These are some of the players not currently in my Top 20 rankings. I decided to profile the next best ten or so and add a couple from further down that might be interesting. The number in parentheses is the player’s ranking in my stat system.
Jee Young Lee (T18)
Start with Brittany Lincicome. Make her Korean. Take away a little bit of her iron ability and add it to the putter, and you have Jee Young Lee. They were both born in 1985 (Brittany in September, Petunia in December), they are both big girls (although Brittany is four inches taller), and they both knock the snot out of the ball. Primarily because of her good putting, Lee scores better and misses fewer cuts, but Brittany made my Top 20 because she won the Match Play event and earned a lot of money from it. As I said back in October, Petunia has only been playing the game for a few years and I expect her to get even better.
Shi Hyun Ahn (T18)
Ahn is a solid player who would have made my final Top 20 rankings if she hadn’t missed 2.5 months with an unknown ailment (unknown to me, anyway). Was really on a roll in early summer with a Top 5 at the LPGA Championship and T8 at the US Open. I ranked her at #15 in August, but was forced to move her down (and eventually out) as other players jumped past her on the money list. She came back to play the three Asian events, with her best finish a T12 in Thailand. If she’s fully recovered from what ailed her, I expect her to return to the Top 20 in ’07.
Young Kim (23)
A 26-year-old from South Korea, Kim finished 19th in scoring, 28th on the money list, with 5 Top 10s and only one missed cut. She just finished her fourth full season on the LPGA Tour after starting her career with four years in the KLPGA and one Futures Tour season. The only handle I can get on Young’s game is “steady as she goes”.
Sophie Gustafson (24)
Currently the Number Two Swedish golfer in the world (ahead of Carin Koch and Liselotte Neumann). Sophie ranks #24 overall in my rating system and if I could, I would give her bonus points for the Boston Red Sox caps she wears. She would be among the first players I would look at in the “specialist” study I mentioned in my Sherri Steinhauer synopsis. Since she’s been around for a few years there might actually be enough data to spot a trend. The 32-year-old finished 17th on the money list, 21st in scoring, with 6 Top 10s but four missed cuts.
Brittany Lang (T25)
A 21-year-old rookie out of Duke University, Brittany had a pretty good season. She missed six cuts, but finished 16th in scoring, 21st in money, with 7 Top 10s. Her strong showing at the three Asian events earned her a spot at the ADT Championship, where she got knocked out in the six-player Friday playoff. Another member of the Big Hitters Club – 6th in driving distance – who would probably benefit from losing a little yardage to stay in the fairway. 12th in percentage of rounds under par, so her primary concern for 2007 should be consistency.
Meena Lee (T25)
One Korean golfer I can’t seem to figure out. Meena won the Fields Open in Hawaii last February and finished 19th on the money list, but was only 38th in scoring with three missed cuts. She had a hot streak at summer’s end with three straight Top 10s but other than that and the win she managed to make Top 10 only one other time. This was her second full season, and the results look very similar to her first – a victory, two seconds with four other Top 10s, and NINE missed cuts. If she keeps getting that one win per year she won’t really need to figure out the consistency problem.
Gloria Park (27)
Not that this has much to do with Gloria, but the Tour will be overrun by Parks in 2007. Rookies Angela, In-Bee and Jane will join Gloria and Grace to challenge the Lees and Kims for Surname Supremacy. It will be a tough challenge - the Kims are getting FOUR new members, including KLPGA wunderkind Song-Hee. Now back to Gloria…25th in money, 36th in scoring, 7 Top 10s and two missed cuts. Started the year just awful, but started putting it together in May and the rest of the way was comparable to her solid 2003-4 seasons. Her only career victories came in 2001 and 2002. Still only 26, but it seems like she’s been around for ten years.
Wendy Ward (T28)
An 11-year Tour veteran, Wendy’s 2006 season wasn’t anything special. No victories (four in her career), only two Top 10s, 27th in scoring, 32nd in money but only one missed cut. Her ADT Championship performance was her year in a nutshell – she played the first two days in -3 to make the final 16, then shot 83 on Saturday. Her stats don’t show any real strengths or flaws so I would say she probably needs all parts of her game working to have a chance to win, and that she never could get them all working at the same time. Maybe next year.
Joo Mi Kim (T28)
A second-year player, Joo Mi won the first event of ’06 in Hawaii. Over the next nine months she managed only two T10 finishes (one of them at the British Open) before closing out the year with a fifth-place finish in Mobile. 27th on the money list with those four Top 10s, missed three cuts but 51st in scoring. Her stats say “work on the driver” as she’s not terribly long (48) and is terribly inaccurate (T107)
Nicole Castrale (30)
I like to think I’m as well informed as anyone about the players on Tour, but until just now it was imbedded in my brain that Nicole was European (most likely France, but maybe Italy or Spain). Castrale is her married name – she was born Nicole Dalkas, which means she is from Greece, right? Nope, born and raised in California, graduated from USC. She is 27 years old, but 2006 was her first full exempt season. Nicole was a non-exempt rookie in 2002 and 2003 but lost her card and played the next two years on the Futures Tour. You would have to call her first full LPGA season a success – 22nd in scoring, 33rd on the money list, 4 Top 10s and four missed cuts. The stats suggest she’s a pretty good iron player.
Christina Kim (T42)
Going into 2006, Christina looked to be a rising star. With single wins in the last two seasons, a solid performance at the Solheim Cup and an engaging personality, I would have put money on it. I don’t know that her significant weight loss changed her game so much that she had to spend all year refining it, only to put most of the weight back on by November – I can only guess about that. Maybe the transition away from having her father caddy for her had some effect. All that is certain is that Christina was 35th in money, 52nd in scoring, with three missed cuts and only three Top 10s. I’ve said this before, but the Tour needs Christina Kim to play well for many more years.
Sung Ah Yim (45)
The winner of the first (and so far, only) professional golf tournament I have ever attended in person (Atlanta), and easily the lowest rated player to win a tournament in 2006. Yim did make the Top 10 three other times this year, but she also managed to miss six cuts, finish 31st in money and T62 in scoring average. I must confess I only saw Yim play one hole in the two days I was in attendance – her 72nd hole – so I have no idea what was working for her that week besides “everything”. The field was a pretty strong one too, with Ochoa and Inkster being the major absentees. Annika did double-bogey 17 to open the door, but I’m sure Sung played very well. While I was trying to rationalize why the Atlanta event was subsequently cancelled, I came up with these reasons (in no particular order):
1. Lack of sponsorship – damn you Chik-Fil-A! I’m still gonna call it the Peach Bowl!
2. Lack of TV coverage – damn you TGC! F@%# the Nationwide Tour!
3. Nancy Lopez decided to move on – I couldn’t possibly curse Nancy Lopez
4. Since Annika would not be defending champion, she wouldn’t return to Atlanta for at least four years
5. I attended the 2006 event
6. My wife attended the 2006 event
7. An otherwise unsuccessful, non-descript (Korean) player won the 2006 event
I can’t help but think #7 is at least the third most likely reason, behind definitely #1 and #2 and maybe behind #5 (don’t underestimate my bad karma). We have tentative plans to attend the LPGA Championship next June so if we make it there while somebody like Yim or Sun Young Yoo or Lee Ann Walker-Cooper wins the event, watch out Havre de Grace! McDonalds may insist on a change of venue for ’08.