Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rating the 2017 LPGA Rookies - Part 2

Before I get started on today's subject, I want to give a big congratulations to I.K. Kim for winning the Ricoh Women's British Open. She jumped out to a big lead entering Sunday's play, and did enough to hold off the charging Jodi Ewart Shadoff by two strokes. It was I.K.'s 3rd win of the season and her first Major Championship victory of her career.

Now on to this week's subject matter:

It has been 3 months since I last did a report card on this year's rookies. At that time the LPGA had only played 10 tournaments, they have now completed 22 events. So much has changed. What appeared to be a pretty weak 2017 rookie crop at the time of that writing, has developed into a much stronger group than originally expected. Don't get me wrong, there are still many rookies this year that will not retain their playing cards, but this year's rookies have been much more successful than last year. In 2016 just 6 rookies retained their playing cards because of their play on the LPGA tour (3 more retained them by finishing in the Symetra Tour top 10). It appears that there will be more this year.

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 2018 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 2018 season, or will they have to go back to Qualifying School?

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 2017 money list, that will be your priority rating for 2018. 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 2018.

If you finish 101-125 on the 2017 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. 

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 Sung Hyun Park
Sung Hyun Park has been the best of a solid 2017 rookie crop.


Very Secure:
1- Sung Hyun Park - She is having one of the best rookie seasons in LPGA history. She has not missed a single cut all year (16 for 16). She won her first LPGA tournament (and first Major Championship) last month at the U.S. Women's Open. She has 15 top 25 finishes, and six of those are top tens. Her scoring average of 69.09 is only topped by Lexi Thompson. Her one bugaboo is that she is  ranked 128th on the tour in driving accuracy (just 66.6%), but she ranks 8th in greens in regulation so she recovers amazingly well. She is currently #2 on the year's money list.

2- Angel YinProbably the biggest rookie surprise so far this year. Prior to this year she had played 9 tournaments as a non LPGA player, never finishing better than 50th. Based on that, not much was expected. She has two top five finishes, three top tens, and eight top 25's. Her scoring average of 70.64 is excellent. Like Kim above, she has trouble keeping it in the fairway (just 60%) ranking 145th on tour. She makes up for it on the greens with an exceptional 29.11 putting average. A real bomber, she averages 272 yards off the tee (7th place). She is currently #41 on the money list. She was picked for the 2017 Solheim Cup team by Captain Juli Inkster.

3- Nelly Korda - Her famous last name led to high expectations even before she ever teed it up on the LPGA tour. She has certainly lived up to those expectations, and is having a fine rookie season. She has made 13 of 15 cuts, while registering one top five, 3 top tens, and five top twenty-five finishes. Her scoring average of 70.63 is excellent. She is currently #48 on the money list. 

4- Madelene Sagstrom - She got off to an awful start this year and I gave her a very poor grade in my first report. I also said then to "look for improvement by my next report." That is exactly what she has done. Her 7th place finish at Kingsmill got her started. She also finished 4th at the Meijer, and 11th at the KPMG. Her scoring average of 71.49 is solid if not spectacular. She must learn to keep the ball in the fairway as she is ranked #141 in driving accuracy. Her short game has been amongst the best on the LPGA as shown by her 29.45 putting average and her 4th place ranking in sand saves. She is currently #51 on the money list and was picked for the 2017 Solheim Cup team by Captain Annika Sorenstam.

5- Laura Gonzalez Escallon - She has snuck up into this category without really getting noticed. She has made the cut in 13 of her 18 starts, with 2 top tens, and five top 25 finishes. The highlight of her season was her 5th place finish at the Marathon Classic. Her scoring average of 71.32 is fine, but her 136th place ranking in putting must improve. She is currently #57 on the money list.

Looking Very Good:
1-  Peiyun Chien - Lets face it, she has not played very good golf for most of the year. She has made just 7 cuts in 19 tournaments. Her stats say she should not belong in this category. Her scoring average of 72.04 does not rank in the top 100. She is 85th in driving accuracy and 135th in putting. Why is she here? Maybe she caught lightning in a bottle when she finished 3rd at the Marathon Classic earning her a big payday. That is her only top ten, but that is all it takes. In spite of the poor stats she is currently #64 on the money list and appears safe for retaining her card for 2018.

