Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hisako Higuchi IDC Otsuka Kagu Ladies Friday/Saturday: Arimura/Jeon Showdown?

Chie Arimura and Mi-Jeong Jeon know very well that time is running out on the 2009 JLPGA season. At 3rd and 4th on the money list, and with the LPGA coming next week, they know they need to win the Hisako Higuchi IDC Otsuka Kagu Ladies to have a chance to pass Sakura Yokomine and catch Shinobu Moromizato by the last major--and last tournament--of 2009. Well, Jeon opened the tournament with a 65 and Arimura matched her on moving day. Although there are many players who could give them trouble tomorrow--including Akiko Fukushima, who lost in a playoff last week to Ji-Yai Shin, and last year's most consistent player on tour, Ji-Hee Lee--I expect to see a showdown between the 2 players with the most to gain from a win this week.

Here are the 1st-round results and here's how the leaders and notables now stand:

1st/-10 Chie Arimura (69-65)
2nd/-9 Michie Ohba (69-66)
T3/-8 Mayu Hattori (68-68), Mi-Jeon Jeong (65-71)
T5/-7 Akiko Fukushima (70-67), Hiromi Mogi (69-68)
T7/-6 Eun-Hye Lee (72-66), Ji-Hee Lee (71-67), Tamie Durdin (68-70), Akane Iijima (67-71), Yun-Jye Wei (67-71)

T12/-5 Yuko Mitsuka (71-68), Bo-Bae Song (69-70), Maiko Wakabayashi (65-74)
T18/-4 Shinobu Moromizato (70-70), Ah-Reum Hwang (69-71)
T20/-3 Rui Kitada (71-70), Hyun-Ju Shin (71-70), Julie Lu (69-72)
T26/-2 Nikki Campbell (73-69), Yumiko Yoshida (71-71)
T30/-1 Ayako Uehara (75-68), Sakura Yokomine (73-70), Na-Ri Lee (72-71), Kumiko Kaneda (72-71), Yukari Baba (69-74)
T38/E Mie Nakata (71-73)
T42/+1 Erina Hara (73-72), So-Hee Kim (73-72), Miki Saiki (72-73), Sakurako Mori (72-73)

Only a few players missed the cut this week:

T53/+2 Ji-Woo Lee (72-74)
T66/+3 Rikako Morita (76-71), Yuki Ichinose (73-74), Esther Lee (73-74)

Hana Bank/KOLON Championship Saturday: Tseng/Choi ROY Race Redux

In 2008, Ya Ni Tseng and Na Yeon Choi were locked in a race for Rookie of the Year that saw both of them break the $1M barrier in season winnings. At the Hana Bank/KOLON Championship in 2009, they're looking to put themselves in serious contention in the race for Player of the Year. Both are 2 wins behind Ji-Yai Shin and Lorena Ochoa and are well over $500K behind Shin in winnings, but Choi trails her by 60 points and Tseng by only 42 points in the POY scoring system. They took different paths to get there, but they're the co-leaders heading into the final round tomorrow. For awhile, it looked like Choi was going to run away with the tournament, as she shot a 32 on the front to leap to -8 on a rainy day when most players were heading in the opposite direction fast. (Yesterday's co-leaders Anna Grzebien and Meaghan Francella, for instance, followed up their 66s with an 82 and 79, respectively.) But eventually the conditions got to her, too, and she closed with a 39 that left her at -5. Tseng had peaked at -6 with her 3rd birdie of the day on the 8th, but after a bogey on the 9th made 9 straight pars to hang on for a share of the lead.

The 2 top Super Sophs have plenty of company at the top, though. The top 2 Junior Mints, Eun-Hee Ji and In-Kyung Kim, also held it together in the rain and were able to stay under par. Ji's 71 leaves her 2 off the pace, tied with fellow U.S. Women's Open champion Inbee Park (71) and yet another '07er Song-Hee Kim, along with Ran Hong and Bo-Kyung Kim from the KLPGA, while Kim's action-packed 70 puts her 3 behind the co-leaders, tied with such luminaries as Se Ri Pak (72), Jee Young Lee (72), Meena Lee (73), and Vicky Hurst (75). Wily veterans Maria Hjorth (72) and Jimin Kang (73), both at -4, will be looking to spoil the pajama party tomorrow.

But what about the top POY candidates on both tours? Ji-Yai Shin shot an uncharacteristic 76 to drop 6 shots off the pace, tied with the top 2 KLPGA stars of 2009, Hee Kyung Seo (75) and So Yeon Ryu (74). Lorena Ochoa's disastrous 41 on the back dropped her to +5 overall, 3 shots behind Cristie Kerr (76) and Paula Creamer (74). So it's looking like that scenario that I envisioned Wednesday--"In-Kyung Kim, Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Eun-Hee Ji, and Song-Hee Kim [have] a great chance to make some noise the next 2 weeks and put themselves in contention for all the year-end titles"--has a great chance to come true.

[Update 1 (6:55 am): A 40 on the back 9 dropped one of my favorite players from -3 to out of contention. Seon Hwa Lee has been quantum leaped by a dozen players this season and I keep waiting for her to respond. Maybe tomorrow!]

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hana Bank/KOLON Championship Friday: Grzebien and Francella the Surprise Pace-Setters

Getting onechan's guaranteed-to-keep-you-up-all-night cough is one thing; finding out she's brought head lice home from school is another. While I'm waiting for the fourth-to-last load of laundry to get out of the dryer, I have a little time to give you the results of the 1st round of the Hana Bank/KOLON Championship. In honor of Hound Dog, who's still in the "stepping away" phase of his triumpant return to LPGA blogging, I'll do this one doggy-style.

An unlikely pair top the leaderboard at -6; Anna Grzebien made 2 birdies on the front and 4 on the back, while Meaghan Francella started with 1 late on the back, added 1 at the turn onto the front, and then made 4 in a row late in her round. Even with these bogey-free performances, Grzebien and Francella take only a 1-shot lead into the 2nd round. Ji-Yai Shin, Jimin Kang, and Bo-Kyung Kim's 67s were bogey-free, while Catriona Matthew and Pat Hurst made 6 birdies in their rounds, and Vicky Hurst offset 2 of her 3 bogeys on the day with a hole-in-one on the 12th hole that sparked her to a 31 on the back. Meanwhile, the KLPGA's top gun, Hee Kyung Seo, made 2 bogeys in her last 5 holes to fall back to a 70, but was still in much better position than world #1 Lorena Ochoa, whose walkoff birdie--her 1st of the day--salvaged a 73 for her. Here's how the rest of the leaders and notables stand heading into the weekend:

68 Na Yeon Choi, Maria Hjorth
69 Ya Ni Tseng, Hee-Won Han, Song-Hee Kim, Christina Kim, Meena Lee
70 Se Ri Pak, Juli Inkster, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, Anna Nordqvist
70 Seon Hwa Lee, Jee Young Lee, Eun-Hee Ji, Inbee Park
70 Ji Young Oh, Amy Yang, Momoko Ueda, Lindsey Wright
70 Hee Kyung Seo, Ha Neul Kim, Ran Hong, Soo-Yun Kang
71 So Yeon Ryu, Hye Yong Choi, Stacy Lewis, M.J. Hur, Mika Miyazato
71 Katherine Hull, Karine Icher, Young Kim, Sandra Gal
72 Paula Creamer, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park, Hyun-Hee Moon
73 Lorena Ochoa, Brittany Lang, Teresa Lu, Angela Park, Eunjung Yi
73 Sun Ju Ahn, Bo Mi Lee, Simin Feng
74 Sun Young Yoo, Shi Hyun Ahn, Jennifer Song
75 Sophie Gustafson, Jin Joo Hong
76 Candie Kung, Joo Mi Kim
77 Hye Jung Choi
78 Nicole Castrale

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why I'm Liking Michael Whan So Far

Check out the following comments from the incoming LPGA Commissioner.

From Stephanie Wei:

The basic building fundamentals for broad-scale excitement and growth of the LPGA are what brought me here. You’ve got players from around the world. You have fan bases being built across the world. You have superstars from all regions. You’ve got a long-term media partner. If you think of sports that have had burgeoning significant growth, they all start with those basic fundamentals and the LPGA is already a phenomenal entity. But in terms of upside potential, it just seems staggering.

He was actually a little more plainspoken in his statement at the press conference, but not as specific about the tour's global reach as a unique strength of the LPGA.

From John Paul Newport:

"What you've really got with the Tour is the greatest female worldwide competition going," he said. "At women's golf summits going back for years, we've always talked about finding future superstars from all over the world, not just Europe and the U.S.

"Today that's actually happening. A young woman in virtually any region of the world now can aspire to be a professional golfer, and in many cases find a role model from right there in her own base. And that's pretty special. In the world of competitive women's sports, it what sets the LPGA apart."

From Randall Mell:

"The only reason I joined the groundscrew was so I could play for free in the afternoon," Whan cracked. "I'd get up at 5:30 and cut the greens, go home and sleep for an hour and then go back and play golf."

Whan's father and mother both played golf, though his mother took it up later in life.

"My dad always believed that the game of golf was more than just a sport, it was more than just competition, it was life lessons," Whan said. "Sometimes when you're 12, 13, 14 years old, you don't realize you're learning them, but as I think back to the lessons I apply to life every day, a lot of them come right off the golf course."

Where have I heard that before?

Here's hoping that one of the lessons Whan learns from Marty Evans is schedule coordination. From the sounds of this AAP report, the LPGA has already come to an agreement with the LET and ALPG on its February and March schedule:

...the [ANZ] Ladies Masters at Royal Pines will now be played from March 4-7 while the Women's Australian Open at Melbourne's Commonwealth Golf Club has been pushed back to March 11-14....

[Ochoa] is expected to play in two events in Thailand and Singapore in February leading into the ANZ Ladies Masters which will now be played during a break in the LPGA tour.

Not the tri-sponsorship I wanted, but still pretty interesting. Let's see more in this vein from Whan!

[Update 1 (10/30/09, 2:42 am): Nice to know IMG understands that the LPGA is the most globalized professional golf tour in the world. Pretty good expansion of the tour's global tv audience since 1996, too.]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

J-Pop Culture Update: Moe Madness!

