Monday, December 30, 2013

Ranking the LPGA's Rookie Class of 2006, December 2013 Edition

The LPGA's rookie class of 2006 was the 1st that I started paying really close attention to as a group, at first because of the way in which Ai Miyazato dominated Q-School in late 2005 but over time because I became interested in the different kinds of career paths the various players followed.  Given that I started blogging here at Mostly Harmless not long after the '06ers started on the LPGA, it was a pretty obvious move to start tracking how each member of the class was doing, both season-by-season and from season to season.  By looking at key performance stats on an annual basis, from winnings and scoring average to birdies per round and greens in regulation, and combining those snapshots with an examination of career winnings, majors, wins, top 3s, top 10s, and top 20s, I developed a system for dividing the '06ers--and later rookie classes--into tiers and then ranking each player within her tier.  Before I knew it, I had a career ranking system for immediate cohorts and for tracking LPGA generations, which has now mutated into a big ol' spreadsheet that attempts to rank all the top rookies from the Classes of 2005 through the present.

The last time I did this for the Class of 2006 was early July, so let's see what's changed in the last 5 months!

Simply the Best

1. Ai Miyazato:  By just about every measure, she's light-years beyond of the rest of her class.  Ai-sama not only has 5 more wins than her nearest classmate (Seon Hwa Lee, who's been in a huge multi-year slump and needed to go to Q-School to keep her card for 2014), but she's got the highest rate in top-3 finishes (12%), top 10s (over 33%), and top 20s (over 52%).  On top of that, she's the best at finishing tournaments (without missing a cut, withdrawing, or getting disqualified, that is), doing it over 85% of the time.  So of course she's earning the most per start ($43.3K) and finish ($50.8K).  To be sure, all those numbers are down fairly dramatically from the last ranking, as Ai-sama's 2nd half of the season was worse than her 1st (despite her drastically improving her greens in regulation rate).  As a result, she's fallen 12 spots in the Rolex Rankings over the past calendar year.  But if she can get her putter going in 2014, there's no reason she can't turn things around quickly.

The Contender

2. Morgan Pressel:  The clear #2 in her class, she's tied with Sun Young Yoo for the most major victories in her class (1), tied with Yoo for 3rd-most wins (2), and 2nd in top-3 rate (at about 7%), top 10s (almost 24%), top 20s (over 41%), finishes (almost 85%), and winnings per start ($27.2K) and finish ($32.1K).  Things really fell apart for her in the 2nd half of 2012, but she finished climbing out of that hole in the 2nd half of 2013 and is poised for a great 2014, particularly if her iron play and short game remain as sharp as they've been of late.  Look for her to rise in the Rolex Rankings fairly quickly; her 9-spot slide from this time last year is much less significant than her meteoric rise up the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index over the last 5 months.

The Next Best

3. Sun Young Yoo:  Ranking the next set of players is a little bit tougher, as they each have different strengths in different areas.  I decided to keep Yoo at the head of this subclass, despite the fact that she's fallen 28 spots in the Rolex Rankings since this time last year, partly because 1 of her 2 victories came in a major, partly because she had the 3rd-best season in her class, and mostly because those behind her have struggled even more than she has.
4. Seon Hwa Lee:  The former #1 in the class's career-threatening plunge showed few signs of slowing during 2013.  Let's hope her 6th-place finish at Q-School turns out to be a sign of stabilization!
5. Jee Young Lee:  By contrast, Jelly has clearly stabilized her game in 2013, despite her putter going cold in the second half of the season.  
6. Brittany Lang:  If I had done this ranking at the end of 2012, Brittany would have been #5 or better, but she was working on a swing change in 2013 and started to groove it only in the 2nd half of the season.  If she keeps up her solid play of that run or improves on it in 2014, she can make a big move up these rankings.  The key for her is to make more birdies!

