Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How Good are the 2016 LPGA Rookies?

The 2016 LPGA season is sure off to an amazing start. As has been the case the last few years, it seems every tournament goes down to the final hole. In the first tournament of the year we saw Hyo Joo Kim win by 2 strokes over a trio of players. Then just this past week, in the second tournament of the year, we saw Ha Na Jang nose out Brooke Henderson by just 2 strokes.

Megan Khang recorded a score of -13
 in her first tournament as an LPGA member.

What did both of these tournaments have in common? They both had first year players in contention to the very end. In the first tournament (The Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic), rookie Megan Khang was in contention for most of the first 3 rounds, before finishing in 11th place, 5 strokes back. In the second tournament (Coates Golf Championship), rookie In Gee Chun recorded 4 solid rounds and finished just 3 strokes off the lead.

In Gee Chun finished just 3 strokes back in her first event as an LPGA member.

That brings us to today's subject. Just how good is this year's crop of LPGA rookies?

There isn't an adjective I could come up with to describe last year's rookies. It was probably the deepest rookie class in LPGA history. We may never see a group like that again in our lifetime.
Sei Young Kim, Brooke Henderson, Hyo Joo Kim, Ha Na Jang, Minjee Lee, Alison Lee, Charley Hull, and Ariya Jutanugarn were all part of the 2015 rookie class.

Can they be topped in 2016? No, I don't think so. But that doesn't mean that this year's group can't still be among the best in recent years. Let's take a look:

The Very Best:
1- In Gee Chun - By far and away the favorite to win the 2016 Rolex Rookie of the Year Award. She is a rookie in name only. A five time winner on the KLPGA, she was also that tour's leading money winner in 2015. Add to that the fact that she is the defending U.S. Open champion (as a non LPGA member), and you have one special player here.

Future Stars?
2- Megan Khang - Talk about breezing through Q-School, Megan finished 2nd at stage one, 3rd at stage two, and 6th at stage three. She was the low amateur at the 2015 U.S. Open, and helped team U.S.A. win the junior Solheim Cup. At just 18 years of age, she will be a mainstay on the LPGA for years to come.

3- Annie Park - She dominated the Symetra Tour in 2015, winning 3 times and having 4 top 10 finishes. She did this in just 11 starts. She was that tour's Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Park won the 2013 NCAA individual national title while at USC. Park also made headlines in 2012, when she won the Nassau Boys High School Championship by 6 strokes.

The Best of the Rest?
4- Holly Clyburn - Disqualified at Q-school in 2014 because her marker failed to sign her scorecard, she came back strong in 2015 and earned her card. She finished 7th on the LET money list as a rookie in 2013, and 6th the following season. Currently ranked #91 in the Rolex World Rankings.

5- Gaby Lopez - This Arkansas grad finished 2nd to Alabama's Emma Talley at the 2015 NCAA Championship. In her first crack at Q-School she finished 10th to earn her full time playing card for 2016. Is off to a fine start in 2016, as she has made the cut in both appearances and is #54 on the money list.

Could Surprise:
6- Grace Na - She had a sensational career at Pepperdine, where she was a 4 time All American and four time WCC Player of the Year.

7- Budsabakorn Sukapan - We could have a real sleeper here. A two time winner on the Thailand LPGA, she finished runner up to LPGA player Pornanong Phatlum at the Thailand Ladies Masters.

8- Bertine Strauss - She won medal honors at phase 2 of Q-School in 2015. She was the Big 12 Golfer of the Year with 6 top ten finishes in her senior year.

9 -Rachel Rohanna - Rachel had a victory and 6 top ten finishes on the Symetra Tour in 2015. She was a two time First-Team All-Big Ten performer at Ohio State. She made the cut in the first two LPGA events this year. She needs to be more consistent as her rounds are all over the place. If that consistency comes, she can become a very good LPGA player.

10- Lee Lopez - She finished 6th on the Symetra Tour money list last year, posting 9 top ten finishes.

There you have it! My top ten rookie picks of 2016. There are 19 other rookies on the LPGA roster this year, most of which will have to take advantage of limited playing time to move up on the Priority List. Which one of these players will sneak up like Kim Kaufman did in 2014? Time will tell. I will revisit this subject several times throughout the season.

Other Tidbits:
Lucky or unlucky 13? Haru Nomura finished in the #13 spot in both tournaments this year.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:
Ha Na Jang Jumps from #14 to #9, while Brooke Henderson leaps from #17 to #12.

Race to the CME Globe: (1 Million Dollars)
Ha Na Jang now leads with 570 points. She is followed closely by Hyo Joo Kim 538, Sei Young Kim 490, Brooke Henderson 350, and Stacy Lewis 349.

Who's Hot:
Sei Young Kim is the only LPGA player to finish in the top ten in both of this year's tournaments.

Who's Not:
Kris Tamulis is the highest ranked player on the LPGA Priority List, to miss both cuts.

Follow @tonyjesselli  on Twitter (Currently 1,420 followers)


  1. Love the blog Tony. Benyapa Niphatsophon will be another rookie to watch this year. Long and fearless.
    I think it's great that you make mention of the Monday qualifiers each week as an update. I think it would be interesting if we made mention of the two players at the end of the week as well. Thanks to you we can follow them on our own but having stats on who qualifies and then makes the cut at the end of the week through the entire year would be fun.
    A lot of LPGA Monday qualifiers struggle to make the cut. If I'm not mistaken, 3 of the 4 have made the cut this year. It would be interesting to see if more than fifty percent of the qualifiers make the cut that week. My guess would be no, but I'm just guessing. Keep up the good work!
    Mr Gee

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Brooke Henderson did really well as a Monday qualifier last year, but you are correct, most don't make the cut. Yes, after I find out who the Monday qualifiers are I add it to the bottom of my blog as an update. You seem to be a pretty knowledgeable LPGA fan. Let's give you the job of keeping track of how many of the qualifiers make the cut. That way I know we will continue to hear from you.

  2. If I remember right, last year after Brooke nearly won the Swinging Skirts event (leading after 3 rounds- ending up in 3rd place) she flew overnight to Texas where she Monday qualified for the event there, without ever having seen the course before. She went on to finish T13 in that event. Brooke will be playing in the Aussie Open next week, and I heard at the Coates event that she will also be playing in the LPGA event in Singapore (earned her way into that because of her victory on tour last year). She also plans to play in the LET event in Australia the week after the Aussie Open.

    1. I think Brook also qualified for the HSBC by being in the WWGR top 20 at the beginning of the year. As for the Honda, they're holding a place for the winner of Australian Open! Forget the LET.