Here's the anime du jour at the Constructivist household. It's called Kimi Ni Todoke and the Full Metal Archivist calls it "the Bible of moe." What's moe? Mao Asada would like to know. (Hint: Mao Asada is moe and so is her reaction to the question posed to her at the end of the video.) For more details, check out the hottest new anime in Japan and around the world at AnimeKuro. What's striking about "Reaching You" is how a subculture into fetishing the purity and innocence of young girls has gone mainstream via the manga and anime. And what's striking about the Discovery Channel International Made in J-Pop Culture documentary is the subtitles posted on it in Japanese on youtube:

Japanese pop culture is fascinated by how American (and other) pop culture is fascinated with Japanese pop culture. Check out the channel of the samuraitoshi3 to see what I mean.

Me, I'll go back to Karen Tei Yamashita's Circle K Diaries (2001).... Somehow I find the Discovery Channel's borrowing tropes from its nature documentaries less interesting than early Yamashita writing about the permutations and mutations of Brazilian, Japanese, and American identities.

Hana Bank/KOLON Championship Preview/Predictions

Wow, I step away from LPGA blogging for a day or so and miss the biggest news from off the course since the early exit of Carolyn Bivens as LPGA commissioner. Fortunately, the internet never sleeps. Welcome to Michael Whan and good luck!

OK, back to the golf--finally! With the Hana Bank/KOLON Championship and Mizuno Classic making up the slimmed-down Asian Swing this season, let's take a look at the two fields together, as who's playing in them will have a huge impact on all the LPGA's pennant races (for Player of the Year, money list title, and Vare Trophy). Lo and behold, only Ji-Yai Shin and Lorena Ochoa are playing both events. That's good for Shin: she has home-country advantage this week and is defending champion the next, in a country where she's won 3 times in the past year and change. Ai Miyazato is skipping Korea; Cristie Kerr is skipping Japan; Karrie Webb is skipping Korea; Paula Creamer is skipping Japan; Suzann Pettersen is skipping both (resting her stress fracture in her foot); Angela Stanford is skipping both (probably to spend more time with her mom, who's fighting cancer). That leaves In-Kyung Kim, Ya Ni Tseng, Na Yeon Choi, Eun-Hee Ji, and Song-Hee Kim with a great chance to make some noise the next 2 weeks and put themselves in contention for all the year-end titles.

To do that, though, they'll have to get past the cream of the KLPGA and JLPGA. In Korea, top gun Hee Kyung Seo will be looking to avenge last year's T17 finish, but So Yeon Ryu, Sun Ju Ahn, Hye Yong Choi, Ha Neul Kim, and Bo Mi (or Mee,as the LPGA has it) Lee are legitimate threats to contend. Probably about three times that number of the JLPGA's finest could walk away with a win the following week, ranging from Shinobu Moromizato, Sakura Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, and Chie Arimura (who have all won over $1M on the JLPGA this season) to Yuri Fudoh, Akiko Fukushima, Miho Koga, and Ji-Hee Lee to Yuko Mitsuka, Bo-Bae Song, Ayako Uehara, and Miki Saiki, and beyond. It's a shame that of them all, only Mitsuka will be trying out LPGA Q-School in December. We'll find out earlier in the week of the Mizuno which LPGA and KLPGA players will have decided to try to qualify for JLPGA. The latter number (taking into account those exempt into later stages) is already known to be much larger than the former.

Be that as it may, with both Shin and Seo coming off huge wins last week, and Ochoa having won the last event she competed in, how do I see things playing out this week?

1. Seo Hee Kyung
2. Shin Ji-Yai
3. Ochoa, Lorena
4. Tseng Ya Ni
5. Kerr, Cristie
6. Choi Na Yeon
7. Ryu So Yeon
8. Kim In-Kyung
9. Kim Song-Hee
10. Creamer, Paula
11. Yoo Sun Young
12. Lewis, Stacy

Alts: Song, Jennifer; Lee Seon Hwa; Miyazato Mika

Just a shot in the dark really! Maybe Candie Kung will defend her title? Or Jee Young Lee will get her 2nd win in the event and 1st as an LPGA member? With so many players coming off long breaks and those who played in Korea or Japan recently not really lighting it up, it's really hard to say who's going to come out swinging. More on the pairings tomorrow!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ryan Ballengee for LPGA Commish!

Ryan Ballengee has put his name in the hat for LPGA Commissioner. Any more established candidate had better have half the strategic plan as he does. And what's more, I'm sure the LPGA could get Ryan and his team at a bargain. Just imagine Hound Dog in charge of tour stats, Stephanie Wei in charge of the LPGA's Web 2.0 initiative, Mulligan Stu as head blogger, and The Florida Masochist as ombudsman/media critic. Oh yeah, and The Constructivist a consultant on creating connections between the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, ALPG, and LAGT via coordination of schedules, co-sponsorship of events, and collaborations in marketing the global stars, national heroines, and up-and-comers in the world of women's professional golf. Anyone else want in? My guess is they can get us all for the price of 1 Bivens.

[Update 1 (4:16 am): It's great that Randall Mell noted Ji-Yai Shin's JLPGA win on the Shag Bag blog yesterday, but it's shocking to me his 3 short paragraphs are the only words on one of the biggest bellwethers of the LPGA's home stretch I've found in the golfy media.]

[Update 2 (10/28/09, 1:36 pm): Well, it wasn't Ryan, after all. But he does have some background on Michael Whan, including a link to his mystery/crime novel.]

[Update 3 (3:28 pm): Here's Brent Kelley and Jay Busbee with facts and links, and Jamie RS and Bill Jempty with reactions.]

[Update 4 (4:18 pm): Classic Geoff Shackelford take. But what about the line quoted by AP that actually sounds like it was spoken by a human being?]

[Update 5 (10:54 pm): Shackelford piles on with the anti-corporatist sarcasm as only he can, but check out the primary source material from Stephanie Wei as you're drawing your own inferences.]

Paige Mackenzie Pwns PGA Tour Crybabies

OMG! LOL! Paige Mackenzie is a great guest blogger! Yet another reason to bow down to the force of nature that is Stephanie Wei!

[Update 1 (3:39 am): That said, Morgan Pressel got better editing at Golf Digest Woman. No use comparing apples and oragnes oranges [ironic typo there, eh?]--different genres, different purposes, different rhetorical strategies, different audiences--but on sentence-level polish, Pressel has the clear advantage.]

[Update 2 (10/27/09, 4:59 pm): Cristie Kerr goes all Pressel on us in the Huffington Post (h/t: Golf Girl).]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

J-Skate Fans Pwn J-Golf Fans

OMG! LOL! Mao Asada's fans rule!

At least Ryo Ishikawa makes 2 appearances here....

[Update 1 (6:36 am): Not exactly an inspired performance by Mao-chan in Moscow this weekend:

But check out the little girl shouting "Mao-chan, gambatte!" ("go for it, Mao-chan!") at the start and "sugoi" ("wow! amazing!") at the end of this home video of her free skate. Cho kawaii!]

[Update 2 (11/9/09, 4:11 am): And now I find out it's not even Ryo-kun but instead Ryota Ito in the video....]

Masters GC Ladies Sunday: Down to the Wire!

I noticed in the 1st round of the Masters GC Ladies that the 1st and last 3 holes of the Masters Golf Club had been giving most of the JLPGA's finest fits. Well, even though scoring was better on those holes yesterday, they're going to play a key role in deciding the winner today. 2nd-round leader Akiko Fukushima will need to play them very well in order to recover from bogeys on her last 2 par 5s that have dropped her out of the lead. 1st-round leader Shinobu Moromizato will need to get back to recovering from a +2 start over her 1st 3 holes today, but she compunded her difficulties by doubling the par-3 14th to fall out of a tie with Fukushima. Perhaps they can take heart from Miki Saiki, who tripled the 2nd hole, bounced back with a birdie on the next, and added 5 others over her next 10 holes--but they'll have to avoid imitating her bogey on the treacherous par-3 17th (which dropped her back to a 70 on the day and a -3 overall finish) if they want to walk away the winner. That's because they've been chased down and even passed by some people playing very good golf today.

LPGA Q-School-bound Yuko Mitsuka is one of them. Even though she followed up an opening-hole birdie with a double bogey, she bounced right back with 4 birdies in her next 8 holes to get to -8 overall. Recently, she followed up a bogey on the par-4 11th with a birdie on the par-3 14th that opened up a 3-shot lead on Moromizato. Mitsuka's dropped to #8 in my JLPGA ranking after playing from badly to inconsistently over her last 10 starts, but if she could get her 2nd win of the season this week, following up on her win in the 1st event of 2009, she'd build some great momentum for the tour's end run.

But she has her work cut out for her. Thanks to 4 birdies over her last 9 holes, world #2 Ji-Yai Shin is living up to her "Final Round Queen" nickname once again and trailing Mitsuka by only 1 shot. If Shin can play the last 3 holes better than anyone, she'll notch her 3rd career JLPGA victory and assure herself of dual LPGA-JLPGA membership for the 2nd-straight season (more on that tomorrow). Another Korean star of the JLPGA, Ji-Hee Lee, is also poised to jump-start her season. The most consistent performer on tour in 2008 has struggled a bit in 2009 but like Mitsuka is looking to follow up on an early-season win today. She's playing bogey-free golf and at -3 on the day and -7 overall with 3 holes to play has a great chance to secure her 13th career JLPGA victory. Like Lee, 4-time 2009 winner Chie Arimura is playing bogey-free golf today, but after having opened her round with a birdie, she's followed up with 13-straight pars. At -6, she'll need to make some birdies to put some pressure on those ahead of her. And let's not count out Fukushima. She's been stuck at 25 career JLPGA victories since winning the Stanley Ladies in the middle of last season, but she's only 1 behind Mitsuka with 4 holes left to play.

Can Mitsuka achieve her 1st career 2-win season over her last 4 holes today? Stay tuned!

[Update 1 (4:12 am): Playoff time! Mitsuka birdied the par-5 15th to get to -9, but couldn't par the tough 17th, so ended up at -8, tied with Ji-Yai Shin, who had birdied the 18th to get there. Fukushima gave herself a great chance to win with birdies on 15 and 16, but bogeyed 18 to keep Mitsuka and Shin alive.]