Quantum Leap Candidates

7. Julieta Granada:  Back to the LPGA full-time for the past 2 seasons after splitting her time in the previous several years between the LPGA and LET, Granada raised expectations in the 1st half of 2013 but backslid in the 2nd half.  You can tell how disappointing her 2013 was by comparing her LET results this past year (4 starts, #115 on the 2013 Order of Merit) with her amazing performance the year before (6 starts, #4 on the 2012 Order of Merit).  Let's see if she can bounce back in 2014

On the Bottom Looking Up

8. Katie Futcher:  She had a really disappointing 2013 but at least she didn't have to go back to Q-School.  Let's see what she does with the clean slate that is 2014!
9. Sarah Jane Smith:  She had a better year than Futcher, but that's not saying much.  She never improved on her T15 to start last season Down Under.  Let's see if she can do better this coming year.
10. Karin Sjodin:  After a really good 2012, she had to cut her 2013 short due to a severe back injury.  I'm assuming she's gotten a medical exemption from the LPGA for the start of the 2014 season, although the new priority status list hasn't been released yet.  [Update (1/12/14, 4:42 am):  The 2014 Priority Status List has been released and Sjodin did indeed get a medical exemption, so at #46 she'll get all the starts she wants this coming season!]

On the Outside Looking In

11. Teresa Lu:  After leaving the LPGA at the end of the 2009 season, she struggled on the JLPGA until 2013, when she finished #3 on their money list and won the Mizuno Classic.  It's unclear how many LPGA starts she'll make in 2014; I'm hoping she strikes while the iron is hot!  [Update (1/12/14, 4:42 am):  Her name doesn't appear on the priority status list, so it's now clear that the number of LPGA starts as a member will once again be 0!]
12. Kyeong Bae:  She's playing full-time on the KLPGA now.  Having finished 23rd on their 2012 money list last season in a limited schedule, she should be showing up on the 2013 list, but I can't find her name.  Let's wait for HappyFan to update her Seoul bio!
13. Meaghan Francella:  I don't know if she even has Symetra Tour status for 2014, but nobody can take that playoff victory over an injured Annika Sorenstam away from her! [Update (2/5/14, 8:34 pm):  Well, she's moving to the "Over and Out" category next ranking.  Ron Sirak reports she's caddying for Heather Bowie Young now.]
14. Hye Jung Choi:  She played full-time on the KLPGA in 2011 and won in late September, but basically took a maternity leave in 2012; if I'm reading the KLPGA money list correctly, she finished #17 this season.  Let's wait for a bio update at Seoul for confirmation.
15. Linda Wessberg:  She finished 14th on the LET's 2011 Order of Merit, 43rd in 2012, and 22nd in 2013.
16. Na Ri Kim:  She's actually played much better golf than Lu over the long haul on the JLPGA, finishing #11 on their money list in 2010, #23 in 2011, #28 in 2012, and #26 in 2013 (thanks in part to her 2nd career win on tour in mid-April).  But she's shown no interest in returning to the LPGA.  Here's her Seoul bio.
17. Minea Blomqvist:  She hasn't been the same golfer since becoming a mom, and her 2012 on the LPGA is best forgotten, but she improved on her LET finish of 89th on the 2012 Order of Merit with a 46th-place finish this year.  Let's see if one of the most interesting personalities in golf can continue on her comeback trail!
18. Veronica Zorzi:  She's been a full-time LETer for years now.  In 2009, she finished 29th on the LET money list in 14 starts; in 2010, she ended up 31st in 21 starts; in 2011, she dropped all the way to #55 in 19 starts; in 2012, she fought back to 34th; and this season, she finished 38th.

Over and Out

19. Allison Fouch Duncan:  She made 8 of 13 cuts on the Symetra Tour in 2012, but didn't tee it up there this year, as she had a baby girl in February or March.  So her announcement of her retirement in November should come as no surprise.  Last event:  Navistar Classic in September 2012.
20. Nina Reis: I haven't seen her name on a money list in the last 4 seasons and she doesn't appear in any world rankings, so I'm assuming she's done with professional golf.  I saw she tried to make an LET comeback in 2012 as a new mom, but it seems nothing came of it.
21. Virada Nirapathpongporn:  Retired in 2011. Last event: Kapalua Classic in October 2008.
22. Louise Stahle:  She finished #64 on the 2011 LET money list in 13 starts, but I haven't seen her on a money list anywhere in the world of women's golf since then, so I'm assuming she's done with professional golf.
23. Kim Hall:  Retired in 2010. Last event: LPGA Tour Championship in November 2009.  Was VP of the LPGA's Board of Directors for a time during her 3-year term; check out this nice April 2012 article on her by Tommy Hicks.
24. Ashley Hoagland Johnston: Retired in 2009. Last event: sometime in 2007 season.
25. Danielle Downey: I seem to recall reading somewhere that she took a coaching position.  If she's retired from professional golf, her last LPGA event will have been the P&G NW Arkansas Championship in September 2010. [Update (1/31/14, 10:16 am): The Auburn assistant coach just died in a car accident.  So sad!]
26. Libby Smith:  She lost trust in her driver in 2011 and had trouble breaking 80 far too often to get it back.  She's now a teaching professional in VT.


