Posted by: happyfan08 | October 23, 2014

Meet the Class of 95

Over the past few years, a new wave of Korean female golf superstars has been gaining momentum. They started with impressive performances while still amateurs, and this season have taken over the KLPGA. Now they are moving their act to the world stage. Get ready for the coming of… the Class of 1995!

(L to R) Jin Young Ko, Kyu Jung Baek and Min Sun Kim earlier this year

Many western golf fans first became aware of this new wave when unheralded teen golfer Hyo Joo Kim shot a 61 in the opening round of the year’s final Major, the Evian Championship. It was the lowest score ever achieved in the history of Major golf for either a man or a woman. Kim would go on to stun the world (and seven-time Major winner Karrie Webb) by winning the event with a birdie on the final hole. But though Kim’s win came at her first ever Major, she had already played multiple LPGA events before then, notching several top tens in the process, including a tie for fourth at the Evian itself (before it was a Major) in 2012. The group of prodigies of which she is a part has been building on their success in Asia and the amateur ranks for several years leading up to that explosive Major victory.

Hyo Joo Kim with her Evian trophy

The Korean press has dubbed these ladies the Class of ‘95, as many of them were born in 1995. On the Korean pro circuit, there are currently five pros who are considered the core of the wave. They are Hyo Joo Kim, Kyu Jung Baek, Min Sun Kim and Jin Young Ko (all 19); and In Gee Chun (20. Chun was actually born in 1994, but why quibble?). Sometimes the press adds teenage Korean-Australian stars Minjee Lee and Su Hyun Oh and Korean-New Zealander Lydia Ko to the list, but though they are all roughly the correct age, for our purposes we’ll focus on the first five, all of whom were born in and grew up in Korea.

This new batch of kids has trained from a young age to be great at golf, and as a result started to show world class potential by the time they were in their mid-teens. All five ladies did some time playing on the Korean national team, representing their country in international amateur competitions.

Evian champ Hyo Joo Kim is without question the biggest star in this galaxy, at least so far. She started to make noise playing KLPGA events when she was as young as 14 in 2009. But it was 2012 when the young guns, and Kim in particular, made their first big splash on the international stage. Kim had risen to being one of the top amateurs in the world, and found herself frequently pitted against Lydia Ko and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn in both amateur and professional tournaments. Kim did well in all the fields she tackled. She managed her first KLPGA win that summer as a 16-year-old amateur, absolutely trouncing the field at the LotteMart Women’s Open. She won that week by a mind bending nine shots and was 13 shots ahead of the top player on the KLPGA tour, Ha Neul Kim, who finished third! Winning an event as a 16-year-old was fairly rare on the KLPGA; but to annihilate a field of top players like she did? Almost unthinkable.

Hyo Joo Kim enjoys her romp over the KLPGA at the LotteMart Open in 2012

Kim was not done yet, for just a few months later she did the same thing to the Japanese tour. Playing in the Suntory Ladies Open, she shot a tour record 61 in the final round to capture a four shot win. She also became the youngest winner in the history of that tour, beating the record held by Japanese legend Ai Miyazato.

Not long after that, Kim played at the Evian Masters on the LPGA tour and found herself contending for the title. She finished tied for fourth.

Kim ended her amateur career in style: she led a phenomenal Korean team to an overwhelming victory at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship (aka the Espirito Santo Cup). At the time, Kim was without doubt the most familiar name on that team, but the squad also featured Kyu Jung Baek and Min Sun Kim, who were on their own trajectories to the top of the game.

Baek, Min Sun Kim and Hyo Joo Kim celebrate their win at the 2012 Espirito Santo Cup

Kim turned pro in late 2012, signing the biggest sponsorship deal for a rookie since Se Ri Pak in the 90s. It took her almost no time to win her first event on tour, collecting a trophy in just her second event. She seemed on an unstoppable trajectory to the Rookie of the Year award.

That’s when another teen prodigy stepped in and made things very interesting. In Gee Chun, like Kim, was a veteran of the Korean National team with a phenomenal swing and a ton of promise. At nearly 5’ 10” tall, she had size, but it was her finesse and strategy that made her a tough player. Her nickname is ‘Dumbo’, given to her not because of her intelligence (in fact, she has a 150 IQ and is a member of Mensa), but because, like an elephant, she always keeps her ears open, absorbing all around here. To her credit, she seems to get a kick out of the somewhat embarrassing nickname.

In Gee Chun in May, 2014

Also like Kim, Chun made a splash on the pro tour while still in high school. At the 2011 Hite Cup, the KLPGA’s third Major, Chun seized the lead in the third round and held onto it tenuously most of Sunday. Alas, she made a big mistake late and handed the tournament to veteran star Ha Neul Kim, but she still showed that she had more going for her than the average teenage amateur. And in fact, Hite remembered her heroics, and signed her to a sponsorship deal when she turned pro the following Spring!

After turning pro, Chun played Korean minor leagues. In 2013, she joined the KLPGA, where she faced off against Hyo Joo as a rookie. Chun quickly made a name for herself, nearly winning the Match Play Championship (she lost in the final).

Chun’s only win of 2013 came at the most important event the KLPGA has: the Korean Women’s Open. More than any other moment, this might have been when the Class of 1995 had their Coming Out party. After three rounds, the leader was a young player who had only just turned professional weeks earlier: Kyu Jung Baek. In Gee Chun and Hyo Joo Kim were right near the top with her. Three members of the Class of 1995 in the final group at a Major! Chun wound up winning by making birdie on the final four holes, with Baek finishing third and Kim sixth.

In Gee Chun cries after winning the Korean Women’s Open

Chun and Kim finished third and fourth on the year ending money list, with Kim beating Chun for Rookie of the Year and winning the scoring title as well. The kids had successfully made their first attack on the old guard; but the best was yet to come.

In Gee Chun at the 2012 KLPGA Awards Show

2014 saw three new teenage prodigies join the KLPGA, and all three have proved to be stars-in-the-making. Coupled with Kim and Chun, these three have helped decisively turn the tide on tour towards the young guns.

Jin Young Ko, Min Sun Kim and Kyu Jung Baek: the KLPGA’s Super Rookies

The most heralded of the three is the aforementioned Kyu Jung Baek. After the Korean Women’s Open near miss in 2013, Baek played on the Korean pro mini-tours, and was ready for the big league when she started on the KLPGA in 2014. It took her only a few events to capture her first win at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters. But after that she stalled, missing several cuts. This allowed the other two stars to make a move.

Kyu Jung Baek with her first career KLPGA trophy

Jin Young Ko was a dominant player on the Jump Tour, one of the KLPGA’s developmental tours (the other is the Dream Tour). Ko won three events there in 2013. In 2014, it took her quite a while to get that first win, but while she waited she notched top ten after top ten. Min Sun Kim, another 18-year-old phenom, did basically the same thing.

Beak was almost caught in the rookie standings before she snapped out of her funk and won a second tournament, the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open. But Ko and Kim kept coming at her, and eventually Ko caught and passed Baek. When Ko finally won her first tour event, the Nefs Masterpiece in August, Baek suddenly faced a sizable deficit to make up in the Rookie of the Year race.

Jin Young Ko broke through with her first KLPGA win at the Nefs, her sponsor’s tournament!

Meanwhile, Chun and Hyo Joo Kim continued to rack up wins themselves. Chun won her first of 2014 at the S-OIL Champions in June. Hyo Joo snapped out of a long winless streak at exactly the right time, collecting a triumph at the Korean Women’s Open, then following that up with two more wins in rapid succession.

Hyo Joo Kim with the Hanwha Classic trophy, her third win of 2014

The round robin continued, with the young stars taking turns picking off trophies. Baek won the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship, but still trailed Ko in the Rookie race. Chun beat Ha Neul Kim at the KDB. Min Sun Kim came oh so close to finally getting her first win, but lost in a playoff at the Se Ri Pak Invitational to Min Young Lee.

At the year’s third Major, the Hite Cup, the teens were all over the leaderboard (Chun by then was actually 20). But once again, it was Hyo Joo Kim who won, taking her second Major of the season in a playoff over Jung Min Lee.

During that period, Hyo Joo also won the Evian, becoming the first of the Class of ’95 to win on the LPGA tour.

So going into the Hana Bank Championship, the annual event featuring the LPGA vs. the KLPGA, the tally stood at: 4 KLPGA wins for Hyo Joo Kim (2 Majors); three wins for Baek (1 Major); two wins for Chun and one win for Ko. Hyo Joo Kim had also become the first player in history to break 1 billion won earned in a single season, shattering the old record by more than 200 million won.

Interestingly, though several top KLPGA players have played the Hana Bank through the years, a KLPGA player had not won it since 2006. The Class of 1995 were playing so well, however, it looked like they might have a chance to end that long winless drought.

The first round was rocked by high winds, and none of the KLPGA teen stars played all that well. But in the second round, two of them made a move. In Gee Chun shot a 5 under par 67, which ended up being the lowest round of the entire day, while Kyu Jung Baek shot a 69. In round three, the two stars were paired together and continued their torrid pace. By the end of Saturday, Baek was tied for the lead at 5 under total, while Chun was one shot back.

That might sound promising, but in fact the leaderboard was jammed with top players. Seventeen golfers were within two shots of the lead, 25 within three. For any player to win, she would probably have to go low on Sunday.

Kyu Jung Baek after round 3

Chun started her Sunday very, very well. By the turn, she had moved into the lead, with several top players right on her tail. One group behind her, World #2 Inbee Park, the top player in the field, was not far back. Baek was also in that group, but she had stalled at 5 under, and by that point had dropped five shots behind her longtime friend and rival.

In Gee Chun in round 4

Kyu Jung had been feeling the pressure on the front nine, but on the back nine she relaxed and concentrated on playing her game one shot at a time. And that’s when she caught fire in a major way. In fact, she made five straight birdies at that point, and when Chun made a bogey in the middle of her back nine, Baek found herself tied for the lead with her.

Meanwhile, American Brittany Lincicome made a birdie on the final hole to post a score of ten under total. The final hole was a par 5, and Chun reached it next. A birdie would put her at 11 under and give her the outright lead. But she barely missed her ten foot birdie try and had to settle for a tap-in par. She was tied at 10 under and had to wait to see what Baek’s group would do.

The situation was this: Baek was also tied at 10 under and could win the event with a birdie. Inbee Park was at 9 under, and a birdie would tie her for the lead. Park had the longer birdie try, but just missed and was eliminated. Now the tournament rode on the putt of the teenage sensation. But she narrowly missed her own eight foot birdie try. She was completely annoyed, and though she tried to collect herself, it was obvious that she was deeply upset by missing her great chance to win her first LPGA event. Instead, there would be a three way playoff between herself, Chun and Lincicome.

Baek misses the winning putt on her final hole

On the playoff hole (they again played hole 18), all three were in the fairway after two shots, but Chun dunked her approach in the water on the third shot. She would have to wait another day for her chance to win an LPGA event, but she had still played wonderfully and shown what great talent and potential she has. Lincicome then put her approach to about five feet.

Now it was Baek’s turn. Still somewhat bothered by the miss on the previous hole, she had finally gotten over it by the time she hit this wedge. And so, her shot was a great one, getting even inside the American’s shot.

Amazingly, Lincicome missed the short birdie, and now Baek had that rarest of things: a second chance. This time, she did not miss, and as the birdie fell, the 19-year-old, who had just celebrated her birthday the previous Wednesday, was an LPGA winner in her first ever LPGA event. In Gee Chun was the first to give her a congratulatory soaking on the 18th green.

In Gee congratulates Kyu Jung after her win

And so, in the space of just two months, two members of the Class of 95 notched wins on the LPGA tour. Hyo Joo Kim has said she will split her time between the LPGA and KLPGA in 2015. She intends to play 15 LPGA events, focusing on the Majors and events near to Korea (such as the Asian events, Hawaii and Australia), while also playing 10 KLPGA events. Baek has still not said what she will do. She is still just a rookie on the KLPGA, so she might choose to stay another year to get more experience before she tries the big tour. But she has also said that she is inspired by her friend Kim, and the thought of going to America to challenge her for rookie of the year might be too tempting to resist.

Regardless, we can expect that the Class of 1995 is only starting to take over the world. Keep an eye on these five talented youngsters to see what they do next!

Kyu Jung with her first LPGA trophy

Posted by: happyfan08 | June 11, 2014

Baek to the Future

Last week, 18-year-old KLPGA Rookie Kyu Jung Baek shot a blistering 64-65 to open the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open, giving her a six shot lead going into the final round. On Sunday she was heavily challenged by two of the biggest stars on tour, Hyo Joo Kim and Ha Na Jang, but managed to hold them off to claim the trophy. It was already the second KLPGA win of her young career. Baek is on a rocket trajectory towards the top of the game; the win not only solidified her lead atop the Rookie of the Year standings, it put her firmly into contention for all the top prizes on tour this year.

Kyu Jung Baek with her trophy from the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open

Baek started playing golf at the age of 7. She was born in October, 1995, and is part of a new wave of great young Korean female golf talents who were born around the same time. As an amateur, she played for several years on the Korean national team with contemporaries like Hyo Joo Kim (last year’s KLPGA Rookie of the Year); In Gee Chun (the winner of last year’s Korean Women’s Open); and Min Sun Kim (who is also a rookie in 2014). Perhaps her greatest amateur achievement came in 2012, when she teamed with Hyo Joo and Min Sun to capture the team title at the Espirito Santo World Women’s Amateur Team Championship.

Team Korea won the 2012 World Women’s Amateur Team Championship; Kyu Jung Baek (left) poses with her teammates Min Sun Kim (center) and Hyo Joo Kim (right)

In 2013, the 17-year-old star turned pro and joined the KLPGA’s developmental tour, the Dream Tour. Not too long after that, she played in the Korean Women’s Open, the biggest event on the Korean golf circuit. She led that event after three rounds, and, playing in the final round with old pals Chun and Hyo Joo Kim, wound up third behind Chun.

Baek at the 2013 Korean Women’s Open. She finished third.

Baek’s performance at the Open raised her profile in Korea, and many were now looking to her as perhaps the most promising player in her class. She did not disappoint. Playing on the Dream Tour in the Fall, she won twice and managed to earn a spot on the KLPGA for 2014. At the end of the year, she was invited to play at the Swinging Skirts, a tournament in Taiwan that often attracted a field of top women pros. Baek finished fourth, tied with her old pal Hyo Joo Kim, who had just won the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year award for the season just ended. The only three players who beat Baek that week – Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu and Lydia Ko – were all ranked in the top five in the world rankings. By this point, Baek had earned a new nickname: Super Rookie, and a gaggle of sponsorship deals, including a clothing deal with Elle Golf and a major sponsorship with CJ Shopping. But could this girl, still only 18-years-old, live up to the expectations she was generating?

Baek in December, 2013

Baek’s first two events as a rookie were nothing special, although she made the cut in both. But the third event, the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters, contested in late April, at last saw the rookie star put herself into the mix for a title. The week actually started well for another rookie star, Baek’s good friend Min Sun Kim. Kim took a three shot lead after round one, with Baek in second. Kim struggled more in round 2, but held onto a share of the lead. Baek took advantage, and moved into a share of the lead with Kim. The two rookies would be going toe to toe with one other player who was tied atop the leaderboard: Ha Na Jang. Jang was the biggest superstar on the tour, having won the previous year’s Player of the Year and money list titles. Two star rookies and Jang, all together in the final round – it promised to be an epic battle.

Baek at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters

On Sunday, Kim was for the most part out of it, leaving the battle to be waged between Jang and Baek. Baek struck first, clawing her way to a three shot lead. But at that point she made a double bogey, and the leaderboard was once again tight.

Baek awaits her next shot in the final round of the Nexen

On the 14th hole, Jang made birdie while Baek bogied. Now Jang had the one shot lead and seemed in control. But on the next hole, Jang inexplicably missed a short putt for birdie that would have put her up by two. Then on 16, she wailed her drive into the trees, and was not able to save par on the par 5.

Baek took advantage, drilling a 20 foot birdie putt to move into a one shot lead. On 17, Jang had another shot at birdie but again missed, so it all came down to 18. Jang put her approach closer to the flag, but Baek had a 20 foot birdie putt first to win. And she drained it, seizing the title before Jang could do a thing! Baek didn’t even make it to the hole to pick up her ball before she broke down in tears. The Super Rookie had won her first KLPGA title, and had faced down two of her biggest rivals to do it.

Baek drills the winning putt at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters

Baek begins to cry as her first victory on the KLPGA tour sinks in

Her first KLPGA trophy

Just when it looked like Baek was en route to the Rookie of the Year, however, she hit a speed bump. She missed the cut in her next event. Then at the next tournament after that, she seemed fine until a terrible second round 81 caused her to miss another cut! The next event after that was the Doosan Match Play, and who should Baek draw as her first round opponent? None other than her rookie friend/rival Min Sun Kim!

No way! Kyu Jung Baek draws her good friend Min Sun Kim as her first round opponent at the Doosan Match Play

It was a close match, but Kim managed to defeat Baek. Baek was clearly torn up about it, needing a little consolation from the very woman who had taken her down! Although Kim lost in the next round to In Gee Chun, she still earned enough points to overtake Baek for first place in the Rookie standings. It was incredible how quickly things had soured for the Super Rookie Baek.

Kim consoles a crushed Baek after their match, which Kim won

Just when things were starting to look dark, however, Baek dusted herself off and returned to her former glory. She managed a third place finish at the next event to return to the top of the rookie standings. And then came last week’s tournament, the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open.

Coming into the event, there were three players who seemed on a roll: the previous week’s winner, Yoon Kyung Heo, who had also finished third at the Match Play; Ha Neul Kim, who had two straight runner-up finishes; and Baek. Baek would be teamed with Kim in the first two rounds of the Lotte, and both golfers absolutely lit up the course. In the end, Baek had the first round lead following a 64, while Kim was second with a 65.

Baek during the first round of last week’s Lotte Cantata Ladies Open

Baek did not let up in round 2. While Kim struggled to a 72, the rookie star shot a 65 to cruise to a dominating 6 shot lead going into the final day. But the third day would prove to be more difficult than at first seemed likely. Baek was challenged by two superstars who both went ultra low: Hyo Joo Kim and Ha Na Jang, looking for payback from the loss to Baek the previous month. They started the day 7 shots back.

At first, everything went Baek’s way. She pitched in for birdie on the first hole, and was three under at the turn.

Baek drives in round 3

But Jang and Kim would not go away. Kim ran out of holes and wound up at 15 under in third place, but Jang kept making birdies. Baek made a bogey on the 16th thanks to a lipped out par save, dropping the margin to just two strokes. A few holes ahead, Jang was in the process of making birdie on the final hole. Could Baek keep her nerve and not give away the tournament?

Things are looking up for Baek after taking a huge lead at the Lotte Cantata

Indeed she could and did. On the par 3 17th, she saved her week with a brilliant iron shot to a foot for an easy birdie. When she made par on the last hole, she claimed her second career win by two strokes. With the win, she earned a ticket to next year’s Lotte Championship in Hawaii (this event is on the LPGA tour). It will be great to see the rookie star go toe-to-toe with the best players in the world!

Baek is congratulated by her rookie rivals Min Sun Kim (left) and Jin Young Ko (right)

Meanwhile, Baek became the first KLPGA rookie since Jiyai Shin in 2006 to win multiple events in her rookie season. Think about that: Hyo Joo Kim, In Gee Chun and So Yeon Ryu were only able to win once in their rookie years; Ha Neul Kim and Soo Jin Yang didn’t win at all in theirs. And the season is not even half over yet. It will be awesome to see what this superstar rookie does when the Majors start just a few weeks from now!

Baek with her second KLPGA trophy of 2014

Posted by: happyfan08 | April 9, 2014

2014 KLPGA Primer

It’s April, meaning it’s time for the 2014 Korean LPGA season to start in earnest. The KLPGA season is generally divided into three parts. In late December there are one or two events which count towards the following year. The season really starts in April, with many events from then until mid-June. Then, after a several week summer break, the season resumes with a bunch more events until November.

What can the fans expect to see on the KLPGA tour in 2014? Below is the annual KLPGA Primer, all you need to know to understand the players likely to be the prime movers on tour this season. Away we go!

The Big Bombers

The two players who dominated the winner’s circle and the money list last year were Ha Na Jang and Sei Young Kim. Both about the same age, they also were the two longest drivers on tour in 2013, tied for most wins on tour in 2013, and finished 1-2 on the money list.

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang during an interview this February

Ha Na Jang finally started to fulfill the promise she has shown ever since she was a teen amateur star at the end of the last decade. As a 15-year-old, she contended in several American US amateur tournaments. She did particularly well at the 2007 US Women’s Amateur, where among her match play victims were an up-and-coming teen named Lexi Thompson, college star and future LPGA player Tiffany Joh, and a future LPGA winner, MJ Hur. She eventually lost in the semifinals to Mariajo Uribe, who would go on to win the title.

Her first big splash, still as a high school student, came on the KLPGA in 2009, which was the year Hee Kyung Seo dominated the Majors, winning three of them and finishing second in the fourth one. But Seo had all she could handle from Jang in two of those Majors. The teen star contended right until the end both times, barely losing to the elegant superstar in the end.

With all that early success and her incredible length off the tee, Jang looked like she had a superstar career in the offing. She played mostly mini-tour events in 2010, her first year as a pro, and underwhelmed in her KLPGA rookie season of 2011. 2012 did not start much better, with Jang missing five of her first six cuts. Finally, towards the end of 2012, she won her first event, the year’s final Major to boot. She ended up 10th on the money list and looked poised to at last become the star she always seemed to be.

And that’s exactly what happened! Jang was dominant in 2013, winning another Major, the Hite Cup, and two other events beside. She won Player of the Year and led the tour money list, coming close to beating Jiyai Shin’s all time record for most money earned in a season. Without question, she was the top player on tour last year.

Jang wants to win all four major awards on the KLPGA this year (Player of the Year, Money List, Scoring Average and Most Wins)

She has continued to excel in limited action since then. There have been two 2014 KLPGA events already, both taking place last December, and Jang won the second of these, the Hyundai China Ladies Open, while finishing 6th at the other one, the Swinging Skirts in Taiwan. That event featured a field of many of the top golfers in the world. By the end of the year, Jang had risen to 14th in the world rankings, the highest ranking for any player outside the LPGA tour.

Jang has also finished tied for 7th at the LET event in China and tied for 14th on a sponsor’s invite at this year’s HSBC Women’s Champions, an LPGA event in Singapore. For awhile she pushed IK Kim for the fourth and final spot on the International Cup squad, but came up just short to the LPGA star in the end.

Jang had the most professional wins of any Korean in the world last year outside of Inbee Park. She will be the player to beat on the KLPGA in 2014!

Sei Young Kim

Sei Young Kim loves her Hanwha Classic trophy

Sei Young Kim’s road to stardom was very different from Jang’s. Like Jang, she is a very long hitter, and won three times on the KLPGA tour in 2013, including her first Major. Indeed, she is the defending champion at this week’s LotteMart Ladies Open. But unlike Jang, before 2013, Kim was a relatively obscure golfer who had not accomplished much professionally.

Kim was not nearly as consistent as Jang in 2013, but she won two of the most important events, which allowed her to amass a staggering 670 million won for the year. That total kept her atop the money list for much of the season. Her biggest win came at the Hanwha Classic. Six shots behind LPGA superstar So Yeon Ryu with 10 to play, Kim managed not one but two hole-outs for eagle (including a hole-in-one) to reel Ryu in and win in a playoff. The winner’s check for that event is the biggest on the KLPGA tour. The next week she beat rookie star In Gee Chun to capture the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship.

Kim had one more amazing highlight. At the LPGA’s Hana Bank, she led coming into the final hole, a par 5. Alas, she made bogey there and missed the playoff won by Amy Yang.

Because she had been so obscure before her breakout year, there are still some questions surrounding Kim. Is she really a big star with a long career ahead of her, or a flash in the plan? The KLPGA has seen several one season wonders of late, including the Player of the Year from 2011, Hyun Hwa Shim, who has never lived up to that great season since. Kim is the biggest question mark among all the players in this primer, and it will be interesting to see how she follows up her career best year.

The Sophomore Superstars

Last year, two rookies had a brilliant year-long battle for top Rookie honors. They will be back in 2014, doubtless ready to continue their rivalry for the fans to enjoy!

Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim came into 2013 as undoubtedly the most hyped new player in years. As a 16-year-old amateur she had already won on the KLPGA and JLPGA tours, in both cases producing dominating performances. It didn’t take long for Kim to get it done as a pro: in just her second event of her Rookie season, she outlasted defending champion Hye Youn Kim to win in China.

Needless to say, Kim had a huge lead in the Rookie of the Year race as the year started in earnest. But her rival In Gee Chun made sure that Kim never got even a minute’s rest all year. Kim proved up for the challenge. Although she would not win again in 2013, she did notch 14 top tens, coming up just shy of winning multiple times. Among her best near misses were a one shot loss to LPGA rookie Mirim Lee at the KG Edaily Ladies Open, a runner-up to Bo Kyung Kim at the E1 Charity Open, a final round tussle with In Gee Chun (which Chun won) at the Korean Women’s Open (Hyo Joo finished 6th), another runner-up to Ha Neul Kim at the MBN Kim Young Joo Golf Women’s Open, a 4th at the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship, and a 3rd at the year’s 4th Major.

Hyo Joo with a friend

Kim ended up winning the Rookie of the Year race when Chun was injured and missed the final two events of the year. She also claimed the low scoring title and finished fourth on the money list, while also coming within a couple of putts of stealing the Player of the Year award from Ha Na Jang.

Kim also notched a top ten at the LPGA event in Hawaii and a tie for fourth at the year ending Swinging Skirts tournament. Still only 18-years-old, expect Kim to continue to challenge for all the top awards on tour in 2014.

In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun is always keeping her ears open

The tall, super talented In Gee Chun, a year older than Kim, started her rookie season with nowhere near the preseason hype Kim received.   But after a few events, Chun established herself as a great player in her own right.

Chun turned pro in 2012 and played on the KLPGA’s minor league her first professional year. In 2013, her breakout came at the Doosan Match Play, where she went all the way to the final before losing to Ha Na Jang. Chun would not have to wait long for her winning moment, however. Matched in the final round of the year’s first Major, the Korean Women’s Open, with Kim and another teen star, Kyu Jung Baek, Chun seized the win with four straight birdies to finish the tournament. From that moment to the end of the year, Kim and Chun waged one of the most memorable Rookie battles in tour history.

Chun wound up the season with nine total top tens and no missed cuts (her worst finish was a tie for 33rd). She came within a putt of winning the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship, and also finished second to Ha Na Jang shortly after that at the Rush and Cash Classic. She ended the year third on the Money list.

Chun models her new Ping golfwear

Chun has continued to excel in limited action since. She missed the rest of the year due to injury, but returned to golf at the LET’s 2014 Mission Hills China Ladies World Championship, where she ended up tied with Ha Na Jang for 7th. Given this was an event featuring many top players, including four of the world’s top seven, it was an impressive result for her indeed.

Chun has quickly become a popular player with the fans in Korea. She is known over there as Dumbo, not because of her intelligence or the size of her ears, but because, like an elephant, her ears are always open as she absorbs everything that goes on around her. Expect the tall, quiet star with the big smile to keep her rise going in 2014!

The Other Returning Stars

Ha Neul Kim

Ha Neul Kim last month

Ha Neul Kim was the undisputed top player on the KLPGA tour in 2011 and 2012. In fact, she has been a star, perhaps the biggest of her generation, since she won the Rookie of the Year award back in 2007. She struggled quite a bit in 2013, especially at first, although in the end she still had a below average but not bad season.

Last year, her KLPGA campaign started terribly. During the first half of the season, she missed several cuts and did not make so much as a single top ten. It was a huge fall for a player who had been so dominant previously. She played in the US Women’s Open in the summer, however, and that turned her entire year around. She shot a first round 66 and stunned everyone by capturing the lead by the end of the day. It was not to last, but she still finished tied for 25th, a fairly good result.

Her performance at the Open renewed her confidence, and the second half of her year was much better. She won the MBN Kim Young Joo Golf Women’s Open by shooting a final round 63. Although that was her only win all year, she also finished second twice and wound up 11th on the money list.

Ha Neul last year

Kim is a star in every sense of the word, and more than any other player is the face of the KLPGA tour. She is very attractive and fashionable, with a bubbly personality that makes her extremely popular with fans. She also has the most wins of any active player, and has played on the tour far longer than most stars of her caliber would. Her success at the Open, however, motivated her to finally enter LPGA Q-School for the 2014 season. Alas, fate intervened. She was forced by KLPGA rules to be present at a title defense, and this clashed with the only LPGA qualifying event she could enter. So, Ha Neul will be on the KLPGA tour at least one more year, but this seems likely to be her final year in Korea.

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin Yang is known for her unusual fashion choices

Other than Ha Neul Kim, the longest standing and most successful star on the KLPGA tour is Soo Jin Yang. Yang was a rookie in 2009, and has won multiple events since then. She has been a fixture in the KLPGA top five since her second year on tour. Last year was a bit of an off year for her, but she still wound up 8th on the money list with one win and four third place finishes.

Like Kim, Yang is charismatic, attractive, and known for her fashion sense, although in Yang’s case the fashion tends towards the wilder extremes (the fans nonetheless rewarded her with the Most Fashionable Player award last season). Yang has stated that she hopes to play on the Japanese tour in the future, although exactly when she did not make clear. But it’s quite possible this will be her final year on the KLPGA, so enjoy it while it lasts!

Yoon Kyung Heo

Up-and-coming star Yoon Kyung Heo

In 2012, Yoon Kyung Heo established herself as one of the top players on tour with four second place finishes (but alas no wins!). She finally broke through with her first career win in 2013 at the Woori Ladies Championship. She also notched a second place and four other top tens and ended up tenth on the money list. Heo seems like a player who could make a big breakthrough in 2014.

The Rookies

This year there seems to be a particularly big crop of promising rookies coming into the league. Here are a few of the more notable ones:

Kyu Jung Baek

Kyu Jung Baek – the next big KLPGA star?

Baek, like many of the other Korean young guns, is a veteran of the Korean national team. Still a teenager and not yet a member of the league, she took the third round lead at the 2013 Korean Women’s Open, eventually finishing third. Her other memorable highlight of 2013 came at the Swinging Skirts in December, where she finished tied for fourth with Hyo Joo Kim, behind only three of the top women golfers in the world: Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu.

Having now joined the tour full time, she is already being hyped as the favorite for the Rookie of the Year award in 2014. She has already played a few international events this year, finishing 11th at the New Zealand Women’s Open and t-29th at the Volvik RACV Australian Ladies Masters.

Min Sun Kim

Min Sun Kim (right) poses with rookie rival Baek

Kim was a teammate of Baek’s on the Korean national squad. She is long off the tee and is being tipped as another possible star of the future. Kim scored a top five finish at the RACV Australian Ladies Masters this year.

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh

Oh was a big amateur star last year, having won a national Korean Women’s Amateur title among other things. She was also low amateur at the 2013 Korean Women’s Open. A little younger than the other mentioned rookies at barely 18, she has already been labeled Korean golf’s answer to figure skating star Yuna Kim. She’s signed several big endorsements and has the potential to become an important figure for the KLPGA on and off the golf course.

Jin Young Ko

Jin Young Ko

Ko is another 18-year-old with a ton of potential. She turned pro last July, and promptly won three events on the Jump tour, the KLPGA’s third tier developmental tour. She led the money list for that tour as well.

Earlier this year she signed a big sponsorship deal with Nefs and will be duking it out with the big girls in 2014.

Other names to watch:

Shin Ae Ahn

Shin Ae Ahn, the glamor girl of the KLPGA tour

Shin Ae ‘Sharon’ Ahn was the KLPGA Rookie of the Year in 2009, beating Soo Jin Yang among others. She had a great season in 2010, winning twice. But since then she has struggled to regain the form she showed in her first two seasons. Although she is not one of the top players on tour in terms of results, her looks and fashion style have made her consistently one of the most popular players over there. It remains to be seen whether she can return to the heights she once reached on the fairway, but she will be sure to garner a lot of attention while she tries!

Shin Ae Ahn

Hye Youn Kim

Hye Youn in January

Hye Youn Kim is perennially one of the best players on tour. Though not as consistent as the very top ladies, she usually manages to contend a few times a year, sometimes grabbing a win or two in the process. She has already finished second at the Hyundai China event this season.

Char Young Kim

Char Young Kim last year

Char Young Kim won three times in 2012, establishing herself as one of the top players at the time. But her follow-up year was not nearly as good. Not only did she not win, she barely even contended, with only one top ten all year. Kim, like Ahn, is a player who gets a lot of attention for her style and looks. She will be looking to bounce back from 2013 and prove she was not a one hit wonder in 2012.

Je Yoon Yang

Je Yoon Yang plays last Winter

Je Yoon Yang was the KLPGA Player of the Year in 2012, edging out Ha Neul Kim for that honor. But her 2013 season, like Char Young Kim’s, was fairly weak. She finished only 60th on the money list, although it seems like she missed a few events here and there and might have been injured. Yang is another player who will be looking to return to her former glory in 2014.

Shi Hyun Ahn

Shi Hyun Ahn en route to her first top ten in two years

Speaking of a comeback kid, perhaps no dark horse will be darker in 2014 than Shi Hyun Ahn. Ahn became a Cinderella at age 19 when she won the CJ 9 Bridges Classic to earn a tour card on the LPGA tour. She played in America for several years, winning the 2004 LPGA Rookie of the Year award in the process. But eventually she tired of life in the States and returned to Korea. She did not play on the KLPGA long before meeting a fashion model/TV personality named Marco (yes, he has one name). Ahn and Marco, a Korean from South America, fell madly in love and married. Ahn was already pregnant and had a baby soon thereafter. She retired for a while from golf.

The marriage did not go well, there were rumors of violence, and they seem to have separated. Ahn was given a sponsor’s exemption to a KLPGA tournament late last year, and surprised everyone by notching a top ten in her first golf action in nearly two years. The divorced 29-year-old mother quickly found an agent, and through him grabbed several lucrative endorsement deals. She will be back on tour full-time in 2014. No story would be sweeter than to see this hard luck star return to the top. But it will be just one of many intriguing storylines to follow as the KLPGA season kicks into high gear!

Shi Hyun Ahn in January

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 9, 2014

2013 SeoulSisters Awards (6 of 6): Rookie of the Year

Best Teen

And the Winner Is: Lydia Ko

Lydia Ko kisses the Swinging Skirts trophy, her first win as a pro

There are some great young talents in the game right now, but 16-year-old Lydia Ko continues to be the trailblazer.  Just this year she added three more professional wins to her resume, maintained her #1 status as an amateur until she turned pro, upon which time she quickly amassed several lucrative sponsorship deals.

Among the highlights of her year:

  • Lydia played her final event as an amateur back in January, where she bowed out in the second round in defense of her title at the Australian Women’s Amateur.
  • She won the New Zealand Women’ Open for her third pro title the week after she finished second in defense of her title at the New South Wales Open.
  • She shot a first round 63 at the LPGA’s Australian Women’s Open and finished third there behind Jiyai Shin.
  • She was low amateur in four of the five Majors she played this year.
  • She defended her title at the CN Canadian Women’s Open, winning by five shots.  It was her fourth career pro win.  The event was played on a different course than the one she won on in 2012.
  • She notched a top ten in Hawaii at the LotteMart, where she met her fellow teen phenoms Hyo Joo Kim and Ariya Jutanugarn (all of whom made top tens).
  • She turned pro via a Youtube video announcement late in the year.
  • She was given an exemption to the age restriction, allowing her to play on the LPGA tour in 2014.
  • She played her first event as a pro at the CME Titleholders, where she finished top 20.
  • She won her second event as a pro, the Swinging Skirts, facing down So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park in the final round.  It was her third pro win of the year.

Next year promises to be a massive one for the young Kiwi star!

Honorable Mention: Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim did not have the incredible year Ko had, but her year was nothing to sneeze at, either.  In her first year on the KLPGA tour, she won the tour’s Rookie of the Year award and title for lowest scoring average while winning once.  She finished fourth on the money list and second in Player of the Year points.  She notched 14 KLPGA top tens during the year and six additional top 20s.  All in all, Hyo Joo Kim really lived up to her billing as one of the most promising rookies to come down the pike in many years.

Minjee Lee

Minjee Lee with her winner’s plate from the Rene Erichsen Salver

Minjee Lee is a 17-year-old Australian Korean amateur who has been one of the top five best amateurs in the world for some time.  She had a banner year in 2013.  She won the Australian Women’s Amateur early in the season, and followed that by winning the Australian Girls title by eight strokes.  She became the first woman to hold both titles at once since 1975.

Minjee also led Australia to a win at the Queen Sirikit Cup, an annual tournament that pits the Pacific Rim countries against one another in women’s amateur golf team competition.  She also won the Renee Erichsen Salver Cup by twenty shots (!!).  She also finished third in the New South Wales Open just behind fellow amateur Lydia Ko.

In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun had a fabulous rookie year on the KLPGA tour.  The 19-year-old did not miss a cut all season, notching tons of top tens and a Major win at the Korean Women’s Open, the tour’s most important event.  She notched 9 total top tens, coming close to winning several more times.  Most notably, she finished runner-up to Ha Na Jang at the Doosan Match Play and the Rush and Cash Classic, and runner-up to Sei Young Kim at the KLPGA Championship (since that was the year’s second Major, she came one missed putt away from possibly winning the first two Majors of the season on the KLPGA).  She did not miss a cut all year, her worst finish a tie for 33rd.  She wound up finishing in the top five in Rookie of the Year, Scoring Average, money list and Player of the Year.  Not bad for a teen in her first year on tour!

Rookie to Watch in 2014

And the Winner Is: Mirim Lee on the LPGA

Mirim Lee

In last year’s Rookie to Watch award, I predicted the following:

But without any question, the rookie who looks poised to make the most noise in 2013 will not be playing full-time on the LPGA, but rather will be starting her professional career on the KLPGA.  That golfer is Hyo Joo Kim.

As I’ve already mentioned several times, Hyo Joo had a sensational rookie year on the KLPGA, and I suspect we’ll be hearing from her again shortly when I talk about the Rookie of the Year award…  But to be honest, that prediction was a bit easy.  Hyo Joo really looked like the only Korean golfer coming into the pro ranks last year with real star potential, and that she lived up to that potential does not show my Nostradamus-like abilities at their finest.

In 2014, there is little doubt that the rookie to beat on the LPGA tour will be world #4 Lydia Ko.  Ko already has two wins on tour as an amateur, and nearly won the Evian Championship for her first Major victory.  She is simply in a class by herself among rookies, and unless the stress of playing golf full-time proves harder for her to deal with than it should, it would be a real upset for her not to be next year’s star rookie.

Expanding our eyes beyond Ko, however, Mirim Lee is a talented rookie who should not be ignored, and is my choice for Rookie to Watch in 2014.  Lee earned her tour card by finishing second at Q-School, carding an 11 under par 61 in one of her rounds.  She has a strong history on the KLPGA tour, having won three events in her time there, including the 2012 Korean Women’s Open.  She finished 7th on the 2012 KLPGA money list, and managed a win at the 2013 KLPGA EDaily Ladies Open, where she outlasted star players Ha Na Jang and Hyo Joo Kim for the title.  She also scored a fourth place finish at the Korean Women’s Open in defense of her title.  Mirim spent much of the second half of the season away from Korea focusing on LPGA Q-School, but based on the ease with which she earned her card, it was time well spent.

Like many KLPGA stars that join the LPGA, she has a lot of experience winning in a professional environment against tough opposition.  But the big question will be how she responds to playing internationally, since she has relatively little experience doing that.  If she comes up to speed quickly (and I believe she will), expect her to make some noise before the end of the year.

Mirim after her third career KLPGA win last year

Honorable Mentions: Kyu Jung Baek, Min Sun Kim, Ji Hyun Oh on the KLPGA

The KLPGA will have three talented rookies joining the tour in 2014, and any or all of them could prove to be breakout stars by year’s end.

18-year-old Kyu Jung Baek is being hyped right now as the next great rookie on the KLPGA tour. She has lived up to her billing so far by notching a tie for 4th at the Swinging Skirts in December.  She spent 2013 playing on the KLPGA’s developmental tour, the Dream Tour.  But she still managed to play several events on the KLPGA tour, most notably the Korean Women’s Open, where she led after three rounds, played in the final group on Sunday and finished third.

Kyu Jung Baek is garnering a lot of early hype for the 2014 KLPGA season

Baek is 5′ 8″ tall and averages 260+ yards off the tee.

