As I mentioned last week in my Pre-Season Rankings, I don’t expect a lot of noise from this year’s rookie class. No one’s previous record jumps out at me, which doesn’t guarantee success or failure - just look at the examples of Angela Park and Song-Hee Kim from the 2007 class. Many of the rookies have had modest success elsewhere and it isn’t reasonable to expect all of them to come up short in the LPGA, but picking out which ones will turn out better than the others is a rather difficult assignment.
Lpga.com is doing a weekly set of profiles on all of the rookies, so check that out for more info. The rookies who aren’t exempt are categorized as “conditional”, which is the third tier of status just below non-exempt. What this means is, the rookies who aren’t fully exempt only get a chance to play an event after the 138 exempts and the 31 non-exempts get their chance to enter. Last year the players at the top of the Conditional list got to play 9-12 events, although Na On Min got into 20 by finishing Top 10 in her first event and then again at the LPGA Championship. Given their current status and prior results, here are the players that I believe have the best opportunity to win the Rookie of the Year award:
As a non-member, Ueda won the Mizuno Classic – beating several Top 30 players in the process. Momoko won four other times in 2007 on the JLPGA and was their leading money winner. Coming to America with a record comparable to Ai Miyazato, one would expect Ueda to be a Top 30-caliber player herself – which would probably be good enough to win ROY. She has played five times in LPGA events with three Top 10s and no missed cuts.
I spent some extra time looking at Tseng after Bill Roberts pegged her as his ROY. After turning pro in January, Yani competed on the Asian and Canadian Tours last year. She won both the Women’s Indian Open and the Vancouver Canadian event, and finished tied for sixth at the Canadian Women’s Open. Tseng gained full exempt status for 2008 by finishing sixth at Q-School. In four LPGA events she has two missed cuts, both at the US Open. I will say this – if Ueda isn’t the ROY favorite, Tseng should be.
Choi has four wins on the KLPGA Tour in just over three seasons. She won once in 2007 and collected 11 Top 10 finishes. In five career LPGA starts, Na-Yeon has made the cut twice with her best finish coming at the Hana Bank KOLON Championship last October, where she finished T8. Not exempt, Choi is Conditional Player #4.
Taylor is fully exempt after finishing fourth on the Futures Tour money list last year. UPDATE: Wrong, wrong, wrong....bad Dog! As Bogey McDuff and TC point out in the comments, Leon did not finish in the Top 5 and is only Conditional Player #6. I still think she could be a fine player - she just won't have as many opportunities in 2008. This despite playing only eight events, two of which she won. In seven events on the LPGA, Leon has made the cut three times with a T47 her best finish.
This 18-year-old South African played only seven LET events in 2007 (five of them after she turned pro) but won the Catalonia Ladies Masters and T24 at Evian. Her best other LET finish was 15th plus she got waxed by Ochoa in the first round of the HSBC so I wouldn’t call her a sure thing. Ashleigh has only made two cuts in five LPGA starts. Conditional #2.
Missing out on an exemption when she finished sixth on the Futures Tour, Liz qualified anyway at Q-School. She won twice in 2007 with nine Top 10 finishes. Janangelo is a product of Duke University’s outstanding golf program (ala Brittany Lang), which won two NCAA titles while she was enrolled there. Played ten LPGA events as an amateur (twice in 1998 as a 14-year-old) and made three cuts.
Hee Young Park
Eight times a Top 10 finisher on the KLPGA last year, Park gained full exempt status by finishing third at Q-School. She was the KLPGA ROY in 2005 as she won three times that season and she won again in 2006 although ’07 went by without a victory. Hee Young is the only fully exempt Korean rookie in 2008.
An 18-year old Korean who won the 2006 ANZ Ladies Masters at the age of 16 and collected five Top 10s in ten LET events last year. In four previous LPGA events, Amy made the cut in all of them but finished no better than 50th. Despite her nationality, Yang has apparently never played the KLPGA Tour. Amy is as “conditional” as they come – she is listed #37 out of 37 players on the conditional chart so approximately 66 players ahead of her would have to skip an event to allow her to play. The players near Amy’s status level last year only made it into 2-4 events.
I’m profiling Anna for two reasons: 1) she’s Conditional Player #1, and 2) she’s been promoted around the web as the next Natalie Gulbis, if you get my drift. This may be the only site you’ll see many words on Rawson’s playing ability. The Aussie played the Futures Tour in 2005 with only modest success (two Top 10s). In 2006 she switched to the LET and managed one Top 10. Last year she lost in a playoff to Bettina Hauert at the Swiss Open, her only Top 10 of 2007. I guarantee you’ll see her on TV at least once this year (maybe as early as the two events in Hawaii), but I’ll bet it won’t be during the final round.
The five other exempt players will get enough starts to put them in the top 12 of rookie points almost by default. They are: