Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Did the LPGA or JLPGA Do Better by Its Q-School?

When you look at the recent results from Final Qualifying Tournaments for entry into the LPGA and JLPGA, which tour do you think is getting a stronger group of players? Let's break it down!

Aree Song (LPGA) vs. Hee Young Park (JLPGA)

I have to give the nod to the JLPGA medalist here, as Song is making a comeback from the depths of health and injury problems that have jeopardized her career the last 6 years, while Park is a proven KLPGA star who made a strong transition to the LPGA and is getting better and better each year.

Jessica Korda (LPGA) vs. Shanshan Feng (JLPGA)

Again, I have to give the nod to the JLPGA, at least in terms of who's likely to make an immediate impact on tour. Feng has shown flashes of brilliance as the 1st Chinese golfer on the LPGA and has already played through a sophomore slump, while Korda is yet another teenager who's going to have to adjust to the rigors of professional life on the big stage and attempt to hold her own against similarly-talented but more-experienced competition. Certainly in America the media will pay more attention to Korda, but in China and Japan, Feng will get a lot of attention every time she decides to tee it up on the JLPGA.

Jimin Jeong, Dewi Claire Schreefel, Pornanong Phatlum, Reilley Rankin, and Mollie Fankhauser (LPGA) vs. Kaori Ohe, Shiho Oyama, Erina Hara, Mika Takushima, and Kumiko Kaneda (JLPGA)

This one is tough to call; Rankin isn't even close to former JLPGA money-list leader Oyama's stature, but Ohe, Hara, Takushima, and Kaneda are all coming off serious slumps, while Jeong, Schreefel, Phatlum, and Fankhauser just didn't get enough LPGA starts this past season. All in all, I'd say that probably the slight advantage the LPGA has among the younger players is more than offset by the huge JLPGA advantage in Oyama.

Danah Ford Bordner (LPGA) vs. Satsuki Oshiro (JLPGA)

I'm going to give the nod to the LPGA here, as Bordner seems to have turned a corner in her career while Oshiro is much younger and less experienced than she is.

Jeehae Lee, Angela Oh, Nicole Hage, and Pernilla Lindberg (LPGA) vs. Nachiyo Ohtani, Chie Sakai, Natsu Nagai, and Tomomi Hirose (JLPGA)

I'm going to give this group of returning players to the LPGA the nod over their counterparts returning to the JLPGA, mostly on the strength of Lindberg's breakout potential and the relative youth of the LPGAers.

Belen Mozo, Kimberly Kim, and Christel Boeljon (LPGA) vs. Meena Lee, Bo-Mee Lee, and He Yong Choi (JLPGA)

2 top KLPGAers vs. 2 top Europeans is very tough to call; maybe I'd give a slight advantage to the Euros, as Choi hasn't been playing all that great lately and Mozo seems like a potentially huge talent. But Meena Lee is a proven quantity while Kimberly Kim has loads of potential but hasn't shown she can handle the toughest competition. Let's call this one a draw.

Dori Carter, Stephanie Sherlock, Jennie Lee, and Sara Brown (LPGA) vs. Ji-Na Lim, Cai Ying, Soo-Yun Kang, and Onnarin Sattayabanphot (JLPGA)

Given that the JLPGA's newbies all come with a lot more experience on tougher tours than the LPGA's rooks, I'd have to give the nod to the JLPGA right now.

Jin Young Pak and Paola Moreno (LPGA) vs. Jae-Hee Bae and Ya-Huei Lu (JLPGA)

Again, the returning JLPGAers are likely to do better on their tour than the returning LPGAers are on theirs, although in the long run I think Moreno may end up being the most productive of anyone in this foursome.

Tiffany Joh (LPGA) vs. Miki Uehara (JLPGA)

Even if Miki-chan is JLPGA young gun Ayako's little sister, T-Joh had a much more decorated amateur career than the Okinawan and has been dealing with the rigors of professional life longer. Clear advantage for the LPGA here.

Jean Reynolds, Nannette Hill, and Nicole Jeray (LPGA) vs. Teresa Lu, Tao-Li Yang, and Lindsey Wright (JLPGA)

Among those with partial status on their respective tours, the JLPGA holds a clear advantage.

Breaking it down this way, the JLPGA holds a 6-3-1 advantage over the LPGA. Of course, it's not at all clear how many times those with dual LPGA-JLPGA membership will compete in Japan next season, much less who will take off like Inbee Park or flop like Seon Hwa Lee did this year. For that matter, it's just as unknown how many LPGA starts the LET's Christel Boeljon will choose to make or whether she'll even do as well in 2011 as Beatriz Recari and Gwladys Nocera did in 2010 (not all that earth-shattering). What is pretty obvious is that the JLPGA's transplants from the KLPGA and irregulars from the LPGA have a great chance for Rookie of the Year and could have a big impact on the money-list race, whereas the 2 most polished players in the LPGA's Class of 2011--the KLPGA's Hee Kyung Seo and Futures Tour's Jennifer Song--didn't even go through Q-School. In the long run, Korda, Kim, and Joh could well be top 30 players on the LPGA, but they have a lot of growing pains to go through yet.

So the JLPGA did better by its Q-School than the LPGA did. While this is partly a function of the LPGA already being a much stronger tour than the JLPGA and therefore much more challenging for its Q-School grads than the JLPGA, it's certainly not encouraging for the LPGA that they are attracting fewer top players from other tours than in the past. Seo and Boeljon match up well against Lee and Choi, and the JLPGA may end up being a stepping-stone for the latter into the LPGA someday, but right now it's pretty clear the JLPGA continues to catch up to the LPGA, talent-wise.

[Update 1 (2:56 pm): Here's the list of the 22 players from 9 countries comprising the LPGA's rookie Class of 2011.]

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