Min Sun Kim was a member of the same Korean National squad as Hyo Joo Kim and Kyu Jung Baek.  Kim is slightly taller than Baek (5’9”) and slightly longer off the tee (270+ yards).  Like Baek, she spent her time focusing on the Dream Tour in 2013, although she did not do as well as Baek when she tried her hand at KLPGA events.

Min Sun Kim

Then there’s 17-year-old Ji Hyun Oh. Oh was the low am at last year’s Korean Women’s Open and was 13th at the KLPGA’s Kumho Tire event a little after that. I believe she also won the Korean Women’s Amateur in 2013, and played on the Dream Tour in the Fall. She notched a win on that tour in mid-October.

Oh is already being called the ‘Yuna Kim of Women’s Golf’, presumably because she kind of looks like the Figure Skating star.

Ji Hyun Oh at last year’s Korean Women’s Open

Rookie of the Year

And the Winner Is: Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim at last year’s Korean Women’s Open

At the start of the year, everyone expected Hyo Joo Kim to run away with this title on the KLPGA tour.  She did in fact win it, but it turned out to be a season-long battle with In Gee Chun before she did it.  Chun in many ways deserves this title as much as Kim.  She did not miss a cut all year (Kim missed one), she notched a lot of top tens, beat Kim on the money list, and won a Major while Kim did not.  And Chun did not get to play as many events as Kim thanks to injury, so it’s possible the official KLPGA Rookie standings might have been very different had Chun been healthy for the final two events.

But Kim had more top tens than Chun, beat her in Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year points, and won the overall scoring title on the KLPGA to boot.  As well, Kim had better finishes when playing LPGA events.

Kim won one title on tour, the second event she played as a pro: the Hyundai China Ladies Open.  She notched 14 KLPGA top tens and six additional top 20s while missing just one cut.  And she had a top ten in Hawaii on the LPGA tour, plus another top five at the Swinging Skirts in December.

Honorable Mention: In Gee Chun

Most Improved Player

And the Winner Is: Sei Young Kim

Sei Young Kim

I was tempted to give this award to Inbee Park.  As great as her 2012 season was, she made an enormous improvement in her game in 2013.  She went from 2 to 6 wins, 0 to 3 Majors, made more money, won the Player of the Year, and in general was much improved.

But instead, I’m giving this award to a player who was barely on anyone’s radar in 2012, but became one of the most talked about KLPGA golfers in 2013: Sei Young Kim.

Sei Young Kim is a 20-year-old player who managed three wins on the KLPGA in 2013, tying her for most wins on tour.  Included in that total was a win at the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship, which was the second of back-to-back wins.  She also finished tied for third at the LPGA’s Hana Bank Championship, but nearly had much more to be happy about.  She came into the final hole tied for the lead, but wound up with bogey to just miss out on the playoff between countrywomen Amy Yang and Hee Kyung Seo.

Sei Young with her KLPGA Championship trophy

Prior to 2013, however, Kim was pretty far off the radar.  She finished 32nd on the money list in 2012, managing a few top tens here and there, but even her best finish was only a sixth place.  In 2011, her rookie year, she finished 40th on the money list, with, again, her best result a sixth place.

But Kim established herself right out of the chute in 2013.  In the very first KLPGA event played during the calendar year, Kim collected the win by making an eagle on the final hole she played.  She cooled down for most of the rest of the first half of the season, but when action started up in the late summer, she was back to her winning ways, collecting those back-to-back wins to vault to the top of the tour’s money list. She sat in that position for most of the rest of the season before Ha Na Jang rallied to take that title from her near the end of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Inbee Park, Chella Choi, Ha Na Jang

Most Controversial/Weirdest Moment

And the Winner Is: the debut of the Evian Championship as the fifth Major

Inbee enjoys the beautiful weather during round 1 of the Evian

Many flinched when the Evian Masters was elevated to Major status for the 2013 season without removing one of the other Majors.  Having five Majors instead of four introduced all sorts of problems and controversy, and the LPGA is still sorting it all out.

Firstly, having five Majors makes declaring a ‘career Grand Slam’ a real headache.  Does a player need all five Majors to have one?  What about the ladies who already had a four Major slam?  Do they now have their slams removed from their achievements?  The LPGA apparently even removed the career Grand Slam data from certain places on their website, showing even they had no clue what the new rules were.

Finally, the Commissioner stated that a Grand Slam meant winning four different Majors, meaning that Se Ri Pak could get one winning the Evian or the Nabisco but didn’t need both.  Of course, that didn’t please those who believe that a Slam means sweeping the table of all the existing Majors.

Naturally, the first year with this new system would also be the year that Inbee Park had a chance to win a calendar year Grand Slam, a feat no one thought was even remotely possible.  Writers spent as much time figuring out if Inbee winning the British (at St. Andrews, the home of golf!!) would give her the coveted Grand Slam, or if she had to win both remaining Majors to get that honor.  It was a needless aggravation that detracted from one of the greatest golf feats of modern times.

Then, when they finally played the Major, the bad weather severely impacted the tournament.  The officials jumped the gun by quickly deciding they could only play 54 holes.  54 holes – at a Major?  I can’t recall the last time that happened.  It made the entire event seem, well, not like a Major.

It all goes to show that it takes more than labeling something a Major to make it so.

Honorable Mention: Crow nearly eats Jee Young Lee’s ball at British Open

Nuff Said.  One of the weirdest moments of the year no doubt.  Jee Young was also involved in another controversy at the North Texas Shootout.  She her hit tee shot out-of-bounds, picked up her provisional, and had to return to the tee.  Meanwhile, the final group had played through.  Inbee and Carlotta Ciganda had to stand in the fairway and wait while Jelly hit a second drive out-of-bounds, then finally hacked her way through the hole, making a ten.  Ouch, what a humiliating way to end what had been before that a decent event for her.

Biggest Diss                        

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park Shut Out of AP Female Athlete of the Year Award

Inbee in March

It’s hard to understand what the AP was thinking when they didn’t give Inbee Park the award for Best Female Athlete of the Year.  It’s not like they haven’t rewarded LPGA golfers before.  Annika Sorenstam won this award three times in a row, Lorena Ochoa twice.  Even Se Ri Pak managed the feat, capturing it in her rookie year of 1998.  But the AP gave the award to Serena Williams instead.  It was Williams’ third win.  You can’t help but think that Inbee would have gotten this if she were American.  Williams certainly had a fine season, with two Majors and 11 wins, but that sort of performance, while impressive, is more common in women tennis.  Nobody had done what Inbee did this year in 60 years.  She was flat-out better and deserved the crown.

Even more outrageous, Inbee was not even in the top three of the AP voting.  The two other athletes named instead of Inbee were Missy Franklin, a swimmer who somehow got consideration even though this was not an Olympic year, and a WNBA rookie who was not even voted Rookie of the Year in her league.  The mind boggles.

The only assumption I can make is that Inbee didn’t get the award because she isn’t American, and because of that fact, her monumental achievement was not given the attention in this country it deserved.  Imagine for a minute Paula Creamer did what Inbee did (or even Brittany Lang).  Any chance she doesn’t get the AP Player of the Year?  And if the only difference between the two is that one is a popular American and one is a shy Korean, that doesn’t say much for the integrity of the award, does it?  Shouldn’t sportswriters, whose job it is to follow sports, know better?

By the way, Inbee was voted the Female Golfer of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America (in a landslide; she received 91% of the vote), so her achievements were not overlooked by all Americans who write about sports for a living!

Dishonorable Mention: Ha Neul Kim forced to defend title and miss LPGA Q-School

Ha Neul during a December fashion shoot

Ha Neul Kim has been on the KLPGA since 2007, when she won the tour’s Rookie of the Year.  She has been a star attraction all that time.  Most great players leave the tour after four years at most, but Kim had been drawing the fans in for 7 years.

So you think the tour would cut this great player a little slack, but that’s not how it worked out.  Here’s what happened.  She announced that she wanted to go to LPGA Qualifying School.  But they changed the way LPGA Q-School sectionals work.  It used to be the case they had two different sectionals, and those who qualified from those events went on to the finals.  Now, however, there is only one sectional, and if you miss it, you don’t get a chance to compete for a card for the following year.

As it turns out, Ha Neul was also the defending champion at the KLPGA’s Rush & Cash Charity Classic.  The KLPGA has a rule that a player MUST defend any title barring injury.  That event, however, fell the week before the only LPGA sectional.  Kim felt she could not play the sectional if she defended, and so she was forced to drop out of qualifying.

After all the great things she has brought to the KLPGA, you’d think they’d give her a pass this once.  It’s a crying shame, but Ha Neul will be back on the KLPGA in 2014, missing out on another year of LPGA play.

 Jamie Farr removed from Jamie Farr classic

Jamie Farr supported and hosted the Jamie Farr Classic on the LPGA tour for more than 20 years.  This year he retired, and the tour organizers responded by removing all trace of Farr from the event.  Not only was his name not in the event title, he was not to my knowledge invited to participate in any way, nor was he acknowledged on TV coverage or by the tournament.  What a pity.

Evian final round shown on Network TV but not in all areas

Another sign that the Evian is not considered a true Major is that it was not shown on TV in certain parts of the country.  The final hour and a half of the tournament was broadcast on network TV, but in Seattle, for instance, it was replaced by a garden show.  Thus, fans from that area were not allowed to watch the final holes of a MAJOR in any way.

Saddest News

Death of Ok Hee Ku

The memorial to Ok Hee Ku in July

The saddest story of the year was the unexpected death, at age 56, of Ok Hee Ku.  Ku was the first Korean to win a tournament on the LPGA tour when she captured the Standard Register Turquoise Classic in 1988.  Ku did not have nearly the impact on her sport that Se Ri Pak would a decade later, but her win on the LPGA tour in 1988 was still a very significant one, especially in retrospect, and you could argue she was the most important Korean golfer of the 20th century other than Pak in terms of her legacy.

In a way, if Se Ri was the Korean golf version of Elvis Presley, Ku was Bill Haley. She got there first, had a big impact, then faded from the Western golf scene, but her example set the table for what Se Ri and all the other great golfers who followed her would later accomplish.

During the Ku Memorial

Besides her important LPGA career, she also held the record for most career wins on the KLPGA with 20 until Jiyai Shin broke it a couple of years ago. That’s more wins than Kimmie, Se Ri, Na Yeon Choi or Hee Kyung Seo. She also had a great career on the JLPGA tour, where she was a top player as recently as 2005 and won 23 times. She was the first player inducted into the KLPGA Hall of Fame. As far as I know, only she, Pak, Shin and possibly Kimmie are in there now. Talk about an exclusive group!  She also was the President of the KLPGA in 2011 and 2012.

Her memorial service attracted many of the top Korean stars who were in Korea at the time, including Jiyai Shin, Mi Hyun Kim, Grace Park and Soo Yun Kang.

Mi Hyun Kim pays respects

Soo Yun Kang and Jiyai Shin shed tears

Grace Park

Other Nominees: Shi Hyun Ahn/Marco abuse stories

In June, there were allegations that the troubled marriage between TV talk show personality ‘Marco’ (yes, he uses one name) and golfer Shi Hyun Ahn had taken a dark turn.  Police were called to their home, and at the time Ahn claimed he had physically abused her (she later dropped charges).  Since they have a daughter together, it makes the situation even sadder.

I have since read stories implying they have divorced or at least separated.  Whatever the situation, I hope Ms. Ahn and her daughter will come out of it OK .

Jung Yeon ‘Sarah’ Lee arrested, convicted for DUI.

Sarah Lee was a longtime LPGA player who returned to play full-time in Korea a few years ago.  Back on March 29th she was stopped for DUI. Apparently she refused to give a breathalyzer test (she was asked four times), and acted belligerently towards the officer, swearing and even hitting him on the chest.

Lee was arrested and later released. She went to court, where the verdict came down last week: two years probation and 120 hours of community service.

Happiest News

And the Winner Is: Hee Kyung Seo gets hitched

The November bride Hee Kyung Seo

Hee Kyung Seo married her sweetheart Jung Hoon Kook, 34, on November 30th.  They planned to honeymoon in Maui.  Congratulations to the Fashion Model of the Fairways!

Among those who came to the ceremony were good friends Ha Neul Kim and Inbee Park.

The Original Supermodels of the Fairways, Seo and Ha Neul Kim

World #1 Inbee Park arrives for the wedding

Another Winner: Kyeong Bae gets hitched!

Kyeong Bae

Longtime KLPGA and LPGA mainstay Kyeong Bae also tied the knot in 2013.  Her marriage was December 7th.  Congratulations to her!

KB interviewed in July

Most Touching Moment

And the Winner Is: Grace returns for one last tournament at Hana Bank

Grace Park during her final tournament as a pro, the Hana Bank

When Grace Park retired from the game in 2012, it all happened so quickly that her longtime fans had little time to say goodbye.  So, Hana Bank gave her one more chance to play at this year’s Hana Bank.  She was paired with Se Ri Pak and longtime friend Cristie Kerr.  It was great to see Grace in action one final time!

Old friends Se Ri Pak and Cristie Kerr give Grace a photo of her most iconic moment, her Major win at the 2004 Kraft Nabisco

It’s About Time Award

And the Winner is: Amy Yang wins on the LPGA tour

Amy wins at last! Chella Choi congratulates her

In 2006, Amy Yang won the ANZ Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour (yes, I know Australia is not in Europe; work with me!).  She thus became the youngest woman to ever win a professional event (a record since smashed by Lydia Ko).  Not long thereafter, Yang turned pro and joined the European tour, where she won several more times.  When she joined the LPGA full-time in 2009, many expected her to quickly establish herself as a top player on tour.

