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!]