The last couple of seasons have seen a lot of new faces succeeding on the LPGA Tour. This year’s rookie class doesn’t seem to be generating the amount of hoopla last year’s did, but there are a few new players worth keeping an eye on.
The 2006 Futures Tour Champion. The 18-year-old won five times on that tour last year and finished first on the money list by a wide margin. The only other player to win five Futures Tour events in the same year was Grace Park. You could also ask Seon Hwa Lee if playing well on the Futures Tour translates into playing well in the Big Show. If Song-Hee Kim doesn’t play well enough to make my Top 20 list sometime this year, I’ll be very surprised.
Only 18 years old, In-Bee finished third on the Futures Tour money list despite not winning a single event. That consistently good play combined with her youth leads me to believe that she’ll succeed in the LPGA. Whether that happens in 2007 or not is a different question.
Finished second on the Futures Tour money list. She’s 23 years old, blond and played collegiately at UCLA, so I’ll go on record as predicting she will be the early “everyone’s favorite” for Rookie Of The Year. Of course if she’s actually playing better than the other rookies, there’ll be nothing wrong with that.
Yet another 18-year-old, Angela is the first Park on Tour who is not from South Korea – she’s from Brazil. She just missed getting her exemption when she dropped out of the Top 5 on the money list at the end of the Futures Tour schedule, but got her card anyway when she finished tied for fifth at Q-School.
An 18-year-old amateur until she finished tied for first at Q-School, Kim immediately turned pro after earning her tour card. She did beat In-Bee Park heads-up in the final at the US Girls Junior Championship in 2005, but since she hasn’t played much against the pros yet it’s hard to get a good feel for how well she’ll do.
Hye Jung Choi
Technically not a rookie – she had conditional status last year but chose to play the Futures Tour – but I list her here because she tied for first at Q-School. She’s 22 with three professional seasons under her belt (one in Korea, two in Futures). Finished 13th on the Futures Tour to make the Q-School Finals. I tend to value Futures Tour results over Q-School results, but her combination of the two gives me the impression that Hye Jung will do pretty well.
Jin Joo Hong
24 years old, a four-year veteran of the Korean Tour. She won the Kolon-Hana Bank tournament in October to gain her 2007 LPGA exemption, the same way Jee Young Lee earned it last year. Her first Korean Tour victory had come only a month earlier. The Kolon victory not only shows she can play, but it gives her two exemption years to find her comfort zone in the US and I don’t think you can overstate the importance of that for someone whose first US event was at Mobile in November.
Other fully exempt new players to watch for: