Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Hitchhiker's Guide to the 2010 LPGA Priority Status List

Mostly Harmless regular IceCat, who I 1st got to know at the Seoul discussion forum, alerted me last weekend to the release of the LPGA's Priority Status for 2010 Standard Eligibility Tournaments list. I decided to hold off on commenting on it until after the completion of LET Q-School. Well, now that we know that Maria Hernandez, Mariajo Uribe, and Pernilla Lindberg will have full LPGA-LET membership in 2010 (along with In-Kyung Kim and Azahara Munoz, who got it via '09 LET wins [thanks for the correction, Happy Fan], and a host of LET regulars who finished in the top 80 of the LPGA money list or in the top 20 at Q-School in 2009), that Diana D'Alessio, Hannah Jun, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Jeehae Lee, Alison Walshe, and Mallory Blackwelder will have partial LPGA status and full LET status, that Kim Welch has partial status on both tours, and that Mollie Fankhauser has full status on the LET only, we're in a position to look more closely at the factors that will be influencing their schedule-planning next season.

But first, let's review the key categories of membership on the LPGA. Category 1, for the top 80 on the money list from 2009, includes 84 golfers. Who are the lucky additions?

(81) Na On Min
(82) Wendy Doolan
(83) Aree Song
(84) *Sherri Steinhauer (1a from 2009)

Medical exemptions were the reasons for their staying in Category 1, as the LPGA's Mike Scanlan confirmed for me via email (not bad while on vacation--thanks, Mike!).

Next on the list are Category 2 players in the top 20 on career money list who decided to exercise one of their 2-time exemptions into this category:

(85) Meg Mallon
(86) Lorie Kane
(87) Liselotte Neumann

Category 3 includes major winners in the past 5 years who have played at least 10 tournaments in the last 2:

(88) Annika Sorenstam
(89) Jeong Jang
(90) Birdie Kim
(91) Grace Park
(92) Hilary Lunke

...just in case, you know, Annika decides it's time for a comeback! Although I'm just as excited at the prospect of returns by Jeong Jang from wrist surgery and Grace Park from hip surgery necessitated by her long-standing back problems....

Category 4 is made up of players who have won at least twice in the past 4 seasons and played at least 10 events in the past 2 without getting into a higher priority status category. That would include, um, 1 player...

(93) Mi Hyun Kim

...who will be coming back from giving birth in November. (Congrats!)

Then we skip a couple of categories (no new winners in 2010 yet or 3-time winners in a single season who aren't already in a higher priority status category) down to #6, which includes players who have won once between 2007 and 2009:

(94) Leta Lindley
(95) Silvia Cavalleri
(96) Louise Friberg

Again skipping a couple of categories (no non-member winners yet or top 40 on the money list in 2010) down to #9, here are the proud top 5 from the 2009 Futures Tour money list:

(97) Mina Harigae
(98) Jean Reynolds
(99) Misun Cho
(100) Samantha Richdale
(101) Song Yi Choi

And then we get into the last of the categories that will guarantee you entry into just about any full-field event you want, #11, which is made up of players who finished from #81 to #100 on the 2009 LPGA money list and from #1 to #20 in the 2009 LPGA Q-School. Here's where things get interesting, for two reasons.

First, the LPGA apparently took Hound Dog's and my critiques of the way they handled membership in this category for the 2009 season and have offered a clarification of what happens when someone gets higher priority status with her Q-School finish than her money list finish.

However, if a player No. 81-100 on the LPGA Official Money List at the end of the last official LPGA tournament of the previous year, improves her status within this category by way of her finish in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, she will assume the higher priority status. Her lower priority status will be assumed by the next available player within this category from the LPGA Official Money List of the previous year who has also not improved her status via the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament.

Their clarifying example is indeed illuminating:

Example: A player finishes 95th on the LPGA Official Money List at the end of the last official LPGA tournament of th[e] previous year. She competes in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament and finishes 1st. She assumes the higher priority status within this category and vacates her lower priority status position, which is then assumed by the player who finishes 96th on the LPGA Money List of the previous year. If the player who finishes 96th on the LPGA Official Money List also improves her position within this category via the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, the player who finished 97th on the LPGA Official Money List will assume the vacated priority status by the [player] who finished
95th and the player who finished 98th will assume the priority status vacated by the player who finished 96th[,] etc.

Hope they fix those typos I noted in [square brackets]! As it turns out, there were no players already in Category 11 in this season's Q-School, so they didn't need to use this clarification this time around. But it's good to have it.