That she did.  With her length and talent, she was particularly adept at Majors.  But there was one problem: Yang was not winning.  Even when she played brilliantly, like at the 2012 US Women’s Open, where she was four shots better than the next player on the leaderboard, she still didn’t get the trophy – at that event, Na Yeon Choi was even better, and Yang finished second.

For years, she has been known as the best Korean on tour never to win, but that came to an end in Korea at the 2013 Hana Bank championship.  When she dropped her birdie putt in the playoff to beat Hee Kyung Seo and claim her first title, Yang ended nearly five years of futility.  Here’s hoping the next win comes a lot quicker!

The trophy

Honorable Mention: Lydia Ko turns pro

Boy, talk about a long overdue move!  Lydia Ko had won four professional events as an amateur before she finally turned pro in October of 2013.  Had she been a pro, she would have pocketed well over a million dollars for her efforts.  She’s already starting to make up for lost time; just in winnings since turning pro, she has earned over $100,000, and that’s not including endorsements.  It would have not been too absurd for Ko to have turned pro at the start of last year when she won the NSW Open, but certainly by the time she collected the CN Canadian Women’s Open later that year, there was no doubt she could make a living swinging a stick.  Anyways, at least she’ll never have to answer the question about when she is turning pro again!

Korean wins Player of the Year on LPGA

Inbee Park will forever be the first Korean who won the coveted LPGA Player of the Year award

The single most overdue achievement for the Koreans has at last been done!  When Inbee Park secured the Player of the Year award, it ended 15 years of trying since Se Ri Pak’s Rookie year breakthrough started the Korean Boom.

Pak probably should have won the thing in 1998, her rookie year, but the weight of expectations ground her down, allowing Annika Sorenstam to sneak in at the end of the year and win it, despite having 0 Majors to Pak’s 2.  The biggest missed chance, though, came in 2009.  Jiyai Shin had the lead in the race much of the year, but Lorena Ochoa came on strong at the end.  It literally came down to the final shot of the year.  Shin needed a birdie on her final hole to move high enough in the standings to close out Ochoa, but she missed by inches and Ochoa beat her by a single point.

It wasn’t easy for Inbee in 2013, either.  After establishing a seemingly insurmountable lead by July, Park slumped, and Suzann Pettersen began chipping away at the advantage.  Park finally stood up to her, finishing fourth at Lorena’s event to finally secure the long desired title.

Most Fashionable

And the Winner Is: Je Yoon Yang

The Korean ladies are not only great golfers, they are also stars in their fashion choices on the fairways.  In fact, each year the KLPGA gives out a ‘Best Dresser’ award at its yearly awards banquet, chosen by the fans.  You can bet there are many golfers on that tour dying to grab that accolade.

The past few years, KLPGA star Ha Neul Kim has dominated our Best Dresser award.  I could easily give it to her again this year: her clothes seem to me to present a perfect mix of athletic, beautiful and fashion forward.  But for the sake of variety, I’ve decided to look elsewhere this year.  Still, we tip our caps to Ha Neul and her continued sense of style!

Ha Neul at the Hanwha

Major Fashion at the Hite Cup

Ha Neul chips at the ADT CAPS

The Best Dresser on the KLPGA tour this year, as voted by the fans, was Soo Jin Yang.  Soo Jin’s style is definitely a bit more out there.  When it works, she can look quite good.

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin at the year’s fourth Major

At the Korean Women’s Open, where, as a former champ, she got a courtesy car for the week

But in my opinion, her look is sometimes a bit too outré to really work on most fairways.  It’s always fun to see what she is going to wear, but too often it’s not ‘golf’ enough.

One of Soo Jin’s wilder outfits. Seussical!

The hat is wild!

Hard to top this one!

Another popular player is Shin Ae Ahn.  Ahn’s look tends to emphasize the sexy side of the equation.  That works to a degree, and certainly male fans don’t complain, but I think the ideal look is a bit more demure.  Still, far be it from me to pass up more hits on my blog, so here are a few samples of Miss Ahn’s outfits.

Go For It! Not sure the ‘words on the derriere’ look really works for the golf course.

Is this look pushing the envelope a bit too much?

Shin Ae generates a lot of controversy for the briefness of her skirts/skorts, as seen here.

On the LPGA, I think the player who does fashion the best is So Yeon Ryu.  Consider this an honorable mention for this award.  Here are some samples.

Dramatic black and white top from the JLPGA’s Salonpas Cup

Ryu was on a roll at the Salonpas Cup. Here’s another nifty look.

So Yeon shot a blistering 65 in the final round of the Nabisco, and wore this nifty outfit while doing it!

So Yeon lost the Hanwha Classic, but this black and red outfit was a winner.

My Fashion Star for 2013 is the KLPGA’s Je Yoon Yang.  She isn’t as out there as Soo Jin Yang, as sexy as Ahn or as consistently fashionable as Ha Neul, but her look just works for her, and I find her to be quite striking when she picks the right outfit, which is often.  So, congratulations to Je Yoon Yang for the Seoul Sisters Best Dresser award!

Jumping to get a look at her shot. Love the socks!

Candid shot of Je Yoon from last May

Green is a great look on her

From the EDaily

This yellow patterned skirt is really cool

Basic black and white

Even when freezing she pulled together a compelling look

From the Swinging Skirts in Taiwan

Round of the Year

And the Winner Is: Ha Na Jang, round 4, Hite Cup

Ha Na Jang destroyed the field at the year’s third KLPGA Major

In 2009, Ha Na Jang was a teenage amateur star who challenged the KLPGA top guns at two Majors.  The first one of these was the Hite Cup, where Hee Kyung Seo prevented her from possibly getting the win.

Jump ahead four years, and Jang was now a big star on the KLPGA and Seo was a visiting player from the LPGA.  After three rounds, they were tied for the lead at the Hite Cup and played together in the final round.

Seo got close several times in 2013 but couldn’t get the win

This time, Jang left nothing to chance.  She holed out for eagle on hole three, then followed that with one of the most blistering displays of golf all year.  She made birdie on six of the next seven holes, while Seo played basically even par golf until a double on 10.  By that time, Jang had increased her lead from nothing to ten strokes.  The win was a foregone conclusion after that.

Honorable Mentions:

Na Yeon Choi, 67 at British Open, round 2

Na Yeon Choi shot a 67 at St. Andrews in the worst weather of the day, a performance perhaps just as amazing as her great third round that led to her US Women’s Open win in 2012.  Indeed, her British score was almost as many strokes better than the average score in those conditions as her unreal round from last year.

Mirim Lee shoots 61, round 3, Q-School

Mirim Lee celebrates her win at the EDaily on the KLPGA early in 2013

Mirim Lee was soundly thrashed at LPGA Q-School by Jaye Marie Green, who produced a 29 under par total en route to a ten stroke ‘win’ at that event.  But Lee finished second there at 19 under, and easily earned her tour card for 2014.  In the process, she shot a third round 61, which beat Green’s 62 for round of the week.  It was also the lowest score ever shot at Qualifying School, according to the LPGA’s website.  Nifty!

In Gee Chun, final round, Korean Women’s Open

In Gee Chun from June

In Gee Chun was fast establishing herself as the only rookie capable of challenging Hyo Joo Kim for the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year award.  The two teen stars were paired together in the final round of the Korean Women’s Open.  Kim struggled, Chun was in position to win, but the player who seemed ready to capture the title was 20-year-old So Yeon Park, who established a several shot lead on the front nine and held onto it tenuously.

For 14 holes, Chun played steadily, but starting on 15, she made her move.  She made four straight birdies to end her week, catching and passing Park on the last one to win the Major title by a shot.  She would push Kim for the top Rookie title the rest of the year.

Hee Young Park,  61, 3rd round at Manulife

Hee Young Park from March

Hee Young Park had a lot of ‘Rocket’ moments at the Manulife, but her third round 61 might have been the greatest.  It was not only the lowest round of her career, but the lowest a Sister achieved on the LPGA tour in 2013.

Lydia Ko mega low at Aussie Open round 1

Playing with world #1 Ya Ni Tseng in round 1, Ko electrified the crowd by producing a 10 under par 63 to take the lead.  She ended up finishing third.

Ha Neul Kim at MBN runs up leaderboard, catches and blows away competition.

Ha Neul en route to her only win of 2013

Ha Neul Kim had an unusually weak start to her KLPGA season in 2013.  Coming off two straight years as the leading money winner on tour, she suddenly found herself outside of the top ten week after week.  During the tour’s summer break, she played the US Women’s Open, where she led after the first round and ended up tied for 25th, a great performance.  This seemed to reenergize Kim, and when she return to action in Korea in late summer, her great game returned with her.

Kim got her only win of the season at the MBN Kim Young Joo Golf Women’s Open in late August.  Ha Neul played steadily in this low scoring affair, and after three rounds was four shots behind leader Sei Young Kim.  But she started the fourth round on an incredible tear, making birdie on 7 of her first 12 holes, knocking it stiff time after time.  By the time that stretch was done, she was well in the lead, and despite a late challenge from Hyo Joo Kim, went on to win the tournament.

Inbee round 1, Swinging Skirts

Inbee returned to her early season form in her last few events of the year.  At her final event of 2013, she shot a 9 under par 63 in round 1 to take a lead, but struggled a bit after that and wound up third.  Still, it was one of her best rounds of the year.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 6, 2014

2013 SeoulSisters Awards (3 of 6): Shot of the Year and more

Clutch Performance of the Year

And the Winner Is: Inbee collects herself and wins LPGA Championship

Inbee Park during round 4 of the LPGA Championship

Inbee Park could scarcely have started the 2013 season better.  She had already won the year’s first Major, and after three and a half rounds at the year’s second Major, the Wegman’s LPGA Championship, she was in a perfect position to make it two for two.

But due to bad weather, the final 36 holes of this tournament were played on Sunday, and as the final nine holes wore on, it was clear that Inbee was running on fumes.  She was missing fairways right and left, deadly on this particular course.  Several players had finished their days following great rounds, setting a bar below which Park could not dip.  Somehow (she called it ‘a miracle’) she was able to hang on and end her day tied for the lead with Scot Catriona Matthew.  But now she would have to play a playoff with a woman who had just shot a 68 in her own final round.

In the few minutes between ending her regulation play and starting the playoff, Park regrouped. She told herself that she was going to hit the fairway on the next drive no matter what. Hitting the fairway became her sole purpose in life at that moment. As further motivation, her caddie promised to buy her a dinner every time she hit the fairway during the playoff.

Inbee throws the ball following her win

Remarkably, when the playoff started, it was Matthew who struggled, while Park was suddenly on her game.  They played three playoff holes, with Park hitting two fairways and missing the third by a foot.  Matthew, meanwhile, was the one missing the short grass.  On the third hole, Matthew wound up in the heavy stuff, and her third shot did not reach the green.  She wound up with a bogey, and Inbee sank an 18 foot birdie on the same hole to wrap up the title and her second straight Major.  It was one of the most amazing turnarounds this season, and it all was due to Park’s mental fortitude and ability to focus on the task at hand and forget her previous struggles.  In other words, it was the very definition of ‘clutch’.

Major trophy #2 of 2013

Honorable Mention: Hee Young Park, final round, Manulife

Hee Young Park’s second career LPGA trophy

Hee Young Park was involved in a titanic battle for the crown at the Manulife Classic in July.  The course was playing very easy, and even after shooting a career low 61 in round 3, she still found herself losing ground to Angela Stanford and Catriona Matthew (again!) in the final round. But Park’s nickname is Rocket for a reason: when she gets her game in gear, she can rocket up the leaderboard like few in the game.  And that’s exactly what she did in Ontario.  Park wound up making birdie on 7 of her final 8 holes, including all three holes in the playoff.  Her final score of 26 under par is the lowest total four round score against par ever achieved by a Korean golfer on the LPGA tour, breaking the record of 25 under set by Se Ri Pak way back in 2001 in Phoenix.  It was an absolutely blistering display of what makes her great, and in the end she needed every one of those birdies to get the win.

Inbee rallies at the end of the year for two straight top fives to win POY.

Inbee Park, her fiance, and the Player of the Year trophy

Inbee struggled after winning the US Women’s Open in late June.  In fact, she would not make another top ten for several months.  While she languished, first Stacy Lewis, then Suzann Pettersen, made runs at her position atop the Rolex Rankings and atop the Player of the Year standings.  Inbee wanted desperately to be the first Korean to win the Player of the Year on the LPGA tour, and she felt it slipping away.

Finally, in the penultimate event of the year, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Inbee knew what she had to do: beat Pettersen.  She had not finished ahead of the Norwegian in some time, but Pettersen was now the only person who could deny her the POY.  To make matters more interesting, the two were paired together in the final round, and both were in contention for the title.  Neither won, but Inbee managed to dig deep and finish with a 69 in fourth place, one shot ahead of Pettersen.  It was all she needed to claim the Player of the Year.

She still had to worry about losing the #1 ranking and the money list lead, but the next week, at the CME Titleholders, she finished fifth, ahead of both Pettersen and Lewis, the only two players who could prevent her from winning the money list.  For good measure, she threw in a third place finish at the non-LPGA event the Swinging Skirts in December, which padded her Rolex lead even more.

It was a clutch way to end a trying year for her.

Biggest Disappointment

And the ‘Winner’ is: Na Yeon Choi and Hee Young Park let the British Open slip between their fingers

Na Yeon Choi at St. Andrews

Na Yeon Choi had a lackluster 2013 by her high standards.  After winning at least twice most years since breaking through in 2009, she did not manage a single win in 2013.  She did come close at the HSBC Women’s Champions in March, but just missed a few too many makeable birdies when it counted most.

