Number crunching 2011: Lee up, Ekey down
Editor's note: On the final day of Golfweek’s 2011 number-crunching package, we look at two players – Danny Lee and Kathleen Ekey – who vaulted up the rankings this season, making them rookies to watch on the PGA Tour and LPGA, respectively, in 2012.
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UP: Danny Lee
Ranking/movement: +357 (No. 514 to No. 157)
Why the rise? Better play from inside 150 yards, and a return to the swing that made him one of golf’s top phenoms just a few years ago. Lee, 21, finished in the top 10 in half of his 18 Nationwide Tour starts this year to finish sixth on the money list and earn his first PGA Tour card. He notched his first victory as a professional at the WNB Golf Classic.
The low scores necessary to succeed on the Nationwide Tour’s shorter courses inspired Lee to change his practice habits. Previously, frequent swing changes caused him to neglect his scoring clubs.
Lee often has tinkered with his swing, sometimes to a fault. He has been working with Bill Chuong, president of CompuGolf, a golf performance center in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas, since early 2010. They’re trying to recapture parts of Lee’s swing from his amateur days, while instituting more leg action.
The changes seem to be working. Lee led the Nationwide Tour in scoring average (68.9 strokes per round) in 2011, was sixth in putting average (1.733 putts per green in regulation), 12th in greens in regulation (72.54 percent) and 19th in driving distance (304.9 yards).
Lee seems to be on a singular path with Choung. “I’m (changing) much less. I don’t want to mess around too much,” Lee said.
He won the 2008 U.S. Amateur and Western Amateur, then won as an 18-year-old amateur at the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic. He cracked the top 200 in the Official World Golf Ranking as an amateur, and is back there (No. 182 through Oct. 30) after last year’s drop.
Lee says: “I’m hitting it more consistently, instead of one day good, one day bad."
– Sean Martin
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UP: Kathleen Ekey
Ranking/movement: +226 (No. 333 to No. 107)
Why the rise? Ekey has difficulty describing just what, exactly, was the defining factor in a 2011 season that couldn’t have been more different from the one prior. She has decided there wasn’t one specific thing that resulted in her first two career wins (at the Futures Tour’s Ladies Titan Tire Challenge and Alliance Bank Golf Classic), five more top 10s and a bigger jump than any other women’s player in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. Instead of swing thoughts, Ekey spent considerable time focusing on the process.
Ekey turned professional in 2009 after a successful career at Alabama. In her first season on the Futures Tour, she made 10 cuts in 15 starts and recorded only one top-10 finish. Ekey saw results in practice that year, but couldn’t make it translate to tournaments. It sparked a difficult conversation with swing coach V.J. Trolio that felt “like a knife in your chest.”
“It was kind of one of those tough-love moments when he said, ‘Kathleen, you need to figure out how you went from being a two-time All-American to where you are now,’ ” she said.
The result was that Ekey, Trolio and short-game coach Tim Yelverton dedicated more time to fine-tuning Ekey’s routine on the course and tried to get away from focusing on results.
“There’s so much more than just getting out there and hitting golf shots. It’s how your body reacts for a whole season with working out and traveling and playing golf every day,” she said.
The results came anyway, as Ekey ended the season leading the Futures Tour in birdies, eagles and greens in regulation. The strength of Ekey’s game always has been ballstriking, and this year she figured out how to give herself better chances at birdies.
Ekey says: “You can hit a green, but you can be 45 feet away. . . . I think I just did a better job this season of getting the ball closer to the hole and (giving myself) more opportunities.”
– Julie Williams
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Other number-crunching stories
• PGA Tour (Dec. 19): Webb Simpson leaps forward, while Jim Furyk falls back. Story.
• LPGA Tour (Dec. 20): Stacy Lewis leaps forward, while Ai Miyazato falls back. Story.
• PGA Tour (Dec. 21): Cameron Tringale makes a big move forward, while Camilo Villegas drops off. Story.
• PGA Tour (Dec. 22): Gary Woodland powered his way up the rankings, while Sean O'Hair dipped considerably. Story.
• LPGA/Futures Tour (Dec. 23): Tiffany Joh jumped significantly in 2011, while Song-Hee Kim had a year to forget. Story.
• PGA Tour (Dec. 24): Kevin Streelman used a no-nonsense approach to move up the rankings while Heath Slocum struggled in 2011. Story.
• European Tour (Dec. 25): Thomas Bjorn surprised a lot of people with three wins in one season to move ahead, but Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson didn't have the same fortune. Story.