2- Emily Pedersen - A poor priority list ranking kept her from competing in any of the first 11 tournaments of the year, but when she got her chance she shined. She quickly improved that priority ranking with the first reshuffle. She has now played in 9 tournaments, missing just one cut, and finishing in the top 25 six times. Her scoring average of 70. 09 is only topped by one rookie (Sung Hyun Park) and is ranked 18th on tour. She was picked by Captain Annika Sorenstam for the 2017 Solheim Cup team.

3- Aditi Ashok - After a shaky start, we have seen improvement since my last report. The reshuffle of the year's priority list has given her more opportunities and she has played well. She made the cut in 9 of her 14 starts this year, with a top ten finish and two top 25's. Her 71.27 scoring average is certainly good enough to compete on this tour. So is her 21st place ranking in putting. If there is a red flag, and this could be of major concern, she only averages 239 yards off the tee which ranks #150 on tour. She is currently 74th on the money list and appears safe for next year.

4- Celine Boutier - Huh! Who you might ask? How does a player who has teed it up just once this year on the LPGA tour, and missed the cut, get into this category? Simple, she has a win and four top tens on the Symetra tour. She is currently ranked #4 on that tour's money list, where a top ten year end finish gets her full playing privileges on the LPGA in 2018.

On the borderline:
1- Nicole Broch Larsen - This former LET star player did not get into many tournaments early in the season. The current reshuffle has her now playing just about every week. She has taken advantage of that by making the cut in 8 of her 12 events. Her 8th place finish at the Walmart Classic is her best finish to date. Her 71.72 scoring average is okay, but her 100th place putting average is not. She is currently #91 on the money list, but needs a few more dollars to secure next year's full time playing privileges. 

2- Mel Reid A huge star on the LET for many years, Mel is a 30 year old rookie. In spite of high expectations, Mel has struggled this year on the LPGA tour. She has made just 6 of 13 cuts, and her best finish is 13th place. Her 71.73 scoring average is good enough, but her 133rd ranking in driving accuracy and her 108th place ranking in putting is not. She is currently #95 on the money list and needs to make a few more cuts to solidify her position for 2018.

3- Bronte Law - The reshuffle has her playing in more tournaments now than she was at the beginning of the year. Her stats look fine. Her 71.56 scoring average suggests she belongs on this tour. She putts well and has made 9 of 11 cuts. That all looks good, but it hasn't translated into success. Her best finish this year is 26th. She is currently #104 on money list and needs to play better if she wants to be here next year.

4- Katherine Perry - She has made the cut in half (8 of 16) of her starts this year. Her best finish is a 15th place tie. She is currently #105 on the money list in spite of a scoring average of 72.49 which ranks 130th. 

5- Olafia Kristindottir Finished second (behind Jaye Marie Green) in the 2016 qualifying tournament, but has struggled on the LPGA Tour so far this year. She has made 8 cuts in 16 tournaments with a best finish of 13th place. She is currently #106 on the money list. Her 72.00 scoring average and 111th place putting average must improve if she wants to keep her full time playing privileges in 2018.

6- Mariah Stackhouse - She has shown flashes of brilliance this year, unfortunately they have been few and far between. She has made the cut in 5 of her 10 starts. Her 8th place finish at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic has kept her hopes for 2018 alive. That has been her only top 25 finish. Her 71.66 scoring average suggests that she belongs here. Her 109th place ranking on the money lists tells us she better improve that fast or we will not be seeing her next year. She is #39 on the Symetra tour money list this year, so she has an outside chance of a top 10 finish there if she can finish very strongly.

7- Daniela Darquea - Has teed it up just once on the LPGA tour this year and missed the cut. She has played mostly on the Symetra tour where she has 2 top ten finishes and five top 20's. She currently is ranked #9 on that tour's money list and needs to hang onto a top 10 spot to gain full time LPGA playing privileges next year.

Not Looking Good:
1- Karen Chung - Karen has made just 5 of 15 cuts this year. Her scoring average of 72.05 ranks 103rd on tour. She is currently 134th on the money list giving her an outside chance of making a few cuts and retaining her card. 

2- Dana Finkelstein - She has made just 4 cuts in 13 events this year, with a best finish of 28th place. Her scoring average of 72.28 needs to improve. Her average driving distance of just 227 yards ranks dead last (158th) on the LPGA tour and just won't cut it in the big time. The only reason I put her this high is that she is currently 135th on the money list and still has an outside chance to move up into the top 125 and have limited playing privileges next year. 

