her final 6 holes, it was Jean Reynolds who got win #2 of '09 and vaulted to the top of the FT money list.

Pornanong Phatlum's walkoff bogey kept her out of a playoff with Reynolds, but it was her best finish on tour and jumped her from #71 to #25 on the money list. With Haeji Kang playing so well at the Wegmans, it's looking more and more like my projected top 50 may well have problems at the top. I'm going to need for Kang, Sattayabanphot, Phatlum, and Jun to move out of the mid-20s to mid-30s doldrums on the money list when the tour returns to action in mid-July (assuming Kang, who now has over $100K in LPGA winnings this season, bothers to play any more FT events). And I'm going to need Emily Bastel, Eunjung Yi, and Sarah Kemp to actually start playing on tour this season.

Wegmans Sunday: Shin Wins Agin

Well, it probably took her longer than she expected, but Ji-Yai Shin got her 2nd win of 2009 and 5th LPGA victory in her short career at the Wegmans today, thanks to her ability to hold her game together in wet weather. Challengers Morgan Pressel and Stacy Lewis struggled to keep pace with her during the dryer parts of the day--both peaked at -13, Pressel when she birdied the 9th and Lewis when she birdied the 12th--but must have gotten wet grips or something, as they fell apart in the rain, Pressel by firing a 44 on the back and Lewis by closing with 2 pairs of bogeys over her last 6 holes. Not that it mattered much, as Shin fell from her peak of -18 after 10...all the way to -17 at the end of the day. But it did open the door for Ya Ni Tseng and Kristy McPherson to sneak into 2nd place with their matching 66s, the former with a 31 on the back and the latter thanks to 6 birdies and an eagle between the 3rd and 14th holes. And it allowed rookies Mika Miyazato and Haeji Kang to tie Lewis for 4th despite shooting unremarkable 71s.

With her win, Shin became the 1st player of 2009 to break the $1M barrier in official winnings (she'd have even more if the LPGA counted the winnings from her T13 at the Honda Thailand event, for which she had gotten a sponsor exemption into the limited field). Plus, she joins Lorena Ochoa as the only repeat winner on tour this season. And you know what? Like the rookies who have recently been getting their games in gear--in addition to Lewis, Miyazato, and Kang, Michelle Wie and Mindy Kim also got top 10s at Locust Hills--Shin has only recently found her sea legs on the LPGA. Now that she's putted the well the last few events, she's going to be tough to beat the rest of the season. With her peers among the game's elite in one form of trouble or another--Ochoa firing her long-time caddie, Paula Creamer nursing an injured thumb, Suzanne Pettersen fighting off a tough virus, Cristie Kerr being both very very good and horrid (often on the same side), and Ya Ni Tseng's lack of accuracy off the tee her Achilles heel--the rest of the LPGA's current Big 6 may not be Shin's toughest competitors in the short run. I'm looking at up-and-coming stars like Angela Stanford, In-Kyung Kim, Kristy McPherson, Lindsey Wright, Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, and Song-Hee Kim to give Shin the toughest run for her money in the early summer.

[Update 1 (6:27 pm): Hound Dog confirms that the weather changed in a big way at Pittsford. When onechan and I left the course, we passed a pissed-off looking Ya Ni Tseng heading to the 11th tee (little did I know she had just made her 1st of what would be 6 birdies on the back!) and we caught a glimpse of Ai Miyazato hitting a good approach shot into the 10th green. By the time we hit the Thruway, it was raining hard--and it kept raining unil we cleared Buffalo after 3:30, so we knew Rochester was going to be soaking for awhile. To tell you the truth, I half expected another 2-hour rain delay, but I guess the tournament organizers wanted to get this thing over with without any further delays. Can't say I blame them. We missed all the rain and I'm still exhausted. But more on our experiences in another post!]

[Update 2 (10:25 pm): LPGA.com has notes and interviews with Shin and Lewis. But no updates to their stats pages. Come on, y'all, the Futures Tour is quicker than you on this!]

[Update 3 (10:35 pm): Randall Mell does a good job putting Shin's win in perspective.]

[Update 4 (6/29/09, 9:10 am): Hound Dog does a great job putting the tournament in perspective.]

[Update 5 (8:35 pm): Ryan Ballengee revisits his earlier comparison of the challenges facing Lorena Ochoa and Ji-Yai Shin this season.]

[Update 6 (8:58 pm): Jay Flemma is fed up with the media focus on Wie, and his critique of the Buffalo News piece that annoyed him is mostly spot on, but he's dead wrong on his central point: that there's no "there" there with Wie. A T10 for her is a big deal on a tight, tree-lined course like Locust Hills. When you hit as few fairways as she does, you'd think just making the cut would have been a good goal. Before the tournament started I said I'd be "amazed" if she broke into the top 15--and I am. So I respectfully disagree with Flemma's assessment of where Wie's game is headed. But Jay, Rochester is a city and the field was missing only a few top players. I wonder what you'd make of the fact that I got double my usual number of visits this past week because everyone wanted to find out about how Cheyenne Woods did?]

Way to Go, Ryo!

Ryo Ishikawa won this week on the JGTO, qualifying for the British Open in the process. Maybe his game is finally coming back around after his struggles in the States?

[Update 1 (10:44 pm): Stupid jet lag! John Strege beat me by a couple of hours on this.]

Promise Ladies Sunday: Moromizato Wins Going Away for Her Own JLPGA Hat Trick

Many of the JLPGA's finest went low Sunday at the Promise Ladies, but to no avail. Miki Saiki shot a 67, Yuri Fudoh and Saiki Fujita 66s, and Sakura Yokomine a 65, but they all lost ground to Shinobu Moromizato, who matched Friday's 64 to finish at -18 and win by 5 shots over Ji-Hee Lee, who shot a fine 68 of her own. Wire-to-wire winner Moromizato now joins Yokomine as the only 3-time winners on tour in 2009.

Here are the final results:

1st/-18 Shinobu Moromizato (64-70-64)
2nd/-13 Ji-Hee Lee (67-68-68)
3rd/-12 Sakura Yokomine (70-69-65)
4th/-10 Saiki Fujita (71-69-66)
5th/-9 Miki Saiki (69-71-67)
T6/-8 Yuri Fudoh (71-71-66), Mi-Jeong Jeon (69-70-69)
T8/-7 Chie Arimura (72-68-69), Rui Kitada (70-69-70), Junko Omote (71-67-71), Yuko Mitsuka (70-67-72), Yui Kawahara (66-70-73)

13th/-6 Rikako Morita (71-70-69)
T14/-5 Yuko Saitoh (73-70-68), Eun-A Lim (71-68-72), Miho Koga (70-69-72)
T20/-3 Mayu Hattori (71-72-70), Tamie Durdin (70-71-72)
T23/-2 Akiko Fukushima (73-71-70), Sakurako Mori (72-72-70), Li-Ying Ye (72-70-72), Mie Nakata (72-70-72)
T28/-1 Ji-Woo Lee (70-72-73)
T34/E Kumiko Kameda (70-76-72)
T41/+1 Yukari Baba (74-72-71), Akane Iijima (72-73-72), Yun-Jye Wei (67-78-72)
T48/+2 Hiromi Mogi (76-68-74), Erina Hara (71-72-75)

Moromizato's win makes the money list race a tight one again:

1. Sakura Yokomine ¥75.78M
2. Shinobu Moromizato ¥72.38M
3. Yuko Mitsuka ¥52.38M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥47.04M
5. Chie Arimura ¥38.88M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥37.18M
7. Yuko Saitoh ¥29.90M
8. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥27.36M
9. Ayako Uehara ¥26.98M
10. Eun-A Lim ¥25.99M
11. Tamie Durdin ¥24.90M
12. Erina Hara ¥24.13M
13. Miho Koga ¥23.26M
14. Akiko Fukushima ¥22.49M
15. Yuri Fudoh ¥21.38M
16. Rui Kitada ¥20.11M
17. Li-Ying Ye ¥19.56M
18. Yukari Baba ¥18.22M
19. Ji-Woo Lee ¥18.00M
20. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥15.61M
21. Miki Saiki ¥14.52M
22. Bo-Bae Song ¥14.23M
23. Saiki Fujita ¥13.63M
24. Hiromi Mogi ¥13.54M
25. Julie Lu ¥12.15M
26. Mie Nakata ¥12.15M
27. Akane Iijima ¥12.06M
28. Rikako Morita ¥11.87M
29. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥11.09M
30. Midori Yoneyama ¥10.73M

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Futures Tour Horseshoe Casino Classic Saturday: Cho 1-ups Harigae

Misun Cho matched Mina Harigae's 1st-round 65 today on the Futures Tour to take a 2-shot lead into the final round, thanks in part to a walkoff bogey by the tour's money list leader that erased her birdie on the previous hole. Hannah Jun shot a 65 of her own to remain 4 behind Cho, tied with Janell Howland (66), Stephanie Otteson (67), Tzu-Chi Lin (70), and Sara Brown (71). FT #2 Jean Reynolds is one of the few other players within 5 shots of the leader after she backed up yesterday's 69 with a 71, but as she again started hot (with 3 birdies in her 1st 4 holes), she has to be frustrated with her play on the majority of the course. Also 5 back is new pro Jennie Lee, who leapfrogged Pornanong Phatlum, Song Yi Choi, Seo-Jae Lee, and Samantha Richdale with a hot 67. Tiffany Joh made her 1st professional cut, and she's tied with Alison Walshe and Jane Chin at +2, so that's not half bad. It'll be interesting to see if anyone can go low and preempt a Cho-Harigae showdown tomorrow.

[Update 1 (6/28/09, 10:00 am): Lisa Mickey has lots of player reactions to their rounds yesterday in her game story, plus some tales from the casino.]

Wegmans Saturday: Shin Pulls Away from Lewis and Pressel

At the end of play in round 2 Saturday morning at the Wegmans, 4-time LPGA winner Ji-Yai Shin held a 1-shot lead on a resurgent Morgan Pressel and Stacy Lewis, 2 rising American stars who have struggled more than many expected early in their professional careers. And after Lewis eagled the par-5 11th to get to -12, pulling 1 shot ahead of Pressel, who shot a 34 on the front, it looked like Shin was going to be in a dogfight, even with her pair of birdies to open the back that got her to -13. But she reeled off 3 more in her final 6 holes to post a 32 and open up a 4-shot lead on Pressel, who only made 1 more over her last 10 holes, and a 5-shot lead on Lewis, who bogeyed the 18th (following up her double there in the 1st round).

Sure, fellow rookie Haeji Kang bounced back from a 2nd-round 75 with 4 straight birdies to close out her round for a 31 on the front and 65 on the day, but nobody else made up ground on the 2nd-round leader on a moving day that was perfect for scoring. Sure, Lindsey Wright (-10, T4), Mika Miyazato (-8, T7), Brittany Lincicome (-4, T21) didn't lose any ground to Shin, but even those who shot 68s today (Ji Young Oh, In-Kyung Kim, Wendy Ward, and Irene Cho) did, and many lost far more than them. Scores were surprisingly high, particularly for Natalie Gulbis (74), Jee Young Lee (75), Michelle Wie (75), Lindsey Wright (76), Jane Park (78), and Amanda Blumenherst (79). Cheyenne Woods's 75-74 missed cut is looking better and better by the hour, eh?

Onechan and I followed Mika Miyazato's group from the 1st through 4th tees and Ai Miyazato's from the 4th through 8th before I had to give in to her demands to play at the Sports Zone. More on our experiences walking the front in a separate post, but I was sure glad to see that Ai-chan could finally get some birdie putts to drop late in her round. She made some great par saves while we were watching her, but missed a real short one on the 4th and a makeable one on the 7th.

As I sign off on this post, please follow my advice and check out Cristie Kerr's scorecard. Which Kerr will show up tomorrow?

[Update 1 (7:50 pm): Hound Dog, who got to watch the tv coverage this afternoon, adds important details to my post. Onechan's still sleeping from our early afternoon nap and I didn't get up until 6:30!]

[Update 2 (8:03 pm): More recommended reading, this time the notes and interviews from LPGA.com. The interviews with Shin, Pressel, and Lewis were hilarious. Sounds like they had a great time playing together today.]

[Update 3 (8:37 pm): Ben Dobbin does a good job for the AP.]

Wegmans Update: Creamer WDs

Was just checking the LPGA.com leaderboard for the Wegmans as onechan and I get ready to meet Grandpa Bob and Grandma Joy at Locust Hill, and noticed that Paula Creamer had withdrawn from the tournament. Will try to get the story from on-site.... We're heading out now--should be there by 10:30 at the latest!

[Update 1 (7:54 pm): My dad said at the course she injured her thumb and I've seen that repeated in print. Don't know if it's a nagging thing or if it just happened. No idea now whether she'll pull out from the Farr to rest it before the Open....]

Promise Ladies Saturday: Lee and Mitsuka Make Up Ground on Moromizato

Moving day at the Promise Ladies saw many big moves, but none was bigger than Yuko Mitsuka's finish over her last 6 holes in which she made 5 birdies, posting a 67 to get to solo 4th and pull within striking distance of the leader, Shinobu Moromizato, who broke her 35-hole bogey-free run on the final hole to drop back to -10 for the tournament. Ji-Hee Lee, playing with Moromizato, made up 2 big shots on her with a bogey-free 68 (her only bogey in the tournament came on the 18th yesterday), while Junko Omote made up 3 shots. Others saw strong play sabotaged by late struggles. Sakura Yokomine fired a 32 on the front to move to -6, but parred out after bogeying the 10th, Miho Koga made 6 birdies in her middle 9 holes, but also bogeyed the 10th and 18th, and Mi-Jeong Jeon doubled her last hole to drop back to -5. On the flip side, Chie Arimura made 5 birdies in her last 10 holes to pull within 1 of them, while Hiromi Mogi made 4 in her last 7 to ensure she made the cut.

Here's how they stand heading into the final round:

1st/-10 Shinobu Moromizato (64-70)
2nd/-9 Ji-Hee Lee (67-68)
3rd/-8 Yui Kawahara (66-70)
4th/-7 Yuko Mitsuka (70-67)
5th/-6 Junko Omote (71-67)
T6/-5 Eun-A Lim (71-68), Aoi Nagata (71-68), Sakura Yokomine (70-69), Miho Koga (70-69), Rui Kitada (70-69), Mi-Jeong Jeon (69-70), Ai Nishikawa (69-70)

T13/-4 Chie Arimura (72-68), Saiki Fujita (71-69), Miki Saiki (69-71)
T17/-3 Rikako Morita (71-70), Tamie Durdin (70-71)
T23/-2 Li-Ying Ye (72-70), Mie Nakata (72-70), Yuri Fudoh (71-71), Ji-Woo Lee (70-72)
T34/-1 Yuko Saitoh (73-70), Erina Hara (71-72), Mayu Hattori (71-72)
T41/E Hiromi Mogi (76-68), Akiko Fukushima (73-71), Sakurako Mori (72-72)
T45/+1 Akane Iijima (72-73), Yun-Jye Wei (67-78)
T50/+2 Yukari Baba (74-72), Kumiko Kameda (70-76)

58 players made the cut, but not the following notables:

T66/+4 Ah-Reum Hwang (74-74)
T74/+5 Julie Lu (75-74), Nikki Campbell (73-76), Yuki Ichinose (70-79)
T79/+6 Mai Arai (79-71), Maiko Wakabayashi (77-73), Ai-Yu Tu (74-76)
T92/+8 Esther Lee (78-74)
WD Midori Yoneyama (75-WD)

With 12 players within 5 shots of the leader, this promises to be a barnburner tomorrow!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Futures Tour Horseshoe Casino Classic Friday: Harigae Drops 65 on Field

Mina Harigae fired a bogey-free 65 today at the Futures Tour's Horseshoe Casino Classic to take the lead among the early groups. But Jean Reynolds, who trails Harigae by less than $4000 on the money list, has already birdied 3 of her 1st 4 holes to pull into a tie for 3rd at the moment. Further down the leaderboard, Tiffany Joh got her 1st birdie of the day on the par-5 16th to fight back to +1 (T43 right now). As long as play is suspended at the Wegmans, I'll update this post every so often.

[Update 1 (3:38 pm): Well, dang it, they just started play again at the Wegmans! While the girls are sleeping, I'll do some double not-quite-live-blogging, then.]

[Update 2 (4:03 pm): Reynolds is now -4 through 6.]

[Update 3 (4:11 pm): Joh finished with 2 pars for a 73. Beth Ann Baldry has a nice little piece on Harigae that gets into the specifics of what a 3rd win on tour would mean, in terms of the battlefield promotion rule new this season for entry into LPGA events.]

[Update 4 (4:25 pm): Had never heard of Christina Jones, who shot a 68 today. Well, she's never made a cut or even broken 75 in her 7 previous events as a rookie this season, so there's a reason for that.]