So here's how Category 11 looks for 2010:

(102) Amanda Blumenherst
(103) Moira Dunn
(104) Katie Kempter
(105) Heather Bowie Young
(106) Marianne Skarpnord
(107) Taylor Leon
(108) Julieta Granada
(109) Allison Hanna
(110) Azahara Munoz
(111) Kris Tamulis
(112) Maria Hernandez
(113) Chella Choi
(114) Lisa Meldrum
(115) Laura Davies
(116) Nicole Jeray
(117) Karin Sjodin
(118) Nicole Hage
(119) Rachel Hetherington
(120) Beatriz Recari
(121) Louise Stahle
(122) Leah Wigger
(123) Jennifer Rosales
(124) Mariajo Uribe
(125) Mindy Kim
(126) Tamie Durdin
(127) Minea Blomqvist (also due to give birth soon)
(128) Lucy Kim
(129) Anna Rawson
(130) Iben Tinning
(131) Sarah Kemp
(132) Gwladys Nocera
(133) Jin Young Pak
(134) Tania Elosegui
(135) Jill McGill
(136) Liz Janangelo
(137) Jimin Jeong
(138) Pernilla Lindberg
(139) Reilley Rankin
(140) Il Hee Lee
(141) Gloria Park
(142) Danielle Downey
(143) Kelli Kuehne

But wait, I asked myself before publishing this post, what are those last 3 names doing on this list? My guess was medical exemptions--and the LPGA's Scanlan confirmed it. Thanks again, Mike.

Back to my 2nd interesting thing about this category: since not all full-field events have 144 players in them, it's possible that one of my frontrunners for Rookie of the Year next season, Pernilla Lindberg, could find herself the odd woman out (among others) once or twice. But I guess she could always try to Monday-qualify if she were committed to playing on the LPGA that week rather than the LET. Speaking of the LET, it seems like players with dual LPGA-LET membership in 2010 from this category will have a strong interest in fighting for the top 80 or 100 on the LPGA money list and keeping the LET their "other" tour next season.

But what about those lower than the lone Category 12er, Laura Diaz, right at #144 on the priority list, who will definitely need a good number of those ahead of them to skip an LPGA event to get into it themselves? Let's focus on those with memberships on other tours in 2010, starting with Category 15ers, who finished #101 through #125 on the '09 LPGA money list:

(152) Na Ri Kim
(153) Carin Koch
(156) Ashleigh Simon
(161) Anja Monke
(162) Diana D'Alessio
(163) Johanna Mundy
(165) Mhairi McKay
(166) Young-A Yang

Kim will probably be spending most of her time next season on the JLPGA, and we might see a lot of Yang on the KLPGA, while I expect that the rest are mostly LET-bound. It's not yet likely that 20 players ahead of them will fairly regularly be making the JLPGA, KLPGA, or LET their main tour and the LPGA their "other" tour in 2010. Right?

Skipping the large group of mostly retired players in Category 15a, which will be merged with a lower category the following season anyway, it's interesting that someone like Paola Moreno (stuck at #228 on the priority list in Category 16 thanks to her finishing outside the top 20 at Q-School) didn't go for LET Q-School (nope, I didn't see her name on their pre-qualifying tournament leaderboard). Guess she's planning to spend most of her time on the Futures Tour in 2010.

But it's easy to see why some of the players who finished #6 to #10 on the FT money list in '09 would be looking for LET membership next season:

(239) Alison Walshe
(240) Dewi Claire Schreefel

The odds of their getting into any LPGA events in '10 are pretty small. But at least they're better than those in Category 20, who got the last 10 Q-School spots:

(329) Jeehae Lee
(333) Mallory Blackwelder
(335) Kim Welch

I'm sure these players asked themselves, why not travel all over Europe and Asia for more prize money on the LET than driving all over the States and Mexico on the Futures Tour in only 17 events? This is a question more and more American players might start taking seriously for 2011. Meanwhile, #331 Pornanong Phatlum may well be wishing she went with fellow Thai standout Onnarin Sattayabanphot to JLPGA Q-School. Even though Moo bombed out in the final stage there, finishing 85th at +18, she's likely to still get into more than half a dozen JLPGA events in 2010, along with at least that many Step-Up Tour events, which is a lot more than Phatlum can expect from the LPGA. At least, like Moreno and Welch, she has the Futures Tour to fall back on.

