Major News Out of LPGA and USGA

By now you’ve probably already read about the Kraft Nabisco Championship losing its title sponsor after this April’s major is contested and the USGA opening up international sectional qualifying sites for the U.S. Women’s Open in England, Japan, Korea, and China.  I see a link between the changes in 2 of the LPGA’s biggest majors:  the effect of globalization on the women’s professional golf world.

The globalization connection is pretty obvious when it comes to the U.S. Women’s Open.  Se Ri Pak’s victory there has been legendary in Korea almost since the moment she took off her golf shoes and socks, so I’m curious to see how many entries the Korea site gets.  Golf is growing quickly in China and the number of entries per year will be one good index of its acceleration.  I’m thinking that more Japanese golfers will be willing to give the USWO a try if they don’t have to travel to Hawaii or California to do it.  Like the KLPGA, the JLPGA has events on either side of the May 19th qualifier, so it’ll be interesting to see how many members of both tours adjust their schedules–and who!  In Europe, there’s an LET event in Amsterdam a few days after the USWO qualifier, so it shouldn’t interfere with qualifying attempts by more of its members.

But what does the KNC have to do with globalization?  Mike Whan has publicly committed to keeping the KNC at Mission Hills and perpetuating the tradition of the winner’s leap into Poppie’s Pond, goals I fully endorse (I’d add a 3rd goal of bringing back “Dinah Shore” into the official title of the event, as well).  Perhaps there will be a big-time global sponsor from outside the U.S. who will want to make it happen, either a former LPGA partner like Samsung or Toyota or a new sponsor that wants to be associated with the tournament’s LGBTQ-friendly history and traditions (like maybe Subaru?).  But if no international or domestic sponsor (calling State Farm! calling ADT!) steps up to the plate, I’m hoping the LPGA can get creative.  The HSBC Women’s Champions event is near-major quality and worthy of an Evian-like upgrade, so there’s always the option of convincing HSBC to alternate the LPGA’s 1st major of the season between Singapore and Mission Hills.  Another possibility is to hook up with the LET’s World Ladies Championship at Mission Hills in China and either alternate sites or link the two events (perhaps by sending better American teams to China and opening up more spots in the LPGA event to LETers).  Or the LPGA could bypass the LET entirely and create a separate relationship with the CGA or CLPGA to alternate Mission Hills sites.  The chance to keep the KNC at Mission Hills while also making it the LPGA’s 1st Asian major would be almost as good an outcome as replacing Kraft-Nabisco with a different title sponsor.  Call its the LPGA’s 1st transnational major and run with it!

Under Mike Whan, the LPGA has embraced its identity as a truly global golf tour.  The latest major news underscores that identity and gives the tour opportunities to take it to the next level.  Let’s see what comes of it!

[Update 1 (3/20/14, 8:15 am): Ruthless Mike has some interesting observations on the KNC and other challenges/opportunities facing Mike Whan and his team!]

Yes! Cheyenne Woods Still Planning to Focus on the Symetra Tour in 2014

Randall Mell is reporting that Cheyenne Woods’s plans to work her way onto the LPGA via the Symetra Tour this season haven’t changed following her surprise victory at the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters.  This is a really smart decision.  I’m glad that Cheyenne has her head on straight and that she and her management team are being realistic and thinking long-term.

Other than winning on the LPGA this season, somehow earning enough via sponsor exemptions into full-field events to make the equivalent of top 40 on the 2014 LPGA money list, or finishing in the top 20 at Q-School at the end of the year, there’s no other way onto the LPGA than via the  Symetra Tour.  And of the 4 ways, getting into the top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list is the best bet.  (And if her game keeps improving, she may win enough times on the Symetra Tour to earn a “battlefield promotion” onto the LPGA this season.)

Given how limited the Symetra Tour schedule is (and the LET schedule for that matter), I suspect Woods will still get her share of LET and LPGA starts this season.  All she has to do is focus on the Symetra Tour from roughly next week through June (playing a good proportion of their 1st 13 events).  If she’s doing well there in the 1st half of the season, she can turn her attention to majors (she’s already in the Women’s British Open in July and the Evian in September, thanks to her LET victory, and there’s nothing stopping her from trying to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open in June and maybe getting another sponsor exemption into the Wegmans LPGA Championship in August)–and then to the LET after Evian.  If not, she can mostly stay in the States and play enough of the Symetra Tour’s last 5 events in late July through early September to guarantee herself an LPGA card for 2015.  And even if that doesn’t happen, she should finish high enough on the money list to get a free pass into the final stage of Q-School.

For a player with Woods’s skills and career trajectory, focusing on the Symetra Tour is the best possible decision for this season.  Kudos to her for making and committing to it!

She Did It! Cheyenne Woods Holds Off Minjee Lee to Claim Her 1st Professional Victory!

Cheyenne Woods made the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters her 1st professional victory on a major tour when she shot a 5-birdie 69, highlighted by a bogey-free closing 33, to hold off Australian amateur sensation Minjee Lee by 2 shots.  The turning point came on the 9th hole, after Lee had birdied the 3 previous holes in a row to catch Woods at -12.  When Woods birdied the 492-yard par 5, she never looked back, adding 3 more birdies on the back 9 to outsprint Lee, who also played bogey-free golf on the back, but could birdie only the 12th and the 18th.  The only other players to finish double digits under par–Woods and Lee’s playing partner Stacy Lee Bregman (72, -12) and Camilla Lennarth (70, -12)–also poured it on down the stretch, but it was too little, too late to catch Lee, much less deny Woods.

Woods’s triumph came over a fairly impressive field.  Solheim Cup heroine Caroline Hedwall closed with a bogey-free 66 to catch KLPGA Rookie of the Year candidate Minsun Kim and Korean amateur So Young Lee at -9; Belen Mozo’s 9-birdie 65, the low round of the week, allowed her to meet Jessica Korda, who fired a bogey-free 69 that included an eagle on the par-5 3rd, at -8; and Ya Ni Tseng joined Gwladys Nocera and Charley Hull in the top 10 at -7 thanks to an 8-birdie 66.  The cream of the field certainly rose to the top, or at least near it, as Dewi Claire Schreefel and Sarah Jane Smith’s 69s moved them to -5, Laura Davies, Chella Choi, and Sarah Kemp’s 70s brought them to -4 with Tiffany Joh and Xi Yu Lin, among others, while Lindsey Wright (-3), Kyu-Jung Baek (-3), Joanna Klatten (-3), Mi Hyang Lee (-2), Maria Hernandez (-2), Marianne Skarpnord (-2), Lee-Anne Pace (-1), Shin-Ae Ahn (-1), Ashleigh Simon (-1), Melissa Reid (E), Line Vedel (E), Thidappa Suwannapura (E), Amelia Lewis (E), Lorie Kane (+1), Katherine Kirk (+1), and Char Young Kim (+1) at least played respectably.

But the day belongs to Cheyenne Woods.  I’ve been following her career for quite a while, and from the very start, I noted that whereas it seemed to always take her awhile to adjust to the rigors of a new level of competition, she always seemed to adjust over time.  To tell you the truth, though, her 1st pro win outside the SunCoast Series is as much of a surprise to me as her first collegiate one was.  The only other time she’d been near the top of an LET leaderboard, back in last July, she flamed out pretty dramatically.  Although she had a solid 2013 on the LET, finishing 78th on their Order of Merit in only 11 starts, she just barely held onto her card and got off on the wrong foot at LPGA Q-School (finishing 15 shots behind Jaye Marie Green’s then-record-breaking 62 on its opening day), eventually missing the 72-hole cut by 5 shots.  So for her to make this kind of quantum leap so early in 2014 is super-impressive!

We’ll have to see what she does with this in the coming weeks and months.  Assuming she wants to take advantage of her win, she’ll face a much, much stronger field this coming week at the tri-sponsored ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open (where she’s currently not on the field list, just like defending champion Ji-Yai Shin).  After that, she’ll have to decide whether to stay on the LET and accept sponsor invitations into LPGA events or try her luck on the Symetra Tour.  It’s an open question whether it’s easier to get 2015 LPGA membership via Category 9 (non-member top-40 equivalent on the LPGA money list) or Category 10 (top 10 on the Symetra Tour money list) on the Priority Status List, but I lean strongly toward the latter (although it might be possible to try both strategies).  Sure, it means giving up a lot of money, but it’s better than going back to Q-School.  Whether her management team sees it the same way is another question.

But all that’s for the future.  Right now, let’s just appreciate Cheyenne Woods’s career milestone!

[Update 1 (8:31 am):  Here’s some linkage to the ALPG’s story, Tony Jesselli’s reaction, the AP’s story via USA Today, and Randall Mell’s coverage.]

[Update 2 (8:43 am):  Here’s Martin Blake.]

[Update 3 (8:45 am):  Cheyenne’s on the LPGA’s field list.  But I think she won’t have to get in on a sponsor exemption any more!  Wonder who will get hers?]

[Update 4 (9:14 am):  Here’s Brent Kelley‘s take.  Now I’m curious to see how big this story gets during the Olympics.  Will it be overshadowed?  Or will it get picked up and hyped during the coverage?  There’s no doubt this was a magical week for Woods, but so was Jaye Marie Green’s last December in Q-School and she’s going to need to adjust to the rigors of the LPGA like any other rookie.  I hope we’ll be able to look back on both of their weeks as huge turning points in their careers, but nothing is guaranteed in golf.  Just got to keep trying to improve!]

[Update 5 (5:25 pm):  I appreciate bangkokbobby‘s point that Cheyenne is now making a name for herself.  Let’s see where she takes it next!]

[Update 6 (5:31 pm):  Nice to see Cheyenne’s name at the top of the LET Order of Merit!]

[Update 7 (5:55 pm):  Nice job by John Strege getting Cheyenne’s mom’s reactions!]

[Update 8 (9:38 pm):  Here’s Stephanie Wei‘s quick take.]

[Update 9 (2/11/14, 6:54 am):  I appreciate the vote of confidence from Golf Babes!]

Ji-Yai Shin Removed from 2014 LPGA Priority Status List

Back in December, I passed along the news that Ji-Yai Shin plans to focus on the JLPGA this season.  Back then, she was still talking like she’d keep dual membership on the LPGA and JLPGA and simply play the LPGA-required minimum number of events to keep her card for 2015.  In keeping with that plan, Shin showed up at #22 on the 2014 LPGA Priority Status List dated 1/9/14.  Well, the LPGA released a new list on 1/14/14, and guess what?  Shin’s name no longer appears on it!  (Hat tip to Tony Jesselli for spotting the change.)  I guess she put 2 and 2 together and realized that playing 12 events on the LPGA would be just as exhausting as playing 20.

Apparently, that extends to not signing up for the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, as well (as IceCat pointed out on the same Seoul Sisters.com thread).  This supports the idea of focusing on the JLPGA, as non-JLPGA members Ayako Uehara and Harukyo Nomura are the only Japanese players to appear on the field list and Shanshan Feng, the sole remaining dual LPGA-JLPGA member in the world for 2014, doesn’t appear on it.  I guess it’s easier to get to Thailand than Australia from Japan (plus Honda sponsors the former event, so you should see plenty of Japanese names there–and Shin is angling for a major Japanese sponsor).

What’s weird about Shin’s decision to leave the LPGA entirely and skip the Women’s Australian Open is that she’s the defending champion!  What’s even weirder is that she’s already been featured in press releases on the tournament.  What’s weirdest is that she’s also featured in press releases announcing that she’ll be playing in Australia the week before in the Volvik RACV Australian Masters.  Is she withdrawing from that event, as well?  She doesn’t appear on the LET’s field list.

Assuming that Shin’s not travelling to Australia to start the season, this certainly shows how serious she is about getting some rest in 2014.  I mean, by removing herself from the LPGA’s season-long points race, she’s leaving $1M on the table.  I hope she’s not hurt….

[Update 1 (9:49 am):  Here’s the LET’s field list for the Women’s Australian Open.  The only Shin there is Jenny, not Ji-Yai….]

[Update 2 (11:28 am):  Here’s the LPGA’s response to my inquiry.]

[Update 3 (3:16 pm):  it’s worth recalling that former dual LPGA-JLPGA members Chie Arimura, Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Harukyo Nomura, and Ayako Uehara have all chosen the LPGA over the JLPGA for 2014.  And everyone but Chie and Mika will be starting 2014 in the Bahamas!]

[Update 4 (1/18/14, 1:11 am):  Check out Centurion‘s thoughts on Shin’s situation.]

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 2014 LPGA Priority Status List

Tony Jesselli has reproduced the LPGA’s 2014 Priority Status List, which now can be downloaded from the pull-down menu under “Players” on lpga.com.  Here are a few observations on it….

Category 1: Top 80, 2013 Money List.  The only additions to it (via medical exemptions) are Karin Sjodin (#46), Mi Hyun Kim (#58), and Jimin Kang (#75). [Update (1/15/14, 9:32 am):  The only deletion is former #22 Ji-Yai Shin.  Like Teresa Lu and Momoko Ueda, she’s given up LPGA membership to focus on the JLPGA in 2014.]

Category 2: Top 20, Career Money ListCategory 3: Major Winner in Last 5 Years; Category 4: 2012 or 2013 Member Winner; Category 6: 3-Time Winner in Single Season, 2010-2013.  Everyone who would have been eligible for these categories is in Category 1.

Category 5: Members with 2 Wins, 2010-2013.  Maria Hjorth (#84) is the only multiple winner in the last 4 seasons who needed to gain eligibility via this category.

Category 7: 2013 Non-Member Winner.  Lydia Ko (#85).  Duh.  [Update (1/12/14, 4:35 am):  As Jamie pointed out in comments, Teresa Lu is not in this category.  It seems she decided to stick solely with the JLPGA for 2014, bringing the number of actual dual LPGA-JLPGA members down to 2 (of whom only Ji-Yai Shin will be spending a significant amount of time in Japan; Shanshan Feng would be nuts to do any more than the minimum number required to keep her JLPGA card for 2015, given how she’s poised to become one of the very best on the LPGA in 2014.]

Category 8: 2014 Money List Top 80 After 10th/18th Events; Category 13: 2014 3-Time Symetra Tour Winner.  Obviously nobody could yet be in these categories.

Category 9: Top 10, 2013 Symetra Tour Money List.  Jenny Gleason (#96) is the only addition to it (again via medical exemption).

Category 10: Non-Member Top 40 Equivalent, 2013 Money List.  Nobody did it.

Category 11: Nos. 81-100, 2013 Money List.  Nicole Smith (#98) is the only addition to it (again via medical exemption).

Category 12: Top 20, 2013 Q-School.  I guess based on 2012 Q-School results, Kayla Mortellaro (#133) and Kim Welch (#135) got in via medical exemptions.

Category 14: Top 40, Career Money List.  Pat Hurst (#139) keeps her quest to become a $7M woman on the LPGA alive via this category.

Category 15: 2014 Reshuffle After 10th/18th Events.  This will be significant, as it allows those in lower categories to play their way into better status, which could translate into more starts for some of them.  Stay tuned!

Category 16: Nos. 101-125, 2013 Money List.  With Amanda Blumenherst (#140) retired, #141 Sarah Kemp, #142 Dori Carter, #143 Laura Diaz, #144 Kris Tamulis, and #145 Jennifer Song can have their pick of full-field events.  And everyone from #146 Amelia Lewis to #154 Laura Davies and #155 Lorie Kane has a fighting chance, given that there are almost always multiple people ahead of them who will decide not to tee it up in a given week for various reasons.  Jill McGill (#157) got LPGA status in this category via a medical exemption.

Category 17: Nos. 20-44, 2013 Q-School.  #159 Meghan McChrystal to #184 Dani Holmqvist will be spending a lot of time on the Symetra Tour, unless they get into 1 of the 1st 10 events of the new season and play great in it.  Basically, what this category means is that every LPGA tournament a player from it gets into is like Q-School all over again, just against better golfers.

The last categogies are basically honorary memberships for winners in the past 20 years (Category 18) and from more than 20 years ago (Category 19), or for Class A or international LPGA members in good standing for at least 10 years (Category 20).  So the door is still cracked open slightly for Annika Sorenstam (#185), Lorena Ochoa (#191), Helen Alfredsson (#201), Grace Park (#204), Dorothy Delasin (#209), Sophie Gustafson (#210), Wendy Ward (#211), Wendy Doolan (#220), Janice Moodie (#225), Leta Lindley (#228), Eunjung Yi (#250), and more recent members who are even lower on the list to tee it up again and have any winnings count toward their career totals….

LPGA Sweetens Membership Pot in 2014 with Race to the CME Globe

The LPGA and CME Group have put together a season-long points race starting in 2014 called the Race to the CME Globe that awards $1M (in unofficial money) to its winner.  Even with the 1st-place prize for the newly-renamed CME Group Tour Championship reduced to $500K, we still could see someone walk away with $1.5M on Sunday, November 23, 2014!

Brent Kelley has the big picture on the Race to the CME Globe, but here a slightly finer-grained overview:
  • only LPGA members are eligible to earn points, and only in official 2014 LPGA events from the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic to the Lorena Ochoa Invitational;
  • in a typical event, everyone who makes the cut gets points; in events without a cut, top-40 finishers will get points, except for at the limited-field Ochoa event, where only the top 20 will;
  • wins in regular events are worth 500 points and wins in majors are worth 625 points, as all points are increased by 25% in majors;
  • points will be reset after the Ochoa to ensure that the race is decided at the Tour Championship (see Randall Mell‘s overview for further details on the reset);
  • points earned at the Tour Championship will be added to each player’s reset points to determine the winner of the Race to the CME Globe.
So even if a non-member gets into the Tour Championship by winning an official LPGA event (thereby pushing the field list above the 72 players who are tops on the points list and any members who won in 2014 but didn’t make it into the top 72), she will not be playing for that $1M bonus.
This is a huge incentive for the best female golfers in the world to seek LPGA membership and to play as many LPGA events as possible even if they maintain membership on another tour.  Dual members who get off to good starts in 2014 (or who do well in early majors) will thus have to keep an eye on the points list as they decide what the rest of their schedule will look like.  If they get too far behind the points leaders, even the reset won’t allow them to win the race for the $1M; only those in the top 3 entering the Tour Championship will truly be able to control their own destiny and only those in the top 9 will be able to win the race with a win at the Tour Championship.  And with the 5 LPGA majors spread out in April, June, July, August, and September, players won’t be able to rely on a hot streak at just the right time, as in past seasons when the majors were much more bunched, so pacing themselves will be an important feature of this race, as well.
All in all, this is a huge deal for the LPGA and a huge prize for its members to shoot for in 2014!  Randall Mell points out that it’s been 6 years since $1M was on the line in a single event on the LPGA, ever since the ADT Championship bit the dust.  This is yet another sign that the LPGA is back to pre-Great Recession standing.

[Update 1 (3:52 pm):  Nice to see I’m on the same wavelength as Karen Stupples!]

LPGA Sweetens Membership Pot in 2014 with Race to the CME Globe

The LPGA and CME Group have put together a season-long points race starting in 2014 called the Race to the CME Globe that awards $1M (in unofficial money) to its winner.  Even with the 1st-place prize for the newly-renamed CME Group Tour Championship reduced to $500K, we still could see someone walk away with $1.5M on Sunday, November 23, 2014!

Brent Kelley has the big picture on the Race to the CME Globe, but here a slightly finer-grained overview:
  • only LPGA members are eligible to earn points, and only in official 2014 LPGA events from the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic to the Lorena Ochoa Invitational;
  • in a typical event, everyone who makes the cut gets points; in events without a cut, top-40 finishers will get points, except for at the limited-field Ochoa event, where only the top 20 will;
  • wins in regular events are worth 500 points and wins in majors are worth 625 points, as all points are increased by 25% in majors;
  • points will be reset after the Ochoa to ensure that the race is decided at the Tour Championship (see Randall Mell‘s overview for further details on the reset);
  • points earned at the Tour Championship will be added to each player’s reset points to determine the winner of the Race to the CME Globe.
So even if a non-member gets into the Tour Championship by winning an official LPGA event (thereby pushing the field list above the 72 players who are tops on the points list and any members who won in 2014 but didn’t make it into the top 72), she will not be playing for that $1M bonus.
This is a huge incentive for the best female golfers in the world to seek LPGA membership and to play as many LPGA events as possible even if they maintain membership on another tour.  Dual members who get off to good starts in 2014 (or who do well in early majors) will thus have to keep an eye on the points list as they decide what the rest of their schedule will look like.  If they get too far behind the points leaders, even the reset won’t allow them to win the race for the $1M; only those in the top 3 entering the Tour Championship will truly be able to control their own destiny and only those in the top 9 will be able to win the race with a win at the Tour Championship.  And with the 5 LPGA majors spread out in April, June, July, August, and September, players won’t be able to rely on a hot streak at just the right time, as in past seasons when the majors were much more bunched, so pacing themselves will be an important feature of this race, as well.
All in all, this is a huge deal for the LPGA and a huge prize for its members to shoot for in 2014!  Randall Mell points out that it’s been 6 years since $1M was on the line in a single event on the LPGA, ever since the ADT Championship bit the dust.  This is yet another sign that the LPGA is back to pre-Great Recession standing.

[Update 1 (3:52 pm):  Nice to see I’m on the same wavelength as Karen Stupples!]

[Update 2 (1/11/14, 11:24 am):  Interesting perspective from Ruthless Mike!]

The World Is a Big Place Files: Lydia Ko Edition

So it seems Lydia Ko has split with Guy Wilson, her coach of 11 years.  Alarm bells are ringing for Geoff Shackelford, who’s already shaping up a story of how IMG and David Leadbetter are about to ruin another young phenom.  But what if this is just about what Ko told New Zealand TV this is about?
With Wilson remaining in New Zealand and unable to join her throughout the 2014 LPGA Tour, the decision was a logical one for Ko.
“I’m going to be away from home and I’m not a player that likes to (not) have my coach out at tournaments, so it doesn’t really work, him being here and him coming on the weeks that I’m not playing a tournament,” Ko told ONE Sport at the Gulf Ha[r]bour Country Club today.
“That means I’d only see him like 10 times a year and to me that kind of situation didn’t work out so that’s why I thought it might be better to have a coach based somewhere in the States.”

I mean, as Ji-Yai Shin‘s and Momoko Ueda‘s recent decisions to focus on the JLPGA make clear, the world is a big place.  Here’s how Ko put it to TVNZ:  “Playing on the LPGA Tour it’s going to be hard coming back home. Obviously it’s so far to get from here to anywhere apart from Australia.”  So unless Wilson is willing to uproot himself and move halfway around the world to keep coaching Ko, how can their partnership continue?  Wilson himself sounds a lot more resigned and accepting (or at least diplomatic) in the New ZealandAustralian, and Canadian media than in the U.S. media (although Golfweek has Wilson’s complete statement).

Kris Shannon looks at the decision from both sides, calling the split “inevitable” but questioning the timing and possible repercussions on Ko’s swing and game: 

Set to spend next season on the LPGA Tour, Ko will be based overseas for much of the year, but she already had a hectic travel schedule during her unprecedented amateur career. 

“I’m sad to hear it because they can do most of the coaching over the phone, with all the videos and different stuff,” Lister said. “If [Wilson] was to see her once every three or four months, it would be plenty. She doesn’t need somebody every day. 

“I’d be very reluctant to be changing anything with Lydia. She’s done pretty damn well with what she’s doing, and if it ain’t broke don’t go and fix it.”

Ko herself is well aware of possible pitfalls but hopes to avoid them:

 “It’s going to be a huge change. Swing-wise obviously not every coach has the same swing technique but even my parents and I said we don’t want huge changes, just little changes, that if someone else saw my swing they wouldn’t know that anything’s changed. 

“Golf isn’t really all about having the perfect swing, it’s about getting out there and scoring well as well.” 

She remains undaunted by stories about players falling on hard times after changing coaches and insists such speculation does not apply to her situation with Wilson. 

“Not really. I’ve heard those rumours and Tweets where people say lots of people have left their coaches after they’ve succeeded and stuff, but to me it’s not like I left him because he was a bad coach. 

“It was because that situation, we knew there was going to be a problem. I know it’s a change but fingers crossed that nothing bad happens.”

The fact is, you never know how changes like these are going to turn out.  I’m reminded of how the size of the planet played a role in Ji-Yai Shin’s slow-motion split with her long-time caddie Dean Herden back in 2011.

Bottom line is that it’s Ko’s career and her decision.  If she’s convinced a long-distance relationship won’t work for her, better to act on that conviction than draw out the transition.  It seems to me that all outsiders and onlookers can do is wish both Ko and Wilson the best.

[Update 1 (8:57 am):  Stevie Williams, a friend of Wilson’s, strongly criticizes Ko’s decision.]

[Update 2 (9:09 am):  I can only hope Lydia and her parents each have great Christmas presents for Wilson and that IMG is ponying up serious severance pay for him!]

[Update 3 (9:31 am):  Ladies on Tour notes that Ko’s mother was talking about finding a U.S.-based coach at the CME Titleholders.]

[Update 4 (9:51 am):  Brent Kelley has a good overview.  But is nobody else seeing that Lydia mentions Sean Hogan by name in that TVNZ story?]

[Update 5 (11:16 am):  Randall Mell just tweeted:  “Just off phone w/ David Leadbetter, Lydia Ko will work w/ him & Sean Hogan of his staff. ‘It’s about guiding, not re-inventing the swing.'”]

[Update 6 (11:50 am):  Here’s Emily Kay‘s Steve Williams-centered overview.]

[Update 7 (12:28 pm):  So much for this being a sudden decision.  There was even pre-decision blowback before Thanksgiving in the NZ media.]

[Update 8 (8:03 pm):  Randall Mell covers reaction from Kiwi Nation and statements from David Leadbetter.]

[Update 9 (8:07 pm):  And here’s Stephanie Wei‘s recap.]

Ji-Yai Shin to Focus on JLPGA in 2014

Courtesy of the Seoul Sisters.com message boards, I came across this story from the Yonhap News that Ji-Yai Shin will be spending most of her time on the JLPGA next season.  According to the article, she’ll still play the 12 LPGA events required to be eligible for membership in 2015, but will be making the JLPGA her primary tour for 2014.

Although this goes against the grain of the trend I just identified of formerly dual LPGA-JLPGA members deciding to focus exclusively on the LPGA, I can see why Shin is making this decision.  She can play 20+ events in Japan and have a legitimate chance of contending in most of them, which will be great for her confidence and competitive edge.  She can play more 54-hole events and travel much shorter distances, which will be great for the fatigue issues cited in the Yonhap story.  She’ll be much closer to friends and family in South Korea, as well, and can also enter the occasional KLPGA event without changing time zones.

If all goes well, Shin can revitalize her game on the JLPGA like Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng have done in recent years.  And if her comeback comes quicker than expected, there’s no reason she can’t add more LPGA events to her 2014 schedule than currently planned.  With 9 LPGA events in the Asia-Pacific region and 5 majors, there are plenty of obvious candidates, but it would be easy to put together a worldwide schedule that minimizes travel and maximizes wins and winnings potential.  Conceivably, she could play all February on the LET and LPGA, all March on the JLPGA (perhaps playing the LPGA’s Kia Classic at the end of the month), compete in the Kraft Nabisco Championship in early April, take a break in Hawaii and wait till the LOTTE, then stay on the JLPGA except for trips to the U.S. Women’s Open in June, the Ricoh Women’s British Open in July, the Wegmans LPGA Championship in August, and the Evian Championship in September, and finally take her pick from among the LPGA’s 6 Asian swing events in the fall to round out her schedule.  If she’s in the hunt for season-ending LPGA titles and the Hall of Fame points that go with them, she can play more of them and add Lorena’s event and the CME to her schedule; if she’s got a better chance to win the JLPGA money-list title, she can play the minimum required to get to 12 starts and keep her LPGA card for 2015.

I’ll be very interested in comparing and contrasting Shin’s approach to scheduling in 2014 with fellow dual-LPGA-JLPGA members Shanshan Feng and Momoko Ueda.  I would hope that Feng realizes she is a legitimate pre-season favorite for LPGA end-of-season honors in 2014 and makes the LPGA her primary tour.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Ueda frontloads her LPGA schedule and doesn’t play on the JLPGA until May or return to the LPGA until the fall Asian swing (except for the occasional LPGA major she qualifies for).

[Update 1 (1:42 pm):  More on this tomorrow, but it’s looking like Momoko Ueda won’t be playing on the LPGA in 2014 much, if at all.  With Harukyo Nomura doing the opposite and choosing the LPGA over the JLPGA, that leaves just Shin and Feng as dual LPGA-JLPGA members, although it should be noted that Teresa Lu’s Mizuno Classic victory means she will also be a dual member next season….]

[Update 2 (10:18 pm):  Clark Miyazaki tweeted me a link to a longer Yonhap story on Shin’s decision.  It notes that her sponsorship with Mirae Asset ends this February and will not be renewed, so she’ll be seeking a Japanese sponsor in 2014.  And it emphasizes that between exhaustion and injuries to her back and wrist, the 25-year-old has been pulled thin by her hemisphere-hopping.]

[Update 3 (12/22/13, 11:07 am):  Thoughtful response from Ruthless Mike.]

Harukyo Nomura Will Play Full-Time on the LPGA in 2014

Harukyo Nomura got the last valuable spot in LPGA Q-School a few days ago and she wasted no time in petitioning the JLPGA to suspend her membership for 2014.  With her petition granted, we can expect that she’ll be playing a full schedule on the LPGA next season, along with Ai Miyazato, Mika Miyazato, Chie Arimura, and Ayako Uehara.  The only dual LPGA-JLPGA members in 2014 will be Momoko Ueda, Shanshan Feng, and Ji-Yai Shin.  That’s a far cry from the depths of the economic downturn, when dual membership was the choice of a significant number of top female golfers….

Check Out Who’s Playing in the LET’s Final Qualifying Tournament

The LET’s Q-School enters its final stage this coming Sunday and a host of former or current LPGAers, along with many Futures Tour, SunCoast Series, and Cactus Tour regulars, are entered in the Final Qualifying Tournament, which also includes those who made it into the top 35 (and ties) from Group A and Group B in the Pre-Qualifying Tournament that concluded earlier this week. 

Here’s an alphabetical list:

Dori Carter (#97 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Esther Choe (Group A medallist)
Carlota Ciganda (#257 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Valentine Derrey (#158 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Kendall Dye
Jodi Ewart (#101 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Meaghan Francella (#98 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Benedikte Grotvedt
Stefanie Kenoyer
Caroline Larsson
Jennie Lee (#95 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Camila Lennarth
Amelia Lewis (#139 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Miriam Nagl
Whitney Neuhauser
Garrett Phillips
Dawn Shockley
Karin Sjodin (#114 on LPGA Priority Status List)
Alison Whitaker
Jessica Yadloczky
Heather Bowie Young (#70 on LPGA Priority Status List)

Looks like the youngsters are looking to pursue the Caroline Hedwall track, Francella and Sjodin the Julieta Granada track, and Young the rare veteran game-revival track via dual LPGA-LET membership!  Let’s see who gets full membership, who gets partial membership, and who gets nothing….

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 2012 LPGA Priority Status List

Just as the LPGA announced their 2012 schedule, they also released the new priority status list that establishes members’ access to regular, full-field events.  Actually, last December, Seoul Sisters.com com regular IceCat noticed that the new list went live early on LPGA.com, and produced his own analysis of it, from which I’m drawing to do mine.  Here’s his take in its entirety:

There are five medical exemptions (including JJ) within Category 1, meaning that there are 85 players instead of 80 in the coveted position. Laura Davies is the lone player in Category 2 (Career Top 20), while Helen Alfredsson and Ji Young Oh are in Category 4 (Multiple Wins In The Past 2 Years). Next on the list is Eunjung Yi, who holds a medical exemption in Category 6 (One Win In The Past 2 Years), followed by the two Category 7s (2011 non-member winners So Yeon Ryu and Alexis Thompson) and the Top Five from the 2011 Futures Tour Money List (Category 9 – Kathleen Ekey, Lisa Ferrero, Mo Martin, Sydnee Michaels and Jane Rah).

Grace holds position #92 in Category 11, but as sort of revenge for the 2004 Kraft Nabisco Championship (or more likely just a coincidence) Aree Song was shoehorned in between her and #91 Junthima Gulyanamitta, who was the Q-school medalist, by way of a medical exemption. Grace’s true Priority List position thus becomes #99, while Jin Young Pak, who finished #82 on the 2011 Money List, becomes listed #94/actual #101, just ahead of another medical exemption Irene Cho. There’s a third medical further down in Category 11.

Jelly is the lone player in Category 12 (Top 40 Two Years Prior), putting her at listed #130/actual #139. The next player on the list is the lone occupant of Category 14 (Career Top 40), Laura Diaz. Anyone in Category 15 and below probably can’t count on more than a handful of starts in 2012, and at listed #148/actual #159 Jeehae Lee decided to rejoin the real world and put away her clubs.

Let’s slow down and unpack IceCat’s take by reviewing the key categories of membership on the LPGA. Category 1, for the top 80 on the money list from 2011, includes 85 golfers. Who are the lucky additions (or unlucky, if you consider that while some of them got medical exemptions for happy reasons like a maternity leave, others are coming back from injuries or worse)?

(25a) Karine Icher
(41a) Jeong Jang
(52a) Nicole Castrale
(74a) Janice Moodie
(75a) Maria Hernandez

Next on the list is the lone Category 2 player, a player in the top 20 on career money list who decided to exercise one of her 2-time exemptions into this category, someone following in the footsteps of Meg Mallon, Lorie Kane, and Liselotte Neumann, among others:

(81) Laura Davies

Category 3 includes major winners in the past 5 years who have played at least 10 tournaments in the last 2, which includes exactly…nobody in 2012 (nobody not already in Category 1, that is).

Category 4 is made up of players who have won at least twice in the past 4 seasons and played at least 10 events in the past 2 without getting into a higher priority status category. That would include, um, 2 players:

(82) Helen Alfredsson

(83) Ji Young Oh

Alfredsson was focusing on her television career in 2011; I wonder how many times she’ll tee it up in 2012?

Then we skip a couple of categories (no new winners in 2010 yet or 3-time winners in a single season who aren’t already in a higher priority status category) down to #6, which includes players who have won once in the last 2 seasons:

(83a) Eunjung Yi

Hmm, another medical exemption.  Her last (and only) win came in 2009 at the now-returning Farr event, so it’s fitting she’s also returning in 2012!

We actually have 2 exciting non-member winners from 2011 in Category 7, who will probably be the top 2 rivals for Rookie of the Year in 2012:

(84) So Yeon Ryu
(85) Lexi Thompson

Skipping again (since no events have been played in 2010, it’s impossible for anyone from a lower category to jump into Category 8 via getting into the top 40 of the 2012 money list in 2011) down to Category 9, here are the proud top 5 from the 2011 Futures Tour money list:

(86) Kathleen Ekey

(87) Lisa Ferrero
(88) Mo Martin
(89) Sydnee Michaels
(90) Jane Rah

  

I’d really like to see this list expanded to 10 to give more opportunities to young players. 

There’s nobody in Category 10, as no non-members would have made the top 80 on the money list in 2011 who didn’t already secure a higher status by winning, but we do get a neat clarification of what winnings are eligible for being counted towards this threshold:  those that come in “official LPGA co-sponsored domestic tournaments with field[s] of seventy-five (75) or more.” Sorry, couldn’t resist correcting that grammar there (although it might make more sense to turn it singular: “any official LPGA co-sponsored domestic tournament with a field of seventy-five [75] or more.”)

In any case, we then approach the last of the categories that will guarantee you entry into just about any full-field event you want, Category 11, which is made up of players who finished from #81 to #100 on the 2011 LPGA money list and from #1 to #20 in the 2011 LPGA Q-School. Here’s where things get interesting, for two reasons.

First, the LPGA apparently took Hound Dog’s and my critiques of the way they handled membership in this category for the 2009 season and have offered a clarification of what happens when someone gets higher priority status with her Q-School finish than her money list finish (unfortunately failing to cut that 1st comma from previous priority lists in the process).

  

However, if a player No. 81-100 on the LPGA Official Money List at the end of the last official LPGA tournament of the previous year, improves her status within this category by way of her finish in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, she will assume the higher priority status. Her lower priority status will be assumed by the next available player within this category from the LPGA Official Money List of the previous year who has also not improved her status via the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament.

Their clarifying example is indeed illuminating (although unfortunately they fix only one of the 3 typos I’ve previously noted):

Example: A player finishes 95th on the LPGA Official Money List at the end of the last official LPGA tournament of the previous year. She competes in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament and finishes 1st. She assumes the higher priority status within this category and vacates her lower priority status position, which is then assumed by the player who finishes 96th on the LPGA Money List of the previous year. If the player who finishes 96th on the LPGA Official Money List also improves her position within this category via the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament, the player who finished 97th on the LPGA Official Money List will assume the vacated priority status by the [player] who finished 95th and the player who finished 98th will assume the priority status vacated by the player who finished 96th[,] etc.

As it turns out, there were no players already in Category 11 in this season’s Q-School, so they didn’t need to use this clarification this time around. But it’s good to have it.

So here’s how Category 11 looks for 2012:

(91) Junthima Gulyanmitta

(91a) Aree Song
(92) Grace Park
(93) Christine Song
(94) Jin Young Pak
(94a) Irene Cho
(95) Jennie Lee
(96) Marcy Hart
(97) Dori Carter
(98) Meaghan Francella
(98a) Wendy Doolan
(99) Karlin Beck
(100) Sarah Kemp
(101) Jodi Ewart
(102) Gwladys Nocera
(103) Sandra Changkija
(104) Lorie Kane
(105) Maude-Aimee Leblanc
(106) Sarah Jane Smith
(107) Rebecca Lee-Bentham
(108) Pernilla Lindberg
(109) Meredith Duncan
(110) Ilhee Lee

(111) Minea Blomqvist

(112) Jessica Korda
(113) Cydney Clanton
(114) Karin Sjodin
(115) Angela Oh
(116) Haru Nomura
(117) Stephanie Kono
(118) Giulia Sergas
(119) Victoria Tanco
(120) Silvia Cavalleri
(121) Ayaka Kaneko
(122) Shi Hyun Ahn
(123) Tanya Dergal
(124) Jane Park
(125) Hannah Yun
(126) Na On Min
(127) Elisa Serramia
(128) Taylor Leon
(129) Lizette Salas

Since there are 9 medical exemptions, Salas is really at #138, which means that (and this is my 2nd interesting thing about this category) she may have trouble getting into a full-field event that’s smaller than the standard 144-player field.

As opposed to previous years, though, the lone Category 12er, Jee Young Lee, and the lone Category 14er, Laura Diaz, don’t find themselves as close to the edge of that magic number as those in previous years, as they’re listed at #130 and #131 but actually are at #139 and #140.  While it’s possible they’ll have trouble getting into a few events, the real bubble girls are the Category 15ers, who finished #101 through #125 on the ’11 LPGA money list:

  

(132) Stephanie Sherlock

(132a) Diana D’Alessio
(133) Michele Redman
(134) Mariajo Uribe

(135) Stephanie Louden

(136) Moira Dunn

(136a) Michelle Ellis
(137) Ashli Bunch

(138) Anna Grzebien
(139) Amelia Lewis
(140) Yoo Kyeong Kim
(141) Jessica Shepley
(142) Danah Bordner
(143) Samantha Richdale

(143a) Jill McGill

(144) Beth Bader
(145) Jenny Suh
(146) Nicole Hage
(147) Louise Stahle

(147a) Mikaela Parmlid

(148) Jeehae Lee [retired]
(149) Jennifer Rosales

This is a good mix of veterans and newbies.  While most of them will have to get lucky to get into an event, there are always some players who skip a tournament they’re eligible for, so it’ll be interesting to see how far down this list the LPGA goes in 2012.  Rosales is actually #162, so it’s hard to imagine she’ll get into all that many, short of Monday qualifying.

Category 16 includes those who finished #21 to #30 at LPGA Q-School in 2011:

(150) Veronica Felibert

(151) Lacey Agnew
(152) Sophia Sheridan
(153) Min Seo Kwak
(153a) Nannette Hill
(154) Paola Moreno
(155) Jacqui Concolino
(156) Mi Hyang Lee
(157) Patcharajutar Kongkraphan

Kongkraphan at actual #171 will be spending the vast majority of her time on the Symetra Tour in 2012, as will the players in Category 17 who finished #6 to #10 on the Futures Tour money list in 2011:

(158) Valentine Derrey

(159) Hanna Kang
(160) Jenny Gleason
(161) Tze-Chi Lin

  

I still believe that the gap in status between #5 and #6 on the Futures Tour is too large.  If the LPGA doesn’t want to expand Category 9 to 10 spots, why not give these players Category 15 status and turn the current Categories 15, 16, and 20 into a mirror image of Category 11?  That way, those finishing between #21 and #45 at Q-School could be shuffled among those who finished between #101 and #125 on the money list.  Right now, because the current Category 20ers (#31 through #40 and ties at Q-School) are stuck behind mostly-firmly-retired past champions, including Lorena Ochoa in Category 18 (made up of anyone in the top 80 of the money list in the last 3 years who also has a win in that span) and Dorothy Delasin, Kris Tschetter, Jackie Gallagher-Smith, and Birdie Kim in Category 19 (the only ones in it to have played on tour in the last 2 years), their status looks much worse than it really is:

(255) Mitsuki Katahira

(256) Thidapa Suwannapura
(257) Carlota Ciganda
(258) Izzy Beisiegel
(259) Kirby Dreher
(260) Juliana Murcia Ortiz
(261) Katy Harris
(262) Danielle Kang

