Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rating the 2016 LPGA Rookies - Part 2

Before I get started with this week's subject, I want to say what an exciting tournament the Manulife Classic turned out to be. We have become accustomed to nail biters almost each and every week on the LPGA tour. It seems that every week we either have a playoff or it goes down to the very last hole. This past week was no exception. It has to be some sort of record. Just before the midway point of the final round, if you looked at the scoreboard, there were actually 14 players within one stroke of the lead. Yes, fourteen!

Did one of those fourteen win the tournament? No.

When we hit the stretch coming home on the back nine, we still had 8 players within a shot of the lead. Surely one of the 3 big stars from South Korea would win this, right? No. Then one of the 3 players from Thailand, led by Ariya Jutanugarn? No. I guess then it had to be the world #1 Lydia Ko? No again!

Congratulations to Caroline Masson for getting her first LPGA win. I'm betting she was the player that most viewers were paying the least attention to. Caroline joins Haru Nomura, Ha Na Jang, Jenny Shin, and Ariya Jutanugarn, as first time winners this year.

Now on to this week's subject matter:

It has been almost four months since I last did a  report card on this year's rookies.

I would like to change this up a bit this time, by strictly rating these girls on their chances of retaining LPGA cards for the 2017 season. Any successes or failures on other tours (except Symetra Tour) are not considered here. My only concern here is, are they safe for the 2017 season, or will they have to go back to Qualifying School?

In Gee Chun (with yours truly) will be the runaway winner of the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award.

For those of you who might need some information on how the LPGA "Priority List" works, here is a brief explanation:

If you finish in the top 80 on the 2016 money list, that will be your priority rating for 2017. In other words, if a player finishes #45 on the money list this year, she will be #45 on the priority list next year. That also means she will be eligible for all tournaments, since even limited fields have more than 45 players. It starts to get  real tricky after that as the top 10 players on the Symetra tour money list earn playing cards and are given the next ten spots on the Priority List.
Players who finish 81-100 on the LPGA money list are then added, followed by the top 20 finishes from Qualifying School. All of these players should still get into most tournaments in 2017.

If you finish 101-125 on the 2016 money list you are then added to the priority list. Unfortunately, although you still have playing privileges, you will not get into all full field tournaments. In fact, some of these players will choose to go back to Qualifying School to try to improve their priority rating, or even choose to play on another tour. If you finish 126 or worse you lose your playing privileges.

The above is a general explanation, as trying to list all the categories on the priority list is too time-consuming and potentially confusing. The official LPGA website explains it in more detail.

Image result for Gaby Lopez
Gaby Lopez has secured her card for 2017

Very Secure:
1- In Gee Chun - It was quite obvious from the time that Brooke Henderson gave up her 2016 rookie status, that this player was by far and away the best rookie. She did not disappoint. The runaway winner of the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year award thus far this season, she has missed just 1 cut in her 15 starts. Although she has not won yet as an LPGA member (she won the 2015 U.S. Open as a non member), she has 3 second place finishes, and finished third 3 times. Her 69.7 scoring average ranks second on tour. She is currently #8 on this year's money list, and #7 in the world rankings. She will have to show us that she can close on Sundays if she wants to join the top four (Lydia, Ariya, Brooke, and Lexi).

2- Gaby Lopez - Although there is a huge gap between my #1 and #2 players on this list, it should not take away from what Gaby has accomplished so far this season. She is a cut making machine. In fact, she leads all rookies with 17 cuts made (missing just three). Her scoring average of 71.46 ranks her second among rookies and is 48th among all the players on tour. With 6 top 20 finishes she ranks #48 on this year's money list, making her a sure shot to play all tournaments next year.

3- Su Oh - Not quite as consistent as Gaby, but her 2nd place finish at the Kingsmill Championship earlier in the year has her 4th in ROY standings. She has made 9 cuts in her 14 starts, and ranks #46 on the year's money list. Her scoring average of 71.80 is excellent for a first year player. Her status for next year is not in doubt. Definitely a player to keep your eye on.

4- Megan Khang - Has shown flashes of brilliance this year as shown by her 4 top 11 finishes. On the other hand, she has only managed to make the cut 11 times in 20 starts. Her 71.96 scoring average will keep her on this tour, and it will only get better. Currently #58 on this year's money list and third in the ROY race. Her status for 2017 is certainly secure. 

