Yang, LaCrosse, Choe players to watch in ’11

Amy Yang, Esther Choe, Cindy LaCrosse

Amy Yang, Esther Choe, Cindy LaCrosse

Our annual number-crunching package looks at players who made significant moves – up or down – during the past year in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.

Amy Yang

Ranking/movement: 11 (+25)

Why the rise? Yang’s third year on tour was buoyed by a cast of veteran supporters. Her swing coach of 16 months, Tom Creavy, helped her add 10 yards to her irons. Creavy is Se Ri Pak’s longtime instructor. Yang, a South Korean who spent her high-school years in Australia, often is confused with Pak. Yang concedes there might be a similarity in appearance from “far away.”

Number crunching

Check back to Golfweek.com tomorrow for Lance Ringler's list of five players who will surprise you in 2011.

After Lorena Ochoa announced her retirement, Yang’s manager sent an e-mail to Ochoa’s caddie, Greg Johnston, to see if he was available. Johnston signed on, and Yang said her course management immediately improved. Johnston had caddied for Juli Inkster, Michelle Wie and Suzann Pettersen, among others, before Ochoa. 

Yang, a model of consistency, didn’t miss a cut all season and notched six top-10 finishes. The 21-year-old points to putting (29.52 average per round, T-24) as another key area of improvement. She ranked 69th (29.92) last year.Yang’s next goal, especially after a runner-up finish at the season-ending Tour Championship: an LPGA victory.

Yang says: “Even fans think I’m Se Ri. When I’m (signing) autographs, people say ‘She’s in the Hall of Fame.’ I’ve never won any tournaments!”

– Beth Ann Baldry

• • •

Cindy LaCrosse

Ranking/movement: 77 (+66)

Why the rise? Not quite two years removed from a standout career at Louisville that included four individual titles and All-American honors, LaCrosse has figured out how to win in the pro ranks. She played in all but two events on the 2010 Futures Tour schedule, winning three times and posting six more top-5 finishes to end the year atop the money list and earn an LPGA card for 2011.

LaCrosse, 23, credits much of her success to swing coach Sean Foley, with whom she began working at the end of January. With Foley’s help, LaCrosse has improved her takeaway, focusing on taking the club straight back rather than inside to avoid coming over the top. LaCrosse also has shortened her swing, resulting in improved accuracy.

“Just kind of listening to anything he says has helped me out and given me a little more confidence,” LaCrosse said of working with Foley.

Foley also works with LaCrosse on her short game. LaCrosse avoids spending too much time on any one aspect of her game during practice sessions, preferring instead to move on if she gets tired or begins to miss shots.

“Now that I’m not in college, I don’t have much else going on besides golf,” she said.

LaCrosse says: “The biggest change is I’m just a lot more consistent. My misses are just a little bit off instead of a big miss. I feel like that’s helped me out a lot, keeping the ball in play and being able to recover.”

– Julie Williams

• • •

Esther Choe

Ranking/movement: 141 (+138)

Why the rise? After a successful junior career that culminated in Rolex Junior Player of the Year honors in 2006, the past few years have been a struggle for the 21-year-old Choe. That’s why she decided to return to her roots with former swing coach Chris Walkey, from whom she began taking lessons as a 13-year-old before moving on at age 15.

With Walkey’s help, Choe made a commitment to get into a better position over the ball, eliminating “twisty” hips which led to a tendency to flip the club. Choe has worked to stay more on top of the ball through impact, which has solved her misses left.

Since turning pro in 2007, Choe had struggled to finish a season as she fought her swing. This year, she made 15 cuts in 16 starts on the Futures Tour and earned a career-best T-2 at the City of Hammond Classic. With her swing back in check and her confidence on the rise, Choe looks at the past few years as crucial to her development as a player.

“I feel like I’m really grateful for those years because it wasn’t so hot,” she said. “I’m definitely more prepared now than I ever was.”

Now Choe’s focus is improving her strength and adding distance. After missing the cut at the final stage of LPGA Q-School, Choe likely will have to work on those things on the Futures circuit again in 2011.

Choe says: “I haven’t been able to finish a season before because of how bad I’ve been playing. This year, I played the full season; I played well and it was just a rebuilding year. I feel like I’m back on track.”

– Julie Williams

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