If my proposed change had been put into effect for this year, then several additional players from Q-School would have been the last players to be shuffled into that new Category 16 I’m proposing.  Since many players who finished between #21 and #45 in Q-School also finished between #101 and #125 on the money list, the shuffling would be a little complicated.  But in any case they all would be behind the new Category 15ers, those who finished #6 through #10 on the Futures Tour money list in 2011, who would have become the new bubble girls of 2012. 
I guess it comes down to whether you think finishing just outside the top 100 of the LPGA money list, just outside the top 5 of the Futures Tour money list, or just outside the top 20 of the Final Qualifying Tournament is a bigger achievement.  Personally, I think that in 2012 there should be more of a reward for doing well on the Symetra Tour, more of a penalty for falling outside the top 100 of the LPGA money list, and more of a premium put on improving your status via Q-School.  In fact, building on a post from December 2010, here’s the full range of changes I’d like to see in the next priority status list:
  • Reduce Category 1 from the top 80 on the previous season’s money list to the top 70.
  • Change Category 7 so that any non-member who wins–amateur or pro, older or younger than 18–is eligible for full membership immediately or in the following season.
  • Expand Category 8 from the top 40 on the current season’s money list to the top 50–as calculated after every 7 events rather than using the current reshuffles for those in Category 15 and lower after the 8th and 14th events on the 2012 schedule.
  • Expand Category 9 from the top 5 on the previous season’s Symetra Tour money list to the top 10.
  • Change Category 10 from non-members who would have made the top 80 on the previous season’s money list via their maximum 6 sponsor exemptions into domestic full-field non-major events into non-members who would have made the top 70 on the previous season’s money list in their maximum 4 sponsor exemptions into domestic full-field non-major events and maximum 2 sponsor exemptions into international limited-field non-major events. Any non-member who qualifies via this category is waived from having to meet the LPGA’s minimum age requirement for membership.
  • Expand Category 11 to players ranked between #71 and #100 on the previous season’s money list and the top 30 players from the previous season’s Q-School using the same shuffling system as already exists.
  • Change Category 15 to include those who finished between #11 and #15 on the previous season’s Symetra Tour money list.
  • Use the same system as exists in Category 11 for the new Category 16, which would shuffle those who finished between #101 and #130 on the money list in with those who finished between #31 and #60 from the previous season’s Final Qualifying Tournament.
  • Put all the various veterans’ allowances after Category 16.
In my system, assuming nobody takes advantage of any medical, non-member, career, or recent wins or winnings exemptions, you’d have 70 players in Category 1, 10 in Category 9, and 60 in Category 11, for a total of 140 players with a good shot at getting into any regular event.  But you’d put a much higher premium on doing well on the Symetra Tour and only then increase opportunities for those in Q-School to skip ahead of those who couldn’t make the top 70 on the LPGA money list.  In effect, you’d be giving more incentives for low-priority-status LPGAers to focus on the Symetra Tour rather than ditching the LPGA/Symetra system and trying their luck on the JLPGA, KLPGA, or LET.  You’d also be encouraging those who finished closer to #100 than #71 on the LPGA money list to improve their status by playing in Q-School.  The increased competitiveness at Q-School, then, would help justify expanding access to higher-priority status to 10 more players than under the current system.  And it gives a bigger margin for error for both struggling LPGAers and hot shots from the NCAA and from other tours (while ratcheting up the pressure on them).  Plus, given that higher-status players skip LPGA events for all sorts of reasons, there still would be a premium on, and a reward for, getting close to those magic numbers of #100 and #30 on the money list and at Q-School, respectively.
Yes, doing all this wouldn’t have saved the big names in this year’s Category 20 like Kang, Ciganda, and Katahira, but who knows if they wouldn’t have played just a little bit better at Q-School if they had been fighting to make the top 30 instead of the top 20?  Even if they hadn’t, wouldn’t they be better off in the high 100s rather than the high 200s on the priority status list?  Wouldn’t it send a signal to young players around the world that the LPGA is lowering barriers to membership and giving them every chance to play their way in?  If the tour has truly turned a corner in 2012 and can be expected to be in expansion mode in the next several years, now is the time to increase the odds that even more of the best female golfers on the planet want to make it their home.

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the LPGA’s 2012 Schedule–and Beyond

I wholeheartedly agree with Tony Jesselli that the long-awaited announcement of the 2012 LPGA schedule is full of great news.  When you compare the new schedule to those from 2009, 2010, and 2011, the improvements are striking.  The LPGA now has 27 official tournaments scheduled for 2012, without having to include any shaky ones this time around (you’ll notice there’s no Tres Marias event listed and not even a TBA for a China event).  What else stands out about the 2012 schedule?  And what could it become in future years? Let’s take a look.

The late winter is starting to look a bit healthier.  I’ve been calling for years for the LPGA to bulk up its early-spring schedule with co-sponsorships with other major women’s professional tours.  While the return to Australia by co-sponsoring the Women’s Australian Open with the ALPG doesn’t exactly fit this model, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.  For the future, I’d still love to see newly-created co-sponsored events with the JLPGA and KLPGA (in late February and early March) extend the lead-up to the HSBC Women’s Champions (in mid-March), but I understand that would involve convincing 2 tours which like the way they kick off their own seasons to create limited-field opportunities for their top golfers (to make room for the LPGA’s best). 

There’s still room for improvement in the transition from the early Asian swing to the start of the domestic schedule.  I’m as excited about the LPGA’s return to Hawaii as anyone, but I’m not so thrilled with the placement of the event 17 days after the Kraft Nabisco Championship, with only 5 days between its finish and the start of the Mobile Bay Classic in Alabama.  The obvious place the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J-Golf should go is the week after the HSBC Women’s Champions.  This would not only improve travel for the players, but also push LPGA’s Phoenix-to-California 3-event swing well into April, with room for the creation of, say, the San Antonio event that Lorena Ochoa has been pushing for, to break up the trip from the Southwest to the Southeast (whether or not the Tres Marias is kaput for good). 

The outlines of regional mini-swings within the U.S. are starting to emerge.  As I noted before, the LPGA has a nice Southwestern mini-swing to kick off the 2012 domestic schedule.  And it seems to be setting up the foundation for a Southeastern mini-swing in May by, say, moving the LPGA’s return to Kingsmill, which is awkwardly placed the week before the RICOH Women’s British Open in September 2012, back to the spring to follow on the Mobile Bay Classic and, say, the new Florida event than Annika Sorenstam’s been pushing for, as well as act as the transition to the LPGA’s already-existing Northeastern mini-swing, which culminates in the Wegmans LPGA Championship after a couple of events in New Jersey.  I’d like to see the new Waterloo event be better integrated into this visit to the Northeast in future years.  Perhaps the LPGA could free up some space in the late spring by tranforming the unoffical HSBC LPGA Brasil Cup into an official kickoff event to the season sometime before the 2016 Olympics?  That way they could still have a 4-event mini-swing to the Northeast in May and June, but keep some separation between their 2nd and 3rd majors by making the Walmart and Farr events a Midwestern entry into a somewhat later U.S. Women’s Open (if the USGA cooperates).  And with The Evian becoming a major in 2013 and moving to mid-September (where the Women’s British Open will most likely stay), there’s plenty of room to do that and build in a Northwestern mini-swing via the Safeway Classic and CN Canadian Women’s Open (with the Navistar somewhat awkwardly appended to it), as a lead-in to either the European swing or the fall Asian swing.  Heck, there’s even room to expand the Midwestern and Northwestern mini-swings with new events as opportunities arise.

There’s even room for improvement in the late Asian swing.  The LPGA’s mini-swing from Malaysia to Korea to Taiwan to Japan could be augmented in various ways after 2012.  Another Hawaii event at its beginning (if the NW mini-swing leads into it) or its end (my preferred solution if the LPGA decides to move from Europe straight to Asia) wouldn’t be bad.  A real-life, actual China event would be cool to kick off that latter kind of Europe-to-Asia swing. 

What about a mini-Americas swing to conclude the season?  It wouldn’t be that hard to create.  If the Brasil Cup organizers don’t like kicking off the LPGA season, what if their event were moved back to November to precede Lorena’s and, say, a new event in the Caribbean?  What if it were to become the vehicle for that team-event concept that Mike Whan has been talking up in recent months, to drum up further interest in the 2016 Olympics and to add Solheim Cup-style spice at the end as well as near the beginning of the LPGA’s European/Asian sojourns?  Heck, the lead-up to the CME Titleholders could even include 1 or 2 more domestic events that fit the “mini-Americas” concept (perhaps the Navistar better belongs here?).  Yes, doing all this would involve extending the LPGA schedule past Thanksgiving, starting in January, or both, but what’s wrong with that?  Wouldn’t a 36-to-39-tournament schedule (when you add up all the additions I’m calling for) be worth it?

So, yes, Virginia, the 2012 schedule is the best I’ve seen in years for the LPGA.  But I’d love to see Mike Whan and his team come up with a fuller schedule that makes even more sense in terms of travel and weather.  My idea–going from Southeast Asia to Hawaii to the U.S. Southwest and Southeast in the late winter and early spring, from the U.S. Northeast to the Midwest to the Northwest in late spring and early summer, from Europe to East Asia in the late summer and fall, and back to a concluding mini-Americas swing from Hawaii to Brazil to Mexico to the Caribbean to the U.S. Southeast in the late fall and early winter–capitalizes on the global strengths of the best women’s professional tour on the planet while raising the number of U.S. events from 15 in 2012 to as many as 21 by 2016. 

Now, a lot’s going to have to go right for this vision to become a reality, there are some bugs to be worked out (making sure there’s always a window left open for the Solheim Cup and the Olympics, for instance), and there are even more ways to improve on it (for example, I’m still hoping that the JLPGA’s/KLPGA’s Pinx-Kyoraku Cup will be synchronized with the Solheim Cup in odd-numbered years and lead up to world team championships among the 4 top women’s tours in even-numbered years, with winners and losers of each regional match-play team event facing off against each other). 

But wouldn’t it be great for the LPGA to put together a sustainable 21st-century schedule as awesome as its players are?

[Update 1 (7:33 am):  Here are more stories/reactions from Steve DiMeglio, Ron Sirak, Stephanie Wei, and Emily Kay.]

[Update 2 (1/12/12, 2:36 am):  And here’s Randall Mell, Beth Ann Baldry, Brent Kelley, Ruthless Mike, and Armchair Golfer.]

Recommended Reading: Stephanie Wei on 2012 LPGA Schedule

Hey all, Santa left Stephanie Wei a preview of the 2012 LPGA schedule.  Check it out and see how close it comes to the official announcement, which is coming out very soon.  And happy New Year’s Eve!

My Solution

There has been an uproar caused by Ai Miyazato winning the LET money title this year despite playing only two events.  I have a solution I’d like to propose.

Since it’s football season here in the US, I’ll take an example from that sport to make my point.  Let’s say Tom Brady needs to leave the field to repair an equipment malfunction, so the backup replaces him for a few plays.  During that time the backup throws two passes, completing both.  The backup’s completion percentage is 100, but he’s not eligible for post-season awards based on that because he has not met minimum number of attempts that has been established by the league to be eligible for awards.  To repeat, even though the backup is a league member, he’s not eligible because he did not meet the minimum number of attempts.

Now to the LET:  Women’s golf is in a unique position at the present time.  There are three viable Tours (LPGA, LET, JLPGA) that attract the best players in the game at one time or another.  Wouldn’t it make sense for the LET to establish a relatively low base number of tournaments so that Europeans (or Americans, or Asians) who normally play the LPGA could maintain LET membership, but establish a much higher number to qualify for post-season awards?