5- Lee Lopez - The "Other Lopez" on the tour this season has been quite a pleasant surprise. Her 6th place finish at the Cambia Classic surely opened up some eyes. She has made 14 of 21 cuts this year, and currently occupies the #67 spot on this year's money list. Her 72.22 scoring average has been good enough for her to retain her full time status for 2017.

Looking Very Good:

1- Annie Park - The buzz at the start of the season was that if there was going to be a player to challenge In Gee for the top spot, it might just be Annie Park. Although she has had her moments, including 2 top 10 finishes, I was expecting her to be better than #6 on this list. She has made the cut in 11 of 20 tournaments, and ranks #86 on the current money list. Her status for 2017 appears to be quite safe, but she will need to improve her 72.54 scoring average to become the player we all think she can be. 

2- Ally McDonald - Who? I know that most of you are not familiar with this name, and are asking how she could be placed in this category. This rookie has not had a single start on the LPGA this year, but her status for 2017 is getting more secure with each passing day. Now let me explain why. The top ten finishes on the 2016 Symetra Tour money list, automatically get full time status in 2017. Ally currently ranks #2 on that list (behind, only record breaker Madelene Sagstrom). 

3- Wichanee Meechai - She has played in only 1 LPGA event this year and missed the cut. Her #4 ranking on the Symetra tour money list so far this season all but assures her full time status next year.

On the borderline:

1- Sherman Santiwiwatthannaphong - Has played 2 tournaments on the LPGA this year, missing the cut in both. She is currently #9 on the Symetra money list. There are still 5 more Symetra Tour events, and with Nelly Korda looming at #11, her status for next year is very much in doubt. 

Not Looking Good:
1- Ssu-Chia Cheng - She has made 14 starts this year, but has only managed to see the weekend 6 times. Her best finish this year was 31st, and her 73.0 scoring average must improve to compete on this tour. She is currently number 122 on the money and will probably have to go back to Q-School to improve her Priority rating for next year.

2- Pannarat Thanapolboonyaras - We had 8 rookies from Thailand on the LPGA tour this year. Unfortunately, not one of them fared well enough in LPGA play to retain full time 2017 privileges (although 2 of them already listed above, may retain their cards through the Symetra Tour). Pannarat teed it up 18 times this year making just 8 cuts. Her 73.08 scoring average needs to get better, and her 123 money ranking will not get her into many (if any) tournaments next year. 

Looking Dismal:

The following players just did not cut it in the big time this year. The only chance you will get to see them in 2017 is if they return to Q-school and are successful there. (In alphabetical order)

1- Holly Clyburn - Much better things were expected from this player, and although her 72.60 scoring average was better than most in this category, she could do no better than 126 on the money list. In 15 starts she made just 6 cuts, with a 41st place finish the highlight of her year.

2- Hannah Collier - Made just 2 cuts in her 10 starts this year. Her best finish was T48, her scoring average 74.09, and places #159 on the money list.

3- Ani Guligian - She only teed it up one time on the LPGA tour this year, missing the cut in that event. In 15 starts on the Symetra tour she managed just $3,000 in earnings.

4- Ginger Howard - She teed it up 6 times this year without making a single cut. Did not fare much better on the Symetra tour either, ranking #155 there.

5- Jaclyn Jansen - Started eight tournaments but managed to finish just one. Has a 74.61 scoring average, and is #168 on the money list.

6- Brianna Mao - In 14 starts this year she was able to make just 6 cuts. Her best finish was a T33, her money ranking 129, and her scoring average 73.18.

7- Grace Na - She had more opportunities than most, teeing it up 18 times, but made just a single cut. Her best finish was a T70, and her scoring average an extremely high 75.42.

8- Benayapa Niphatsophan -  Was only able to make 8 cuts in 18 attempts, with a best finish of T43. She ranks 134 on the money list with a 73.31 scoring average.

9- Ashlan Ramsey - In 18 LPGA appearances was able to make the cut in just 2 of them. Her 75.03 scoring average and best finish of T69, result in a #164 money list standing.

10- Marion Ricordeau - Teeing it up 14 times this year, she was able to make just 4 cuts. She had a best finish of T23 at the Lotte Championship. She currently ranks #143 on the money list with a 73.22 scoring average.