[Update 2 (4:32 am): And Ji-Yai Shin is your winner! Wow!! More on how she won soon. Here are the final results:

1st/-8 Ji-Yai Shin (70-70-68) [won in playoff]
T2/-8 Yuko Mitsuka (71-68-69), Akiko Fukushima (70-65-73)
T4/-6 Ji-Hee Lee (71-69-70), Chie Arimura (72-67-71), Shinobu Moromizato (67-69-74)
T7/-3 Miki Saiki (70-73-70), Hiromi Mogi (70-72-71), Kuniko Maeda (72-70-71), Sakura Yokomine (68-73-72), Stacy Lewis (70-70-73), Ayako Uehara (69-71-73), Yukari Baba (70-68-75), Eun-A Lim (69-69-75)

T13/-2 Akane Iijima (75-70-69), Miho Koga (72-72-70), Mayu Hattori (73-71-70), Mi-Jeong Jeon (73-70-71)
T19/-1 Bo-Bae Song (73-73-69)
T22/+1 Ah-Reum Hwang (72-70-75)
T25/+2 Yun-Jye Wei (73-74-71), Rikako Morita (72-73-73)
T28/+3 Paula Creamer (72-76-71), Momoko Ueda (75-73-71), Kumiko Kaneda (76-69-74)
T34/+4 Hyun-Ju Shin (74-72-74)
T40/+6 Saiki Fujita (72-76-74), Yumiko Yoshida (75-71-76)
T45/+7 Rui Kitada (78-70-75), Yuko Saitoh (73-75-75), Mai Arai (73-75-75), Midori Yoneyama (75-72-76), Yuki Ichinose (74-72-77)
T51/+8 Tamie Durdin (74-74-76), Esther Lee (74-74-76)
T54/+9 Woo-Soon Ko (73-75-77)

Nice job by Mizuno girl Stacy Lewis in her 1st JLPGA appearance. Even with all the trouble she had on the par 3s--no pars on the 17th all week and a double on one on the front today--she still made it into the top 10. Let's see how she does in Korea next week!]

[Update 3 (4:50 am): With her win, Shin jumps into the top 20 on the JLPGA money list!

1. Shinobu Moromizato ¥151.18M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥130.66M
3. Chie Arimura ¥112.51M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥106.68M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥79.11M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥66.49M
7. Miho Koga ¥61.88M
8. Yukari Baba ¥53.99M
9. Bo-Bae Song ¥48.20M
10. Yuko Saitoh ¥44.39M
11. Nikki Campbell ¥44.24M
12. Eun-A Lim ¥43.63M
13. Akiko Fukushima ¥42.54M
14. Yuri Fudoh ¥40.42M
15. Ai Miyazato ¥39.53M
16. Miki Saiki ¥38.91M
17. Ayako Uehara ¥37.84M
18. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥34.64M
19. Ji-Yai Shin ¥33.42M
20. Erina Hara ¥33.07M
21. Tamie Durdin ¥31.72M
22. Rui Kitada ¥30.85M
23. Momoko Ueda ¥30.30M
24. Rikako Morita ¥29.76M
25. Hiromi Mogi ¥28.68M
26. Midori Yoneyama ¥26.54M
27. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥26.32M
28. Mayu Hattori ¥25.79M
29. Akane Iijima ¥25.79M
30. Ji-Woo Lee ¥25.53M
31. Na-Ri Lee ¥25.37M
32. Saiki Fujita ¥25.14M
33. Li-Ying Ye ¥24.13M
34. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥21.98M
35. Kaori Aoyama ¥21.31M

Also, Shin qualified for the final JLPGA major of the season, which takes place the week after the LPGA Tour Championship. She's the 3rd LPGAer to qualify for this event by winning on the JLPGA this season, after Momoko Ueda and Ai Miyazato.]

[Update 4 (4:55 am): Can't wait to hear from Happy Fan whether So Yeon Ryu (-9) or Hee Kyung Seo (-13) was able to chase down teenage amateur Hana Jang (-14) in the final round of the KLPGA's final major!]

[Update 5 (5:20 am): Waggle Roomed on the significance of Shin's win and what to look forward to in the next month-plus in the world of women's golf. Shin is--or will be, depending on exchange rates--the 1st $2M winner in the world of women's golf this season. And she ain't done yet!]

[Update 6 (5:55 am): Check out the Kyodo news game story! Here are the key quotes:

Shin birdied the final hole of regulation for a 68 that left her at 8- under 208.

Fukushima, playing in the final threesome, had a one-shot lead over Shin and Mitsuka when she stepped up to the 18th tee.

The tour veteran then appeared to drop out of contention when she went out of bounds off the tee, but she scraped into the playoff after making a 45-foot bogey putt from the fringe of the green....

The 21-year-old South Korean picked up her third career Japan LPGA title with a two-putt par on the first playoff hole, the par-4 18th, at Masters Golf Club in Hyogo Prefecture.

Wow! Did I tell you Fukushima was a roller coaster golfer or what?!]

[Update 7 (10/26/09, 2:46 am): Wow, just as Shin was winning for the 3rd time on the JLPGA. Hee Kyung Seo was matching her record of 3 major victories in a calendar year on the KLPGA! I've heard rumors she's JLPGA-bound in 2010. Let's see.... The 2008 KLPGA top 10 get exemptions into the next round of JLPGA Q-School, in early November.]

[Update 8 (3:54 am): Nice job by bangkokbobby passing along the most recent JLPGA stats. Worth comparing to his translation of the most recent ones for the KLPGA, especially the conversions to US dollars. Any wonder why there are so many Koreans on the LPGA and JLPGA?]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Masters GC Ladies Saturday: Fukushima Eagles Twice, Takes Lead

Akiko Fukushima can be one of the most exciting golfers in the world. Like Karrie Webb, Sophie Gustafson, Helen Alfredsson, and Hee Young Park she's not afraid to go super-low and she can make birdies in bunches, but she's also wildly inconsistent. If you like roller coasters, these are the players to follow in women's golf. For a long time this season on the JLPGA, Fukushima hadn't been worth following, however. But her 65 today in the Masters GC Ladies shows exactly how explosive she can be. Fukushima shot a fine bogey-free 34 on the front, yet still trailed 1st-round leader Shinobu Moromizato and a charging Yukari Baba. Starting on the par-5 12th and ending on the par-5 15th, though, she changed the complexion of the entire tournament, going eagle-birdie-birdie-eagle to get to -10. Still, a bogey on the tough par-3 17th forced her to settle for a 31 on the back, allowing Moromizato's walkoff birdie to pull her within 1 of the lead. With lots of great players lurking, anything can happen tomorrow!

1st/-9 Akiko Fukushima (70-65)
2nd/-8 Shinobu Moromizato (67-69)
T3/-6 Yukari Baba (70-68), Eun-A Lim (69-69)
T5/-5 Chie Arimura (72-67), Yuko Mitsuka (71-68)
T7/-4 Ji-Hee Lee (71-69), Ji-Yai Shin (70-70), Stacy Lewis (70-70), Ayako Uehara (69-71)

Momoko Ueda and Paula Creamer barely made the cut, while Sakura Yokomine fell off the pace and Mi-Jeong Jeon and Miho Koga couldn't get anything going for the 2nd day in a row.

T11/-3 Sakura Yokomine (68-73)
T13/-2 Ah-Reum Hwang (72-70), Hiromi Mogi (70-72)
T17/-1 Mi-Jeong Jeon (73-70), Miki Saiki (70-73)
T20/E Mayu Hattori (73-71), Miho Koga (72-72)
T25/+1 Kumiko Kaneda (76-69), Akane Iijima (75-70), Rikako Morita (72-73)
T33/+2 Yumiko Yoshida (75-71), Hyun-Ju Shin (74-72), Yuki Ichinose (74-72), Bo-Bae Song (73-73)
T41/+3 Midori Yoneyama (75-72), Yun-Jye Wei (73-74)
T46/+4 Rui Kitada (78-70), Momoko Ueda (75-73), Tamie Durdin (74-74), Esther Lee (74-74), Woo-Soon Ko (73-75), Yuko Saitoh (73-75), Mai Arai (73-75), Paula Creamer (72-76), Saiki Fujita (72-76)

Lots of mid-level players missed the cut, but 1 big name did, as well--Erina Hara's run of bad play continues.

T59/+5 Maiko Wakabayashi (78-71), Erina Hara (76-73), Sakurako Mori (73-76)
T65/+6 Ji-Woo Lee (76-74), Yuki Sakurai (74-76)
T73/+7 Na-Ri Lee (79-72), Ritsuko Ryu (75-76)
T84/+8 Julie Lu (77-75), Riko Higashio (73-79)
T90/+9 So-Hee Kim (75-78)
105th/+16 Ai-Yu Tu (86-74)

Let's see if anyone will take a run at Fukushima and Moromizato tomorrow!

[Update 1 (7:52 am): Great photos over at the Seoul thread. And speaking of the Seoul Sisters, check out Happy Fan's blog for reports on the 1st 2 rounds of the KLPGA's final major, where amateur Hana Jang will be trying to keep Hee Kyung Seo from getting her 3rd major victory of 2009 over the weekend.]

It Must Run in the Family

Let's see, I can't seem to stop writing about golf, my brother works in the golf industry, my mom is comfortable chatting with professional golfers, and my dad now has an essay out in Christian Science Monitor on the ethics of golf. (It came out online yesterday but first appeared in the print version on my birthday, fittingly enough!)

Maybe someday I can even get him to do a guest spot here at Mostly Harmless. Here's an idea: I'll make sure he reads the comments on this post and see if he wants to respond to the commenters....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Masters GC Ladies Friday: Moromizato and Yokomine Duelling Already

The stars are out tonight at the Masters GC Ladies. At the end of the 1st round, the top 2 players on the JLPGA are locked in a duel for the top spot. Sakura Yokomine shot a bogey-free 68, but the woman she's chasing for her 1st-ever money-list title, Shinobu Moromizato, topped her with a 6-birdie 67.

A huge part of what distinguished their rounds from the rest of the field was how solidly they played the 1st and last trio of holes. No bogeys over those 6 holes may not sound like much, but of those in the top 30, only Ji-Yai Shin (70), Ji-Hee Lee (71), Hiromi Takesue (72), Mi-Jeong Jeon (73), Mayu Hattori (73), Mai Arai (73), Yuko Fukuda (73), and Yuka Shiroto (73) were able to match that feat and only Yukari Baba (70), Hiromi Mogi (70), and Ah-Reum Hwang (72) were able to join Takesue, Arai, Fukuda, and Shiroto in outdoing Moromizato and Yokomine by going -1 in that stretch. Among those with notable difficulties there, Eun-A Lim bogeyed the 17th, but at least she shot a 69 today (thanks to 4 birdies in a row on the front), as did Ayako Uehara (who bogeyed 16), Aiko Ueno (who bogeyed 18), and Mayumi Shimomura (who followed up an eagle on the par-5 12th with a bogey on 17th). Yuko Mitsuka (71), who matched Lim's feat with 4 straight birdies on the back, just missed ending her round with 4 straight bogeys when she managed a par on the 18th. Kuniko Maeda did well to come back to E on her day after a double bogey-bogey finish on the back side (her front), while Yuki Sakurai had to settle for a 74 after a similar stumble at the turn. Meanwhile, Yasuko Satoh tripled the 17th for a 73, while Midori Yoneyama bogeyed 1 and 2 and doubled the 16th on the way to her 75. Even LPGA notables playing on the JLPGA this week stumbled down the stretch: Paula Creamer (72) and Stacy Lewis (70) both bogeyed 17, while Momoko Ueda (75) finished bogey-bogey-double bogey.