[Update 5 (11:18 pm): Whoops, fell asleep and then got caught up in LPGA blogging. Here's how they finished the 1st round. Joh ended up tied with Pernilla Lindberg and Alison Walshe, in the pile-up at T40. Reynolds couldn't sustain her pace and ended up with a 69 (T5), only 1 shot better than Misun Cho, who came back for a 70 (T9). Hound Dog will be disappointed to hear that lefty Malinda Johnson had to withdraw with an injury. Lisa Mickey has the story on Harigae's record-setting round.]

Wegmans Friday: Rain, Rain, Go Away!

What to do during the 2-hour-plus weather delay at the Wegmans? Check out the Democrat and Chronicle's live blog, the tournament's webcast (the McPherson-Lincicome-Gulbis segment was excellent, as was the Friday noon segment), and look at some scorecards.

Ji-Yai Shin joined Sandra Gal at -9 with her 2nd straight birdie of the day, while Brittany Lang has made 4 birdies in her 1st 6 holes and fought back to -3 for the tournament before the 2nd rain delay of the day (still ongoing) kicked in. Carolina Llano has made 3 birdies and no bogeys through her 1st 12 holes to fight back to E.

Right now there are 82 players at +1 or better. Hopefully we'll see major comebacks by Cristie Kerr, Seon Hwa Lee, Hee-Won Han, and Jeong Jang, all of whom tied Cheyenne Woods yesterday, when play begins again.

[Update 1 (3:54 pm): Looks like I'll be double not-quite-live-blogging this afternoon while the girls are asleep. Mina Harigae just shot a 65 on the Futures Tour, but #2 on tour Jean Reynolds is off to a hot start. At Pittsford, the afternoon groups won't start playing till 5-ish and the last players won't tee off till 7-ish, so it's looking like onechan and I will be able to see lots of Ai-chan and others tomorrow. We plan to have an early breakfast with my folks, convince them to use their free tickets and join us in the morning, then last as long as we can into the afternoon until jet lag kicks in. Maybe I'll let onechan nap near a green somewhere and watch a bunch of groups go by. Gotta study that course map!]

[Update 2 (4:13 pm): She probably won't match yesterday's closing 31 on the back today, but Michele Redman has 2 birdies in her 1st 7 holes there and has crept within 2 of the co-leaders.]

[Update 3 (4:17 pm): After 7 straight pars on the front, Mika Miyazato just birdied the par-5 8th to join Jennifer Rosales, Alena Sharp, and Sarah Kemp at -4.]

[Update 4 (4:27 pm): Ouch. Redman bogeyed the eagle-able par-5 17th to drop back to -6.]

[Update 5 (4:31 pm): Seon Hwa Lee remains at +3 after 8 straight pars on the back. She heads to the long par-4 18th, the site of her 3rd bogey of the day yesterday. She needs to get to +1 at least to make the cut. Momoko Ueda bogeyed 3 in a row on the back, then failed to birdie the 17th, to fall to +3 for the tournament, as well. But she made 2 good pars on the tough 18th and 1st holes, so here's hoping she starts putting up more circles on her scorecard. I would really love to follow her with onechan for a few holes on the weekend!]

[Update 6 (4:39 pm): Rosales birdied the par-3 7th to get to -5! Her 69 yesterday, by the way, was the first time she broke 70 all season. Same thing happened last season, too. That kick-started a run at the top 80 in which she made 7 of her last 8 cuts, but finished 82nd b/c the MC came in her last event of the season. I'd love to see her make a bigger comeback this year. I want to hear Johnny Miller say, "J Ro is back!"]

[Update 6 (4:44 pm): Oh, man! Redman bogeyed 18, too, to fall back to a tie with Rosales at -5. That puts them 5 behind Gal, who just birdied the 10th to take the solo lead again.]

[Update 7 (8:11 pm): Whoa, there! Imoto got up from her nap, but she looked so tired I put her down and laid down with her to help her sleep--and wham! I was out for 3 hours-plus. And so much happened while I was sleeping. Let's start at the bottom. Song-Hee Kim went on a birdie barrage to close out her round on the front, making 5 in her last 8 holes for a 69 that brought her to +2. She won't know if she's made the cut until tomorrow, though, as there are 77 players at +1 or better as the sun gets low. With her on the bubble are Mi Hyun Kim (72), Paula Creamer (+1 through 9), Jane Park (+1 through 11), Candie Kung (+2 through 11), Julieta Granada (-2 through 7), and Cheyenne Woods (-1 through 8), among others. Definitely out are Llano, who bogeyed 3 of her last 6 holes to fall back to a 72 today, Momoko Ueda, Hee Young Park, Shanshan Feng, and Anna Rawson--all at +3--as well as Katherine Hull, who shot a 41 on the back for a 77 that brought her to +4. Still fighting are Moira Dunn, who's -2 through her 1st 8 on the back to get back to +3, Hee-Won Han, who needs to make at least 2 birdies in her last 6 holes, and Jeong Jang, who needs at least 3 in her last 6.]

[Update 8 (8:18 pm): Man, imoto woke up, but at least she's playing quietly next to me. Let's continue with those who made the cut or who are on the right side of the cut line right now. Seon Hwa Lee birdied her last 2 holes--the 8th and 9th--for a 70 that brought her back to +1. What a way to avoid her 3rd missed cut of the season--a big deal for someone who had only missed 5 in her previous 3 seasons. On the bubble in a good way are Jane Park now (E through 12), Vicky Hurst (-1 through 11), Christina Kim (-2 through 10), and 4 others still on the front. But add Anna Nordqvist to those on the bubble in a bad way: she's now +2 through 11....]

[Update 9 (8:28 pm): There are several players still on the course who need to finish well to move from making the cut to thinking about making a move tomorrow on the leaders. Ya Ni Tseng is -1 through 10 and Inbee Park is -2 through 12 to fight back to E, joining Minea Blomqvist (74), Aree Song (73), and Chella Choi (69) among others. Cristie Kerr is -4 through 10, Karrie Webb is -1 through 10, In-Kyung Kim is -1 through 10, and Amanda Blumenherst is E through 9--they're all at -1 for the tournament, tied with Jee Young Lee (69), Helen Alfredsson (73), and Amy Yang (73). Ai Miyazato is -3 through 11, Natalie Gulbis is -2 through 11, Lindsey Wright is -2 through 13, and Se Ri Pak is E through 13, bringing them all to -3 for the tournament and into a tie with Na Yeon Choi (72), Mika Miyazato (72), and Haeji Kang (+1 through 7).]

[Update 10 (8:38 pm): That brings those with a great shot to be in contention Sunday up to bat. Sun Young Yoo is -3 through 13 to get to -4 for the tournament, tied with Alena Sharp, who shot her 2nd straight 70. Lang ended up shooting a 66 (with a 34 on the back) to join Meaghan Francella (68) and Sarah Kemp (70). And Kristy McPherson is -1 through 12, pulling her even with Rosales (69) at -6. If you can't get excited about the bunch at -7, you can't get excited about golf. Michelle Wie is -4 through 10, Stacy Lewis is -3 through 14, and McPherson has now joined them in a tie with 1st-round leader Sandra Gal, who blew up to a 73 after getting it to -11 through 11 today. Replaying last year's role as a pre-weekend contender, Morgan Pressel is -4 through 13 to get to -8, but she'll need to pour it on tomorrow to bring Ji-Yai Shin into reach. The rookie with 4 LPGA victories already shot a great 68, making 3 birdies over her last 6 holes to take control of the tournament.]

[Update 11 (8:43 pm): So with play suspended, there are 78 golfers at +1 or better. Cheyenne Woods just birdied the 10th to be one of them. But Moira Dunn bogeyed both the 18th and the 1st to drop back to E on her day and +5 for the tournament. Defending champ Eun-Hee Ji birdied 2 of her last 5 holes to fight back to +6 with 5 left to play. She'll need to birdie out to make the cut, it looks like. Here's hoping all have great Saturday mornings!]

[Update 12 (6/27/09, 2:20 pm): Check out LPGA.com's notes and interviews--turns out Shin set a 36-hole scoring record.]

[Update 13 (7:47 pm): Hound Dog chronicles how the 2nd round went Friday evening and Saturday morning.]

Promise Ladies Friday: Shinobu Moromizato Goes Low

Yes, Sakura Yokomine is both the hottest and best player on the JLPGA right now. But Shinobu Moromizato is looking to become the tour's 2nd 3-time winner of 2009 this week at the Promise Ladies, thanks to her opening bogey-free 64. But the top of the leaderboard is packed with players looking to get their 2nd win of the season. Ji-Hee Lee is only 3 back (and would have been 1 closer without that walkoff bogey), Mi-Jeong Jeon is 5 behind, and Yuko Mitsuka and Tamie Durdin are 6 back, along with Yokomine herself and Miho Koga, who's still looking for her 1st win of the season.

