Friday, November 24, 2017

Rating the 2017 Rookies - Final Analysis

Let me start off by saying that 2017 was a much better year for LPGA rookies than was predicted at the start of the season. When looking over the rookie roster back in January, this much was obvious:

  • Sung Hyun Park, coming off seven wins on the KLPGA in 2016, was a sure thing.
  • Nelly Korda sure had the famous name.
  • Madelene Sagstrom broke just about every Symetra Tour record that previously existed.
  • Mel Reid was the crafty veteran coming from the L.E.T.
Of the above four players, only Park was a sure shot to succeed.

Korda struggled for most of the year on the Symetra Tour in 2016, before finishing strong and just barely squeaking into 9th place to secure her card. LPGA success was not a guarantee.

Sagstrom had the best year in Symetra Tour history, but success on that tour certainly has not always translated in success on the LPGA.

Reid has always been a solid player on the L.E.T. But that tour is not even close to being as strong as the KLPGA or even the JLPGA. 

With thirty-seven rookies on the LPGA tour in 2017, it did not look promising that many would retain their playing cards for another season.

As it turned out, we had some very big and pleasant surprises! Twelve rookies finished in the top 100 on the LPGA money list. One more will keep her full time playing card because of her stellar play on the Symetra Tour. This is a huge increase over 2016, when only 9 players advanced to 2017.

When comparing this year's rookies to the rookies of the last half dozen years, you have to remember that 2015 was a year that we will probably never see again in our lifetime, and should not be used as a benchmark. Brooke Henderson, Sei Young Kim, Hyo-Joo Kim, Ariya Jutanugarn, Minjee Lee, Ha Na Jang, Alison Lee, and Charley Hull were all rookies that year. 

Let's see how 2017 ranks by percentage when compared to previous years:
  • 2015 - 19 of 33 = 57.6%
  • 2014 - 14 of 29 = 46.4%
  • 2012 - 12 of 33 = 36.3%
  • 2017 - 13 of 37 = 35.1%
  • 2016 -  9  of 29 = 23.1%
  • 2013 -  8  of 35 = 22.8%
Now if we rank them by number of players who succeeded in keeping their cards:
  • 2015 - 19
  • 2014 - 14
  • 2017 - 13
  • 2012 - 12
  • 2016 -  9
  • 2013 -  8
Not such a bad year at all!

Below are my ratings for all 2017 LPGA rookies. These ratings are strictly based on how they fared on the LPGA tour this season. Any successes or failures on other tours, excluding the Symetra Tour, are not considered here. Success in retaining their 2018 LPGA playing card was my determining factor for my final ratings.

Image result for sung hyun park
Sung Hyun Park holds up her 2017 U.S. Women's Open championship trophy

The Best:
1- Sung Hyun Park - What can I say that hasn't already been said? Park is the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1988 to win both the Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year award. She played in 23 tournaments this year and didn't miss a single cut. She won twice in 2017, one of them being a major championship. She had 9 top five finishes, 11 top tens, and 20 top twenty-fives. Her scoring average of 69.247 was 2nd to Lexi Thompson. 

Strong Rookie Season:
2-Angel Yin - Angel had quite a solid season of her own. She made the cut in 19 of her 25 starts, and her 70.75 scoring average was 31st on tour. She had 2 consecutive top five finishes at the Lorena Ochoa Match Play Championship and the Texas Shootout. She had those two top fives, 5 top tens, and 12 top twenty-five finishes. She finished the season #44 on the money list.

3- Nelly Korda - Nelly actually had a better season on the LPGA Tour in 2017 than she did on the Symetra Tour last season. In 23 starts she missed the cut just four times. Her 70.61 scoring average ranked her 27th. She had two top five finishes, 5 top tens, and 10 top twenty-fives. She finished #47 on the year end money list.

4- Madelene Sagstrom - Madelene came onto the LPGA this season after having the best season in Symetra Tour history. She not only broke the record for prize money in one season, she shattered it! That said, as we have seen in the past, not every Symetra Tour star is successful. After a slow start, Madelene came on very strong in the second half of the season. She had 2 top fives, and finished in the top 11, six times. She needs to improve on her driving accuracy (ranked outside the top 100), but her short game (20th in putting average and 7th in sand saves) is superb. Her 71.47 scoring average is solid. She finished #49 on the year end money list.

5- Nicole Broch Larsen - The 2015 Player of the Year on the L.E.T. had a fine season. She made 18 of 22 cuts, had 3 top tens, and five top twenty-five finishes. Her 71.70 scoring average ranked 69th on tour. She finished the season #57 on the money list.

Consider Them a Success:
6- Peiyun Chien - Peiyun's season lacked consistency as she missed 13 cuts in her 29 starts. Her 3rd place finish at the Marathon Classic was her only top ten finish, but she did have 4 more top twenty-fives. Her 72.12 scoring average (98th) needs to improve. That said, she did do enough to finish #67 on the money list. 

7- Laura Gonzalez Escallon - Laura started out quickly with a top ten in her very first start, but would only get one more the rest of the season. She did have 5 top twenty-fives, but struggled mightily in the second half of the season. She teed in up 25 times, making 17 cuts. Her 71.73 scoring average (70th) was certainly good enough. She finished #73 on the money list. 

8- Olafia Kristinsdottir - My readers have heard me say many times, "It only takes one really good one". That was certainly the case with Olafia. In 26 starts she only had two top 25 finishes, but she struck gold with her 4th place finish at the Indy Women In Tech Championship saving her season. Her 72.40 scoring average (ranks 122nd) needs to improve as does most of her other stats if she she wants to stay on the LPGA Tour. But that one big paycheck put her at #74 on the money list and she will be playing full time in 2018.

9- Aditi Ashok - It wasn't easy, but Aditi did enough to retain her full time playing privileges for the 2018 season. Her 8th place finish at the Marathon Classic was her only top 10, but she did have 6 top thirty finishes. She made 14 cuts in 21 starts, a 71.74 scoring average (71st), and finished up #84 on the year end money list.

10- Emily Pedersen - Came out of the gate like she was going to challenge for top rookie honors when she made her first 8 cuts and six of them were top 25 finishes. It went downhill the second half of the season as she missed 6 consecutive cuts and never finished higher than 47th. Fortunately for her, she did enough in that solid first half to retain her 2018 full time playing privileges. Her 71.43 scoring average (53rd) was solid. She finished the year #90 on the money list.

11- Bronte Law - If you look at her stats, you have to wonder how she was able to keep her playing card. In 17 starts she had only 1 top 25 finish. You will be seeing her next year because she was a "cut making machine." Bronte only missed 2 cuts the entire season. Unlike a few of the players above who made most of their money with one big finish, Bronte proved you could make a little bit of money every week and still be successful. Her scoring average was 71.75 (75th) and she finished #93 on the final LPGA money list.

12- Mel Reid - Mel had been an outstanding player on the LET from 2008 to 2016. During that period she won 6 tournaments and had 53 top tens. Expectations were high that she would be one of the top 3 rookies in 2017. It didn't turn out that way. It was a struggle week in and week out. Mel was able to make just 10 of 19 cuts, and her 13th place finish at the year's first tournament would be the highlight of her season. Her 71.93 scoring average ranked 93rd on tour, but it was just good enough for her to sneak into the #94 position and get to play next year.

Retaining Her Playing Card Through the Symetra Tour:
13- Celine Boutier - Celine was the only player to retain her card this way. She played just 1 event on the LPGA tour and missed the cut. It didn't matter. Her 3rd place finish on the Symetra Tour money list was good enough for her to get the opportunity to play all full field events in 2018.

They are Going Back to Q-School:
The following 2 players are going back to Q-school to improve their priority list ranking for 2018. Although they still have a playing card (category 16), they did not play well enough to guarantee them many starts (if any) in 2018.

1- Mariah Stackhouse - Mariah made just 7 cuts in 15 tournaments during the 2017 campaign. The highlight of her season was when she finished in 8th place at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic. Unfortunately, she did very little to add money to the purse she won that day. She had just 2 finishes better than 55th place. Her scoring average of 71.83 (82nd) shows she has some potential. She finished outside the top 100 on the money list (114th), meaning she did retain her card but would probably get into very few events in 2018. Look for Mariah to do well in Q-school and improve her 2018 LPGA status.

2- Katherine Perry - Like Mariah above, her 122 place finish this year on the LPGA money list allows her to keep her playing card, but will not get her into many tournaments, if any at all. She had plenty of opportunities in 2017, as she did tee it up 20 times. She was only able to make 8 cuts, and never finished better than 15th. Her scoring average of 72.65 (136th) tells us her game still needs some work.

The following players finished outside the top 125 on the money list and will have to be successful in Q-school next week to earn back their playing privileges. (In alphabetical order). Number of cuts made / Position on money list.

1- Brittany Benvenuto - 0 of 1 / N/A
2- Hannah Burke - 1 of 6 / 167
3- Karen Chung - 8 of 19 / 138
4- Jenny Coleman - 1 of 10 / 171
5- Emily Collins - 0 of 7 / N/A
6- Daniela Darquea - 0 for 1 / N/A
7- Regan De Guzman - 1 of 13 / 163
8- Justine Dreher - 1 of 9 / 169
9- Allyssa Ferrell - 2 of 7 / 162
10- Dana Finkelstein - 7 of 17 / 136
11- Jennifer Ha - 1 of 18 / 168
12- Nasa Hataoka - 7 of 19 / 140
13- Caroline Inglis - 0 of 2 / N/A
14- Augusta James - 2 of 9 / 154
15- Lauren Kim - 0 of 2 / N/A
16- Min-G Kim - 2 of 8 / 164
17- Maria Parra - 3 of 18 / 165
18- Krista Puisite - 1 of 9 / 166
19- Madaleine Shiels - 5 of 13 / 144
20- Jessy Tang - 0 of 8 / N/A
21- Emily Tubert - 6 of 12 / 147
22- Britney Yada - 1 of 10 / 176

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

Three players won their first LPGA tournament in 2017. Can you name them?

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

Be sure to check back here early next week for my preview of phase 3 Q-School.

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