11- Cyna Rodriquez - Ranks #167 on money list. Made just 2 cuts in her 15 starts this year, with a 74.56 scoring average.

12- Rachel Rohanna - Thought by many as a player that would surprise in 2016, she did just that, but in a negative way. Her start to the season was not all that bad, but ending with 9 missed cuts in ten events sure did her in. In total she teed it up 19 times making just 5 cuts. Her 74.16 scoring average needs to improve if she ever expects to do better than the #135 money list ranking she has today. 

13- Bertine Strauss - Teed it up 18 times making 6 cuts. She has a 73.40 scoring average, and ranks #133 on the money list.

14- Budsabakorn Sukapan - Nineteen starts, 5 made cuts, a scoring average of 73.32. That all results in a #141 money list ranking.

15- Anne-Catherine Tanguay - Her numbers weren't all that bad. She made half her cuts (5 of 10), and her scoring average of 72.34 is by far the best in this category. Unfortunately those numbers didn't translate into good results, and her #146 money list ranking tells us she will have to go back to Q-School to have a shot at playing here again next year.

16- Prima Thammaraks -  Teeing up eight times on the LPGA tour this year, she was able to make just 2 cuts. Her best finish was T48, has a scoring average of 73.80, and ranks #163 on the money list. Has not fared much better on the Symetra tour either, she ranks #90 there.

17- Pavarisa Yoktuan - Started only one tournament this year and missed the cut in that event. She does have a very slim chance of retaining her playing card as a result of the Symetra tour. Her ranking there is #16.

18- Jiayi Zhou - In eight starts she made just 3 cuts. Her best finish was T54. She currently ranks #162 on the money list, and sports a 74.14 scoring average.

There you have it. A summary of all 29 LPGA rookies. Although there are still 9 LPGA events remaining, don't expect much of the above to change, as none of them are full field events and only the top players on this list will be teeing it up.

I will give one more rookie report at the end of the season. I will then have season ending results and information on who registers for Q-School, who will play on another tour, and who threw in the towel. 

Other Tidbits:

With Caroline Masson winning this week (from Germany), we now have had winners this year from 9 different countries.

Gaby Lopez missed the cut this past week for the first time in her last 14 events.

Nelly Korda (18) won the Sioux Falls Great Life Challenge on the Symetra tour this past weekend. The win moves her up 20 places to #11 on the money list. After a slow start she has turned it up, finishing in the top 20 in 5 of her last 6 starts. She is the younger sister of Jessica Korda. She is only $1,000 out of the #10 spot which would secure her full time playing privileges on the LPGA tour in 2017. Hopefully, that will be as a player and not as a caddie! 

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:

Mi Hyang Lee jumps from #44 to 36, Caroline Masson from #87 to #45, and Karine Icher from #66 to #46.

Race to the CME Globe: (1 million dollars)

Lydia Ko still leads with 4,214 points, she is followed closely by Ariya Jutanugarn with 3,966. Brooke Henderson is third with 2,676. Those 3 players just happen to also be numbers 1,2, and 3 in the world rankings.

Who's Hot:

Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn have not missed a cut all season. Ariya has 4 consecutive top 5 finishes.

Who's Not:

Sun Young Yoo has missed the cut in her last 5 starts. Xi Yu Lin has missed the cut in her last three. Julieta Granada has missed 14 cuts this year in 22 starts. Her best finish is T38.

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  1. Excellently researched post, Tony. Thank you for bringing it all together.

  2. Yes, the numbers show just how hard it is to keep your card once you have made it to the LPGA. I think rookie Cyna Rodriguez may be out with an injury this season and will likely get a medical exemption for next year. There are somewhere around 5 or 6 others players with likely medicals for the start of next year as well... Pancake, Delacour, Johnson, Soo Bin Kim, Suwannapura.

  3. So if I have this correct if you are 46 on the money list you are in fact 56 since it seems that the Symetra tourament top 10 fit in those places? I like that the development tour get some spots and will get into tounaments, as others have already earned their opportunity and didn't capitalize.

    1. No. The top ten from the Symetra Tour, will follow the top 80 on the 2016 money list. If you finish #46 you will be 46. If you finish #84 you will be #94.

  4. Thank you Tony for all the information you supply us with. It is much appreciated. It great you and your wife have this passion.

  5. Half of them might go back to Q-school.