Here's how the top 10 and notables stand heading into the weekend:

1st/-8 Shinobu Moromizato (64)
2nd/-6 Yui Kawahara (66)
T3/-5 Ji-Hee Lee, Yun-Jye Wei (67)
T5/-3 Mi-Jeong Jeon, Miki Saiki, Hiromi Takesue, Orie Fujino, Ai Nishikawa (69)
T10/-2 Sakura Yokomine, Yuko Mitsuka, Miho Koga, Tamie Durdin, Ji-Woo Lee, Rui Kitada, Yuki Ichinose, Kumiko Kameda, and 5 others

There are some big names who will need to make big moves tomorrow to get into contention.

T23/-1 Yuri Fudoh, Eun-A Lim, Erina Hara, Saiki Fujita, Rikako Morita, Mayu Hattori (71)
T37/E Chie Arimura, Akane Iijima, Li-Ying Ye, Mie Nakata, Sakurako Mori (72)
T53/+1 Akiko Fukushima, Yuko Saitoh, Nikki Campbell (73)

And there will be others struggling just to make the cut.

T62/+2 Ah-Reum Hwang, Yukari Baba, Ai-Yu Tu (74)
T73/+3 Midori Yoneyama, Julie Lu (75)
T83/+4 Hiromi Mogi (76)
T91/+5 Maiko Wakabayashi (77)
T96/+6 Esther Lee (78)
T100/+7 Mai Arai (79)

I'm already missing the Chiba TV coverage of the JLPGA. That 407-yard 18th hole is looking like a monster finishing hole. Back in Dunkirk, we don't even have basic cable hooked up.

WAPL Update: Kimberly Kim and Jennifer Song in Final 4 Finals

There have been lots of match play upsets at the Women's Amateur Public Links. Stephanie Kono, who beat Tiffany Lua 2 and 1 in the Round of 32, narrowly lost to Jisoo Park in the Round of 16. Advantage Lizette Salas, the other big name in the bracket, right? Well, she got beat by Cydney Clanton in the same round. In the battle of underdogs, Park made it to the final 4 with her 2nd straight 1-up win. Joanna Coe has been the giant killer in the other upset bracket. She beat Leanne Bowditch on the 19th hole in the Round of 16, then topped Sydney Michaels (who had just won a tough match against Whitney Neuhauser in the previous round) to get into the final 4. So it'll be Jennifer Song against Park and Kimberly Kim against Coe to decide who will face off in a 36-hole showdown tomorrow. Some great golf being played here. The rounds start in a few minutes....

[Update 1 (11:10 pm): Awesome! We have a Kim-Song showdown, after all. Song won 2 and 1 and Kim won 4 and 3!]

[Update 2 *6/27/09, 8:30 pm): Congratulations to Jennifer Song on her dominating win at the WAPL!]

[Update 2 (6/27/09, 1:28 am): T-Joh sets up the showdown as only she can.]

Wegmans Thursday: It Was a Hot and Stormy Day...

Sorry about the title, I just pictured Snoopy up there on his dog house typing the lead story on the Wegmans' incomplete 1st round yesterday. Take it as an example of what jet lag can do to you (in addition to my enjoying far too much the Speed Racer movie I watched and the putt-putt computer game I played while the girls were sleeping for most of the flight from Narita to Chicago). Anyway, there are tons of post-round interviews out there for what seems like half the players who completed their rounds--30 are going out in less than 3 and a half hours to do so. Me, I need to convince the girls to finally stay in bed and then get some sleep. You need to check out Brent Kelley's take on Cheyenne Woods's 1st LPGA round and Hound Dog's reminder about what's at stake this week for those pros whose seasons haven't been going quite as planned as yet.

[Update 1 (12:03 pm): Hound Dog gives you the overnight results. Among those playing well yesterday who finished this morning, Becky Lucidi stayed at -6 for the lowest round of her LPGA career, Sarah Kemp moved to -3, and Sarah Lee stayed at E.]

[Update 2 (2:42 pm): Funny piece by Jay Busbee on Cheyenne Woods's 1st round.]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Update

Hey all, on the road to Dunkirk today, so to speak, but feast your eyes on the live match play tree for the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. Here's how those who made it that far got there via the 36-hole stroke play part of the competition. (Note the huge comebacks by Sydnee Michaels, Kimberly Kim, Tiffany Lua, Yueer Cindy Feng, Ashley Medders, Jennifer Hahn, Jisoo Park, Sarah Brown, and Mary Carmody.) While I'm away, you can follow the coverage at Golfweek and expect Ryan Herrington to cover this over at The Campus Insider. The Kono-Lua showdown should be awesome, as should the Caroline Kim-Kimberly Kim match.

I was halfway hoping Tiffany Joh, who recently rejoined the golfoblogosphere at The UnderDog Diaries, would remain an amateur long enough to go for her 2nd win in a row in this national championship. But, no, she's competing in her 2nd event as a professional and trying to make her 1st cut (and more) over on the Futures Tour this week. Go, T-Joh!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

News Flash: Michelle Wie Says Something Smart

One of the reasons I blog so much about women's golf is to keep a record of my reactions to the ways in which women golfers, particularly those of Asian descent, are represented by fans, critics, and the media. One of the things that's bothered me the most about the public image of Michelle Wie, who remains a lightning rod almost halfway into her 1st season as an LPGA member, is the way in which her critics try to present her as a ditzy, spoiled teenager. Well, I have news for those who don't understand what getting into Stanford means. Michelle is smart. Check out what she said in the pre-tournament interviews for the Wegmans:

I always feel like if you hit the ball well, if you putt well, and if you are playing good, you can play good on any type of golf course. And that's how I want my golf game to be. I don't want my game to just be suited for a certain type of golf course. Because golf is going to take you in places that maybe you aren't feeling as comfortable, or maybe, you know, you can't hit the driver 14 times. But you know, you have to adapt to the situation. You have to adapt to the environment. I really want my game to be at a place where I feel comfortable playing on any type of golf course.

Here she acknowledges that Locust Hill doesn't exactly suit her game as it stands now--how could a course with tree-lined, tight fairways, thick rough, and small greens suit someone who's keeping it out of the rough less than 58% of the time off the tee and hitting less than 66% of her greens in regulation?--but expresses the aspiration to get it to the point where she feels comfortable playing it.

I'll still be amazed if Wie breaks into the top 15 this week, but I'm more and more convinced that she's got her head in the right place and working to make herself into a more complete golfer.

Wegmans LPGA Preview/Predictions/Pairings

The Wegmans is finally here, and the Constructivist family will be back in western NY in time to catch some weekend action at Locust Hills in person. I had a great time blogging the tournament last year, which started on Ai Miyazato's birthday, featured great players going in different directions Friday, a big Saturday decision for me and my family--resulting in my 1st attendance at an LPGA event since I was a kid and 1st-ever post about my kids' 1st-ever LPGA tournament--and a surprise win for Eun-Hee Ji over Suzann Pettersen on Sunday.

As usual, Hound Dog is the place to start for this year's tournament preview and list of the 20 hottest LPGA golfers coming into the event. But the local media coverage will also be excellent this year, from the Democrat and Chronicle's articles to the tournament webcast. If you're going to the tournament or playing the PakPicker this week, don't miss Sal Maiorana's tour of Locust Hill, Golf Observer's performance chart for those in the field, the Weather Channel's 10-Day Forecast for Pittsford, and the discussion at Seoul Sisters.com.