Clearly, the winner this week will have to take advantage of the middle 12 holes and hang on during the surrounding 6. Will it be Moromizato, Yokomine, or someone else who's able to do this on the weekend?

Here are the top 10 and notables:

1st/-5 Shinobu Moromizato (67)
2nd/-4 Sakura Yokomine (68)
T3/-3 Eun-A Lim, Ayako Uehara, Mayumi Shimomura, Aiko Ueno (69)
T7/-2 Ji-Yai Shin, Stacy Lewis, Akiko Fukushima, Yukari Baba, Miki Saiki, Hiromi Mogi, Eun-Hye Lee (70)

T14/-1 Yuko Mitsuka, Ji-Hee Lee (71)
T17/E Paula Creamer, Chie Arimura, Miho Koga, Rikako Morita, Ah-Reum Hwang, Saiki Fujita (72)
T29/+1 Mi-Jeong Jeon, Woo-Soon Ko, Bo-Bae Song, Yuko Saitoh, Mayu Hattori, Yun-Jye Wei, Sakurako Mori, Mai Arai, Riko Higashio (73)
T43/+2 Tamie Durdin, Hyun-Ju Shin, Esther Lee, Yuki Ichinose, Yuki Sakurai (74)
T57/+3 Momoko Ueda, Midori Yoneyama, So-Hee Kim, Akane Iijima, Ritsuko Ryu, Yumiko Yoshida (75)
T71/+4 Erina Hara, Ji-Woo Lee, Kumiko Kaneda (76)
T84/+5 Julie Lu (77)
T93/+6 Rui Kitada, Maiko Wakabayashi, Na-Ri Lee (78)
107th/+14 Ai-Yu Tu (86)
WD Mie Nakata

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Mostly Harmless Guide to 2009 JLPGA Q-School

In certain circles, speculation has abounded over who in the world will be trying to secure JLPGA membership for 2010 (a sensible economic decision for many non-Japanese players, given that the JLPGA is almost certain to have more tournaments than the LPGA next season and might even end up with a larger total purse for the year). The LPGA of Japan has a complex qualifying system, with 4 stages of qualifying tournaments and different exemption procedures into each stage. If you want to skip all the details and find out who's entered JLPGA Q-School, head on down to the bottom of this post. I've buried my lede on purpose.

Now, for those with more patience, you can track all the Q-School results (in Japanese only, sorry) by clicking on the "Qualify" link on the left sidebar of the main JLPGA page, then clicking on the blue tab. For the even more detail-oriented, you can also wade through, in English, the extensive lists of rules and regulations and deadlines and fees, not to mention the descriptions of the post-2nd-stage rules test and post-3rd-stage orientation. Bottom line: no tattoos.

By the way, I was able to get the normally reticent JLPGA site to display the full URL for all these pages by starting from the Pro Test blue tab off the "How to Be a Member" link on the left sidebar. Don't ask me why. And don't ask me to explain the relation between the results of that late-July tournament and JLPGA Q-School proper, either. The best I can figure is that the top 20 and ties from the field of 81 moved on to the 1st stage of JLPGA Q-School.

What I do know is that the 1st stage, for Japanese amateurs and professionals and others without an exemption into a later stage who can get a recommendation into Q-School, was completed in late August at 3 different sites. Go ahead and try google translation technology if you want a good laugh, but the only names I recognized (and I didn't even need the translator to do that) were Onnarin Sattayabanphot's (who came in T3 in a field of 94 at Shiga) and Na Ri Kim's (who was co-medalist in a field of 99 at Chiba). A pair of non-Japanese golfers (perhaps Korean and Chinese?) were co-medalists in a field of 91 at Gunma.

So it's looking like 69 players have advanced to the 54-hole 2nd stage, where they'll be joined by anyone from the LPGA who ended the 2008 season between 51st and 90th on the money list and anyone from the top 10 of the 2008 KLPGA money list who decided to enter JLPGA Q-School. Phone inquiries by the Full Metal Archivist didn't result in any disclosure of who's actually entered this stage, but we won't have long to find out: the 4 tournaments are all being played the 1st week of November. It's unclear how many from each event, in Ibaraki, Gunma, Kyoto, and Hyogo prefectures, will be advancing to the 3rd stage; apparently the players will be the 1st to find out. But the JLPGA is planning for 102-player fields in this stage's 2 54-hole tournaments, in Tochigi and Mie prefectures, at the end of November, which could also consist of players from several new exemption categories: #21-50 on the 2008 LPGA money list, #11-20 on the 2008 LET Order of Merit, the top player from their Step-Up Tour, plus a subset of current JLPGA members that I can't quite figure out how to specify. What I can identify is who beyond the qualifiers from the 3rd stage make it into the 102-player field in the 72-hole Final Qualifying Tournament during the 1st week of December: anyone who finished in the top 50 in this event the previous year; #1-20 on the 2008 LPGA money list; #1-10 on the 2008 LET Order of Merit; anyone from the JLPGA who lost her membership at the end of the 2009 season; and anyone from anywhere who won a JLPGA tournament this season but is not already a member for 2010. But the JLPGA is being cagey about how many players from the final qualifying tournament get membership on their Step-Up Tour and how many make it to the big leagues.

There's a lot I'd like to find out more about, from what it takes for a 2009 JLPGA member to have to go back to Q-School to why there aren't 2010 memberships reserved for the top Step-Up Tour players (a la the Futures Tour and the LPGA). But a few patterns emerge: the JLPGA is heavily recruiting American and European players (or at least players from the LPGA and LET), while forcing Korean golfers to go through 3 or 4 stages of qualifying. It appears that winning on the JLPGA as a non-member doesn't give you immediate membership any more, as it did for Ji-Yai Shin last season. And the Full Metal Archivist confirmed that you need a certain level of fluency in either Japanese or English to become a JLPGA member in 2010. She also found a 9 October article from Golf Digest Online that publicized a JLPGA press release identifying LPGA players exempt into the 3rd stage (Meena Lee, Young Kim, Teresa Lu, and Shanshan Feng) and into the final qualifying tournament (Na Yeon Choi, Candie Kung, Eun-Hee Ji, Seon Hwa Lee, Inbee Park, and Amy Yang). Barring absolute meltdowns, then, these players, along with Na Ri Kim and Onnarin Sattayabanphot (who should sail through the next 3 stages of Q-School) and any other LPGAers who have signed up for the 2nd stage the 1st week of November, will be JLPGA members in 2010. I don't know of any other year when so many LPGA members were seeking dual membership on the JLPGA. Marty Evans and her successor as LPGA commissioner had better find ways of synchronizing their 2010 schedule with the JLPGA's, so they minimize opportunities for some of their top players to choose a JLPGA over a LPGA event.

[Update 1 (8:36 am): Going by Tim Maitland's foggy memory of a casual conversation with Shin's caddy, Dean Herden, awhile back, it's possible that the non-member winners having to go to Q-School is not a new policy. Apparently a non-member win gets you into JLPGA events you want to play in that year, but you don't automatically become a member for the following year unless you win again (or perhaps finish high enough on the money list?). Hopefully someone will clarify this for us!]

[Update 2 (10/23/09, 12:27 am): Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for the link love; he unburied my lede, without including my last sentence!]

[Update 3 (12:32 am): Also appreciate the Devil Ball Golf linkage from Jay Busbee, but it's doubtful any of the players I listed will leave the LPGA for the JLPGA, or even play half as many events in Japan as in the, uh, various countries the LPGA plays in.]

[Update 4 (1:06 am): Ron Sirak does a great job putting my news in context--including in the context of the ongoing commissioner search--over at Local Knowledge. My only quibble with his post is with his title (see update 3); I'd also add that exchange rates and shorter tournaments are other reasons that JLPGA purses will be attractive relative to LPGA ones. The clear message for those who run the major women's tours is this: the time for cross-tour collaboration (in marketing the game's global stars), coordination (of schedules), and co-sponsorship (of more events) is now.]

[Update 5 (10/25/09, 6:44 am): I've been on the road this weekend, so have had limited time to read around, but I wanted to offer some belated thanks to Randall Mell for the attribution in his recent Americans in Japan post at the Shag Bag blog. But it was someone who already has dual JLPGA-JLPGA membership who won this week. Nope, not Momoko Ueda. Ji-Yai Shin!]

[Update 6 (7:36 am): Good profile of Candie Kung, who defends her title in Korea next week. Not her explanation of trying out JLPGA Q-School.]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Player of the Year Comparison: PGA vs. LPGA

Brent Kelley adds some context to Doug Ferguson's story that Tiger Woods has clinched the PGA Player of the Year Award, noting that this will likely clinch his winning the PGA Tour's Jack Nicklaus Award for POY, which is voted on by the players rather than determined by a point system (which takes into account, among other things, wins, winnings, and scoring average). Ho-hum, right? It's only like the 10th time Tiger has done this.

Contrast this situation to the LPGA's fall pennant races for POY, money list leader, and scoring average leader, on which Alan Shipnuck kindly answered my question over at the Press Tent blog. I find his "blame TV/blame the fans" approach to explaining the lack of U.S. media attention a trifle disingenuous, or perhaps more accurately, too nice to his peers.

But this disappointment pales beside the mystifying news that the now-8th-ranked player in the world of women's professional golf (and #6 according to Golfweek's system) will not be playing in Korea next week, as I had assumed yesterday (thanks for the tip, IceCat). I can't account for the fact that with Mika Miyazato and Momoko Ueda breaking the unofficial Korean embargo on Japanese players in the joint KLPGA/LPGA fall event, Ai Miyazato will be giving her top competitors for the LPGA's top honors a 1-tournament head start in the LPGA's home stretch.

Why?!!! Is it an injury? A typo? What's going on? If the surrealist stylings of google's Japanese translation system can be trusted, Ai-sama left for the United States on October 19th--and may not even play the Mizuno Classic! If this is right, it makes her last bizarre scheduling decision--to skip the LPGA Championship for the Suntory Ladies Open--look like a stroke of genius. I'm crushed, devastated, perplexed.... More on this after I've made a few inquiries.

[Update 1 (4:46 am): After reading Ai-sama's post and comments, the Full Metal Archivist has more details. Ai-sama is indeed taking a 2-week vacation in the United States, but plans to return to Japan in time for the Mizuno Classic. Reading between the lines, we've decided that she's either exhausted/burned out, has a boyfriend back in the States, or has a health issue that's more serious than she's been letting on. I'm leaning toward the selfish boyfriend theory, myself.]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Asian Swing Update: Pettersen Out, Creamer and Lewis Getting Early Start

During the LPGA's dead weeks this month, I've been keeping track of the exploits of the LPGA's Asian players on the JLPGA and KLPGA. Well, it's time to widen the focus to include some European and American players.

Randall Mell recently reported that Suzann Pettersen is sitting out the LPGA's Asian Swing. Let's hope the stress fracture in her left foot heals quickly enough to allow her to be close to her best in the tour's final 2 events. Even though she was the only player of the 5 who have the best shot at getting Player of the Year (and perhaps even the Vare Trophy and money list title at the same time) without home-country advantage in 1 of the last 4 events of '09, I was hoping she'd be well enough to give Ji-Yai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Lorena Ochoa, and Cristie Kerr a real run for their money over the entire run.

Meanwhile, Paula Creamer and Stacy Lewis have entered the JLPGA's Masters GC Ladies, joining Shin, who's fresh from a T7 at last week's KLPGA major and Momoko Ueda, who took last week off. But Miyazato, who's finished 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in her last 3 JLPGA events, may well be headed over to Korea early for next week's Hana Bank/KOLON Classic. Now that's dedication: the purse for this week's JLPGA event is exceeded only by 2 of their majors and the Mizuno Classic. Still, if she hadn't taken this week off, she'd have run the risk of burning out in November, where she's already committed to playing 5 weeks in a row on the LPGA and JLPGA, starting in Korea--in fact, she would have ended the season playing 11 weeks in a row in 4 different countries. Take that, Tiger!

[Update 1 (4:41 pm): Ryan Ballengee has a nice Morgan Pressel profile up at Waggle Room. I have to wonder if she's really skipping the Mizuno Classic, though. Why go to play in Korea if you also don't plan to play in Japan, too?]

[Update 2 (4:50 pm): A nice piece by Patricia Hannigan on Christina Kim's European adventure!]

[Update 3 (10/25/09, 6:15 am): Creamer and Ueda struggled, and an early triple double [whoops, that was Miki Saiki] kept Lewis out of contention today, but an LPGA regular still won in Japan this week. Ji-Yai Shin, who may well be the 1st female golfer to break the $2M barrier in worldwide winnings this season, beat Akiko Fukushima and Yuko Mitsuka on the 1st playoff hole with a par.]

Monday, October 19, 2009

On the Relative Strength of Women's Professional Tours, Once Again

Check out the KLPGA's key stats as of last week (courtesy of bangkokbobby at Seoul if you want some data to compare the relative strength of professional tours in the world of women's golf. [Update (2:36 am): Whoops, he's now got the current stats up!]

Their #3 money leader, Sun Ju Ahn, has a 70.22 scoring average, is averaging 3.94 birdies per round, is hitting 78.6% of her greens, and has broken 70 38.9% of the time. The stats for their #2 player, Hee Kyung Seo, are almost as impressive: 70.77, 3.84, 76.7%, and 38.5%. And #1 So Yeon Ryu is also putting up elite numbers: 70.87, 3.74, 78.9%, and 30.8%. Even in the midst of off-years, #6 Hye Yong Choi and #9 Ha Neul Kim are hanging in there: although they aren't in the top 10 in the other key stats, the latter has a 71.67 scoring average and 3.53 birdie rate, while the former has a 72.10 scoring average. That's 5 players who can excel anywhere in the world of professional women's golf. As far as I know, none of them are planning to leave the KLPGA next season, but when they eventually do, watch out for them.

By contrast, only 1 LET player has a scoring average under 71 this season. Like Ahn, Becky Brewerton (70.97) was a disappointment in last season's LPGA Q-School. (It'll be interesting to see if they have a chance for redemption this December--they'll need to get an exemption into this year's final qualifying round, as they didn't play in either of the sectional qualifiers this time around.) But Brewerton is also the top LET regular in birdie rate at an impressive 4.02; despite hitting only 71.9% of her greens in regulation, she's well ahead of Tania Elosegui (71.02, 3.82, 79.8%), Melissa Reid (71.23, 3.74, 74.4%), Jade Schaeffer (72.30, 3.72, 66.8%), and Gwladys Nocera (71.93, 3.65, 80.1%). We'll definitely see Elosegui and Nocera at Q-School this December, along with Emma Cabrera-Bello (72.74, 3.48, 68.4%), Iben Tinning (71.44, 3.49, 76.1%), Beatriz Recari (72.18, 3.24, 71.5%), and Marianne Skarpnord (71.15, 3.47, 74.0%). They're likely to be joined by LPGAers who could well fall outside the top 80 on the money list in 2009: Louise Stahle, Minea Blomqvist, Anna Rawson, Karin Sjodin, Carin Koch, Wendy Doolan, Eva Dahloff, Ashleigh Simon, Anja Monke, Johanna Mundy, Sophie Giquel, and Linda Wessberg (Louise Friberg and Silvia Cavalleri would be on the list, too, but their 2008 and 2007 wins, respectively, give them full status for 2010). The reputation of European women's golf is riding on the shoulders of these 18 (or 19, if Brewerton gets an exemption into the final qualifying tournament) players. If they can join their top peers on the LPGA in 2010, they'd certainly make a strong case for the quality of play on the LET in 2009.

On the JLPGA, Miki Saiki was last season's LPGA Q-School disappointment. Shiho Oyama, who played great in that event, seems to have shut it down on an injury-ridden season (tendonitis in both arms and an untimely neck injury while in contention in Japan in early August). So it's an open question whether either of them will join Yuko Mitsuka at Q-School. If Oyama can stay in the top 80 (she's a little over $12K ahead of Il Mi Chung, the #81 player on the LPGA money list) or even remain in the top 90 (she's about $35K ahead of Mindy Kim), she'll be able to avoid Q-School, as she'll be guaranteed of getting into any full-field event (it's theoretically possible to get bumped from some fields if you're in the #91 through #100 spots on the money list, as the 2nd 10 who make it in via Q-School get shuffled in between those players on the 2010 priority status list, and others can leapfrog your standing by winning or getting into the top 40 on the 2010 money list). In fact, unless top JLPGA players get automatic exemptions into the final qualifying round, the entire weight of Japanese women's golf could well be resting on Mitsuka's shoulders alone. So how do her stats measure up against the best of the KLPGA and LET? Well, she's 8th in scoring at 71.67 (Sakura Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, and Chie Arimura all have scoring averages under 70, as does Ai Miyazato, who hasn't played enough events to make it onto the official list; similarly, Momoko Ueda has a slightly lower scoring average than Mitsuka, who'd be 10th if everyone who had played on tour this season were shown); 8th in birdie rate at 3.26 (ahead of both Miyazato and Ueda in JLPGA events); and 11th in greens in regulation rate at 67.0% (ahead of Miyazato but behind Ueda, who'd be leading the tour in this category if she had played in enough events). These stats are good enough to put her 5th on the money list, but she's been having a rough 2nd half of the season and hasn't followed up on her season-opening victory. As for Australia's Tamie Durdin, who will also be competing at LPGA Q-School, she's 20th on the JLPGA money list, with a 72.89 scoring average, 2.81 birdie rate, and 62.9% GIR rate. Clearly, she'll have to rely on her experience to make it into the top 20 there and will need to elevate her game just to make cuts on the LPGA should she succeed in December.

As for the Futures Tour, we'll have to see how regulars Alison Walshe (72.08, 3.19 birdie rate), Dewi Claire Schreefel (72.70), and Hannah Jun (73.07) in particular stack up against their Q-School competition, not to mention their peers who joined them mid-season from the NCAA like Amanda Blumenherst (70.58 scoring average over 6 events), Pernilla Lindberg (70.87 scoring average and 69.5% GIR in 10 starts), Tiffany Joh (74.21 in 8 starts), Maria Hernandez (72.28 in 6 starts), Paola Moreno (71.90 in 7 starts), Jane Chin (72.25 in 8 starts), and Cindy LaCrosse (71.13 in 11 events). The tour's top 5 players--Mina Harigae (70.89, 3.30 birdie rate), Jean Reynolds (71.26, 3.40, 74.3%), Misun Cho (71.29, 3.10, 81.5%), Samantha Richdale (71.56, 3.02), and Song Yi Choi (72.00, 3.00, 70.2%)--have earned their LPGA cards for 2010 already.

It'll be interesting to see if we end up with more full-status LPGA members via Q-School from the Futures Tour than from the LET in 2010. If so, it would suggest that LET courses are set up easier than any other tour's, as the Euros' very high birdie and GIR rates would probably not have carried over to Florida. Without seeing how the players on these tours stack up against each other on the same course under similar conditions, it's difficult to compare even identical stats categories. But what the stats we've surveyed do allow you to do is generate hypotheses and a more general set of expectations--for the final qualifying round and beyond. The Futures Tour's Harigae, Blumenherst, and Lindberg on paper look to be the equals of the LET's Elosegui, Nocera, and Skarpnord, and they all seem to be having better seasons than the JLPGA's Mitsuka. I'd be shocked if any of them weren't on the LPGA in 2010. But because the JLPGA's and KLPGA's top players tend to stay on those tours in greater numbers than on the LET, I'll stick by my claim that they're the #2 and #3 tours in the world of women's professional golf.

[Update 1 (2:16 am): I'd add Colombia's MariaJo Uribe and Spain's Azahara Munoz to the list of the players to watch at LPGA Q-School in December, but they haven't yet played enough professional events to really compare their incredible scoring averages to those of their peers.]

[Update 2 (10/22/09, 7:21 am): With more than 10 players likely to have dual LPGA-JLPGA membership in 2010 (barring absolute meltdowns in JLPGA Q-School at the end of November and early December), we'll have much more data than usual to compare quality of play on different tours.]