But the stars really seemed to be aligning for Na Yeon at St. Andrews, where the Ricoh Women’s British Open was contested in 2013.  Inbee Park, trying for her fourth straight Major, was done in by pressure and the course.  Na Yeon shot a fantastic second round 67 to move herself into the final group.  The Koreans had won five straight Majors and seemed poised to make it six.

The first problem came when bad weather forced the postponement of round 3.  Once again, they would play 36 holes on Sunday at a Major in 2013.  Still, Choi continued to shine as the action wound on.  Her strong play earned her a three shot lead with just six holes to play.

Choi hits an iron at the British Open

Meanwhile, Hee Young Park was also having a great week and looked like she might be able to collect her first Major trophy.  But Hee Young hit a roadblock when she made three straight bogies and had to play from both the notorious Hell Bunker AND the Road Bunker.  Despite all those struggles, she hung in there until the end, when her playing partner Stacy Lewis made two straight improbable birdies to knock Park out of the running.  It was a great week for her, and her best ever Major finish, a tie for second; but oh, how close to a win it was!

Hee Young Park had a roller coaster final day, but still notched her best ever Major finish

Choi looked like she was going to make all that academic, but she also began to make bogies on the final few holes and slid back towards the field.  On the 17th hole, she needed to make par to stave off the charging Lewis, but made a crushing bogey.  She wound up tied with Hee Young for second, losing for a second time in 2013 to Lewis (she also lost to her at the HSBC).

Park’s loss was sad but understandable; she had never been in that position before.  But Choi had a lead AND had won a Major the previous year.  She should have been able to avoid the kind of mistakes that cost her the title.  Choi was winless the rest of the season.

Honorable Mention: So Yeon Ryu loses Hanwha thanks to extraordinary luck

So Yeon Ryu was the defending champion of the KLPGA’s Hanwha Classic in 2013, and although she was no longer sponsored by Hanwha, still wanted the win badly.  She had yet to win anywhere in 2013 when she arrived at the event in September.

By the third round, So Yeon Ryu had firm control at the Hanwha Classic

She dominated most of the week, and with ten holes to play had a six shot lead.  Certainly the win was hers for the taking.  But at that moment, Sei Young Kim began playing unearthly golf.  She started her run by making a hole-out eagle on the 9th hole. Ryu made birdie, though, so the lead was still five.

The lead remained five with five holes to play. Ryu had a brief hiccup when she missed the green on the par 5 14th and couldn’t get up and down, reducing her lead to 4. On the next hole, she had to scramble a bit, but made par. But Kim made birdie, and now the lead was three.

Ryu in round 4

Still, a three stroke lead with three to go seemed secure. When Kim missed the fairway on 16 and was in trouble, while Ryu striped it perfectly, things looked good again. But Kim smashed her approach from there and ran it improbably up the green to ten feet, after which Ryu overshot the green and wound up in the rough. Uh oh.

Not to worry. Ryu got up and down, Kim missed the birdie, and they both walked off with pars. The lead was now 3 with two to go.

Then Kim stepped to the par 3 17th and made a hole-in-one! Her second hole out from the fairway in less than nine holes! Ryu missed the green, but still got it up and down for par. The lead was now only one.

So Yeon Ryu and her chaser, Sei Young Kim

Kim’s second on the par 5 final hole ended up in trouble, while Ryu’s was perfect. But again, Kim somehow punched her third onto the green, while Ryu was short. In deep rough, So Yeon chipped to four feet and had to watch and wait while Kim missed her birdie chance. Now Ryu had a four footer for par to win. Which, of course, lipped out.  Tie game.

Ryu would go on to lose a one hole playoff, probably too shell-shocked to believe it had come to that.  This disappointment wasn’t at as important a tournament as the Ricoh, so it doesn’t win this award, but this loss has to be the most disappointing from the pure standpoint of how dominant Ryu had been all week and how much luck was involved for Kim to get the trophy.

So Yeon was disappointed but still congratulated the winner Kim

Shot of the Year

And the Winner Is: Jiyai Shin hits pitch-in birdie from behind sign, final round, ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

How sweet it is! Jiyai Shin collected the Australian Open title thanks to a brilliant pitch shot

The situation: Jiyai Shin was locked in a fierce battle with teen star Lydia Ko for the title in Australia.  Ko had won the previous week’s New Zealand Women’s Open and was looking for a matching Aussie Open win.  Meanwhile, world #1 Ya Ni Tseng was charging hard.  By the time they reached the 14th hole, the battle was at its height.  Shin hit a poor approach that nestled into deep rough next to an advertising sign.  The sign partially blocked her view of the green, and she would have to nestle up against it to hit her third shot.  At that point, Ko had caught Shin and was tied with her, while Tseng was just one shot back.

An up-and-down for par from there would have been amazing enough, but Shin hit a high, arcing pitch that plopped gently onto the green and rolled right into the hole for birdie!  From that point on, Shin had the momentum, and she went on to collect the crown, with Tseng finishing second and Ko third.

Honorable Mention: Sei Young Kim hole in one on 17th hole, Hanwha Classic

See also Biggest Disappointment – Honorable Mention for more details.  Sei Young Kim was three shots behind So Yeon Ryu with two holes to play at the Hanwha Classic.  She proceeded to make a hole-in-one on the par 3 17th, her second hole-out for eagle during that round.  She went on to win the event in a playoff.

Amy Yang approach in playoff, Ha Na Bank

Amy Yang put herself into trouble off the tee during the playoff with Hee Kyung Seo at the Hana Bank.  She hit a poor second as well, but her third shot was magic, putting her close enough to make a straightforward birdie for the win a few minutes later.

Inbee Park, winding hilly birdie putt, round 3, US Women’s Open, to end bogey train

This is the putt of the year on the LPGA tour, hands down.  Inbee Park, a magician with a putter, was leading the US Women’s Open during round 3 when she hit a rough patch.  Without particularly playing poorly, she made three straight bogies.  On the 14th hole, she put her approach on the top level of a very undulating green, with the flag alas on the bottom level.  That putt was going to have a lot of speed, and a three putt (and fourth bogey) seemed a very likely proposition.  But Inbee read the putt to perfection, it rolled down the hill at just the right pace, tracked perfectly to the hole and dropped in.  The resulting birdie saved her tournament.  Not a single LPGA highlight package for 2013 is complete without showing this magical putt!

Most Dramatic Hole

And the Winner Is: Final hole, Honda Thailand, where Ariya Jutanugarn messed up a sure win with a triple bogey.

Inbee Park was in the clubhouse, two shots behind teen wunderkind Ariya Jutanugarn.  The event was the Honda LPGA Thailand, and Ariya had a chance to not only become the first Thai player to win an LPGA event, but to do it in her home country.  The atmosphere was electric.  On the final par 5, all the long-hitting Ariya had to do was make bogey and the win was hers.

Her first shot was OK.  The only play from there was to lay up, get on the green in three (maybe four), and give a great trophy acceptance speech.  Instead, Ariya decided to go for the green in two.  Her approach wound up in a fairway bunker, plugged.  She had to take a drop from within the bunker to get a shot to play.  She overshot the green from there, hit a poor chip back, then three putted for a triple bogey 8.  Without playing another shot, Inbee went from being the runner-up to the winner.

Honorable Mention: Final hole, Hana Bank. 

Amy Yang can’t believe she has finally won the Hana Bank title

Hee Kyung Seo came close to winning, but it was another playoff loss for her

The par 5 18th hole at the Hana Bank was the scene of a lot of drama this year.  First Michelle Wie reached the greenside rough in two shots, got close to the hole with her third, and made birdie to post an 8 under total.  Sei Young Kim, a KLPGA star, got to 9 under, where she still was when she reached the final hole.  But she hit her approach into deep rough near the green, and her pitch did not get to the green.  She made bogey and fell into a tie with Wie.  Meanwhile, both Amy Yang and Hee Kyung Seo made  clutch birdie putts to move to 9 under, eliminate Wie and Kim, and force a playoff with each other. Yang made the winning birdie putt on the first playoff hole after hitting a great approach to set herself up.

Bahamas hole where hitting off-line ends up on beach

At the 2013 Pure Silk Bahamas, rain so affected the event that they were forced to play only 12 of the 18 holes of the course, and thus changed the order of the holes to accommodate this new setup.  The second to last hole they played was extremely dramatic.  On the right was deep rough, but on the left was a wall beyond which was a beach bordering the ocean.  It was possible to hit over the wall and cut the corner, making the hole shorter, but if you didn’t carry it far enough, you’d be hitting your next shot off the sand next to someone’s sand castle.  It was fascinating watching the players struggle here.  Some ended up in the sand, some in the big weeds on the right, some in the gnarly rough near the wall.  Il Hee Lee cut the corner successfully and went on to win the tournament.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 3, 2014

2013 SeoulSisters Awards (2 of 6): Welcome Back, KLPGA Awards

Best Korean Confrontation

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun vs. Hyo Joo Kim all year

In Gee Chun vs. Hyo Joo Kim was the best yearlong Korean battle on any tour

Fans of the KLPGA tour were treated to a fantastic battle for Rookie of the Year on that tour in 2013, as two players jockeyed week after week for control of that title.  What made it all the more fun is, it didn’t look like it would be that way at the start of the season.  Coming into the year, Hyo Joo Kim had all the hype behind her.  She had just turned pro and signed the biggest rookie endorsement deal since Se Ri Pak.  Everyone expected her to win the Rookie of the Year, and in the end, that’s exactly what she did.  But she sure had to earn it, thanks to another teen and former national squad teammate of Kim’s named In Gee Chun.

At first, everything went Kim’s way.  She won the 2012 Hyundai China Ladies Open, only her second start as a rookie on tour.  Hyo Joo kept up the barrage early in the season, nearly winning the EDaily before a chip in by Mirim Lee allowed her to take it.  By late May, Kim had nearly double the rookie points Chun had.

Hyo Joo Kim wore a funny hat and still won her first KLPGA title as a member in late 2012

But then Chun had her breakout event at the Doosan Match Play.  She made it all the way to the final, where she duked it out with Ha Na Jang all day.  It was not until hole 16 where, all square, Chun hit a long birdie putt too hard and missed the par to go one down.  She wound up losing 2 down to Jang.  But the second place finish ignited her career and started her climb up the rookie standings.

In Gee Chun jump started her year at the Doosan Match Play

Hyo Joo looked poised to win the E1 Charity Open, but Bo Kyung Kim, who had not won in five years, somehow outlasted the rookie star.  Still, the second place finish (compared to 16th for Chun) allowed her to gain back some of her rookie race lead.

In late June, the KLPGA played the year’s first Major and most important tournament, the Korean Women’s Open.  The final round featured a final group pairing of three teen stars: Kyu Jung Baek, Chun and Kim.  Chun stared down Kim, who finished sixth, then ripped off four birdies in the final four holes to catch the leader So Yeon Park and grab the trophy.  For the first time all year, Chun was within 100 points of Kim in the Rookie standings, and had moved into the top five in scoring average and money list as well.  Game on!

In Gee in tears after capturing the Korean Women’s Open trophy

Although neither rookie won again in 2013, both players produced some great results as they fought it out for top honors among the newcomers.  Chun was in it almost to the end at the Nefs Masterpiece, but faltered at the last minute and finished tied for 11th .  The next event, Kim nearly won, finishing second; but Chun finished 6th to keep her rival close.  At the year’s second Major, Chun was in it until the final hole, when she missed a must-make putt to finish second.  Kim finished 4th.

And so it went, week after week, round after round.  It seemed like each week, Chun had a better total than Kim had had the week before, but Kim was able to do just well enough to maintain her lead.  The gap got as small as 38 points, with the two having over 1500 points each at the time.  But the rivalry finally ended at the year’s penultimate event, the ADT-CAPS.  Paired together with Kim in the first round, Chun began to feel neck pains as the round progressed, and finally had to drop out of the tournament with a neck injury after nine holes.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be a season ending injury, and so the great battle ended with Chun unable to continue and Kim winning the Rookie of the Year by default.  Still, every indication is that these two will be rivals with each other for years to come.

Hyo Joo Kim meets the press

In Gee Chun had a great 2013

Honorable Mentions: Hee Kyung Seo vs. Amy Yang, Ha Na Bank

Both players made clutch birdie putts on the final hole to force a playoff with each other, but Amy hit a great approach and drained the birdie to win the event.

Inbee Park vs. So Yeon Ryu, Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

So Yeon had an untimely four putt in the final round to let Inbee Park back into the event.  They wound up in a playoff, which Park won in one hole when Ryu missed the green with her approach.

So Yeon Ryu vs. Sei Young Kim, Hanwha Classic

Ryu had this one in the bag, but on the final ten holes, Kim started dunking eagles from the fairway, including a hole-in-one on the 17th hole.  Ryu lost in a one-hole playoff.

Most Dominating Performance

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park, Kraft Nabisco final round

Inbee Park putts at the Kraft Nabisco

Inbee Park played brilliantly the entire week of the year’s first Major.  After the third round, she was in such a nice position on the leaderboard that only one player, Lizette Salas, was anywhere close to her.  Salas blew up on the very first hole in round 4, however, and from there Inbee sailed to a victory, never seriously worrying about being caught all day.

Honorable Mention: Lydia Ko, final round, CN Canadian Women’s Open

Lydia Ko started the final day of the CN Canadian Women’s Open in a tight battle for the crown with Solheim star Caroline Hedwall and #2 in the world Suzann Pettersen.  But in a matter of a few holes, she had put both those players on ice.  She seemed to be in complete control as she cruised to a dominating 5 shot win.

Cinderella of the Year

And the Winner Is: Il Hee Lee, Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic

Il Hee Lee at the LPGA Award show in November. She had a breakout season with her first career win

Il Hee Lee already was having a strong season on the LPGA tour leading up to her first win at the inaugural Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic.  Just a few weeks before that event, she chalked up a tie for 3rd at the Kingsmill Championship.  But still, she got her first career win after relatively few times in contention, and so earns the 2013 award for Cinderella of the season.