As for me, I'm going with the precision players this week, but maybe in a different order than many might expect:

1. Shin Ji-Yai
2. Miyazato Ai
3. Kim In-Kyung
4. Wright
5. McPherson
6. Ji
7. Han
8. Kerr
9. Creamer
10. Lee Seon Hwa
11. Pressel
12. Miyazato Mika

Alts: Park Inbee, Kim Song-Hee, Kim Mi Hyun

The pairings are especially well done this week. Amanda Blumenherst is 1st off the 10th with fellow Dukie Anna Grzebien, followed by Cheyenne Woods. Central NYer Moira Dunn is going off opposite Woods on the front side. But the prime-time pairings are a sight to behold. Probably the most recognizable players are going off the 10th tee in the late morning:

Start Time: 8:32 AM
Lindsey Wright
Jeong Jang
Jane Park

Start Time: 8:43 AM
Morgan Pressel
Vicky Hurst
Kristy McPherson

Start Time: 8:54 AM
Natalie Gulbis
Brittany Lincicome
Eun-Hee Ji

Start Time: 9:05 AM
Karrie Webb
Cristie Kerr
Ya Ni Tseng

Start Time: 9:16 AM
Michelle Wie
Paula Creamer
In-Kyung Kim

I'm just hoping Jang's wrist is well enough for her to actually tee it up tomorrow. (I'm worried it's in about the same state Leta Lindley's back was in before the Corning, which she pulled out of after fulfilling all her defending champion responsibilities). If Jang does play, her pairing would be among those I'd be most interested in following if I weren't going to be crossing the Pacific during the 1st round. But the one I'm most excited about is going off the back in the early afternoon:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Teresa Lu
Brittany Lang
Katherine Hull

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Young Kim
Meg Mallon
Lorie Kane

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Rachel Hetherington
Louise Friberg
Laura Diaz

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Jee Young Lee
Mika Miyazato
Sandra Gal

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Na Yeon Choi
Amy Yang
Ji-Yai Shin

Yup, that last trio: it might just have the 3 most talented players of Korean descent in the last 2 rookie classes. Going off the 1st tee in the late morning are 2 Korean greats they're looking to surpass someday:

Start Time: 8:32 AM
Se Ri Pak
Hee-Won Han
Stacy Lewis

Start Time: 8:43 AM
Candie Kung
Inbee Park
Sun Young Yoo

Start Time: 8:54 AM
Wendy Ward
Nicole Castrale
Anna Nordqvist

Start Time: 9:05 AM
Pat Hurst
Meena Lee
Ai Miyazato

Start Time: 9:16 AM
Kyeong Bae
Christina Kim
Soo-Yun Kang

I really like putting Lewis with Pak and Han--great learning experience for her and more American exposure for them. The last of the top Korean players of the trailblazing generation in the field (Grace Park is still recovering from hip surgery) can be found at the end of the early afternoon pairings on the front side:

Start Time: 12:10 PM
Meaghan Francella
Jimin Kang
Hee Young Park

Start Time: 12:21 PM
Stacy Prammanasudh
Ji Young Oh
Momoko Ueda

Start Time: 12:32 PM
Brandie Burton
Silvia Cavalleri
Amy Hung

Start Time: 12:43 PM
Helen Alfredsson
Michele Redman
Seon Hwa Lee

Start Time: 12:54 PM
Song-Hee Kim
Leta Lindley
Mi Hyun Kim

It's a great deal for Song-Hee Kim to be paired with such cool veterans as Mi Hyun Kim and Leta Lindley. Hopefully she can learn a few pointers about winning LPGA tournaments from them.

If anyone's going to be at the Wegmans on the weekend and wants to meet up, let me know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Condolences to the Dunn Family

Just heard from my folks that Moira Dunn's father, Richard F. Dunn, passed away June 19 at the age of 79. Mostly Harmless regulars know that Moira's an old friend of mine going back to our junior golf days in central NY. We were paired together in my 1st tournament (I believe we tied) and I had one of my best rounds of college golf at Cedar Lake, the course she grew up playing. Moira hasn't pulled out of the Wegmans this week, evidently deciding to honor her dad's memory by playing the game they both love, just as she has done since 1995 as a professional. Onechan and I will be going to Locust Hill for the 2nd year in a row (imoto-less, as our cute little 3-year-old is still convinced her rebelliousness is hilarious), so I hope to catch up with Moira on the weekend to pass along my condolences personally. If all goes well, we'll be back home late Thursday night (or early Friday morning) and driving to Pittsford Saturday morning. Here's hoping Moira plays great while grieving.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tiger Woods Sparks International Incident

Young girls and otaku all over Japan are petitioning anime fan and Prime Minister Taro Aso to issue a formal protest to the USGA for the U.S. Open coverage on TV Asahi preempting Fresh Pretty Cure Sunday morning. A 3-year-old asked for comment screamed, "NOOOOOOOOOO!" Her older sister, 5, had a different reaction. "Didn't we watch it?" she asked. When it was explained to her that we had watched a taped show from the previous weekend, she didn't seem that concerned. When asked to give her reaction to being able to watch 2 episodes in the same day (had she been able to), she replied, "I'd be tired." When told older episodes are on youtube, she said, "Let's watch!"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Duramed Championship Sunday: Whitney Wade Walks Away with 1st Professional Win

Lisa Mickey tells the story of the University of Georgia shootout Sunday at the Duramed Championship. 2nd-year pro Whitney Wade fired a 66 to edge Jean Reynolds by 1 shot. Misun Cho finished 3rd, 2 shots back, and Cindy LaCrosse caught Pernilla Lindberg for a tie for 4th, 3 off the pace. A 67 earned Amanda Blumenherst her 1st professional top 10, pulling her 1 shot ahead of Alison Walshe and Sophia Sheridan, 2 up on Maria Hernandez and Nontaya Srisawang, 4 up on Mina Harigae, and 5 up on Jane Chin and Dewi Claire Schreefel.

Reynolds has now pulled within a few thousand dollars of Harigae on the Futures Tour money list. Lindberg and LaCrosse jumped from 84th and 85th, respectively, to 33rd and 34th, while Blumenherst moved from 129th to 63rd. With Blumenherst playing at the Wegmans this coming week, she can only move down the list, though, as all the top players will be meeting again in Hammond, Indiana.

Duramed Championship Saturday: Lindberg-LaCrosse Newbie Showdown in the Works

Yesterday at the Duramed Championship, Pernilla Lindberg followed up yesterday's 63 with a 69, extending her lead over fellow new pro Cindy LaCrosse to 3 strokes thanks to a great finish. Maria Hernandez shot her 2nd straight 70 to move into the top 10, while Mina Harigae struggled to a 74 and fell back to T18, tied with Amanda Blumenherst, which is better than Jane Chin's 76 and Esther Choe's 80 (which cost the latter a missed cut). Tiffany Joh got a moral victory by shooting a 72, the lowest score among those who missed the cut. As usual, Lisa Mickey overviews the best stories from moving day. The leaders head off just before 10 today. Let's see if Misun Cho, playing sick and 5 behind Lindberg, can make a move on the newbies.

Nichirei PGM Ladies Sunday: Yokomine Gets Her Hat Trick in Rain-Shortened Event

Well, they called the final round of the Nichirei PGM Ladies due to the heavy rains moving across the entire country today. So Sakura Yokomine joins Ayako Uehara and Tamie Durdin as a winner of a 36-hole tournament on the JLPGA in 2009. It's an anticlimactic way to become the 1st 3-time winner of the season on tour--certainly not as impressive as So Yeon Ryu's huge come-from-behind victory on the KLPGA this week (her 2nd in a row and 3rd in the last 4 events)--but a win's a win.

Plus, it gives her some breathing room ahead of 2-time winner Shinobu Moromizato on the money list:

1. Sakura Yokomine ¥70.18M
2. Shinobu Moromizato ¥57.98M
3. Yuko Mitsuka ¥50.61M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥44.04M
5. Chie Arimura ¥37.11M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥30.14M
7. Yuko Saitoh ¥28.89M
8. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥27.36M
9. Ayako Uehara ¥26.98M
10. Eun-A Lim ¥24.97M
11. Tamie Durdin ¥24.18M
12. Erina Hara ¥23.80M
13. Miho Koga ¥22.25M
14. Akiko Fukushima ¥21.83M
15. Li-Ying Ye ¥18.90M
16. Yuri Fudoh ¥18.38M
17. Rui Kitada ¥18.35M
18. Yukari Baba ¥17.85M
19. Ji-Woo Lee ¥17.44M
20. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥15.61M
21. Bo-Bae Song ¥14.23M
22. Hiromi Mogi ¥13.21M
23. Julie Lu ¥12.15M
24. Akane Iijima ¥11.69M
25. Mie Nakata ¥11.49M
26. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥11.09M
27. Midori Yoneyama ¥10.73M
28. Rikako Morita ¥10.57M
29. Miki Saiki ¥10.52M
30. Nikki Campbell ¥10.20M

With a 70.39 scoring average, a 3.84 birdie rate, and a scorching 1.7367 putts per green in regulation rate, Yokomine looks like she's ready to compete on the LPGA. As one of the top 5 money winners on the JLPGA last season, she's eligible to compete in the U.S. Women's Open. To do so, though, she'd have to remove her name from the field list for the Meiji Chocolate Cup. Yuri Fudoh, the defending champ of the JLPGA event, is listed on the USGA site as fully exempt for the Open, as is #2 on the JLPGA career money list, Akiko Fukushima, and the #2-ranked player on the JLPGA right now, Ji-Hee Lee. Their names don't appear on the Meiji Chocolate Cup field list, so I have to wonder if Yokomine chose not to submit an entry for the Open or missed the May 6th deadline, just like the #1 on the 2008 money list, Miho Koga. I've seen Yokomine and Koga together on a Srixon commercial on Chiba TV this week, so maybe their sponsor is giving them some incentive to stay in Japan, but even so, it's almost as weird a decision as Ai Miyazato's to skip the LPGA Championship.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nichirei PGM Ladies Saturday: Yokomine Has a Great Chance for a Hat Trick