Sunday, October 18, 2009

All I Want for My Birthday Is a Win by Ai Miyazato at the Fujitsu Ladies

As the leaders enter the final back 9 in the Fujitsu Ladies, Ai Miyazato sits 2 shots behind Miki Saiki (-10) and 1 shot behind Yukari Baba, Nikki Campbell, and Akane Iijima (-9). Saiki and Iijima had leapfrogged Miyazato with 2nd-round 65s, while Baba's 2nd-straight 68 had put her 1 behind them and 2 ahead of Campbell and Ai-sama, who had shot their own matching 69s to the 1st round. Whereas Miyazato had done her damage on Friday with a back-side 32, on Saturday she had opened with another one, but 2 bogeys in a 3-hole stretch on the back broke her momentum. As Ai-sama suffered the worst 9-hole score of any of the top 10 on moving day, she got passed by Iijima, who matched her Friday feat of 4 birdies in the 1st 5 holes on the back in a flawless performance, by Saiki, who followed up a 31 on the front with 3 birdies in her last 6 holes, and by Baba, who rallied with a 33 on the back. Today, Ai-sama has found the steadiness lacking in her previous 2 rounds, but having played 13 holes of bogey-free golf at 2-under, she'll need to find that mid-tournament explosiveness again over her last 5 holes if she's going to get her 2nd JLPGA win in a row.

Or maybe not. A bogey by Saiki on the par-4 12th has created a logjam for the lead at -9, 1 shot ahead of Ai-sama. As we wait for the final results, here's how everyone stands:

T1/-9 Miki Saiki (70-65-), Akane Iijima (70-65-), Yukari Baba (68-68-), Nikki Campbell (69-69-)
5th/-8 Ai Miyazato (69-69-),
6th/-7 Tamie Durdin (69-70-)
T7/-6 Ah-Reum Hwang (70-70-), Shinobu Moromizato (70-71-), Eun-A Lim (70-71-)
T10/-5 Miho Koga (71-69-), Chie Arimura (69-72-)

T12/-4 Yuri Fudoh (73-68-)
T15/-3 Asako Fujimoto (71-70-), Julie Lu (69-72-), Yun-Jye Wei (72-72-69), Esther Lee (72-72-69)
T20/-2 Yumiko Yoshida (69-73-)
T22/E Mayu Hattori (71-73-72)
T25/+1 Rikako Morita (76-67-), Hyun-Ju Shin (73-70-), Erina Hara (72-71-), Ayako Uehara (75-71-71), Yuki Ichinose (72-73-72)
T37/+3 Ji-Woo Lee (74-72-73), Sakura Yokomine (72-73-74)
T45/+4 Mai Arai (76-71-73), Yuki Sakurai (76-70-74)
T49/+5 Mie Nakata (74-73-74)
T54/+6 Kumiko Kaneda (73-74-75), So-Hee Kim (73-72-77)

Missing the cut yesterday were a surprisingly large number of elite players:

T57/+4 Maiko Wakabayashi (75-73)
T70/+6 Yuko Saitoh (74-76), Rui Kitada (73-77)
T76/+7 Na-Ri Lee (77-74)
T80/+8 Sakurako Mori (77-75)
WD Midori Yoneyama (77-WD)

A few more notes on today's round. Wei had played flawlessly for 15 holes, but went bogey-par-double bogey to drop out of the top 10. Koga had been -7 at the turn, but bogeys on the 12th and 14th have dropped her pretty much out of contention. Hwang had also been -7, but a bogey on the 14th has set her back. And a bogey on the par-4 11th dropped Durdin out of a tie at -8 with Ai-sama. By contrast, players with momentum include Moromizato, who's birdied 3 of her last 6 holes but only has 3 left to play, and Campbell, who's got a bogey-free 3-under round going today through 13 holes.

Here's where the last groups on the course are: Hara, Morita, and Shin are on the 18th; Suzuki, Yoshida, and Shiotani are on the 17th; Ohe, Shinsakue, and Lu are on the 16th; Arimura, Moromizato, and Lim are on the 16th; Fujimoto, Fudoh, and Nishizuka are on the 15th; Hwang, Koga, and Nagata are on the 15th; Durdin, Campbell, and Miyazato are on the 14th; and Baba, Iijima, Saiki are on the 13th.

As Japanese tv coverage begins, I'll say it again: all I want for my birthday is another win for Ai Miyazato!

[Update 1 (1:41 am): On other tours, Marianne Skarpnord shot a back-9 30 to force a playoff with Laura Davies and then beat her for her 2nd LET win of the season, which moved her to 4th on their money list. Christina Kim took time off from sightseeing to finish T11, while Julieta Granada (T20) and Linda Wessberg (T29) finished under par, as well, and built up some much-needed confidence. Meanwhile, Mi-Jeong Jeon put herself in contention this week on the KLPGA heading into the final round of their 3rd major of 2009. What a way to make up for last week's painful finish a win this week would be! Go, Mi-Jeong!]

[Update 2 (1:52 am): The statistically-minded will appreciate bangkokbobby's KLPGA update over at Seoul!]

[Update 3 (4:59 am): So close! Nikki Campbell and Ai Miyazato shot matching 35-34 sides today, but the former bogeyed 17 to do it, opening the door for a playoff with the latter. But Ai-sama couldn't pull off her 2nd win in a row; instead, Campbell won her 1st tournament near the end of her 7th season on the JLPGA. Akane Iijima had also gotten it to -10 after a birdie on the 5th hole, but she went 2-over the rest of the way and fell out of the playoff with a walkoff bogey. Miki Saiki bogeyed 2 of her last 7 holes to drop out of the playoff, as well as Yukari Baba, who played her last 6 holes in +1.

Here are the final results:

1st/-9 Nikki Campbell (69-69-69 [won in playoff])
2nd/-9 Ai Miyazato (69-69-69)
T3/-8 Yukari Baba (68-68-72), Miki Saiki (70-65-73), Akane Iijima (70-65-73)
6th/-7 Tamie Durdin (69-70-70)
7th/-6 Eun-A Lim (70-71-69)
T8/-5 Shinobu Moromizato (70-71-70), Miho Koga (71-69-71)
T10/-4 Yuri Fudoh (73-68-71), Aoi Nagata (71-69-72)

T12/-3 Yun-Jye Wei (72-72-69), Esther Lee (72-72-69), Asako Fujimoto (71-70-72), Chie Arimura (69-72-72), Julie Lu (69-72-72), Ah-Reum Hwang (70-70-73)
T19/-2 Yumiko Yoshida (69-73-72)
T21/E Mayu Hattori (71-73-72), Hyun-Ju Shin (73-70-73)
T24/+1 Ayako Uehara (75-71-71), Yuki Ichinose (72-73-72), Rikako Morita (76-67-74)
T30/+2 Erina Hara (72-71-75)
T37/+3 Ji-Woo Lee (74-72-73), Sakura Yokomine (72-73-74)
T45/+4 Mai Arai (76-71-73), Yuki Sakurai (76-70-74)
T49/+5 Mie Nakata (74-73-74)
T54/+6 Kumiko Kaneda (73-74-75), So-Hee Kim (73-72-77)

Still, I'm glad Ai-sama came that close!]

[Update 4 (5:15 am): Here's the new money list:

1. Shinobu Moromizato ¥145.03M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥127.94M
3. Chie Arimura ¥106.36M
4. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥105.12M
5. Yuko Mitsuka ¥69.40M
6. Ji-Hee Lee ¥60.34M
7. Miho Koga ¥60.32M
8. Yukari Baba ¥51.27M
9. Bo-Bae Song ¥47.04M
10. Nikki Campbell ¥44.24M
11. Yuko Saitoh ¥42.02M
12. Eun-A Lim ¥40.91M
13. Yuri Fudoh ¥40.42M
14. Ai Miyazato ¥39.53M
15. Miki Saiki ¥36.19M
16. Ayako Uehara ¥35.13M
17. Akiko Fukushima ¥34.67M
18. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥33.58M
19. Erina Hara ¥33.07M
20. Tamie Durdin ¥31.25M
21. Rui Kitada ¥30.33M
22. Momoko Ueda ¥28.51M
23. Rikako Morita ¥28.77M
24. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥26.32M
25. Midori Yoneyama ¥26.02M
26. Hiromi Mogi ¥25.96M
27. Ji-Woo Lee ¥25.53M
28. Na-Ri Lee ¥25.37M
29. Saiki Fujita ¥24.54M
30. Mayu Hattori ¥24.23M
31. Akane Iijima ¥24.22M
32. Li-Ying Ye ¥24.13M
33. Kaori Aoyama ¥21.31M
34. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥21.25M
35. So-Hee Kim ¥19.32M

Campbell jumps 10 spots into the top 10 with her win. Meanwhile, Miyazato has a great chance not only for a top 10 on the JLPGA this season, but for a $2M+ year in worldwide winnings, as well!]

[Update 5 (5:30 am): All I can get on the playoff is the news from Kyodo that Campbell sank a "super birdie putt" for the win. Let's see if the Australian media gives more details!]

[Update 6 (12:24 pm): It was a good week for JLPGA and KLPGA regulars. Hee Kyung Seo cruised to a 5-shot win over the LPGA's Na Yeon Choi, and the only other LPGAers to come within 10 shots of her were Inbee Park and Ji-Yai Shin. Unfortunately for Ji Hee Lee and Mi-Jeong Jeon, they didn't stay under par for the week, either. Jeon was in contention heading into the final round, but shot an 80 to drop 3 shots behind the steadier Lee.]

[Update 7 (10/19/09, 1:18 am): Ai-sama gets the "Know Your Asians" treatment from Stephanie Wei. Meanwhile, Bruce Young doesn't have details on the playoff, but does claim that Campbell's 1st JLPGA win came in 2006. Shows that you sometimes have to dig deeper than the career overview on a player's current profile page: he's right, she won the We Love Kobe Suntory Ladies--a big one--in 2006.]

[Update 8 (11:27 am): Here's what it takes to beat Ai Miyazato these days: stay alive in the playoff as long as possible and beat her with a 50-foot birdie putt on the 4th hole! Thank goodness for Asian Golf Daily, which has the details for those illiterate in Japanese!]

Friday, October 16, 2009

Recommended Reading: Ryan Ballengee and Stephanie Wei Go Behind the Scenes

Hey kids! Curious about who the next LPGA commissioner will be? Want to know more about the state of the LPGA in this economy? Well, check out what Ryan Ballengee and Stephanie Wei have been up to! Who said bloggers can't break news?

