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Ji-Yai Shin sits at #56 on the JLPGA money list, about 3.5 million yen behind #50 Saiki Fujita and a 2014 card, so she’s exercising her right to enter the tour’s final event and final major, the Ricoh Cup, based on her world ranking. She’s going to need to finish in the top 6 or so to extend her streak of 6-straight years as a JLPGA member and 5-straight years as a dual LPGA-JLPGA member. She’ll either be well-rested or a little rusty or both, as she hasn’t played competitively since the Mizuno Classic, where she finished T11. Her win to start the LPGA’s 2013 season is by now a distant memory, and she hasn’t won on the JLPGA since 2010.
If Shin’s going to end either of those droughts, she’ll have to face down the JLPGA’s finest. Rikako Morita leads Sakura Yokomine by less than 3 million yen in the race to succeed Mi-Jeong Jeon as the money-list queen of the JLPGA. The next 5 players on the money list, from 3-time winner Yumiko Yoshida to 2-time winner Mamiko Higa, can’t leapfrog the tour’s Big 2, but they can break the 100 million yen barrier with a win this week (which is worth 25 million yen!). Bo-Mee Lee will be looking to defend her title and join Yokomine, Miho Koga, and Yuri Fudoh as repeat winners. Sun-Ju Ahn, who dominated the JLPGA in 2010 and 2011, will be looking for her 3rd win of the season, as well.
As you can see, the Korean contingent on the JLPGA has a great chance to bring home their 12th title (in 36 events) this week. But the other big story of the season has been the rise of the tour’s younger Japanese players, from Morita and Higa to Natsuka Hori and Misuzu Narita to Erika Kikuchi and Kumiko Kaneda to Asako Fujimoto and Yuki Ichinose, who range in age between 20 and 24 and may have been knocking on the door in previous years but have really stepped forward as a group in 2013. Yoshida, who’s all of 26, may be considered an honorary member of this group, as this is only her 2nd year as a fixture near the top of the money list. Mayu Hattori (25) and Ritsuko Ryu (26) have been so good for so long that they may belong more with the 27-year-old Yokomine (who turns 28 in mid-December) than their younger peers, but I wouldn’t quarrel about including them in the “young guns” category.
Shin will also have to worry about ex-LPGAers like Mizuno Classic champion Teresa Lu, a resurgent Shiho Oyama, Na-Ri Kim, and Young Kim. Neither Ai Miyazato nor Mika Miyazato will be playing this week, so at least Shin won’t have to worry about them–or, for that matter, world #1 and LPGA Player of the Year Inbee Park, who won this event in 2010.
So let’s see if Shin can join Shanshan Feng and Momoko Ueda as the only dual LPGA-JLPGA members of 2014 (assuming neither Chie Arimura nor Ayako Uehara compete in final stage of JLPGA Q-School next week and Harukyo Nomura does not earn an LPGA card at Q-School this week).