For your reference--and mine--here are the stats on which I'm basing the December 2013 ranking.

2013 LPGA Money List (rank), scoring average (rank), birdies per round average (rank [in total birdies]), greens in regulation rate (rank): I focus on five key indicators of how well someone played last season--how much money they won, how they scored, how many birdies they've averaged per round, how many greens they hit in regulation on average per round, and how many putts per green in regulation they took on average, plus how they ranked in each category (except for birdies, which ranks by total and not by average). Some of the figures Hound Dog thinks are the most important I've incorporated into my career ranking (below), where I think they belong. These stats are all about the immediate past and future.

1. Ai Miyazato, $527.0K (#27), 71.294 (#26), 3.60 (#41), 68.1% (#42), 1.788 (#19)
2. Morgan Pressel, $504.2K (#28), 71.701 (#33), 3.32 (#37), 64.1% (#100), 1.778 (#11)
3. Sun Young Yoo, $383.7K (#39), 71.500 (#28), 3.64 (#47), 65.9% (#68), 1.807 (#30)
4. Brittany Lang, $355.8K (#42), 71.967 (#46), 3.05 (#28), 67.0% (#51), 1.812 (#38)
5. Julieta Granada, $224.7K (#55), 72.358 (#60), 2.79 (#52), 64.8% (#92), 1.834 (#71)
6. Jee Young Lee, $172.7K (#65), 72.369 (#61), 3.05 (#62), 65.6% (#74), 1.841 (#83)
7. Sarah Jane Smith, $92.9K (#86), 73.109 (#102), 2.77 (#76), 63.1% (#107), 1.824 (#54)
8. Katie Futcher, $67.7K (#93), 73.250 (#106), 2.73 (#93), 64.6% (#93), 1.855 (#101)
9. Karin Sjodin, $22.7K (#121), 73.000 (n.r.), 3.10 (#142), 69.4% (n.r.), 1.864 (n.r.)
10. Seon Hwa Lee, $19.3K (#126), 72.969 (#93), 2.31 (#136), 59.5% (#130), 1.837 (#75)
11. Meaghan Francella, $7.8K (#148), 74.097 (#133), 2.71 (#129), 54.8% (#143), 1.840 (#78)

Career Ranking:  Between inflation, changing purses, and length/timing of careers, it's very hard to compare and contrast winnings across generations of LPGA greats. Fortunately, the members of the Class of 2006 started at the same time, even if some of them have not had full status every season (although that in itself is an indication of how someone's career has been going!). What would really be great is if we had a world money list in inflation-adjusted dollars, with inflation- and exchange-adjusted other cash denominations added in (or just totalled up separately to avoid comparing dollars and yen), which included all each golfer earned as a professional on any tour. But even the guys don't have that, so that'll have to remain a dream for now--although Thomas Atkins posted an inflation-adjusted LPGA Career Top 50 as of the end of the 2008 season and a Best of All Time ranking over at Hound Dog LPGA. In any case, building on an old analysis of finishes, I've developed a career ranking formula (the details you can check out on my spreadsheet), but since that includes only the top 10 players in the class, I'll continue giving the details on the lower-ranked players here, most of whom are off the LPGA.