Could the LET establish three tournaments per year (one more than Evian and WBO, for example) as a minimum to maintain membership, but require 10 tournaments to qualify for awards?  The best players in the world will make an effort to play a few times a year, especially when there are holes in the LPGA schedule, but doing so wouldn’t skew post-season awards.

Fujitsu Ladies Overview: Saiki Fujita Denies Sun-Ju Ahn 2nd-Straight Title Defense

Chie Arimura may have gotten to throw out the 1st pitch at a recent Yomiuri Giants game, but it was Sun-Ju Ahn who was gunning for her 2nd-straight title defense on the JLPGA this week at the Fujitsu Ladies.  The 2011 money-list leader and winner of 4 JLPGA events already this year stayed within striking distance of leader Mayu Hattori over the 1st 2 rounds, shooting a 66 to her 67 on Friday and matching her 72 on Saturday

Playing from the penultimate pairing today, Ahn stumbled with back-to-back bogeys early in her round, but immediately bounced back with 2 birdies in a row to return to -5 with 13 holes left to play.  Hattori, who also started her day badly with back-to-back bogeys from the final pairing, would never recover and was never a factor in the final round, but her playing partner Saiki Fujita, who had caught Ahn at -5 with a fine 68 on moving day, took the lead at -7 with birdies at the very same holes that Ahn had bogeyed just minutes earlier.  Even though Fujita made 2 birdies, 2 bogeys, and 2 pars over her next 6 holes, she maintained her 2-shot lead on Ahn, who parred the 6th through the 12th holes.  However, when Fujita bogeyed the 405-yard par-4 11th and 381-yard par-4 14th and Ahn birdied the 160-yard par-3 13th and 374-yard par-4 15th ahead of her, the tables had turned and Ahn lead Fujita by 1, -7 to -6, with only a few holes to go.  Could Ahn hold on for her 5th win of the season?  Could Fujita, who hadn’t even played competitively since withdrawing from the Japan Women’s Open, right the ship and hold off the most dominant player on the JLPGA? 

Fujita struck 1st with a birdie on the 15th to get back to -7 and tie Ahn for the lead.  Surprisingly, it was Ahn who blinked, failing to birdie the par-5 16th, bogeying the long par-3 17th, and failing to birdie the long par-4 18th.  All Fujita needed to win was to stay at -7 and that’s exactly what she did, securing her 5th career JLPGA victory with 3 pars in a row.  Other players made runs at the top of the leaderboard–most notably Rikako Morita, who birdied 5 holes between the 5th and 13th to get to -6 before playing her last 5 holes birdieless and +2, and Tamie Durdin, whose 6-birdie 68 moved her all the way to T3 at -5 and into the top 50 of the JLPGA money list for the 1st time in months–but in the end it was Saiki Fujita who denied Sun-Ju Ahn a place in the record books.

Here’s how the leaders and notables ended up:

1st/-7 Saiki Fujita (71-68-70)
2nd/-6 Sun-Ju Ahn (67-72-71)
T3/-5 Tamie Durdin (68-75-68), Asako Fujimoto (70-71-70), Mihoko Iseri (68-72-71)
T6/-4 Rikako Morita (72-71-69), Na-Ri Kim (68-74-70)
T8/-3 Shiho Oyama (73-72-68), Miki Uehara (67-77-69), Nikki Campbell (71-72-70), Akane Iijima (71-71-71), Yui Mukaiyama (70-69-74)

T13/-2 Harukyo Nomura (70-73-71), Ritsuko Ryu (69-72-73), Ayako Uehara (66-74-74), Mayu Hattori (66-72-76)
T17/-1 Rui Kitada (74-72-69)
T19/E Yun-Jye Wei (72-75-69), Hyun-Ju Shin (72-73-73), Kumiko Kaneda (71-74-73), Kaori Aoyama (69-71-75), Kaori Ohe (70-71-76)
T27/+1 Na-Ri Lee (74-72-71), Soo-Yun Kang (75-71-71), Yuki Ichinose (72-71-74), Lala Anai (71-71-75)
T31/+2 Young Kim (73-73-72), Erika Kikuchi (72-73-73), Miho Koga (70-73-75)
T34/+3 Junko Omote (74-73-72), Eun-A Lim (72-73-74), Yukari Baba (70-75-74), Sakura Yokomine (72-72-75)
T39/+4 Ji-Na Lim (71-72-77)
T44/+5 Li-Ying Ye (75-71-75)
T49/+7 Erina Hara (74-74-75), Megumi Kido (73-75-75), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (71-75-77)
T54/+8 Yumiko Yoshida (74-74-76), Julie Lu (71-76-77)

MC:  Maiko Wakabayashi (73-76), Teresa Lu (74-76), Miki Sakai (74-76), Esther Lee (73-77), Aiko Ueno (74-77), Ji-Woo Lee (75-77), Erina Yamato (75-77), Pei-Ying Tsai (74-78), So-Hee Kim (78-75), Mika Takushima (78-75)
WD:  Miki Saiki (71-WD)

Even with her runner-up finish, Ahn extended her already-huge lead on the JLPGA money list over the struggling Sakura Yokomine and Yukari Baba, idle Ji-Hee Lee, Chie Arimura, and Yuri Fudoh, and withdrawn Miki Saiki.  It doesn’t look like anyone’s in a position to pose a threat to her 2nd-straight year of JLPGA domination.

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥110.68M
2. Sakura Yokomine ¥73.20M
3. Ji-Hee Lee ¥69.77M
4. Chie Arimura ¥67.73M
5. Miki Saiki ¥61.44M
6. Yukari Baba ¥52.88M
7. Yuri Fudoh ¥52.17M
8. Ritsuko Ryu ¥51.27M
9. Shanshan Feng ¥45.79M
10. Mayu Hattori ¥43.46M
11. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥38.68M
12. Kumiko Kaneda ¥36.94M
13. Saiki Fujita ¥36.37M
14. Ayako Uehara ¥34.52M
15. Rui Kitada ¥34.50M
16. Hiromi Mogi ¥34.48M
17. Rikako Morita ¥30.81M
18. Bo-Bae Song ¥30.49M
19. Junko Omote ¥29.89M
20. Na-Ri Kim ¥29.61M
21. Yuko Mitsuka ¥29.37M
22. Asako Fujimoto ¥28.11M
23. Shiho Oyama ¥27.90M
24. Ji-Woo Lee ¥26.58M
25. Li-Ying Ye ¥25.09M
26. Inbee Park ¥24.33M
27. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥24.09M
28. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥24.07M
29. Akiko Fukushima ¥21.64M
30. Eun-Bi Jang ¥20.82M
31. Young Kim ¥20.64M
32. Soo-Yun Kang ¥20.63M
33. Kaori Aoyama ¥19.45M
34. Eun-A Lim ¥19.12M
35. Teresa Lu ¥18.40M
36. Akane Iijima ¥18.02M
37. Na-Ri Lee ¥17.66M
38. Esther Lee ¥17.33M
39. Shinobu Moromizato ¥17.30M
40. Bo-Mee Lee ¥17.07M
41. Nikki Campbell ¥15.80M
42. Momoko Ueda ¥15.53M
43. Tamie Durdin ¥14.82M
44. Nachiyo Ohtani ¥14.10M
45. Yumiko Yoshida ¥13.98M
46. So-Hee Kim ¥13.81M
47. Miho Koga ¥13.34M
48. Maiko Wakabayashi ¥12.82M
49. Megumi Kido ¥12.55M
50. Satsuki Oshiro¥12.48M

With Ji-Yai Shin now #53 on the money list, followed by Ai Miyazato at #67, Harukyo Nomura at #78, Hee Young Park at #89, and Meena Lee at #101, no field list as of yet for next week’s Masters GC Ladies but commitments by all the dual LPGA-JLPGA members except Shanshan Feng and Nomura to the LPGA’s new Taiwan event, and only Feng, Inbee Park, Shin, Nomura, and Lee (along with non-members Na Yeon Choi and Mika Miyazato) joining in the fun the following week, it’s looking like it’s all going to come down to the Mizuno Classic to determine who will avoid having to go to JLPGA Q-School or lose their 2012 card.

Frankly, it’s mystifying to me why Ai Miyazato is apparently skipping the Hisako Higuchi event the week before the Mizuno.  Not only does it put even more pressure on her, as she’ll need to win the Mizuno to move into the top 50, but even then that would only be only her 6th event on the JLPGA of 2011.  As I understand the tour’s new membership rules, she’ll need to play 7 events this season and finish in the top 50 on the money list to keep her card in 2012.  Sure, if she wins the Mizuno, she’ll qualify for the season-ending major, the Ricoh Cup, the week after the final LPGA event of 2011, and everything will be fine, if a bit hectic in November.  But if she doesn’t, she’s going to have to rely on sponsor exemptions (like Mika Miyazato does) to enter JLPGA events in 2012, which means that her season winnings wouldn’t be counted toward her career winnings–unless she decides to play JLPGA Q-School the week of the Ricoh Cup to retain her card!  How weird would that be?!

Navistar Classic Saturday: Joh Goes Low, But Thompson Rules

Tiffany Joh dropped a 9-birdie 65 on the field on moving day at the Navistar Classic to move to -8 for the week, but that bogey-double-bogey finish at the end of Friday’s round looms even larger than before as 16-year-old Lexi Thompson continued to outshine most of the best players in the world of women’s golf by going out in 31 to get to -15 and grinding out a closing 36 that despite a walkoff bogey (only her 3rd of the week) extended her lead to 5 heading into the final round.

Thompson withstood eagles from her playing partners Becky Morgan (on the 1st hole) and Stacy Lewis (on the 9th), making 4 birdies in a row to close out the front as Morgan fell off the pace with a pair of bogeys, then kept the pressure on the field on the back as she bombed drive after drive, hit green after green, made par after par (including a couple of pressure saves), and even sank another birdie putt to get to -16 for awhile.  Surprisingly, Lewis, who had been having troubles sinking makeable birdie putts over her 1st 11 holes, was the one to crack, as she 5-putted the 12th for a double.  By the time all 3 players ended moving day with bogeys, Thompson had extended her 2-shot lead after 36 holes over Morgan to 7 and Lewis to 8 through 54.  Even Meena Lee, the only other player to join her at double digits under par, left a lot of birdie putts out there during her 4-birdie bogey-free run over her 1st 13 holes, then pressed over her final 5 holes, making 2 bogeys and a birdie to settle for a 69 that brought her to -10.  Karen Stupples was one of the few players in the field to make a run at Thompson on the back, but even her bogey-free 32 only cut the deficit to 7 shots.