[Update 1 (11:28 am): And if men's golf happens to be your thing, Patricia Hannigan gives great background to the Padraig Harrington-Thomas Bjorn debate over the future of the European Tour.]

[Update 2 (11:32 am): And Brent Kelley has PGA business news for ya!]

[Update 3 (10/19/09, 3:39 am): Hmm, turns out the same day I posted this, Randall Mell broke the news that there's another contender for the LPGA commish position. Score one for the mainstream golfy media--but note that the Shag Bag blog was the place this story was broken!]

Fujitsu Ladies Friday: Yukari Baba Holds Slim Lead on Miyazato and Arimura

With Mi-Jeong Jeon and Ji-Hee Lee playing in the KLPGA's 3rd major this week (along with LPGA stars Ji-Yai Shin, Na Yeon Choi, and Amy Yang, among many others), and others from among the JLPGA's finest taking the week off (including Momoko Ueda and Akiko Fukushima), the Fujitsu Ladies represents a golden opportunity for someone to step up. Will Ai Miyazato and Sakura Yokomine continue their fine play of late? Will Shinobu Moromizato, Chie Arimura, and Yukari Baba shake off some disappointing recent results and return to form?

Time will tell, but the 1st round offers some preliminary answers. Despite making a double bogey on the 160-yard par-3 13th hole, Yukari Baba fired an opening 68 and is tied for the lead with Yuko Shinsakaue, who shot a more traditional bogey-free round. But Ai Miyazato stormed back from an opening 37 with 4 birdies in her 1st 5 holes on the back to pull within 1 shot of the lead, along with 7 other players who also broke 70, including Chie Arimura, Nikki Campbell, and Tamie Durdin. Only 2 off the pace are Shinobu Moromizato and Miki Saiki, while Miho Koga is 3 back and Sakura Yokomine trails by 4. With 24 players going under par, 34 shooting par or better, and 49 within 5 shots of the lead, however, this is still anyone's tournament.

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

T1/-4 Yukari Baba, Yuko Shinsakaue (68)
T3/-3 Ai Miyazato, Chie Arimura, Nikki Campbell, Tamie Durdin, Julie Lu, Ya-Huei Lu, Yumiko Yoshida (69)
T10/-2 Shinobu Moromizato, Eun-A Lim, Miki Saiki, Ah-Reum Hwang, Akane Iijima, Yuriko Ohtsuka, Mikiyo Nishizuka, Kaori Yamamoto (70)

T18/-1 Miho Koga, Mayu Hattori (71)
T25/E Sakura Yokomine, Erina Hara, Yun-Jye Wei, Yuki Ichinose, Esther Lee (72)
T35/+1 Yuri Fudoh, Rui Kitada, Hyun-Ju Shin, So-Hee Kim, Kumiko Kaneda (73)
T50/+2 Yuko Saitoh, Ji-Woo Lee, Mie Nakata (74)
T57/+3 Ayako Uehara, Maiko Wakabayashi (75)
T65/+4 Rikako Morita, Mai Arai, Yuki Sakurai (76)
T73/+5 Midori Yoneyama, Na-Ri Lee, Sakurako Mori (77)
WD Yuko Mitsuka

The 18th, a 374-yard par 4, looks to be a tough finishing hole, with only 3 birdies posted on it all day, while the 1st (long par 5) and 2nd (medium-length par 4) gave up the only 2 eagles from the field. Baba birdied every par 5, Arimura and Saiki birdied 3 of the 4, Yokomine birdied 2, and Miyazato, Moromizato, and Fudoh only birdied 1 of them, so that'll be a trend to watch. Besides the players at the top of the JLPGA, I'll also be interested in seeing how the rookies and young guns fare this week. 19-year-old Asako Fujimoto is in the top 20 in only her 2nd JLPGA event as a professional, 22-year-old Yumiko Yoshida broke 70 for only the 3rd time this season (the other 2 times were also in 1st rounds, which she followed up with disappointing 2nd ones), and 21-year-old Mayu Hattori could well contend again for the 2nd week in a row. But many of their highly-heralded peers continue to struggle. Here's hoping they turn it around tomorrow.

[Update 1 (2:14 pm): Jeon and Lee are in contention heading into the weekend on the KLPGA.]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

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

With both Ai Miyazato and Momoko Ueda having played the minimum number of JLPGA events to be included in this update to my last ranking of the tour's finest--and with both having gotten a win under their belts already--it'll be interesting to see how they stack up against the tour's regulars. So once again, 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.

There's a new Big 4 on the JLPGA, but nobody's done enough to displace Yokomine from the top spot just yet.

1. Sakura Yokomine: #2 2009 money (¥127.50M), #15 GSPI (70.32) [2], #18 RR (4.22) [2], #3 2008 money (¥103.19M). After a little blip early in the 2nd half of the season, she's back to being the dominant player on the JLPGA, having gotten a win and 5 other top 10s in her last 6 starts.

2. Shinobu Moromizato: #1 2009 money (¥142.83M), #33 GSPI (71.06) [8], #20 RR (4.06) [3], #12 2008 money (¥64.37M). With the best run of the season of anyone on tour--7 straight top 10s, including 3 golds, a silver, and a bronze--she was poised to take the #1 spot away from Yokomine. But she's gone T35-T20-T4-T23 in her last 4 events and even that good result was a disappointment: her Grand Slam hopes slammed to a screeching halt that week in the Japan Women's Open. Let's see if she can get herself back together and preserve or extend her lead in wins and winnings on the rest of the Big 4 between now and the end of November.

3. Mi-Jeong Jeon: #4 2009 money (¥105.12M), #26 GSPI (70.93) [6], #25 RR (3.69) [4], #6 2008 money (¥90.85M). She leads the tour not only in birdie rate and putts per green in regulation this season, but also in heartbreaking near-misses for wins. Let's see how well she recovers from her latest one last week.

4. Chie Arimura: #3 2009 money (¥105.21M), #51 GSPI (71.73) [11], #33 RR (3.21) [8], #23 2008 money (¥47.35M). After a fantastic 12-event top-20 run with 3 golds, 3 silvers, a bronze, and only 2 finishes outside the top 10 in it, she's cooled off fast in her last 2 events, finishing T29 and T11.

Among the best players who haven't racked up multiple wins or made it into the 100 Million Yen Club this season, I have to put the JLPGA's irregulars at the top of the list.

5. Ai Miyazato: #16 2009 money (¥32.49M), #6 GSPI (69.61) [1], #9 RR (6.70) [1], #32 2008 money (¥27.89M). If she sticks to her plans, it looks like she'll be playing 2 more JLPGA events in '09 than in her rookie season on the LPGA in 2006, when she garnered 2 golds, 2 silvers, and a bronze in 7 starts and made the top 10 on the money list. In only 5 events this season, she's less than 10 million yen out of the top 10 already. And she still has this week's and next week's events to play before returning for the joint JLPGA-LPGA Mizuno Classic and again for the Ricoh Cup at the end of November.

6. Momoko Ueda: #21 2009 money (¥28.51M), #25 GSPI (70.88) [5], #26 RR (3.66) [5], #17 2008 money (¥54.62M). In her 8 JLPGA events of '09, she's never finished outside the top 20 and has a gold, a silver, and 3 other top 10s, but she's not played up to her expectations. After taking this week off, it's looking like she'll be playing only 3 more JLPGA events this season--the ones with purses at or over 100 million yen. Let's see if she can surpass her LPGA rookie season's JLPGA performance last year in her time remaining on this one.

7. Ji-Hee Lee: #6 2009 money (¥60.34M), #21 GSPI (70.80) [3], #32 RR (3.24) [7], #2 2008 money (¥119.65M). It's hard to tell where she's headed right now: she's had 2 top 5s in her last 3 events, but also her 2 worst finishes of the season in her last 5 starts. She's no longer the top-10 and top-5 machine she was last season, but she still has 10 and 7, respectively, in 20 starts this one. But with only 1 '09 win, she's going to need quite a run down the home stretch to break the 100-million-yen barrier for the 2nd year in a row.

8. Yuko Mitsuka: #5 2009 money (¥69.40M), #31 GSPI (71.06) [7], #42 RR (2.49) [10], #7 2008 money (¥83.56M). She's been inconsistent at best lately, with 2 top 5s to go with a missed cut, a withdrawal, and 2 finishes outside the top 20 in her last 8 starts. Let's see if she can get some positive momentum on the JLPGA to take with her to LPGA Q-School the 1st week of December.

9. Miho Koga: #7 2009 money (¥58.12M), #39 GSPI (71.31) [9], #38 RR (2.82) [9], #1 2008 money (¥120.85M). Her T11 last week broke a 7-event top-10 streak, but she still hasn't finished worse than that in her last 10 events, so I'd say last season's money-list leader is poised for a stretch run to match last year's explosive play, when she won 2 of her last 3 events and snatched the money title away from Lee in the process. But she'll need to win at least once before the end of the season to qualify for the Ricoh Cup.

10. Yuri Fudoh: #11 2009 money (¥38.88M), #23 GSPI (70.83) [4], #30 RR (3.51) [6], #5 2008 money (¥91.86M). She's another player you're shocked to see hasn't yet won on tour this season and has both missed a cut and finished outside the top 20 twice in 15 starts (including a T33 last week). Even opening with a 63 a few weeks ago and breaking 70 all 3 rounds wasn't enough to get her into the winner's circle in '09. But there's still time for the JLPGA's only Billion Yen Woman to heat up.

Still waiting for Akiko Fukushima to jump-start her season. But as you can see, it takes a lot for the up-and-coming stars on tour to catch her.

11. Bo-Bae Song: #8 2009 money (¥47.04M), #48 GSPI (71.60) [10], #56 RR (2.09) [11], #13 2008 money (¥63.47M). Winning a major is a good way to fulfill my August prediction that she ought to be moving up my rankings. But she hasn't done much that's very special the rest of the season. If she improves her putting and keeps making birdies like she did in the Japan Women's Open, though, she can break into the JLPGA's elite before the season is out.

12. Akiko Fukushima: #13 2009 money (¥34.67M), #72 GSPI (72.21) [12], #58 RR (2.04) [12], #4 2008 money (¥96.50M). She's only had 2 good events in her last 11 starts since her 6-event top-20 run came to an end, but both times she put herself in contention. Never count out a player who's less than 170 million yen away from becoming the 2nd Billion Yen Woman in JLPGA history.