All in all, there are 10 players with full status on both the LPGA and JLPGA--Ji-Yai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Candie Kung, Seon Hwa Lee, Momoko Ueda, Inbee Park, Teresa Lu, Young Kim, Shiho Oyama, and Tamie Durdin--while Na Ri Kim has partial membership on the LPGA and full membership on the JLPGA. By my count, there are more than 30 players with full status on both the LPGA and LET and about a dozen with partial membership on the LPGA and full membership on the LET. When you add in the 40 Korean players with full membership on the LPGA who can probably play in any KLPGA event they want to and the half-dozen with partial LPGA membership who can probably do the same, it'll be interesting to see how they all choose to manage their worldwide schedules in 2010.

[Update 1 (12/24/09, 11:00 am): In a little fluff piece on the '10ers holiday plans, it's noted without explanation that Tamie Durdin (of the JLPGA) and Libby Smith (of the Futures Tour) participated in the rookies' orientation but are not rookies. What the heck does that mean? Ah, I get it. Durdin's rookie year was in 2001 and Smith's in 2006!]

[Update 2 (1/8/10, 4:54 am): Here are some notes on the list from Hound Dog.]


enick88 said...

Great and very informative. Thanks for putting an understandable slant on a confusing situation dealing with staus.

The Constructivist said...

Thanks, this is only the 2nd year they're using the system, so it'll take some getting used to!

Awsi Dooger said...

That's a terrific breakdown, Constructivist. Has anyone published a 2010 calendar, listing the events on the various tours by week and location? That would be invaluable to identify options and logical strategy.

That no one from #81-100 attempted Q School basically shouts the system is flawed and the players needed only one year to figure it out. Top 80 is touted as the cutoff but in reality it's Top 100. And that's too darn high. Many of those players in the 81-100 range have scoring averages above 73. I think Jill McGill was close to 74. Yet they skate past the minimal requirements to maintain status. Meanwhile, on the Futures Tour players with sub 72 scoring averages struggle to make the Top 5 to advance with high priority. Many do not make the Top 10, like Gerina Mendoza with her 71.78. IMO the system doesn't allow enough LPGA turnover, far simpler to stay there than get there. It typically takes even par to several under par to make Top 20 at Q School. Futures Tour Top 5 similarly falls in line. Yet the LPGA rewards players with ongoing full status as long as they scruff around in the 73 range.

Anyway, in looking at the categories I always keep in mind that among 140 eligible players it's likely that 5-6% minimum will have some type of injury, illness, family concern, etc., that keeps them away. And the same principal applies to the next few dozen in line to replace them. So there's more room for the borderline players than it appears at first glance, this far removed.

The Constructivist said...

All good points. I link to my worldwide calendar at the end of this post, but it's incomplete, as the KLPGA likely won't announce theirs till January. Oh, and there's always a chance we may see new events from the LPGA or LET, as well as TBDs filled in on them and the JLPGA, in the coming weeks....

IceCat said...

Had Bo Bae Song elected to come out to the LPGA in 2010 after her win at Mizuno last month she would have been in Category 7, from where Ji Yai Shin began her 2009 campaign.

The Constructivist said...

I wonder if there's a deadline for activating Category 7 status? Or if Bo Bae just hasn't decided yet?

Jim C said...

Last year's top 5 Future's players finished 44,92,105,31, and 97 on this year's LPGA money list. That does not suggest to me that more than 5 Future's players should be ranked ahead of the LPGA 81-100 players in Category 11. You cannot directly compare scoring averages unless the courses are equally difficult.

Q School is also not played on an LPGA course--but look at Norqvist who only made Category 16 out of Q School last year. More positions could be made available through Q School--and Rolex Rankings could also be considered.

There should also be ways in which top rookies can get into limited field events more readily. There seem to be no full field events before the Kraft which rookies could use to qualify for the Kraft next year.

The Constructivist said...

Jim, think of those 5 FT money-list memberships as incentives for those with limited status on the LPGA to play on the FT virtually full-time--and not jump ship to the JLPGA, KLPGA, or LET. Given that 4 of the 5 from '08's top 5 essentially kept their cards and the 5th will get into most any LPGA event she wants in '10, I actually think there's a case to be made for upping the size of Category 9 to 10 players in the near future, but only if the FT and LPGA grow in events and purse sizes.

But I think you're right that the category that should be expanded in the immediate future is Category 11. I'd like to see Category 1 reduced to a top 75 and have the next 25 players on the money list and the top 25 in Q-School make up Category 11. There's no reason someone who couldn't make the top 100 on the money list should be able to avoid Q-School (without having some other kind of higher priority status than Category 11 can give her).

The best way to ensure that top rookies can get into the year's 1st LPGA major is to co-sponsor more winter events with the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET while turning most limited-field events into full-field ones, particularly early in the season. The easiest way, though, is for the majors to make sure that the top 50 in the Rolex Rankings get automatic exemptions into any LPGA major.