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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why the LPGA Should Matter to You

It's not a new story -- the LPGA has been largely ignored for the last few years, and that's part of the reason it's been struggling to fill its schedule. But in 2010 it has given us a reason to watch, and I'd like to give you a few of the reasons I've spent so much time on it this year.

The Constructivist over at Mostly Harmless wrote a post looking at the current women's stats and wondering who the real leader is. It's a valid question, and you should check out his post to get a good picture of what's happening in the women's game. But here's a quick snapshot of why I think you should care more about the LPGA than the PGA right now.

The following list is the Rolex Top 10 after the Ricoh Women's British Open this past weekend. The numbers after each players name are (in bold) this week's ranking points, (in parentheses) their points for the three previous weeks, followed (in bold) by 2010 wins/2010 top-10 finishes -- LPGA money list position. See if you notice a pattern:
  1. Jiyai Shin, 10.48, (10.66, 9.56, 9.69), 1/8 -- 1
  2. Cristie Kerr, 10.47, (10.18, 10.27, 10.38), 2/6 -- 6
  3. Ai Miyazato, 10.33, (10.25, 10.27, 10.19), 4/6 -- 5
  4. Suzann Petterson, 10.23, (10.14, 9.86, 9.97), 0/8 -- 4
  5. Yani Tseng, 9.93, (8.35, 8.32, 8.32), 2/6 -- 3
  6. Na Yeon Choi, 8.80, (8.22, 7.74, 7.69), 1/8 -- 2
  7. Paula Creamer, 7.55, (7.53, 7.59, 7.68), 1/2 -- 8
  8. Song-Hee Kim, 7.26, (7.19, 6.99, 7.06), 0/11 -- 7
  9. Anna Nordqvist, 7.18, (7.23, 7.37, 7.46), 0/2 -- 20
  10. In-Kyung Kim, 7.07, (6.47, 6.52, 6.62), 0/6 -- 9
Did you notice? Unlike the PGA, where the winners have been pretty random while the rankings rarely change, only one major winner is in the Top 10 of the rankings (and only 4 of the money leaders), and the Top 5 are separated by 3.18 points (#3 is 2.52 ahead of #5), the LPGA presents a different picture:
  • #1 in the world has changed several times in the past few months (the four figures I gave you are just the latest in this trend)
  • all the LPGA major winners are in the Top 10 world rankings
  • the Top 9 of the LPGA money leaders are in the Top 10 world rankings
  • #1 in the world is only .55 points ahead of #5 (the Top 4 are separated by a measly quarter point, and the Top 8 are 3.22 points apart)
There are a couple of oddball figures there. Creamer, of course, missed several months because of thumb surgery and is still fighting the pain, which explains the low number of top-10 finishes and the lack of upward progress since her U.S. Open win. And Nordqvist hasn't played particularly well this year, but she won the 2009 McDonald's LPGA Championship and the 2009 LPGA Tour Championship at the end of last year and that's what's kept her up in the rankings despite her low money list position. She's losing ground rapidly, however -- the other women are playing too well. Karrie Webb, despite playing reasonably well (16 on the money list), dropped out this week. It really is a case of "what have you done for me lately?" on the LPGA.

Except for Nordqvist, several players haven't won but are posting a lot of top-10 finishes. Pettersen has 8 top-10s but 7 of those are top-5s, including 4 top-2s (2 in majors) and 1 top-3 -- good enough for #4 in the world.

Note that 4 women have a point rank above 10. Back when Lorena was #1, no one had a rank above 10! On the PGA, Tiger becomes "gettable" and what happens? Nothing, despite his point average falling. On the LPGA, once #1 became available, multiple players raised their games. Doesn't this tell you something? For me, the word "hunger" come to mind. These are players getting better with each passing week, despite bouncing back and forth between continents looking for a game.

One other interesting comparison between the two tours: The Top 10 in each tour's world rankings have 10 wins. However, the LPGA has so far only played 16 tournaments TOTAL, compared to the 34 played by the PGA. That gives the LPGA's Top 10 a winning percentage of 62.5% versus the PGA's 29.4%. These guys are good... but these ladies are better. (I hate that stupid "These ladies rock!" campaign and I refuse to use it, even for the joke.)