3- Caroline Inglis - She has teed it up twice this year without making a cut. Her chances of playing on the LPGA hinges strictly on her Symetra tour standing where she currently ranks #31. 

Looking Dismal:
The following players have not cut it in the big time this year. Some have had many chances, and some very few. With just a few full field tournaments left on the LPGA schedule, it is more than likely that they will have to go back to Q-school and be successful there to be able to tee it up in 2018. (In alphabetical order)
1- Brittany Benvenuto - She has just one start and missed the cut and ranks 137th on Symetra tour.
2- Hannah Burke - Has not made a cut in 5 tries this year. Her scoring average of 75.80 is horrific. Has not finished better than 51st on Symetra tour. Has played better on LET but that won't help her here.
3- Jenny Coleman - Made only 1 of 8 cuts and is 167th on money list. 
4- Emily Collins - Hasn't made a cut in 5 tries.
5- Justine Dreher - Hasn't made a cut in 7 tries.
6- Allyssa Ferrell - Has made just 1 of 5 cuts. Hasn't played well on Symetra tour either where she is #114 on the money list.
7- Regan De Guzman - Has played 11 tournaments on the LPGA this year and hasn't made a single cut.
8- Jennifer Ha - Has made just 1 of 14 cuts and is #163 on money list.
9- Nasa Hataoka - Heavily hyped at the beginning of the season, She has made just 4 of 16 cuts. Her scoring average of 73.28 (149th) tells us she is not ready to compete up here yet.  Her best finish is 30th and she ranks #154 on the money list.
10- Augusta James - Has made just 1 of 6 cuts this year but incredibly sports a solid scoring average of 71.29 (I double checked the LPGA numbers and they are correct). She has played 10 tournaments on the Symetra tour and made 8 cuts, but is only #44 on their money list. Her ranking of  #157 on the LPGA money list means she will have to go to Q-school at the end of the year, but I wouldn't bet against her qualifying there.
11- Min-G Kim - Made only one cut in 5 events this year. She is 177th on Symetra tour.
12- Lauren Kim - Has only teed it up twice and missed the cut both times. Has played in 15 tournaments on the Symetra tour but has not fared well there either.
13- Maria Parra - Has made just 3 of 14 cuts. Her 73.68 scoring average and 139th place putting standing tells us she is not ready. She is #161 on the money list.
14- Krista Puisite - Has missed the cut in all 3 starts and ranks #121 on Symetra money list.
15- Madeleine Shiels - Has made just 3 of 9 cuts with a best finish of 35th. Her scoring average of 72.63 is better than most in this category, but not nearly good enough. She is #155 on money list.
16 - Jessy Tang - Hasn't made a cut in her 2 attempts this year and is #171 on Symetra tour.
17- Emily Tubert - Has made just 3 of 8 cuts, with a best finish of 53rd. Is 158th on the year's money list and hasn't fared well at all on the Symetra tour where she is #128.
18- Britney Yada - Made just one cut in 8 tries and that was a 70th place finish. She is #173 on the money list and 134 on the Symetra tour.


Other Tidbits:
Gerina Piller had her cut streak snapped at 20 straight.

Rolex Rankings Movers of the Week:
There was plenty of movement this week. I.K. Kim jumps into the top ten this week moving from #21 to #9. Michelle Wie continues her upward movement jumping from #35 to #29. Jodi Ewart Shadoff leaps up from #51 to #28, while non LPGA member Georgia Hall catapults from #85 to #41. Outside the top 100, Ally McDonald soars from #199 to #149.

Race to the CME Globe:   (1 million dollars)
Lexi Thompson extends her first place lead with 2,642 points. She is followed closely by So Yeon Ryu with 2,587 points and Ariya Jutanugarn with 2,204. Sung Hyun Park (2,063) and I.K. Kim (1,937) fill out the top five.

Who's Hot:
Michelle Wie's third place finish this week was her 6th top five finish of the year, tying So Yeon Ryu and Cristie Kerr. Lexi Thompson leads the LPGA with seven. 

Who's Not:
Ariya Jutanugarn has not finished better than 44th in her last 5 starts, and has only seen the weekend once.

Lydia Ko has failed to finish better than 20th in her last 6 starts.

Yani Tseng has not had a top ten finish in her last 46 starts.


This Week's Trivia Question: (For those who missed it earlier)

Only two players have successfully defended this British Open Championship. Can you name them?

For the answer to this week's trivia question press here.

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