Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Schedule Speculation

Yesterday, Boston Golf Examiner Emily Kay was kind enough to link one of my fan posts at Hound Dog's blog with Christina Kim's and Stephanie Wei's. Kay's topic was the globetrotting that many women golfers will be doing in 2010. Although she got a few details wrong (the Thailand and Singapore events are the LPGA's, not KLPGA's), seems to have misunderstood how few LPGA members have dual LPGA-JLPGA membership, and seems to have disregarded how the LPGA's priority status system, as well as players' commitments to their countries and their sponsors, will influence their scheduling choices--and hence overstates the scale of tourhopping LPGA players will be doing this coming season--she got the key point of my post dead right: the players are ahead of the tours when it comes to dealing with the global downturn and the LPGA's scheduling problems, and the tours had better catch up fast if they don't want to see their headliners follow their own migratory patterns. While I don't envision more than a few such players spending more time off the LPGA than on it in 2010--only those with very limited status on the LPGA or who get off to great starts in the 1st half of the season on the JLPGA or LET--I do think those numbers could increase if the LPGA doesn't co-sponsor more events and coordinate its schedule with other tours, as well as expand its North American schedule and bring back the ADT Championship.

Let's flesh that point out by looking at who among the top players in each of the last 5 rookie classes have dual membership--and hence could decide to relegate the LPGA to their "other" tour in the 20teens:

2010: Azahara Munoz, Pernilla Lindberg, Marianne Skarpnord, Gwladys Nocera, Maraijo Uribe, Maria Hernandez, Beatriz Recari, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Alison Walshe, Mallory Blackwelder (all LPGA-LET)

2009: #1 Ji-Yai Shin (LPGA-JLPGA), #2 Anna Nordqvist (LPGA-LET), #8 Shiho Oyama (LPGA-JLPGA), #12 Tania Elosegui (LPGA-LET), #17 Kim Welch (LPGA-LET), #18 Jeehae Lee (LPGA-LET)

2008: #4 Momoko Ueda (LPGA-JLPGA), #5 Amy Yang (LPGA-LET), #9 Louise Friberg (LPGA-LET), #14 Anna Rawson (LPGA-LET), #15 Anja Monke (LPGA-LET), #16 Ashleigh Simon (LPGA-LET), #22 Hannah Jun (LPGA-LET) [#23 Emma Cabrera-Bello lost her LPGA status and will be playing the LET full-time, while #24 Onnarin Sattayabanphot elected to do JLPGA Q-School instead of the LPGA's and will most likely be spending the year in Japan]

2007: #2 In-Kyung Kim (LPGA-LET), #5 Inbee Park (LPGA-JLPGA)

2006: #1 Seon Hwa Lee (LPGA-JLPGA), #3 Ai Miyazato (LPGA-JLPGA), #12 Julieta Granada (LPGA-LET), #13 Minea Blomqvist (LPGA-LET), #15 Karin Sjodin (LPGA-LET), #17 Louise Stahle (LPGA-LET), #19 Na Ri Kim (LPGA-JLPGA) [Linda Wessberg, Nina Reis, and Veronica Zorzi are playing the LET full time in 2010]

If the numbers of dual members increase in these younger classes in the coming years--and if more top players in them start going for dual membership--then the pressure on the LPGA to take action to remain their players' top tour will increase.

Now, media around the world have recently been reporting that Ji-Yai Shin and Ai Miyazato have decided to focus on the LPGA Player of the Year race and cut down on their JLPGA schedules in 2010. This makes sense for them, as they came so close to breaking Lorena Ochoa's 3-year streak in 2009. Shin played noticeably worse during the LPGA's home stretch last season, starting with the Asian swing, just as Ochoa got hot. Meanwhile, Miyazato inexplicably took a 2-week vacation in the United States in the lead-up to the last 3 LPGA events; after having played great on the JLPGA in October, she skipped a JLPGA event and the LPGA-KLPGA event at the end of the month and travelled back to Japan for the Mizuno Classic before flying to Mexico for Lorena's tournament and then to Houston for the LPGA Tour Championship. That kind of travel makes it really hard to play your best. So it definitely makes sense to minimize your off-tour globetrotting if you're a contender for LPGA POY.

But the LPGA's schedule has such huge holes in 2010, travelling back to North America for a single LPGA event may pose similar kinds of problems to players' competitiveness. Fortunately, in the early season, those with dual membership won't have to worry about this. It makes sense for them to play the 2 LPGA events in February, then try to get into either LET or JLPGA events (depending on the player) for most of March, before heading to the West Coast for the last week of March and 1st week of April--that'll help them sharpen their games and build momentum heading into the LPGA's 1st major. Let's see how many LPGAers who don't have dual membership make their way to the States from Southeast Asia in March by getting sponsor exemptions into LET or JLPGA events. That'll be a pretty good early indication of how much tourhopping we'll be seeing the rest of 2010 and in 2011.

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