I have said repeatedly that most weekend players (including you men out there!) can learn more from the LPGA golfers than from the PGA golfers. This is the time you should be watching, while there are plenty of good swings to learn from. Unlike PGA broadcasts, you will see a variety of those good players because so many of them are in contention week in and week out, so you can learn a lot.

So plan on watching the ladies play. The next LPGA tournament isn't for nearly three weeks -- the Safeway Classic starts August 20th, and it's unlikely any of the LET events will be televised over here. It's a shame, but that's what happens when not even the golf-powers-that-be recognize what they've got. Don't make the same mistake... especially when it could help your own game.

4 comments:

  1. So so true... and your stats tell quite a story. The LPGA is just much more compelling right now.

    The problem for the LPGA remains: A) most men will relate to other men no matter how much closer their games may be to women and B) very few women will ever be sports fans... at least not the kind of sports fans who make a difference.

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  2. Maybe there's hope, Patricia. Stuart Appleby's 59 made sports headlines this week... and Stu's not a household name. (ESPN even got his win total wrong -- they listed it as his 3rd, when it was his 9th PGA Tour win). Let the right woman start making some noise and it will make the news too. Annika did it.

    Men have fragile egos -- the thought that a woman can beat them is embarrassing to them. (And let's face it, just about any of the Top 10 women can destroy most men in a straight up match from same tees.) But I still have hope for my brethren... just as you still have hope for your sisters. Otherwise we wouldn't write golf blogs.

    The LPGA's biggest problem right now is coverage. Eventually somebody (Michael Whan, are you listening?) will realize that web broadcasting is relatively inexpensive to do and, if made available for free from an easily-accessible site (LPGA.com? LET.com? Or a site shared by the various tours?), will build an audience. Make it available both live and time-delayed, and show tournaments from all over the world. Critical mass will then be just a matter of time.

    As a disembodied voice once said, "If you build it, they will come."

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  3. I have a little quibble on your comments on Nordqvist and Webb. It's not that they've failed to play well, it's just that those ahead of them and who made up ground on or passed them have been playing exceptionally well. Look at Nordqvist's stats in particular! She's averaging 3.85 birdies per round, her scoring average is 71.54 (better than Lorena Ochoa's!), and she's hitting 69.3% of her greens in regulation and putting really well to boot (1.76 PPGIR). Those kind of stats would usually be good enough to put her top 5 on the money list. Thank how great the top players are doing to force her down to #20 on the current money list!

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  4. Actually, TC, you've just proved my point. Nordqvist is 0/2 and Webb is 0/4... and it's just not good enough. Everybody says the PGA is better for this very reason -- that anybody can win in any week, all they need to do is play well one week. Here are two great players, playing well week in and week out, and it's still not good enough.

    Granted, Nordqvist is scoring better than Ochoa did when she was #1 earlier this year, but she's still 18th on the scoring list. Let me go back a couple of years to "primes" and show the 1st and 2nd place scorers of those years:

    2007: Ochoa--69.69, Creamer--70.50
    2008: Ochoa--69.70, Sorenstam--70.47
    2009: Ochoa--70.16, Shin--70.26

    This year, Song-Hee Kim leads at 69.98 -- not quite up to Ochoa's best -- but this year's Top 4 in scoring are all better than Ochoa last year! In addition, the Top 6 this year are better than the 2nd place player during Ochoa's dominant '07 and '08 runs. We have to go all the way back to 2006 to find a number of players scoring better than the 2010 crew. (Cristie Kerr, BTW, is currently equal to her breakout year in 2006.)

    I know some people will point to all the low scores on the PGA and say that the women aren't scoring as low. But that's the whole point -- almost all of the men are scoring low unless it's a tough major course. In the first case, we get cuts that are below par (can you say "easy setups"?); at the majors, they have trouble breaking par. In addition, the top players aren't playing consistently.

    Now look at the women. There are no tournaments where all of the women are ripping the course apart, and yet you have some real battles on the tough courses. That would tend to indicate that the women are playing tougher courses overall... and playing better on them.

    It's not good enough to be playing well on the LPGA, because the top ladies are playing GREAT... and doing it CONSISTENTLY. That's why the LPGA should matter to golf fans now.

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