The Bahamas win was not an easy one.  The rains were so bad that the course was largely underwater as the week started.  The course superintendent was not able to get more than 12 holes playable, so the tournament went with the unique idea of playing three 12-hole rounds for a total of 36 holes for the week.

Il Hee in the Bahamas

Some players had a hard time adjusting.  Inbee Park, already the #1 player in the world thanks to her great play earlier in the season, missed her only cut of the year at this event.  But Lee played well all week.  In the final round she was paired with two Korean stars and thoroughly outdid them.  Perhaps the best moment of her week came on the penultimate hole.  The hole sat right next to the beach, and several players ended up taking their second shots from the sand right next to the ocean.  Lee hit a great drive that just cleared the sand and landed on the fairway, cutting a significant amount of distance off the hole by taking that bold path.  Later she had to deal with a bad squall, left her birdie putt six feet short of the hole, but still nailed a clutch par save when she needed it most.

She played the entire week with an ear-to-ear grin that made it easy to root her on.  Her reward, besides the Rolex watch, was getting drenched not in champagne but in shaving cream.  Which seems appropriate given the title sponsor of the event made that product!  Well done, Il Hee Lee!

Thumbs up from Il Hee after she was shaving creamed following her victory

Honorable Mention: Na Ri Lee wins in Japan (twice!)

Na Ri Lee is far from the top Korean player playing in Japan; she might not even be the top Korean player named Na Ri on that tour.  But she sure played well when it counted in 2013, and benefitted as well from being in the right place at the right time to claim two wins there!  At the Nichirei Ladies in late June, she notched her career best result to date, a tie for second.  A few months later, she topped that by winning the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open when Ai Miyazato made a costly late double bogey.  Luck again played a part in Lee’s second win a few weeks after that.  At the Fujitsu Ladies in October, rain washed out the final round, and Lee, the leader at that point, claimed the trophy without hitting a shot.

Best Comeback

And the Winner Is: Soo Yun Kang wins in Japan

Kangsy is back! Soo Yun in a glam pose from a Korean golf magazine following her win in Japan

In the late nineties, right after Se Ri Pak and Mi Hyun Kim left the KLPGA tour to try their luck in America, the next top player to emerge on that tour was Soo Yun Kang.  She pretty much dominated the events in the early years of the 2000s.  After a few years, she decided to follow Kim and Pak over to America, too, but found duplicating her success on the LPGA tour difficult.  She finally broke through with her only LPGA win in 2005 at the Safeway Classic, but after several years of struggling with injuries, she moved over to the Japanese tour to try her luck there.  She had better results, but still was not able to get a win.

Fast forward to 2013, and Kang was still winless in Japan — until the week of October 13th, when she pulled off the surprise victory at the Stanley Ladies event.  At 37 years of age, she became one of the oldest Koreans to notch a win in some time.  Congratulations to her; it’s never too late to make a comeback!

Honorable Mention: Shi Hyun Ahn notches a top ten in first golf action in two years

Shi Hyun Ahn at the 2013 ADT-CAPS

29-year-old Shi Hyun Ahn has been in the news more for her troubled marriage in the past two years than for her golf.  Two years ago, she met a South-American-Korean television personality who goes by the name of Marco, and sparks flew.  They married late in 2011, and just six months later, Shi Hyun had a daughter, Grace.  Unfortunately, there were also rumors at this time that the marriage was troubled, and at least one publicized incident where the police were called to stop a domestic disturbance that may have involved physical abuse (Ahn later dropped all charges).

Shi Hyun was invited to play at the ADT-CAPS on the KLPGA season in November.  She had not teed it up in a pro event in all of 2012 or 2013.  But she played extremely well, eventually finishing tied for 9th.  Yes, she made a top ten in her first event played in nearly two years.  That was the same score as KLPGA stars Ha Neul Kim and Hyo Joo Kim, and only five strokes out of first place.  She finished ahead of #7 in the world golfer Na Yeon Choi.

In late December, Shi Hyun signed with Sema Marketing Management, the same group that handles Se Ri Pak, Na Yeon Choi and Jiyai Shin among others.  She said that, after her marriage and daughter’s birth, she lost her motivation to work hard enough to maintain her pro career.  But since the top ten at the ADT, she has gained renewed interest in the game, and hopes to restart her career full force in 2014.  We’re all looking forward to it!

The Return of the KLPGA Awards Show

The KLPGA Awards Show did not go away in 2012, but for some reason, the press very lightly covered it compared to past years.  Luckily, in 2013, we once again got to see a lot of photos of this great showcase for the KLPGA stars.  Below are a few of the highlights from this year’s event!

Red Carpet arrivals!

Rookie star In Gee Chun

2013 tour winner Da Na Kim

Two-time KLPGA Money List Queen Ha Neul Kim

LPGA star Hee Young Park

2013 Tour winner Yoon Kyung Heo

2013 KLPGA Player of the Year Ha Na Jang

KLPGA Rookie of the Year Hyo Joo Kim

The ever-kicky KLPGA star Soo Jin Yang

The winners: Hyo Joo Kim for Rookie of the Year

Hyo Joo Kim collects her Rookie of the Year award

Bo Mee Lee made an appearance

Bo Mee Lee

This year, Ha Neul Kim was mostly in the audience…

Ha Neul Kim

… But they did get her onstage to give her lots of flowers for her one win this year

Lotsa flowers!

Ha Na Jang and Hyo Joo Kim were the night’s big winners

Hyo Joo Kim (L) and Ha Na Jang (R)

Ha Na Jang won the Money List, Player of the Year and tied for most wins with Sei Young Kim

Ha Na Jang

Sei Young Kim also won Most Popular, as voted by the fans!

Sei Young Kim

While Soo Jin Yang won the Best Dresser award (another fan choice)

Soo Jin Yang

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 2, 2014

2013 SeoulSisters Awards (1 of 6): Player of the Year

Hey folks! It’s time once again for the annual Seoul Sisters Awards for the best, weakest, and most interesting moments of the preceding year. Let’s get right to the action!

Player of the Year
And the Winner Is: Inbee Park

Inbee Park holds the most sought after award of all for Korean golfers: their first ever LPGA Player of the Year trophy

Usually I wait until the end to bestow this award, the highest honor of all the Seoulies. But for 2013, it is so apparent who is going to get this award that I might as well get it over with right away. Inbee Park simply was not only the top Korean player in the world in 2013, she was the top woman golfer, period, and had one of the very best years in the entire history of Korean golf, perhaps the very best (I’m not going to get into any arguments about her year vs. Se Ri Pak’s best years, but let’s just say Inbee’s 2013 stands proudly with even the greatest of the Hall-of-Famer’s seasons).

Inbee Park was our Player of the Year in 2012, but back then it was definitely a hard choice. Park was very consistent last year, but not as consistent as rookie So Yeon Ryu, who notched an astounding 16 top tens. Park had big wins, such as the Evian Masters, but did not win a Major like Na Yeon Choi, Sun Young Yoo and Jiyai Shin did. Nor was she creating history like teen phenoms Lydia Ko and Hyo Joo Kim. But what Inbee did have was two LPGA victories, the top position on the money list, and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. That was enough to give her the edge in a tough battle.

Spoils of Success: Inbee poses with the Ferrari given to her to drive by the Italian company

In 2013, Player of the Year wasn’t even close. Here are some of Inbee’s amazing accomplishments in 2013.

  • She won six total LPGA tournaments, the most ever won by a Korean in a single season. She was responsible for more than half the total wins accomplished by Koreans on tour in 2013, with no other Sister winning more than once.
  • She won three Majors in 2013; only Se Ri Pak has ever won more than one in a season, and she never won more than two.
  • She won those three Majors in a row to start the season, an astonishing achievement that had not been done on the LPGA tour since *1950*, the first year the tour existed. She is the only Korean to have had a legitimate chance to capture a calendar year Grand Slam, which would have been literally unthinkably great had she pulled it off.  No Korean has even won a career Grand Slam, let alone all in the same year.
  • She also managed three straight wins on tour in June, the first Korean to ever manage that feat.
  • She became the first Korean to lead the money list twice.
  • She had 11 top tens, which led the Koreans on tour
  • In April she became only the second Korean (after Jiyai Shin) to become the #1 golfer in the women’s game according to the Rolex Rankings. She held that position the rest of the year.
  • In 2013, she broke two million in season earnings for the second straight year, setting a new all time Korean record of $2,456,619 (and breaking her own previous record from last year). She is the only Korean to ever break $2 million in a season, and she’s done it twice.
  • And she topped it all off by becoming the first Korean to win the LPGA’s Player of the Year award.

Three for three: Inbee after winning the US Women’s Open

The past few seasons, Inbee often proved herself to be one of the most consistent players on tour, putting herself into contention on many occasions. But wins seemed to elude her. In 2010, she managed 11 top tens, including top tens in all four Majors. 2011 was an off-year, but starting at the LPGA Championship in 2012, she went on a torrid run that saw her collect two wins and many other near misses.

Still, what Inbee did in the first few months of 2013 was to take her game to a level far above what she had previously accomplished. Indeed, she won her very first start of the year on the LPGA, although she was assisted with a timely collapse on the final hole by Thai teenager Ariya Jutanugarn. Her next few events were far from impressive, however, and it looked like this might be another ordinary year for the star.

Inbee got accustomed to heightened press interest

But when she got to the Kraft Nabisco, the year’s first Major, something clicked in her brain, and for the first time the fans were treated to the Superstar that Inbee was to become. In round 2, she played like a machine, but it was round 3 in which she truly threw the gauntlet down to the tour. Her putting was almost surreal it was so precise and accurate. By the end of the day, she only had one player anywhere close to her, American Lizette Salas, a player who had never won on tour before. It took all of one hole on Sunday for Salas to fall apart, and Park cruised to a ridiculously easy second career Major triumph. She became just the third Korean to take the dive in Poppy’s Pond.

The week after the Nabisco she rose to #2 in the world rankings, and soon after that climbed to #1, supplanting the recently crowned #1, American Stacy Lewis. Many felt that Park had not truly earned the top ranking, being that she got it in an off week. But Park soon proved she belonged on top. At her next tournament, the Lotte Championship, she finished fourth. The next tournament after that, she won again, outdueling Spain’s Carlotta Ciganda down the stretch at the North Texas Shootout. It was her first win as a #1 player, and quieted the criticism fairly convincingly.

Inbee’s first win as #1: the North Texas Shootout

Inbee had some of her worst struggles of the year in May, including a missed cut, her only one of the season. But as June started, she began arguably the most dominant run in Korean golf history.

At the year’s second Major, the LPGA Championship, Park played brilliantly again, and found herself in a commanding position as the fourth round wound down. But at that point, she began to struggle. She missed fairway after fairway, resulting in several dropped shots. She somehow managed to hang on just enough to force a playoff with Catriona Matthew. But during the playoff, it was all Inbee. She managed to regroup, refocus, and return to the dominant form she had been showing just in the nick of time. Shortly thereafter, the year’s second Major was hers.

She barely slowed down after that. A few weeks later, she won the next LPGA tournament on the schedule, the Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship, beating good friend So Yeon Ryu in a playoff. It was her fifth win of the year.

Always more publicity: at the Ferrari sponsorship signing in July

Then came the biggest test of her career. The US Women’s Open, the year’s biggest prize, was being contested at Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island. Talk of the Grand Slam filled the air; Inbee was constantly asked about it. To make things even tougher, she was paired with her two biggest rivals, Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen, in the first two rounds. Park responded by absolutely dominating them. She was seemingly making putts from everywhere, over and over again. Pettersen was so psyched out she missed the cut, while Lewis was never a factor. By the end of the second round, Park was in charge.

On the weekend, her biggest challenge came from fellow Korean star In Kyung Kim. But nothing was going to stop Inbee that week. She made a few mistakes here and there, but was always able to pull a rabbit from the hat when she needed it. The highlight of the entire year came in the third round when, after making several bogies, she sunk a downright ridiculous birdie putt from about 40 feet that traveled down a steep hill and dropped perfectly into the hole as if guided by angels. Kim tried her best on Sunday, but Park delivered the win, making history with the third straight Major win to start the year.

Inbee meets fans during a whirlwind trip back to Korea in late July

The rest of the season was a struggle for Inbee to battle the intense attention and pressure she received as she prepared to win the Slam at the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews. She didn’t in fact contend that week, and did not win another event all year. But she fought off a huge challenge from Suzann Pettersen at the end of the year by notching two more top fives to secure her #1 ranking and the first ever LPGA Player of the Year award for a Korean golfer.

Inbee even attracted attention out of uniform, like here when she attended Hee Kyung Seo’s wedding in November

Congratulations to Inbee Park on her amazing 2013 season, and allow us to add a well deserved Player of the Year Seoulie award to her mantle!

Honorable Mention: Ha Na Jang

No other Korean even comes close to what Inbee accomplished in 2013, but Ha Na Jang did have a noteworthy season that would have been in the running any other year. She led the KLPGA tour in money earned and won the Player of the Year award while capturing three wins, tied (with Sei Young Kim) for the most wins on tour in 2013. Included in that tally was one tour Major, the Hite Cup. And she wasn’t done when the season ended; she captured another win at the Hyundai China Open in December to put her atop the KLPGA money list for 2014.

Best Start to the Season
And the Winner Is: Lydia Ko

Lydia Ko early in the year

Lydia Ko started 2013 as the top Women’s Amateur golfer in the world. Her first big tournament of the season came in defense of her title at the Australian Women’s Amateur. But she played poorly in match play and lost in the second round. Her rival Minjee Lee ended up collecting that title. It would be the final amateur event Ko would ever play, although nobody knew it at the time.

