Sunday, December 4, 2011

It Wouldn't Be LPGA Q-School Without a Controversy or Two: On Stephanie Kono and Hannah Yun

For the 2nd year in a row, and the 3rd since the LPGA switched over in July 2008 to its Priority Status List system for entry into full-field, non-major domestic tournaments, their Q-School has been visited by controversy.  Last year, the LPGA retroactively awarded memberships to nine golfers after it was determined that there shouldn't have been a playoff to determine membership in Category 20 on the 2011 Priority Status List.  Back in 2008, the LPGA mistakenly ran a playoff at T21 to determine membership in Category 11, when they really should have either run it at T25 or not held it at all. 

Now, having switched over to a 3-stage qualification process that merges the former Futures Tour (now Symetra Tour) and LPGA Q-Schools for the 1st time, the LPGA is facing bad publicity for refusing to allow UCLA senior Stephanie Kono to defer her 2012 membership.  Instead, it's forcing her to decide between turning pro immediately following her T9 finish at the Final Qualifying Tournament today or giving up her ticket for full-time status on the LPGA next season in order to maintain her amateur status.  Why is this such a terrible thing?  Well, the argument goes, since all Kono wanted to do was assure herself of membership on the Futures Symetra Tour next season when she turned pro as planned after the Curtis Cup, and since she and her coach repeatedly checked in with LPGA HQ on whether she needed to play in the Final Qualifying Tournament to do that, and since the LPGA repeatedly made a mistake in assuring her and her coach that she did, therefore the LPGA needs to do something to compensate Kono by putting her in a tight spot--and probably compensate UCLA for depriving them of one of their star players, as they did when Kono decided to turn pro.  As Beth Ann Baldry puts it:

To correct the situation, the LPGA should make an exception for Kono and allow her to defer membership until after she graduates. The LPGA made a mistake. An apology doesn’t seem like enough this time, and it’s ludicrous to expect her to withdraw.

Kono agrees that solution would be ideal, but thinks it’s a long shot.
Forsyth brings up a good point to consider: Eliminate amateurs at the final stage. Give amateurs the chance to earn status on the Futures Tour through two stages, and then if they want to give the LPGA a chance, make them turn professional. Sounds fair to college coaches, who are tired of their programs being used as a safety net when Q-School doesn’t work out.
While it does seem odd that you can choose to defer your membership onto the LPGA's developmental tour but can't onto its big tour, this rule has been in place for a long time and there's no point in bending it just because you feel bad about your mistake and feel worse for the player affected.  Doing so would be bad for the players who exercise that option, too, as it would make it very difficult to win enough money in the events they entered after the NCAA season were done or after the Curtis Cup were over to avoid 2012 Q-School.  More important, it's the player's responsibility to know the rules; if Kono and her coach thought the LPGA was misinterpreting their own rules, they should have made a bigger stink this fall and forced the commissioner to offer a final ruling.

So the most the LPGA could, and probably should, do for Kono is offer to pay her travel and lodging expenses, and, for UCLA, donate the amount Kono would have won if she hadn't competed as an amateur to their women's golf program ($2125).  Well, maybe they should also follow Kono's coach's suggestion.  I'm not sure if it's a good one--I'd have to think about it more carefully than I have time to now--but since there's no way it could be implemented until 2012 Q-School, and then only after being vetted according to the LPGA's constituted procedures, there's no sense in my taking the time now to sort through its pros and cons.

As bad a beating as the LPGA may take in the media (and has already taken on twitter) for the Kono conundrum, imagine the controversy that would have erupted if the 2-stroke penalty given to Hannah Yun for returning her ball to its original spot after the wind blew it an inch on the 3rd green had dropped her back into the playoff for the 20th spot (which most likely would have dropped her back to Category 16 status) or back to +6 (which would have dropped her down to Category 20 status).  Turns out that in the heat of the moment, Yun, who told me on the phone at 5 pm tonight that she knows the correct ruling--play it from where the wind blew it--followed the advice of playing partner Tanya Dergal instead of sticking to her guns, calling for a decision right then from a rules official, or playing 2 balls (1 from each spot) and getting a ruling after her round.  Whether Dergal really was unsure whether she had given Yun the correct advice or whether she had laid a subtle trap for the 19-year-old is unclear, but she reported what had happened to a rules official in the scoring tent and Yun was assessed a 2-shot penalty.  It was the right call, but if Yun hadn't finished birdie-birdie to end up T15, the LPGA would have been in a world of hurt--again for making the right call.  As Yun hastens to emphasize, it was her responsibility to know the rules and apply them correctly.  Failure to do that should entail consequences.

Hopefully this will be a lesson for Dergal, Yun, Kono, and the LPGA.

[Update 1 (11:21 pm):  Baldry follows up on her earlier Kono story.  I wonder if the LPGA will offer take up my earlier advice and also pay for her last 6 credits at UCLA?]

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