If those playing well this week fell that far off the pace, what of those just playing solidly?  Thompson has a 10-shot lead on the likes of Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang, Amanda Blumenherst, and Rookie of the Year leader Hee Kyung Seo, an 11-shot lead on Inbee Park, Maria Hjorth, Se Ri Pak, and world #2 Suzann Pettersen, and a 12-shot lead on Morgan Pressel, Amy Yang, Sandra Gal, and Hee-Won Han.  And those struggling?  World #1 Ya Ni Tseng is 15 down, defending champion Katherine Hull 13, Na Yeon Choi 14, Michelle Wie 17, and Sophie Gustafson 19.  Thompson has missed only 4 greens in regulation all week, which means that her bad stretches have merely stalled her assault on par temporarily, while the rest of the field’s have often set them back sharply.  Even Jenny Shin, the model of consistency this week who’s made only 2 bogeys in 54 holes, has hit 4 fewer greens than Thompson and made 13 fewer birdies.  She’s 11 back.

Randall Mell is dead right that anything can happen tomorrow–just look at Juli Inkster‘s hole-in-one on the 13th that sparked a bogey-free 32 as well as 4 birdies in a row and a 68 from her playing partner Pat Hurst for further evidence of that–but he’s also dead right to start speculating about what happens if Thompson wins later today.  After all, nobody is as locked in on the pace of the Senator’s greens as Thompson–sure, Meena Lee has taken 11 fewer putts than her over 54 holes, but she’s also hit 11 fewer greens–and it’s probably too much to expect Stupples to replicate her famous Women’s British Open start or Joh to back up her 65 with a low-60s round or Morgan to put together a career round.  In fact, I put the odds of Thompson winning by more than she did over a much weaker field at the 1st stage of LPGA Q-School much higher than a disaster of epic proportions.  I don’t know that bangkokbobby would go that far, but when someone who knows the LPGA as well as he does expects Thompson to win, who am I to argue?

I also agree with Mell that it makes the most sense for Thompson to parlay a win into membership starting next season.  Yes, she’d move into the top 50 on the money list with a win and hence would be eligible for the fall Asian swing, but she’d still be over $300K behind Seo on the money list and hundreds of points behind her on the ROY race with only 6 events left on the schedule.  In Category 7 on the 2012 priority status list with a non-member win this week and a no-brainer age-waiver from Commissioner Whan, Thompson would be able to get into any event she wanted to next season and be in a much better position to put her name in the record books yet again by taking Rookie of the Year.  Sure, there’s something to be said for striking while the iron is hot, but there’s even more to be said for enjoying the last months of her childhood away from the media spotlight and then getting ready to try to topple the Tseng Dynasty.

[Update 1 (2:56 am):  Nice chance for Haru Nomura and Stephanie Kim to play with Ya Ni Tseng today.  Too bad for them they’re starting on the back!]

Navistar Classic Saturday: Joh Goes Low, But Thompson Rules

Tiffany Joh dropped a 9-birdie 65 on the field on moving day at the Navistar Classic to move to -8 for the week, but that bogey-double-bogey finish at the end of Friday’s round looms even larger than before as 16-year-old Lexi Thompson continued to outshine most of the best players in the world of women’s golf by going out in 31 to get to -15 and grinding out a closing 36 that despite a walkoff bogey (only her 3rd of the week) extended her lead to 5 heading into the final round.

Thompson withstood eagles from her playing partners Becky Morgan (on the 1st hole) and Stacy Lewis (on the 9th), making 4 birdies in a row to close out the front as Morgan fell off the pace with a pair of bogeys, then kept the pressure on the field on the back as she bombed drive after drive, hit green after green, made par after par (including a couple of pressure saves), and even sank another birdie putt to get to -16 for awhile.  Surprisingly, Lewis, who had been having troubles sinking makeable birdie putts over her 1st 11 holes, was the one to crack, as she 5-putted the 12th for a double.  By the time all 3 players ended moving day with bogeys, Thompson had extended her 2-shot lead after 36 holes over Morgan to 7 and Lewis to 8 through 54.  Even Meena Lee, the only other player to join her at double digits under par, left a lot of birdie putts out there during her 4-birdie bogey-free run over her 1st 13 holes, then pressed over her final 5 holes, making 2 bogeys and a birdie to settle for a 69 that brought her to -10.  Karen Stupples was one of the few players in the field to make a run at Thompson on the back, but even her bogey-free 32 only cut the deficit to 7 shots.

If those playing well this week fell that far off the pace, what of those just playing solidly?  Thompson has a 10-shot lead on the likes of Paula Creamer, Angela Stanford, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang, Amanda Blumenherst, and Rookie of the Year leader Hee Kyung Seo, an 11-shot lead on Inbee Park, Maria Hjorth, Se Ri Pak, and world #2 Suzann Pettersen, and a 12-shot lead on Morgan Pressel, Amy Yang, Sandra Gal, and Hee-Won Han.  And those struggling?  World #1 Ya Ni Tseng is 15 down, defending champion Katherine Hull 13, Na Yeon Choi 14, Michelle Wie 17, and Sophie Gustafson 19.  Thompson has missed only 4 greens in regulation all week, which means that her bad stretches have merely stalled her assault on par temporarily, while the rest of the field’s have often set them back sharply.  Even Jenny Shin, the model of consistency this week who’s made only 2 bogeys in 54 holes, has hit 4 fewer greens than Thompson and made 13 fewer birdies.  She’s 11 back.

Randall Mell is dead right that anything can happen tomorrow–just look at Juli Inkster‘s hole-in-one on the 13th that sparked a bogey-free 32 as well as 4 birdies in a row and a 68 from her playing partner Pat Hurst for further evidence of that–but he’s also dead right to start speculating about what happens if Thompson wins later today.  After all, nobody is as locked in on the pace of the Senator’s greens as Thompson–sure, Meena Lee has taken 11 fewer putts than her over 54 holes, but she’s also hit 11 fewer greens–and it’s probably too much to expect Stupples to replicate her famous Women’s British Open start or Joh to back up her 65 with a low-60s round or Morgan to put together a career round.  In fact, I put the odds of Thompson winning by more than she did over a much weaker field at the 1st stage of LPGA Q-School much higher than a disaster of epic proportions.  I don’t know that bangkokbobby would go that far, but when someone who knows the LPGA as well as he does expects Thompson to win, who am I to argue?

I also agree with Mell that it makes the most sense for Thompson to parlay a win into membership starting next season.  Yes, she’d move into the top 50 on the money list with a win and hence would be eligible for the fall Asian swing, but she’d still be over $300K behind Seo on the money list and hundreds of points behind her on the ROY race with only 6 events left on the schedule.  In Category 7 on the 2012 priority status list with a non-member win this week and a no-brainer age-waiver from Commissioner Whan, Thompson would be able to get into any event she wanted to next season and be in a much better position to put her name in the record books yet again by taking Rookie of the Year.  Sure, there’s something to be said for striking while the iron is hot, but there’s even more to be said for enjoying the last months of her childhood away from the media spotlight and then getting ready to try to topple the Tseng Dynasty.

[Update 1 (2:56 am):  Nice chance for Haru Nomura and Stephanie Kim to play with Ya Ni Tseng today.  Too bad for them they’re starting on the back!]

Golf5 Ladies Sunday: Li-Ying Ye Gets 1st JLPGA Win

Even though Talas was downgraded to a tropical depression by the time it made landfall in Japan, it still dumped a lot of rain and caused at least 15 deaths.  While it didn’t shut down the Golf5 Ladies tournament in Gifu, it did make scoring difficult, as Megumi Kido’s 71 was the low round–and only under-par round–of the day.  Many golfers left with their hopes drenched, including Miki Saiki, who was hoping to move to the top of the JLPGA money list with a win but instead shot a 76, and 39-year-old Naoko Oshitani, who had to settle for a career-best finish in a JLPGA event of 9th when she, too, stumbled to a 76.  Saiki’s fall probably hurt worse, as she was tied for the lead through 10 holes  at -6, but perhaps Hiromi Takesue’s–which was caused by 3 bogeys in her last 4 holes–was the most painful collapse of the day, as Takesue was still -6 on the 15th tee whereas Saiki had already doubled the 11th and bogeyed the 14th by that time.

So who were the beneficiaries of these late collapses?  Li-Ying Ye and Ritsuko Ryu got front-row seats to Saiki’s and Na-Ri Kim to Takesue’s and Oshitani’s, and it was this trio of golfers who ended up battling it out down the stretch.  Ryu, who was going for her 2nd win on the JLPGA in as many weeks, started the day tied for the lead with Ye, Saiki, and Takesue at -6, but quickly fell behind with 2 bogeys in her 1st 5 holes.  Still, after birdieing the 388-yard par-4 6th, she found herself tied at -5 with Ye and Kim, as Ye was actually +1 over her 1st 8 birdie-less holes, while Kim matched Ryu’s bogey on the 524-yard par-5 2nd but bounced back with a birdie on 178-yard par-3 4th.  From the 7th hole on, Ryu would par out, finishing with a 73 that only 5 other golfers would match and 4 would beat.  But it wouldn’t be enough.  Ye birdied the 386-yard par-4 9th just as Kim did the same in the group ahead of her on the 471-yard par-5 10th to take the dual lead at -6 (Saiki bogeyed 9 to drop to -5 at this point and her birdie on 10 to join them would be the last good thing she did on the course today).  They briefly gave the lead to Takesue when 1st Kim and then Ye bogeyed the 396-yard par-4 14th in turn, but as Takesue was collapsing they held strong.  In the end, Ye’s birdie on the 508-yard par-5 16th made the difference, as she played the last 4 holes in -1 while Kim and Ryu could only manage to par out.  The win was the 1st of Ye’s JLPGA career and best finish since taking 2nd at the 2009 Suntory Ladies Open.

Here are the final results:

1st/-6  Li-Ying Ye (68-70-72)
T2/-5 Na-Ri Kim (66-73-72), Ritsuko Ryu (69-69-73)
T4/-3 Junko Omote (71-70-72), Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-70-73), Hiromi Takesue (67-71-75)
T7/-2 Saiki Fujita (70-71-73), Miki Saiki (67-71-76)
9th/-1 Naoko Oshitani (68-71-76)
T10/E Megumi Kido (75-70-71), Eun-A Lim (72-70-74), Maiko Wakabayashi (72-70-74), Rikako Morita (68-74-74)

T14/+1 Esther Lee (72-72-73), Hiromi Mogi (74-69-74)
T18/+2 Erika Kikuchi (71-72-75), So-Hee Kim (71-71-76), Yuki Ichinose (70-72-76), Miki Sakai (68-74-76), Nikki Campbell (71-70-77), Shanshan Feng (69-71-78)
T26/+3 Akane Iijima (72-74-73), Kumiko Kaneda (71-72-76), Miki Uehara (69-74-76), Young Kim (68-74-77), Bo-Bae Song (69-72-78)
T33/+4 Shinobu Moromizato (73-72-75), Mayu Hattori (69-75-76)
T36/+5 Akiko Fukushima (77-69-75), Mika Takushima (71-75-75), Sakura Yokomine (70-76-75), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (73-71-77)
49th/+11  Maria Iida (73-72-82)
T51/+14 Sakurako Mori (69-77-84)

Having moved her up from #48 to #21 (right behind countrywoman Shanshan Feng) on the JLPGA money list, Ye’s win gives her the best chance of finishing in its top 35 for the 1st time in her career.  Ryu, Omote, and Kim also made big moves up the money list today.