1. Ai Miyazato, 2218 points.
2. Morgan Pressel, 1355.
3. Seon Hwa Lee, 1224.
4. Sun Young Yoo, 1065.
5. Jee Young Lee, 1008.
6. Brittany Lang, 937.
7. Julieta Granada, 754.
8. Teresa Lu, 543.
9. Meaghan Francella, 449.
10. Katie Futcher, 382.
11. Kyeong Bae, $1.44M (#148), 140/0/0/2/10/23/5/0/41/94 (.671)
12. Karin Sjodin, $.99M (#199), 138/0/0/0/6/20/0/0/52/86 (.623)
13. Hye Jung Choi, $.73M (#243), 84/0/0/0/8/12/2/0/26/56 (.667)
14. Minea Blomqvist, $.69M (#250), 105/0/0/1/3/8/3/1/49/52 (.495)
15. Sarah Jane Smith, $.58M (#267), 100/0/0/0/4/11/0/0/42/58 (.580)
16. Allison Fouch Duncan, $.56M (#269), 78/0/0/1/4/8/1/0/36/41 (.526)
17. Kim Hall, $.35M (#328), 75/0/0/1/3/4/0/0/45/30 (.400)
18. Linda Wessberg, $.34M (#?), 43/0/0/0/5/6/0/0/17/26 (.605)
19. Louise Stahle, $.23M (#381), 59/0/0/0/1/2/1/0/30/28 (.475)
20. Virada Nirapathpongporn, $.23M (#382), 56/0/0/0/1/4/0/0/28/28 (.500)
21. Nina Reis, $.23M (#384), 51/0/0/0/3/4/0/0/23/28 (.549)
22. Danielle Downey, $.15M (#418), 49/0/0/0/1/2/0/0/34/15 (.306)
23. Na Ri Kim, $.15M (#?), 50/0/0/0/0/0/3/0/24/23 (.460)
24. Veronica Zorzi, $.09M (#?), 16/0/0/0/0/1/0/0/3/13 (.813)
25. Libby Smith, $.05M (#540), 36/0/0/0/0/0/1/0/27/8 (.222)
26. Ashley Hoagland Johnston, $.05M (#?), 13/0/0/0/0/0/0/0/7/6 (.462)

Other Career Measures: Rolex Rankings points (as of 12/30/13) and rank, Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index score (as of 12/29/13) and rank, International Wins (on JLPGA, KLPGA, LET as of 12/30/13): This is a way of seeing how those '06ers who sometimes or regularly or often compete on other tours stack up over the course of their careers to date (the RR includes results over the past 104 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, KLPGA, LET, ALPG, Symetra Tour, LETAS, and CLPGA; the GSPI includes results over the past 52 weeks on the LPGA, JLPGA, LET, and Symetra Tour).

1. Ai Miyazato, 3.66 (#21), 70.50 (#26); 17 (15 JLPGA, 2 LET)
2. Morgan Pressel, 2.27 (#47), 71.60 (#62); 1
3. Sun Young Yoo, 2.15 (#51), 71.43 (#54); 0
4. Teresa Lu, 2.06 (#55), 70.44 (#23); 1
5. Brittany Lang, 1.76 (#62), 71.93 (#81); 0
6. Julieta Granada, 1.12 (#104), 72.41 (#105); 0
7. Na Ri Kim, 1.01 (#114), 71.75 (#71); 1
8. Hye Jung Choi, .98 (#120), ? (n.r.); 2
9. Jee Young Lee, .90 (#126), 72.34 (#102); 1
10. Karin Sjodin, .63 (#177), 73.17 (#143); 1
11. Kyeong Bae, .60 (#181), ? (n.r.); 3
12. Sarah Jane Smith, .59 (#187), 73.20 (#147); 0
13. Veronica Zorzi, .56 (#194), 73.23 (#153); 2
14. Katie Futcher, .56 (#198), 74.39 (#228); 0
15. Linda Wessberg, .49 (#215), 73.00 (#142); 3
16. Minea Blomqvist, .34 (#258), 74.81 (#279); 5
17. Seon Hwa Lee, .13 (#394), 74.58 (#249); 3
18. Meaghan Francella, .03 (#611), 75.64 (#328); 0
19. Louise Stahle, .00 (#833), ? (n.r.); 0
20. Allison Fouch Duncan, .00 (#839), ? (n.r.); 0

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