13. Eun-A Lim: #12 2009 money (¥38.11M), #76 GSPI (72.26) [13], #60 RR (1.97) [13], #9 2008 money (¥73.41M). Had a 5-event top-10 run going for awhile there, but with 2 missed cuts, a T33, and a T15 in her last 4 starts, she's in serious danger of falling further next ranking.

14. Yukari Baba: #9 2009 money (¥46.47M), #69 GSPI (72.46) [11], #68 RR (1.67) [14], #26 2008 money (¥44.14M). She rode a 5-event streak that included a silver and 2 bronzes and no finish worse than T13, but has gone T26-T10-T23 her last 3 starts. Has the fastest mover up this ranking peaked?

15. Ayako Uehara: #14 2009 money (¥34.48M), #104 GSPI (72.72) [17], #82 RR (1.37) [18], #14 2008 money (¥63.31M). Her putting remains her Achilles heel, but even though she's finished outside the top 20 in her last 3 starts and outside the top 10 in her last 4, and only has 1 top 10 in her last 14 starts, she still has a win under her belt this season, so there's hope for her to surpass last one, the best in her JLPGA career.

16. Miki Saiki: #18 2009 money (¥31.93M), #81 GSPI (72.37) [14], #75 RR (1.53) [16], #20 2008 money (¥50.84M). Since going MC-T50 midway through the season, her worst finish in her last 9 starts--and only 1 outside the top 20--has been T35. In that stretch, she's gotten 4 top 10s, with her best finish being a runner-up when she went 65-65 on the weekend. So I'd say she's recovered from her disappointing finish in last December's LPGA Q-School. Let's see how strongly she can close out this season.

The last set of players includes those who have cooled off after a fast start to the season and vice versa.

17. Erina Hara: #15 2009 money (¥32.51M), #139 GSPI (72.33) [32], #85 RR (1.28) [19], #10 2008 money (¥65.87M). Things have gone from bad to worse for this JLPGA young gun. She's missed 3 cuts in a row and 5 of her last 7. Here's hoping she turns it around at the end of the season.

18. Hiromi Mogi: #26 2009 money (¥25.96M), #109 GSPI (72.80) [18], #88 RR (1.20) [20], #18 2008 money (¥52.62M). Except for 2 MCs, 1 coming last week, she hasn't fallen outside the top 20 in her last 12 starts. But with only 2 top 10s in that stretch (bringing her season total to 5), she's not moving up the money list as fast as she ought to be.

19. Yuko Saitoh: #10 2009 money (¥42.02M), #117 GSPI (72.86) [20], #99 RR (1.08) [24], #34 2008 money (¥25.87M). She's only cracked the top 10 once in her last 8 starts, with a MC and 2 WDs in that stretch. I wonder if she's playing hurt.

20. Hyun-Ju Shin: #34 2009 money (¥12.27M), #123 GSPI (72.97) [26], #74 RR (1.56) [15], #11 2008 money (¥64.63M). For a brief stretch recently, she looked like she was rounding into form, with 4 top 20s in a row, but she finished T36 in the Japan Women's Open and withdrew from last week's Sankyo Ladies Open. Hoping her injuries that cut short last season aren't the cause of her recent struggles.

21. Nikki Campbell: #20 2009 money (¥29.84M), #86 GSPI (72.46) [15], #106 RR (1.03) [29], #33 2008 money (¥27.04M). She's got a 4-event top 20 streak going and has 3 top 10s in that run. With the lowest scoring average of her JLPGA career going, she has the chance for 2009 to be her best season ever.

22. Rikako Morita: #22 2009 money (¥28.13M), #172 GSPI (73.66) [38], #94 RR (1.14) [22]. After missing the cut in 7 of her 1st 9 events, this rookie has heated up and cooled off; after putting herself in contention quite often mid-season, she's missed the top 20 in 6 of her last 7 events. But she did get a top 10 in the year's 2nd major and she has a 17-event made-cut streak going, so there's still hope for her.

23. Maiko Wakabayashi: #24 2009 money (¥26.32M), #121 GSPI (72.94) [24], #93 RR (1.15) [21], #21 2008 money (¥50.06M). She hasn't played well her last 3 events, but she did get her 2nd bronze of the season right before that and her scoring average is the lowest of her short career, so with some good finishes down the stretch, '09 can still be her best year ever.

24. Rui Kitada: #19 2009 money (¥30.33M), #118 GSPI (72.87) [21], #101 RR (1.08) [26], #28 2008 money (¥36.34M). Her T6 this season gives her some hope that she can still get a win for the 3rd season in a row. She's on pace for her best season since 2004, when she won 3 times and finished 3rd on the money list.

25. Ah-Reum Hwang: #17 2009 money (¥32.43M), #122 GSPI (72.96) [25], #96 RR (1.11) [23], #44 2008 money (¥18.28M). She's only had 1 top 20 in her last 14 starts, which include 6 MCs and a WD. You have to wonder if she's playing hurt, too.

26. Ji-Woo Lee: #28 2009 money (¥25.09M), #99 GSPI (72.65) [16], #107 RR (1.02) [30], #22 2008 money (¥47.63M). After missing 2 cuts in a row midway through the season, she's made 12 in a row. But she hasn't gotten a top 10 in that stretch and only has 3 all season. With a hot finish, though, this could still turn out to be her best year on the JLPGA.

27. Midori Yoneyama: #25 2009 money (¥26.02M), #130 GSPI (72.74) [29], #100 RR (1.08) [25], #25 2008 money (¥45.29M). She hasn't gotten a top 10 in her last 10 starts, with 2 missed cuts in that stretch. It's not looking good for her to get back into the top 20 for the 1st time since 2005.

28. Mayu Hattori: #31 2009 money (¥23.51M), #124 GSPI (72.98) [27], #76 RR (1.52) [17], #15 2008 money (¥58.72M). She's come back from a terrible start to the season where she finished only 7 of her 1st 16 events, but now she's on an 8-event made-cut streak, with her 4th top 10 and best finish of the year coming just last week. In fact, if her birdie putt on 18 had fallen, she would have gotten into a playoff with Ai Miyazato. Look for her to finish the season strong.

29. Li-Ying Ye: #30 2009 money (¥24.13M), #137 GSPI (73.22) [23], #103 RR (1.05) [27]. She, too, is riding an 8-event made-cut streak after a bad start to her season, but she only has 1 top 20 in that run.

30. Saiki Fujita: #29 2009 money (¥24.54M), #126 GSPI (73.00) [28], #104 RR (1.04) [28], #29 2008 money (¥31.72M). Her 4th top 10 of the season at the Japan Women's Open gives her some hope that she can extend her winning streak to 4 straight seasons on the JLPGA, but with 2 MCs and a WD in her last 5 events, it's hard to say she has much momentum going.

31. Tamie Durdin: #23 2009 money (¥28.05M), #116 GSPI (72.86) [19], #111 RR (.94) [32], #55 2008 money (¥14.65M). Yes, she's gotten her 1st career JLPGA win this season and made it to the final stage of LPGA Q-School, but in her last 15 events, her best finishes besides a T6 midway through the season have been a pair of T20s and she's missed the cut in 5 of those starts. Time to get it going again in time for early December's challenge.

32. Akane Iijima: #34 2009 money (¥19.42M), #150 GSPI (73.34) [33], #115 RR (.90) [33], #19 2008 money (¥51.40M). She just suffered through a stretch where she missed 6 cuts in 9 starts, but last week was her 1st top 10 in her last 16 events, so maybe it's the start of something good for her.

[Update 1 (10/22/09, 7:32 am): Wow! There's going to be even more competition for the top spot in 2010, barring absolute meltdowns at JLPGA Q-School in late November and early December.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Globalization Watch: PGA vs. LPGA

Now that Team USA has beaten up on the Internationals in the President's Cup as badly as they did the Europeans in the Ryder Cup, it's time to revisit a back-and-forth between Vince Spence (the 1 and only One-Eyed Golfer) and I last month over my claim that the "globalization of men's golf is about a decade behind the world of women's golf." Vince pointed to the concentration of the world's top female players on 1 tour as evidence of the reverse. In my response, I distinguished globalization from both internationalization and regionalization to support my point. But now, there's a quicker way. Consider what might happen if the Lexus Cup (the women's game's now-defunct equivalent to the President's Cup) were being played this season.

If everyone eligible to play teed it up, the Internationals would look like:

Lorena Ochoa (Rolex Rankings #1, LPGA money list #5)
Ji-Yai Shin (RR #2, $ #1)
Ya Ni Tseng (RR #5, $ #8)
Karrie Webb (RR #8, $ #11)
Ai Miyazato (RR #9, $ #2)
In-Kyung Kim (RR #10, $ #6)
Song-Hee Kim (RR #11, $ #13)
Na Yeon Choi (RR #12, $ #10)
Eun-Hee Ji (RR #15, $ #12)
Sakura Yokomine (RR #18, JLPGA money list #2, enough to be in 4th on the LPGA list)

Let me pause there and note that only Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, and Michelle Wie have records in the same league as these 9 players. Team USA's mid-level players--Kristy McPherson, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome, and Brittany Lang--would have to hope for captain's picks onto their competitors' squad. Would you really take any of them over Shinobu Moromizato (RR #20, ¥ #1), Lindsey Wright (RR #21, $ #17), Seon Hwa Lee (RR #24, $ #27), Mi-Jeong Jeon (RR #25, ¥ #4), Momoko Ueda (RR #26, winnings of over $650K on the LPGA and JLPGA combined), Katherine Hull (RR #27, $ #28), Candie Kung (RR #29, $ #23), Yuri Fudoh (RR #30, the JLPGA's only Billion-Yen Woman), Sun Young Yoo (RR #31, $ #21), Ji-Hee Lee (RR #32, ¥ #6), or Chie Arimura (RR #33, ¥ #3)? These 11 players are all ranked higher than Lang.

With players from Korea (9), Japan (6), Australia (3), Taiwan (2), and Mexico (1) among the contenders to take on Team USA (whose 3rd foursome would probably include Christina Kim, Juli Inkster, Stacy Lewis, and Natalie Gulbis or Pat Hurst), is there any doubt who would have the advantage in such a competition?

[Update 1 (10/13/09, 12:13 am): Jay Busbee indirectly supports my point with a small correction to his title--adding "male" before "golfers." If the U.S. still dominates the world, your game isn't as globalized as you think it is, PGA.]

[Update 2 (12:21 am): Geoff Shackelford misses a chance to point out that Tim Finchem is following a trail the Brand Lady blazed.]