Sakura Yokomine is poised for her 3rd win of 2009 on the JLPGA after a sweet 67 on moving day at the Nichirei PGM Ladies. Even a +1 finish over her final 5 holes didn't hurt her all that much, as her closest challengers also lost momentum down the stretch. Chie Arimura went 34-37 to stay 2 back, but she missed a great birdie chance on the final hole, a short, downhill par 5 that she hit in 2. Miho Koga squandered some great momentum down the stretch with a bogey on the 18th after she had made a great birdie on the tough 17th (thanks to a curling 9-foot downhiller) and a nice par save on the short par-4 16th, so she fell 3 back. Mi-Jeong Jeon went 34-37 and Rikako Morita 34-38 (and her back could have been worse) to join Koga, while 1st-round co-leader Mai Arai shot a birdie-less 39 on the back to drop 5 back. I'm beginning to think that Yokomine's biggest challenge tomorrow may well be Ji-Hee Lee, who roared back from an opening 74 with a bogey-free 66 today to pull within 4 of the lead.

Here are the top 10 and notables:

1st/-8 Sakura Yokomine (69-67)
2nd/-6 Chie Arimura (67-71)
T3/-5 Miho Koga (69-70), Mi-Jeong Jeon (68-71), Rikako Morita (67-72)
T6/-4 Ji-Hee Lee (74-66), Natsu Nagai (72-68), Li-Ying Ye (71-69)
T9/-3 Chiharu Yamaguchi (73-68), Tomomi Hirose (73-68), Yuriko Ohtsuka (70-71), Mai Arai (67-74)

Yuko Mitsuka has her work cut out for her to continue her 5-event top-10 streak, but her 9-event top-20 streak will be safe with an under-par round tomorrow. But Maiko Wakabayashi, who's been almost as hot lately, took a 40 on the back to come close to missing the cut. 3 straight bogeys down the home stretch hurt Bo-Bae Song's chances for her 1st top 10 in a while, although a walkoff birdie kept hope alive.

T13/-2 Yukari Baba (73-69), Saiki Fujita (72-70), Yuki Ichinose (71-71), Bo-Bae Song (70-72)
T17/-1 Midori Yoneyama (72-71)
T25/+1 Shinobu Moromizato (75-70), Miki Saiki (75-70), Nikki Campbell (74-71), Sakurako Mori (74-71), Yuko Mitsuka (73-72), Eun-A Lim (73-72), Akane Iijima (72-73), Ayako Uehara (71-74)
T35/+2 Julie Lu (72-74), Maiko Wakabayashi (71-75), Hyun-Ju Shin (69-77)
T41/+3 Rui Kitada (76-71), Mie Nakata (76-71)

A lot of good players missed the cut on this Robert Trent Jones, Jr., layout:

T52/+4 Esther Lee (77-71), Ah-Reum Hwang (75-73), Yuko Saitoh (75-73), Ritsuko Ryu (74-74), Tamie Durdin (73-75)
T59/+5 Kumiko Kaneda (76-73)
T70/+7 Yun-Jye Wei (76-77)
T76/+8 Erina Hara (75-77)
T84/+9 Akiko Fukushima (78-75)
T87/+10 Woo-Soon Ko (80-74)
T90/+11 Da-Ye Na (80-75)
T95/+12 Ji-Woo Lee (81-75)

Hara made a triple, double, and 2 bogeys on the back to miss her 5th cut of the young season. Ouch!

Here's hoping I'll be able to watch the final round--we may take the girls to Tokyo Dome City tomorrow if we have the energy. The pairings are awesome, with Yokomine and Arimura paired with Koga and Ji-Hee Lee joining Morita and Jeon. It sure would be nice to see more of Lee and Jeon on screen; the only time I saw Jeon today was a missed birdie putt on the 17th. In fact, the only other non-Japanese golfer I saw (and just for a second) was Li-Ying Ye, who also missed a birdie putt. The closing holes certainly offer plenty of opportunity for final-round drama--there's plenty of water and bunkers, elevated and undulating greens, and birdie holes sandwiching the long par-4 17th. If Yokomine gets her 3rd win of the season tomorrow, she'll certainly have earned it.

Duramed Championship Friday: Lindberg Drops 63 on Field

It seems like only yesterday I was extolling the chances of this year's crop of new pros from the NCAA to buck the odds and find fairly immediate success on the LPGA. No, wait, that was 2 days ago. Well, Pernilla Lindberg followed up on her 1st professional top 10 with a 63 at the Duramed Championship yesterday. She overshadowed Cindy LaCrosse's own 65, not to mention 69s by Mina Harigae and Jane Chin, a 70 by Maria Hernandez, and 71s by Song Yi Choi and Esther Choe.

As usual, Lisa Mickey tells the story like no one else can, but she kindly left out the details on the players who didn't go under par, like Dewi Claire Schreefel (72), Virada Nirapathpongporn (73), Amanda Blumenherst (73), Pornanong Phatlum (74), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (75), Violeta Retamoza (76), and Tiffany Joh (80). Joh, by the way, is not listed as an amateur. If she's really turned pro, I would have expected a little more fanfare. I don't think she has, though, as her status is listed as A-5 on the players page, so I guess this week she's taking one of 3 (or more) spots reserved for top amateur and collegiate players each event. Here's hoping her game comes around in time for those inevitable LPGA sponsor exemptions.

[Update 1 (9:58 pm): Dianemarie over at Waggle Room clarified that Joh is indeed playing as a pro. She asked Joh herself. I'll add my voice to the many who would love to see Joh back blogging at Waggle Room!]

Friday, June 19, 2009

Nichirei PGM Ladies Friday: The Kids Are Alright

The JLPGA's finest have completed the 1st round of the Nichirei PGM Ladies and the 21-and-under crowd have taken hold of 1st place. 19-year-old Rikako Morita, 20-year-old Mai Arai, and 21-year-old Chie Arimura shot 67s, Arai and Arimura by playing bogey-free golf and Morita by making 7 birdies. But some of the biggest names on the JLPGA--among them, Mi-Jeong Jeon (1 back) and Sakura Yokomine (2 back)--are in the lead chase pack. Defending champion and #3-ranked Yuko Mitsuka isn't among them, however, as she opened with a 73. Nor is #2-ranked Ji-Hee Lee, who's 1 behind Mitsuka, or U.S. Women's Open qualifier Miki Saiki, who's 1 more back. It'll be interesting to see if Miho Koga, Hyun-Ju Shin, and Bo-Bae Song can get their seasons going this weekend. Koga closed with 4 straight birdies, so she's got some momentum, at least.

Here's how the top 10 and notables stand heading into the weekend:

T1/-5 Chie Arimura, Rikako Morita, Mai Arai (67)
4th/-4 Mi-Jeong Jeon (68)
T5/-3 Sakura Yokomine, Miho Koga, Hyun-Ju Shin (69)
T8/-2 Bo-Bae Song, Yuko Fukuda, Yuriko Ohtsuka (70)

T11/-1 Ayako Uehara, Maiko Wakabayashi, Li-Ying Ye, Yuki Ichinose (71)
T16/E Akane Iijima, Midori Yoneyama, Saiki Fujita, Julie Lu (72)
T31/+1 Yuko Mitsuka, Eun-A Lim, Tamie Durdin, Yukari Baba (73)
T40/+2 Ji-Hee Lee, Nikki Campbell, Ritsuko Ryu, Sakurako Mori (74)
T59/+3 Shinobu Moromizato, Erina Hara, Ah-Reum Hwang, Yuko Saitoh, Miki Saiki (75)
T69/+4 Rui Kitada, Mie Nakata, Kumiko Kaneda, Yun-Jye Wei (76)
T81/+5 Esther Lee (77)
T88/+6 Akiko Fukushima (78)
T101/+8 Woo-Soon Ko, Da-Ye Na (80)
106th/+9 Ji-Woo Lee (81)

Hoping to be able to catch some of this on the weekend on Chiba TV. It's our last weekend here before we head back to Western NY.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The College Kids Are Alright

Anna Nordqvist's surprise win at the LPGA Championship got me rethinking something I've believed for a long time: that NCAA success is not much of a predictor of LPGA success. For every Annika Sorenstam or Lorena Ochoa, who, after short adjustment periods, went on to LPGA greatness, it seems there are a couple of dozen players who rocked it in college but aren't able to make that adjustment to life and competition on the big tour. For a long time, I've believed that those who turned pro early (like Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, and Vicky Hurst) or who had great success on other tours (like Se Ri Pak, Mi Hyun Kim, Hee-Won Han, Ai Miyazato, and Ji-Yai Shin) had much better chances of LPGA success than those who played college golf. Sure, turning pro early is no guarantee (just ask Esther Choe and Hannah Yun), and success on other tours doesn't always translate quickly on the LPGA (just ask Amy Yang and Momoko Ueda), but over the years I've been closely following the LPGA, it's seemed that the ballyhooed NCAA stars coming onto tour have never met expectations.

