This is the first installment in a series of player profiles that I’ll be posting over the next couple of weeks. I will cover each of my final Top 30 plus a few others that you might be interested in. If you’d like me to profile a couple of your faves in particular, post their names in the comments or shoot me an e-mail.
Lorena Ochoa (#1)
Ochoa spent the entire 2007 season ranked as my #1 player. She took over the #1 spot in the Rolex rankings back in April. Her season in a nutshell – eight victories (three of them in a row during August), 18 Top Fives, 21 Top Tens, no missed cuts, leading money winner, lowest scoring average (69.69, 0.8 strokes better than #2 Creamer). That Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average gives her a total of 22 Hall of Fame points, meaning she needs only five more to qualify next year at age 26. As I first predicted last month, I expect Ochoa to reach 27 points before Cinco de Mayo, 2008. Oh yeah, Lorena also became the first player ever to win $4 million dollars in a single season (or even $3 million, for that matter) and got the Major Monkey off her back by winning the British Open – at St. Andrews, no less. Despite Pettersen’s great finish, Ochoa is still the clear-cut Player of the Year. Here’s a domination stat I know you haven’t heard yet – due in part to the ADT victory, Lorena earned $2,562,594 more than Pettersen, who was #2 on the money list. That margin is larger than the amounts won by the leading money winner in all but three prior LPGA seasons!
During my 2006 final player profiles I mentioned that Cristie Kerr ranked very highly in both GIR and putts per GIR and called that “a dynamite scoring combination”. Ochoa finished first in GIR by a wide margin and just missed by .0003 of finishing first in PPGIR (second to Catriona Matthew, who had many fewer GIR). I would say that Lorena nearly achieved “critical mass”.
Suzann Pettersen (#2)
…and now Ochoa has a first-rate antagonist in Suzann Pettersen. Through September, Lorena was in a different stratosphere from the rest of the Tour. Then Pettersen won three out of four events (all in October) to seize the challenger’s position and give us the opportunity for some fine heads-up confrontations for 2008. Their games are quite similar – big bombers, excellent iron play, streaky putters (Ochoa is definitely better with the flat stick). It ought to be fun to watch.
Suzann essentially came out of nowhere (my 2006 stats ranked her in the mid-30s) to become the first player other than Ochoa to win multiple events in 2007. After suffering back-to-back disappointments at Safeway and KNC, she beat Jee Young Lee in a playoff to earn her first LPGA title. She won her first major at the LPGA Championship, went into a bit of a lull during the summer and then kicked into overdrive in the fall.
I’m sure you’ve heard that Suzann recovered from very serious back problems a couple of years ago. Last year she was healthy but still rebuilding her game. To get an idea of where this improvement came from, let’s compare a few Pettersen numbers from ’06 to ’07. She was 76th in GIR in 2006, up to 2nd in 2007. Putts per GIR was T32 in 2006, T16 in 2007. Both years she was Top 20 in driving distance (5th in 2007) and ranked T133 in accuracy in 2006 compared to T102 in 2007. I would say the huge improvement in GIR gets the most credit with her mild putting improvement (with the “stolen” putter from the LPGA Championship) accounting for the rest.
Paula Creamer (#3)
Paula made one of my predictions from last off-season come true when she grabbed her second victory of the year at the TOC. After winning the first event at the SBS in February, I never dreamed it would take her nine months to get the second one. Even so, Paula has had a great season - 13 Top 10s (only Ochoa has more), eight of them Top 5s, third on the money list, and second in scoring. Two missed cuts (one of them at the Farr with the real Pink Panther in attendance!) were the only blemishes. Paula has now finished two of her three LPGA seasons ranked in the Hound Dog top three – she was #2 in 2005.
Creamer is one of the few players in my Top 30 who ranks near the top (13th) in driving accuracy. While I’m convinced that ranking 5th in GIR and T3 in putts per GIR are the basis of her good scoring average, I also believe that her driving deficit (only T89) relative to the other top players requires her to be in the fairway a lot to support those great GIR and PPGIR numbers. During the ADT, Dottie was saying that Paula feels she needs to get a little longer to stay competitive. I have to disagree with her. She tried doing that very thing early in 2006 and all it got her then was a lingering case of tendonitis in her wrist.
Mi Hyun Kim (#4)
Kim won the SemGroup Championship in early May and gave half of her winnings to the Kansas tornado relief fund. She finished Top 10 ten times, six of those in the Top 5, fourth on the money list, seventh in scoring with only one missed cut. Only played 27 events (compared with 30 in 2006) so she got a bit more rest, but that wasn’t due to her skipping more events. With the Arkansas cancellation and some other scheduling twists, three fewer events were contested in 2007.
She belongs in the same group as Creamer – an upper echelon player who lacks distance. Since Mi Hyun is the epitome of this group (T117 in driving distance), I think I will dub them “the Peanut Family” in her honor.
Morgan Pressel (#5)
Our third straight “Peanut Family” member – Morgan ranks Top 10 in GIR and PPGIR (despite her supposedly “inconsistent” putting) and T11 in accuracy, but only T117 in distance. Pressel won the Kraft Nabisco, becoming the youngest major champion in LPGA history. She finished Top 10 eight times (four Top 5s), ninth in money, sixth in scoring with two missed cuts. Morgan didn’t play very well over the last two months (no Top 10s since the first week of September) but she had a very successful season.
Why is it that even when a player ranks in the Top 10 of a category, you’ll still hear commentators (even Dottie Pepper, who certainly knows better) say Pressel, Gulbis and Pak are “inconsistent” with the putter? I’ve even heard Ochoa referred to as “streaky”. I know this isn’t baseball, where most of the fans look at the numbers and can tell the TV guys are saying something unsubstantiated, but surely they know that SOME of us are looking at those stat pages and can call BS on them! Or are they subtly trying to tell us what a few PGA online fans have been saying – that even the best LPGA players have only marginal short game skills, compared to the men. I’m not ready to concede that, no way. Tim Clark led the PGA Tour this year in PPGIR at 1.727 while Catriona Matthew led the LPGA at 1.7595. Maybe the men do putt a little better – but given the fact that many more men attempt to become professional golfers than women (thus making the competition on the PGA exponentially stiffer than the LPGA), shouldn’t we expect the top men players to have somewhat better skills across the board than the women? I’m sorry, but a difference of 0.0325 putts per GIR doesn’t make Catriona Matthew or Lorena Ochoa or Morgan Pressel a “mediocre putter”.