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥70.99M
2. Chie Arimura ¥62.02M
3. Miki Saiki ¥59.03M
4. Ji-Hee Lee ¥56.51M
5. Sakura Yokomine ¥52.58M
6. Yuri Fudoh ¥36.32M
7. Ritsuko Ryu ¥35.08M
8. Hiromi Mogi ¥30.34M
9. Rui Kitada ¥29.18M
10. Ayako Uehara ¥27.57M
11. Junko Omote ¥24.89M
12. Inbee Park ¥24.33M
13. Kumiko Kaneda ¥24.20M
14. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥24.16M
15. Na-Ri Kim ¥23.36M
16. Bo-Bae Song ¥23.34M
17. Yukari Baba ¥21.48M
18. Rikako Morita ¥20.74M
19. Mayu Hattori ¥19.78M
20. Shanshan Feng ¥19.50M
21. Li-Ying Ye ¥19.09M
22. Saiki Fujita ¥18.81M
23. Asako Fujimoto ¥18.16M
24. Akiko Fukushima ¥16.33M
25. Teresa Lu ¥16.12M
26. Ji-Woo Lee ¥15.54M
27. Bo-Mee Lee ¥15.44M
28. Eun-A Lim ¥15.09M
29. Shinobu Moromizato ¥14.75M
30. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥14.40M
31. Esther Lee ¥14.27M
32. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥13.97M
33. Momoko Ueda ¥13.77M
34. Na-Ri Lee ¥13.56M
35. Soo-Yun Kang ¥13.31M
36. Eun-Bi Jang ¥12.77M
37. Young Kim ¥12.77M
38. So-Hee Kim ¥12.49M
39. Shiho Oyama ¥12.38M
40. Ji-Yai Shin ¥11.91M
41. Akane Iijima ¥11.83M
42. Nikki Campbell ¥11.17M
43. Kaori Aoyama ¥11.13M
44. Yumiko Yoshida ¥11.07M
45. Miho Koga ¥10.67M
46. Mie Nakata ¥10.25M
47. Megumi Kido ¥9.89M
48. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥9.85M
49. Yuki Ichinose ¥8.75M
50. Hiromi Takesue ¥8.71M

Next week is the Konica Minolta Cup.  Momoko Ueda and Teresa Lu will join Shanshan Feng and Shiho Oyama as the only dual LPGA-JLPGA members to skip the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship for the JLPGA’s 2nd major.  Both Ai and Mika Miyazato will be skipping the Navistar LPGA Classic the week after, however, to get ready for the Japan Women’s Open, perhaps by playing in 1 or both of the intervening JLPGA events.  Unfortunately, the field lists for the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic and the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open haven’t yet been released, so we’ll just have to wait a bit to find out–not to mention see whether Ji-Yai Shin, Inbee Park, and Hee Young Park will join them after playing in Alabama.  Right now it’s looking like Ji-Yai, Hee Young, and Shanshan will be playing in the Imperial Springs LPGA event instead of in the JWO.  But we should know for sure in a week or 2.

Golf5 Ladies Sunday: Li-Ying Ye Gets 1st JLPGA Win

Even though Talas was downgraded to a tropical depression by the time it made landfall in Japan, it still dumped a lot of rain and caused at least 15 deaths.  While it didn’t shut down the Golf5 Ladies tournament in Gifu, it did make scoring difficult, as Megumi Kido’s 71 was the low round–and only under-par round–of the day.  Many golfers left with their hopes drenched, including Miki Saiki, who was hoping to move to the top of the JLPGA money list with a win but instead shot a 76, and 39-year-old Naoko Oshitani, who had to settle for a career-best finish in a JLPGA event of 9th when she, too, stumbled to a 76.  Saiki’s fall probably hurt worse, as she was tied for the lead through 10 holes  at -6, but perhaps Hiromi Takesue’s–which was caused by 3 bogeys in her last 4 holes–was the most painful collapse of the day, as Takesue was still -6 on the 15th tee whereas Saiki had already doubled the 11th and bogeyed the 14th by that time.

So who were the beneficiaries of these late collapses?  Li-Ying Ye and Ritsuko Ryu got front-row seats to Saiki’s and Na-Ri Kim to Takesue’s and Oshitani’s, and it was this trio of golfers who ended up battling it out down the stretch.  Ryu, who was going for her 2nd win on the JLPGA in as many weeks, started the day tied for the lead with Ye, Saiki, and Takesue at -6, but quickly fell behind with 2 bogeys in her 1st 5 holes.  Still, after birdieing the 388-yard par-4 6th, she found herself tied at -5 with Ye and Kim, as Ye was actually +1 over her 1st 8 birdie-less holes, while Kim matched Ryu’s bogey on the 524-yard par-5 2nd but bounced back with a birdie on 178-yard par-3 4th.  From the 7th hole on, Ryu would par out, finishing with a 73 that only 5 other golfers would match and 4 would beat.  But it wouldn’t be enough.  Ye birdied the 386-yard par-4 9th just as Kim did the same in the group ahead of her on the 471-yard par-5 10th to take the dual lead at -6 (Saiki bogeyed 9 to drop to -5 at this point and her birdie on 10 to join them would be the last good thing she did on the course today).  They briefly gave the lead to Takesue when 1st Kim and then Ye bogeyed the 396-yard par-4 14th in turn, but as Takesue was collapsing they held strong.  In the end, Ye’s birdie on the 508-yard par-5 16th made the difference, as she played the last 4 holes in -1 while Kim and Ryu could only manage to par out.  The win was the 1st of Ye’s JLPGA career and best finish since taking 2nd at the 2009 Suntory Ladies Open.

Here are the final results:

1st/-6  Li-Ying Ye (68-70-72)
T2/-5 Na-Ri Kim (66-73-72), Ritsuko Ryu (69-69-73)
T4/-3 Junko Omote (71-70-72), Mi-Jeong Jeon (70-70-73), Hiromi Takesue (67-71-75)
T7/-2 Saiki Fujita (70-71-73), Miki Saiki (67-71-76)
9th/-1 Naoko Oshitani (68-71-76)
T10/E Megumi Kido (75-70-71), Eun-A Lim (72-70-74), Maiko Wakabayashi (72-70-74), Rikako Morita (68-74-74)

T14/+1 Esther Lee (72-72-73), Hiromi Mogi (74-69-74)
T18/+2 Erika Kikuchi (71-72-75), So-Hee Kim (71-71-76), Yuki Ichinose (70-72-76), Miki Sakai (68-74-76), Nikki Campbell (71-70-77), Shanshan Feng (69-71-78)
T26/+3 Akane Iijima (72-74-73), Kumiko Kaneda (71-72-76), Miki Uehara (69-74-76), Young Kim (68-74-77), Bo-Bae Song (69-72-78)
T33/+4 Shinobu Moromizato (73-72-75), Mayu Hattori (69-75-76)
T36/+5 Akiko Fukushima (77-69-75), Mika Takushima (71-75-75), Sakura Yokomine (70-76-75), Onnarin Sattayabanphot (73-71-77)
49th/+11  Maria Iida (73-72-82)
T51/+14 Sakurako Mori (69-77-84)

Having moved her up from #48 to #21 (right behind countrywoman Shanshan Feng) on the JLPGA money list, Ye’s win gives her the best chance of finishing in its top 35 for the 1st time in her career.  Ryu, Omote, and Kim also made big moves up the money list today.

1. Sun-Ju Ahn ¥70.99M
2. Chie Arimura ¥62.02M
3. Miki Saiki ¥59.03M
4. Ji-Hee Lee ¥56.51M
5. Sakura Yokomine ¥52.58M
6. Yuri Fudoh ¥36.32M
7. Ritsuko Ryu ¥35.08M
8. Hiromi Mogi ¥30.34M
9. Rui Kitada ¥29.18M
10. Ayako Uehara ¥27.57M
11. Junko Omote ¥24.89M
12. Inbee Park ¥24.33M
13. Kumiko Kaneda ¥24.20M
14. Mi-Jeong Jeon ¥24.16M
15. Na-Ri Kim ¥23.36M
16. Bo-Bae Song ¥23.34M
17. Yukari Baba ¥21.48M
18. Rikako Morita ¥20.74M
19. Mayu Hattori ¥19.78M
20. Shanshan Feng ¥19.50M
21. Li-Ying Ye ¥19.09M
22. Saiki Fujita ¥18.81M
23. Asako Fujimoto ¥18.16M
24. Akiko Fukushima ¥16.33M
25. Teresa Lu ¥16.12M
26. Ji-Woo Lee ¥15.54M
27. Bo-Mee Lee ¥15.44M
28. Eun-A Lim ¥15.09M
29. Shinobu Moromizato ¥14.75M
30. Hyun-Ju Shin ¥14.40M
31. Esther Lee ¥14.27M
32. Ah-Reum Hwang ¥13.97M
33. Momoko Ueda ¥13.77M
34. Na-Ri Lee ¥13.56M
35. Soo-Yun Kang ¥13.31M
36. Eun-Bi Jang ¥12.77M
37. Young Kim ¥12.77M
38. So-Hee Kim ¥12.49M
39. Shiho Oyama ¥12.38M
40. Ji-Yai Shin ¥11.91M
41. Akane Iijima ¥11.83M
42. Nikki Campbell ¥11.17M
43. Kaori Aoyama ¥11.13M
44. Yumiko Yoshida ¥11.07M
45. Miho Koga ¥10.67M
46. Mie Nakata ¥10.25M
47. Megumi Kido ¥9.89M
48. Yeo-Jin Kang ¥9.85M
49. Yuki Ichinose ¥8.75M
50. Hiromi Takesue ¥8.71M

Next week is the Konica Minolta Cup.  Momoko Ueda and Teresa Lu will join Shanshan Feng and Shiho Oyama as the only dual LPGA-JLPGA members to skip the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship for the JLPGA’s 2nd major.  Both Ai and Mika Miyazato will be skipping the Navistar LPGA Classic the week after, however, to get ready for the Japan Women’s Open, perhaps by playing in 1 or both of the intervening JLPGA events.  Unfortunately, the field lists for the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic and the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open haven’t yet been released, so we’ll just have to wait a bit to find out–and whether Ji-Yai Shin, Inbee Park, and Hee Young Park will join them after playing in Alabama.  Right now it’s looking like Ji-Yai, Hee Young, and Shanshan will be playing in the Imperial Springs LPGA event instead of in the JWO.  But things should be clearer in a week or 2.