Now, it's true that Nordqvist didn't play 4 years of college golf. And that Mina Harigae, who has won 2 in a row on the Futures Tour, left Duke even earlier than Nordqvist left Arizona State. So it's something of a stretch to point to their early success and identify a trend. But consider this: Cindy LaCrosse got a top 10 in her 1st pro event two weeks ago on the Futures Tour and followed it up with a top 25 last week, Pernilla Lindberg finished T10 in her 2nd pro event that same week (following up on a top 30 the previous week), Amanda Blumenherst got a top 25 in her 1st pro event last week, Jane Chin did the same in her 2nd, Jennie Lee got a top 30 in her 2nd, and Maria Hernandez made her first professional cut. Sure, they have a ways to go to catch Alison Walshe, who's in the top 10 on the FT money list, but they're off to solid starts.

Yes, this is only on the Futures Tour. But given Nordqvist's learning curve--you may recall she was one of the biggest Q-School disappointments in my book last December--not to mention the fact that Stacy Lewis just got her 1st top 10 as an LPGA member, I'm wondering if the new pros coming out of the NCAA ranks are going to be able to figure out how to compete at a top level in the big leagues quicker than such fantastic ex-NCAAers as Angela Stanford, Lindsey Wright, Brittany Lang, and Kristy McPherson have done. In that respect, I really like seeing how high Blumenherst finished in her U.S. Women's Open sectional qualifier--reminds me of how Nordqvist won the LET's Q-School in January to bounce back from her December disappointment. Blumenherst tees it up again on the FT tomorrow before her LPGA debut next week at the Wegmans, so we'll get to plot some more points on her early learning curve very soon. And if Harigae makes it a hat trick....

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Best off the LPGA: The JLPGA's Finest, May-Plus 2009 Edition

Who are the best players on the JLPGA? With Ji-Yai Shin, Momoko Ueda, Ai Miyazato, and Shiho Oyama dropping from their spots in my final 2008 ranking due to paucity of play on tour this season, the fight for the top 10 is wide open. As usual, this functionally illiterate expert will combine the Rolex Rankings, the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, the current JLPGA money list, and 2008 JLPGA money list to rank the JLPGA's finest. You'll notice that U.S. Women's Open qualifier Miki Saiki is not on this list. That's how deep the talent pool is on the JLPGA.

We've got a new #1 in town...but she's got lots of company.

1. Sakura Yokomine: #1 2009 money (¥59.38M), #19 GSPI (70.57) [1], #21 RR (3.33) [2], #3 2008 money (¥103.19M). Last season, she had 1 win, 8 top 3s, 14 top 5s, and 20 top 10s in 29 starts--plus, she finished out of the top 20 only twice and never missed a cut--so I put her at #2, right behind Ji-Hee Lee, who was even better. This may turn out to be Yokomine's breakout season, however. She already has 2 wins, 5 top 3s, and 10 top 10s in 12 starts, with her worst finish of the year being T11 (twice). Last year, I speculated that when she finally wins a JLPGA money title, she would be headed for the LPGA. This may be that year.

2. Ji-Hee Lee: #7 2009 money (¥28.04M), #23 GSPI (70.79) [3], #35 RR (2.53) [3], #2 2008 money (¥119.65M). Last season, she had 1 major, 2 wins, 9 top 3s, 15 top 5s, and 21 top 10s in 27 starts--and finished outside the top 20 only once, at the Mizuno Classic (in addition to her MC her 1st start)--so I made her my #1 JLPGA golfer of 2008. This season, she has 9 straight top 20s and an early win, but only 4 top 10s.

3. Yuko Mitsuka: #3 2009 money (¥50.11M), #27 GSPI (71.05) [4], #44 RR (2.27) [4], #7 2008 money (¥83.56M). A great 2nd half to her 2008 season leapfrogged her to the head of the up-and-coming pack, bringing her to 1 win, 5 top 3s, 9 top 5s, and 14 top 10s, to go with 2 MCs, 2 WDs, and 4 finishes outside the top 20 in 32 events. This season, she's elevated her game even further, with a win, a runner-up, and 7 other top 10s in 13 starts, along with 1 missed cut and 1 other finish outside the top 20. With a 5-event top-10 streak and 9-event top-20 streak going, she's one of the hottest golfers on the JLPGA right now.

4. Mi-Jeong Jeon: #4 2009 money (¥40.44M), #37 GSPI (71.42) [5], #47 RR (2.21) [6], #6 2008 money (¥90.85M). Last season, although she had 2 wins, 4 top 3s, 7 top 5s, and 15 top 10s in 30 starts--to go with 2 missed cuts, 1 WD, and 9 finishes outside the top 20--her +3 finish in her final pair of holes cost her her 3rd straight 100-million yen year. This season, she's got 1 win and 2 more heartbreaking runner-ups, along with 5 other top 10s in 11 starts, but she also has a WD and 1 other finish outside the top 20.

Still waiting for the other elite JLPGA players to jump-start their seasons. But as you can see, it takes a lot for the up-and-coming stars on tour to catch them.

5. Shinobu Moromizato: #2 2009 money (¥57.48M), #57 GSPI (71.85) [8], #54 RR (1.81) [9], #12 2008 money (¥64.37M). Last season, she had 1 win, 2 top 3s, 8 top 5s, and 16 top 10s to go with 4 MCs and 7 finishes outside the top 20 in 34 events, and ranked #15. This season, she already has 2 wins (including the year's 1st major) and 5 other top 10s in 13 starts, but she's also finished outside the top 20 5 times.

6. Yuri Fudoh: #15 2009 money (¥18.38M), #21 GSPI (70.70) [3], #19 RR (3.39) [1], #5 2008 money (¥91.86M). Last season, her 4 wins, 6 top 3s, 8 top 5s, and 10 top 10s in 22 starts would have been a great year for anyone but the JLPGA's career money leader and first billion-yen winner in tour history. But she missed 2 cuts and finished outside the top 20 4 times in '08. This season, she's already missed a cut and finished outside the top 20 1 other time, but also has a runner-up finish and 4 other top 10s in 8 starts, so look for her to challenge for the top again.

7. Akiko Fukushima: #13 2009 money (¥21.83M), #47 GSPI (71.60) [6], #51 RR (2.06) [7], #4 2008 money (¥96.50M). Last season, her 2 wins, 5 top 3s, 8 top 5s, and 14 top 10s in 30 events and no missed cuts was great, but she did finish outside the top 20 9 times and really faltered in the last third of the season, missing the best opportunity for her 1st career 100-million yen season, so I ranked her #8, behind Shin, Ueda, and Miyazato. This season, she's been coming on strong since finishing outside the top 20 in her 1st 2 events, with a runner-up and 3 other top 10s, for a total of 6 straight top 20s out of 8 starts.

8. Miho Koga: #14 2009 money (¥18.65M), #62 GSPI (72.03) [10], #45 RR (2.26) [5], #1 2008 money (¥120.85M). Even though she lead the 2008 money list and had 4 wins (including 1 major), 7 top 3s, 11 top 5s, and 17 top 10s in 33 starts, I put her at #4 at the end of last season due to her 5 finishes outside the top 20 and 3 missed cuts. This season, she's already missed a cut and finished outside the top 20 2 other times, so her 4 top 10s (including a runner-up) in 10 starts move her down this ranking.

The next group of players are very closely bunched and if they can find more consistency can easily join the lead chase pack.

9. Ayako Uehara: #9 2008 money (¥26.48M), #73 GSPI (72.23) [13], #72 RR (1.39) [13], #14 2008 money (¥63.31M). Last season was the best in her career, with 1 win, 3 top 3s, 6 top 5s, and 8 top 10s, along with 4 MCs and 10 finishes outside the top 20 in 33 starts. This season, she started hot with a runner-up and a win in her 1st 2 events, but since then has only gotten 3 other top 10s in her other 9 starts to go with 2 missed cuts and 4 other finishes outside the top 20.

10. Chie Arimura: #5 2009 money (¥31.71M), #114 GSPI (72.91) [23], #74 RR (1.33) [14], #23 2008 money (¥47.35M). Last season, she got her 1st career win in an incandescent mid-year stretch, but only ended up with 3 top 3s, 4 top 5s, and 10 top 10s to go with 8 MCs, 1 WD, and 12 finishes outside the top 20 in 35 events. This season, she started slow, with a missed cut and 2 other finishes outside the top 20 in her 1st 3 starts, but in her last 10 events, she's fallen out of the top 20 only once and has 6 top 10s, including a runner-up finish and her 2nd career win.

11. Eun-A Lim: #10 2008 money (¥24.47M), #67 GSPI (72.10) [12], #53 RR (1.96) [8], #9 2008 money (¥73.41M). Last season, her 1 win, 5 top 3s, 6 top 5s, and 10 top 10s, along with 3 MCs and 9 finishes outside the top 20 in 29 events made her the 6th Korean in the top 15 on the JLPGA. This season, she already has a win and a runner-up finish, but with only 1 other top 10 in 10 starts to go with 2 missed cuts and 3 other finishes outside the top 20, her status as #3 Korean on tour is in jeopardy.

12. Erina Hara: #12 2009 money (¥23.80M), #63 GSPI (72.03) [11], #68 RR (1.43) [11], #10 2008 money (¥65.87M). Last season she had 1 win, 3 top 3s, 7 top 5s, and 10 top 10s, along with 3 MCs and 10 finishes outside the top 20 in 37 starts. This season, she got off to a fast start with 2 runner-ups in her 1st 3 starts, but she's only gotten 2 other top 10s, has missed the cut 4 times, and has fallen outside the top 20 2 other times in her 10 other starts.

The next set of players could go either way, but there's still not that much that separates them from those ahead of them.

13. Ah-Reum Hwang: #8 2009 money (¥27.36M), #107 GSPI (72.81) [21], #70 RR (1.40) [12], #44 2008 money (¥18.28M). She didn't make my ranking last season, but she started this season with a bang, finishing T2 her 2nd event and following it with her 1st career JLPGA victory. Since then, however, her best finish has been T10, and she's WDed from 1 event, missed the cut in another, and fallen outside the top 20 2 other times.

14. Yuko Saitoh: #6 2009 money (¥28.89M), #108 GSPI (72.83) [22], #100 RR (.95) [25], #34 2008 money (¥25.87M). She didn't make my ranking last season, but this season, she got her 2nd career win (her 1st came in 2004), one other top 3, and has finished out of the top 20 only 4 times in 11 starts (including 1 missed cut).

15. Bo-Bae Song: #21 2009 money (¥13.30M), #56 GSPI (71.83) [7], #66 RR (1.53) [10], #13 2008 money (¥63.47M). Last season, she had 1 win, 3 top 3s, 6 top 5s, and 14 top 10s, to go with 1 MC, 1 WD, and only 3 finishes outside the top 20 in 26 events. This season, she's been quite steady, with 1 missed cut her only finish outside the top 20 in her 10 starts, but hasn't gotten a top 10 since her hat trick to start the year.

16. Ji-Woo Lee: #17 2009 money (¥17.44M), #60 GSPI (71.93) [9], #88 RR (1.02) [18], #22 2008 money (¥47.63M). Last season, she had 1 top 3, 3 top 5s, and 12 top 10s in 34 events, along with only 4 missed cuts (all of which came in the 1st third of the season) and 9 finishes outside the top 20. This season, she just missed her 1st cut in 12 starts this past week, but has 4 other finishes outside the top 20 to offset her 3 top 10s.

17. Hyun-Ju Shin: #26 2009 money (¥10.69M), #75 GSPI (72.30) [14], #65 RR (1.57) [9], #11 2008 money (¥64.63M). If injuries hadn't cut her 2008 season short, she would definitely have been a top 10 player, with her 2 wins, 4 top 3s, 6 top 5s, and 10 top 10s in only 21 events with no missed cuts and 8 finishes outside the top 20. This season, has been a strange one, with 4 missed cuts but no other finishes outside the top 20, yet only 3 top 10s in 11 starts.

18. Tamie Durdin: #11 2009 money (¥24.18M), #125 GSPI (73.04) [26], #94 RR (.97) [22], #55 2008 money (¥14.65M). She didn't make my ranking last season, but this season she's already gotten her 1st career JLPGA victory and notched 4 other top 10s, offsetting her 2 missed cuts and 4 finishes outside the top 20.

This last set of players could be higher next ranking, or they could be out of it. The next dozen or so players are breathing down their necks.

19. Rui Kitada: #16 2009 money (¥18.04M), #94 GSPI (72.64) [17], #103 RR (.90) [26], #28 2008 money (¥36.34M). Last season, she had a win, 2 top 5s, and 6 top 10s, along with 9 MCs, 1 WD, and 10 finishes out of the top 20 in 35 events. This season has been a strange one for her, with an early top 3 in the midst of a 10-event run where she didn't finish inside the top 20, including a WD and 2 MCs. Over her last 3 events, however, she has 2 top 5s (and another finish outside the top 20). Perhaps she's recovered from an early injury?

20. Maiko Wakabayashi: #20 2009 money (¥15.21M), #97 GSPI (72.66) [19], #82 RR (1.11) [18], #21 2008 money (¥50.06M). Last season, she had 1 win, 3 top 3s, and 6 top 10s to go with 11 MCs (most in the 1st half of the season), 1 WD, and 13 finishes outside the top 20 in 37 starts. She started slow this season, as well, with 5 straight finishes outside the top 20 (including 1 missed cut) in a row, but since then, she's played very well, with no finish worse than T14 (except another missed cut) and a run of 3 straight top 10s that she's looking to extend this week. Even though she couldn't get her 2nd career win last week, look for her run to continue. She's 6th on tour in both birdie rate and putts per green in regulation.

21. Hiromi Mogi: #22 2009 money (¥13.21M), #96 GSPI (72.66) [18], #89 RR (1.02) [19], #18 2008 money (¥52.62M). Last season, she won the most money in her career but had her lowest finish on the money list, with 1 win, 2 top 3s, 3 top 5s, and 9 top 10s in 33 events, along with 2 MCs and 10 finishes outside the top 20 (half of them coming in her last 6 events of the season). This season, she just got her 3rd top 10 (and 2nd top 5), breaking a streak of 5 finishes outside the top 20 (including 1 of her 3 missed cuts in the season).

22. Yukari Baba: #18 2009 money (¥16.91M), #142 GSPI (73.40) [30], #98 RR (.96) [24], #26 2008 money (¥44.14M). Last season, she got her 5th straight top 30 season and the most lucrative in her career, thanks to her 2nd career win in '08, but had only 1 other top 3, an additional top 5, and 7 total top 10s--all in the 1st half of the year--to go with 10 MCs and 8 finishes outside the top 20 in 33 starts. This season she has 4 top 10s in 13 starts, with only 1 missed cut but 6 finishes outside the top 20.

23. Li-Ying Ye: #19 2009 money (¥16.80M), #136 GSPI (73.31) [27], #194 RR (.38) [very low--she's a rookie]. Her 4th top 10 of the young season this past week could easily have been her 1st career JLPGA win--she lost in a playoff to Shinobu Moromizato, despite closing with a 68 and a 66 on the weekend. Sure, she has 3 missed cuts and 3 other finishes outside the top 20 among her 11 starts, but most came in the opening of the season. As she gains more experience on tour, look for her to rise up these rankings.

24. Akane Iijima: #25 2009 money (¥11.19M), #88 GSPI (72.30) [15], #91 RR (1.01) [21], #19 2008 money (¥51.40M). Last season, she had 1 win, 3 top 3s, 4 top 5s, and 7 top 10s in 37 starts, along with 4 MCs, 3 WDs, and 9 finishes outside the top 20. This season has been a tough one for her, with 4 missed cuts and 5 other finishes outside the top 20, but she still has gotten 4 top 10s in 13 starts.

25. Nikki Campbell: #29 2009 money (¥9.69M), #104 GSPI (72.76) [20], #115 RR (.77) [29], #33 2008 money (¥27.04M). Last season, her 2 top 5s and 3 top 10s--all coming in her last 7 events--helped this 28-year-old salvage what would otherwise have been a disappointing year, what with her 5 MCs, 1 WD, and 12 finishes outside the top 20 in her 29 starts. This season, she already has 3 top 10s in 11 starts, but has missed the cut twice and finished outside the top 20 4 other times, as well.