When she started playing professional events after that, she quickly returned to her usual form. She first was called upon to defend her title at the New South Wales Open. She had made history there in 2012 by collecting the trophy and thus becoming the youngest female to ever win a professional event. Indeed, she had almost won the event the previous year, losing only to Caroline Hedwall. As it turned out, Hedwall won again in 2013 while Ko finished second in her defense. Ko was denied the chance to become the youngest player to ever defend a professional title, but it was still a great result.

The next week, she played in her adopted country’s biggest golf tournament, the New Zealand Women’s Open. She was under intense scrutiny, featured on all the event’s posters, yet she stayed in contention all week, finally claiming the prize when her two biggest rivals both three putted the final hole. She called it her most emotional win to date.

Lydia is beside herself after winning the New Zealand Women’s Open

Ko was on a roll, and next played in the Australian Women’s Open, the opening event of the LPGA season. Paired with world #1 Ya Ni Tseng in round one, she produced a jaw dropping 10 under par 63 that included 11 birdies, an eagle and three bogies. Jiyai Shin, another Korean star, got all the way to 14 under par after two rounds, but Ko only needed nine holes to catch her. Paired together with Shin in the final round, Ko got off to a terrible start, but recovered and hung in while Tseng made a run and Shin struggled to maintain the lead. In the end, Shin got the win and Ko faded to third, but three top-three finishes including a win in her first three pro events of the year is a great start by any standard!

Jiyai Shin and Ko share a laugh after Shin’s win over Ko at the Aussie Open

Honorable Mentions: Inbee Park wins her first event of the year

OK, it was largely thanks to Ariya Jutanugarn muffing the final hole, but Inbee did win her first LPGA event of the season, which is always a great way to start any season!

Jiyai Shin Wins in Australia

Jiyai Shin enjoys her Australian Women’s Open trophy

As we said above, Jiyai played great in claiming her only win of the 2013 season, which also happened to be her first tournament of the year.

Biggest Disappearing Act
And the ‘Winner’ Is: Char Young Kim

Char Young Kim struggled in 2013

This was a tough award to choose. Many of the top players on the LPGA tour had subpar seasons. In fact, after Inbee, the next three top ranked Koreans (So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, IK Kim) at the end of the year (not including New Zealand transplant Lydia Ko) all failed to win in 2013. Choi saw her ranking drop from second to 7th. It’s tempting to pick her for this dubious honor, but really, she had a decent year in a lot of ways. Had things gone a little better for her, she might have won the HSBC and British Open, two of the most important events of the year. And she made nearly a million bucks during the season, with 8 top tens. So she hardly disappeared, even if 2013 was a weaker season than her last few.

Char Young Kim managed three wins on the KLPGA in 2012, and none in 2013. That in itself is significant, but what really hurt Kim is that she almost never was a factor in any event all year. She did not even have her first top ten until October at the Rush and Cash Classic, where she finished tied for third. It would be her only top ten of the season, and even there, she was never a factor, as Ha Na Jang ran away with the title. More often, she was missing cuts or struggling in the middle of the pack. She wound up 36th on the money list for the year.

Char Young

Kim did manage a fifth place finish at the second event of the 2014 season, the Hyundai China Ladies Open, which took place in mid-December. It’s probably too early to tell if Char Young’s career going forward will be more like the star of 2012 or the nonentity of 2013, but hopefully the China result shows that she’s back heading in the right direction!

Best Korean Finish
And the Winner Is: US Women’s Open: first Korean 1-2-3 finish at the Open

The past three US Women’s Open winners celebrate Inbee Park’s 2013 triumph. So Yeon Ryu (right) finished third in 2013 behind Park.

The focus that week was on Inbee Park trying to become the first player in 60 years to start the season with three straight Majors. Park succeeded in accomplishing that amazing feat. But lost in the shadows was the fact that it was also the greatest finish at a Major in Korean golf history, with the top three spots all going to Korean golfers. Park won with an 8 under total, with In Kyung Kim finishing solo second four shots behind her, and So Yeon Ryu finishing third at 1 under. Ryu was two shots ahead of fourth place, and the three Koreans were the only players to finish under par for the week.

Honorable Mention: Swinging Skirts dominated by Koreans

Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu enjoy the Swinging Skirts tournament in December

The Swinging Skirts is an event held annually in Taiwan in December that attracts a stellar international field of top players. This year it was Korean New Zealander Lydia Ko who won the event, but the leaderboard was studded with Korean stars. Granted, being that this event is now an official one on the KLPGA tour, there are more Korean golfers here than in a typical international event. But still, the results were something else. Besides Ko winning, you had world #5 So Yeon Ryu finishing second, world #1 Inbee Park third, KLPGA Rookie of the Year Hyo Joo Kim tied with 2014 KLPGA rookie Kyu Jung Baek for fourth, and 2013 KLPGA Player of the Year Ha Na Jang tied for sixth. In other words, the top five players and one of the sixth place players were all of Korean extraction.

Posted by: happyfan08 | July 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Opens

The past two weeks saw the playing of two of the most important women’s golf events of the year.  In Korea, the Korean Women’s Open was contested from June 20-23rd.  The following week, the US Women’s Open was played at Sebonack Golf Club on Long Island.  Both tournaments had fascinating stories, with the Korean Open title going to a newborn star, while the US Open title ended up with a woman in the process of making history.

The Kia Korean Women’s Open

The KLPGA tour has four Majors every year, but without question the most important of these is the Korean Women’s Open.  This event is usually contested in early summer and features the cream of the KLPGA crop and best amateurs in the country.  Among the great players who have recently won this event are Hee Kyung Seo, Soo Jin Yang, and the budding star Mirim Lee, who was the defending champion.

Coming into this event, the dominant player on tour in 2013 had been Ha Na Jang, who was in control of the money list and Player of the Year race.  Other top players who looked to contend included former champs Lee and Yang and Rookie superstar Hyo Joo Kim, who was trying to put a stranglehold on the Rookie of the Year race.  The top star of the past two years, Ha Neul Kim, has struggled in 2013, and was hoping to get on track again.

But by the end of the second round, it was another up-and-coming rookie who sat in the lead: In Gee Chun.  The 18-year-old had been a teammate of Kim’s on the Korean National team, but being a little older, she had turned pro last year and played on a developmental tour to hone her game.  Now a full-fledged KLPGA rookie, she told the press her top goal was to win the Rookie of the Year this year.  After shooting a 68-69 over the first two days, she sat at 7 under total and alone in the lead.  But Kim was among those just a couple of shots back, and the stage was set for a battle of teen stars.

In Gee Chun during round 2 of the Korean Women’s Open

The story got even more interesting after Saturday’s action was complete.  Yet another teenage former national team member, Kyu Jung Baek, vaulted over both Kim and Chun to take the third round lead.  Baek was not even a member of the KLPGA; she had only recently turned pro and was playing the Dream tour in 2013.  But she was in the field this week, and after a third round 67 held a one shot lead over Kim and Chun, who were tied for second.  The three teens would be paired in the final group on Sunday with the biggest event of the year on the line.  The future has arrived early!

Kyu Jung Baek took the third round lead at the Open

Hyo Joo Kim was enjoying herself during round 3

As it turned out, there was yet another rookie (not a teenager, a twenty year old.  How ancient!) who threw herself into the mix on Sunday.  So Yeon Park got out to a great start and took a several stroke lead by the turn.  Hyo Joo Kim, the most heralded rookie on tour since the days of Se Ri Pak, faltered on this day and faded to a tie for 6th.  That left Baek and Chun to try to catch Park.  But Baek parred out most of her final nine, not making birdie until the very last hole.  She finished third.

Kyu Jung Baek on the final day of the Open

Chun seemed similarly stalled most of her round.  By the 14th hole, she was still even for the day.  But then she kicked it into another gear, thrilling the crowd as she made birdie after birdie.  In fact, she made birdie on her final four holes, the last one giving her the one-shot win over Park.  Chun made a huge statement in front of her biggest rival for Rookie of the Year, on the biggest stage the Korean tour presents.  The Major winner broke down in tears at the trophy ceremony, thrilled she was able to capture the great victory.

In Gee Chun had a great finish to her first Major win

Chun was overcome with emotion during her trophy acceptance speech

Chun did not exactly come out of nowhere, however.  Besides her notable achievements as a member of the Korean national team, she had contended at a KLPGA Major before.  The tall teen (5’9”) entered the 2011 Hite Cup, the third Major of that season, and despite the presence of US Women’s Open champ So Yeon Ryu, took a big lead going into the final nine holes.  She was up by as much as four strokes and looked likely to become a Major champion, but suffered a major setback thanks to a triple bogey and a few other mistakes late.  Player of the Year Ha Neul Kim took advantage, grabbing the crown away at almost the last moment from the young star.

It didn’t take long for Chun to bounce back and get her Major trophy.  The win at the Korean Women’s Open came after a promising start to her season.  She notched her first great finish at the Woori Financial in May, a tie for 5th.  At the next event, the Doosan Match Play, she made it all the way to the final before losing to Ha Na Jang in a closely fought match.  Her next three finishes were all top 20s, preparing her for the win at the Open.

Will she be able to wrestle the Rookie of the Year award away from Hyo Joo Kim?  After the Open win, she was less than 100 points behind Kim.  At the least, Kim would have to work to get the award.  It ought to be interesting to see what these two talented teens do next!

In Gee Chun is a player to watch!

The US Women’s Open

The most important women’s golf event in the world without question is the US Women’s Open.  This year, it was contested at Sebonack on Long Island.  Amazingly, it was the first time a Women’s Open had ever been played on Long Island, and the first time any USGA event had occurred at this prestigious and beautiful new course.

The Koreans have done really well at this event in the past five years, collecting four titles and many other top ten finishes.  The defending champion, Na Yeon Choi, would be there trying to become the first Korean to repeat as champion.  But all eyes were on another Korean star, Inbee Park, who was riding an incredible wave of great golf.  Coming into the week, Park had won the two previous events on tour, and was looking to become the first Korean to ever win three straight LPGA events (not even Se Ri Pak has managed that feat).    More amazingly, she had also won the first two Majors on tour in 2013, and looked to become only the fourth woman ever to win three in a season.  In fact, only one woman had ever won the first three Majors of any season, and that was Babe Zaharias back in 1950, the first year the LPGA existed.  Needless to say, all eyes were on Park to see if she could pull off the historic feat.

Na Yeon Choi won the Open in 2012

Inbee took a circuitous route to this point in her career.  After winning the 2008 US Women’s Open at the age of 19 (the youngest ever), it would take her four years to return to the winner’s circle on the LPGA.  It was not like she was playing bad golf; she had several wins in Japan during that span, and still managed frequent top tens in Majors.  But her game did not really click until her fiancé took over as her swing coach.  At last year’s LPGA Championship, she notched her first top ten of the year, and proceeded to rip off ten in a row, including two wins, after that.

After her win at this year’s Kraft Nabisco, the first major of 2013, Park rose to the number one ranking for the first time.  Many thought it wouldn’t last; the previous longtime #1 women’s golfer, Ya Ni Tseng, had found the pressure of maintaining that spot too much to bear.  But Park quickly won just a few weeks later, then followed her win at the Kraft with a win at the year’s second Major, the Wegman’s LPGA Championship.  She seemed to enjoy being number one, and didn’t fret too much about losing that position should that happen.

Inbee’s second Major win of 2013, the Wegman’s LPGA Championship

Still, it was a new level of pressure she faced at Sebonack.  She was the prohibitive favorite coming in, and was paired with the #2 and #3 golfers in the world the first two days.  If there were a crack in her armor, it was bound to be exposed.  But Park played the exact same way those two days she had played all year.  On her very first hole of the week, she hit her approach to a foot for an easy birdie.  She produced a 5 under par 67 on Thursday, taking the lead for most of the day before KLPGA star Ha Neul Kim topped her with a 66 in the late afternoon.  #2 Stacy Lewis had shot 71, while #3 Suzann Pettersen was four over par.

On the second day, Park continued her relentless drive to the top.  While first round leader Ha Neul Kim struggled, Park’s calm, cool attitude propelled her to a 68, giving her a two shot lead over fellow Korean In-Kyung Kim.  Kim’s story was an interesting one: she had famously missed a one-foot putt on the final hole of last year’s Kraft Nabisco, costing herself that title.  Still in search of her first Major, she would play the entire weekend with Inbee, trying to find some way to top the indomitable star.  Interestingly, they had met in the USGA cauldron before.  Back in 2005, Kim’s first year in the States, she had topped Park at the US Girls Junior in the finals.

IK Kim in round 2 of the Open

Park continued her stellar play on Saturday, but started to run into trouble for the first time all week on the back nine.  She had a couple of bogies on the 11th and 12th holes that she considered respectable, but when she also bogied the par 5 13th, she started to get mad.  Things didn’t get easier on the 14th hole; she put her ball on a top shelf well above the flag, while her two playing partners, Kim and Britain’s Jodi Ewart-Shadoff, were both within birdie range.  They would both make birdie, but so did Park, who hit an absolutely perfectly judged putt that loped down the slope, picked up speed, then dropped perfectly in the cup for a birdie to end her bogey train.  She birdied the next hole as well, and by the end of the day, had carved out a four shot lead over Kim.  Her one-under-par 71 was the only under par round by anyone all day.

Inbee during round 3 of the Open

Through three rounds, Park’s tee-to-green game had been fantastic.  She had only missed four fairways to that point and had hit most of the greens.  But what separated her from the rest, as it always did, was her otherworldly putting.  She had putting rounds of 25, 28 and 28 putts, putting her on pace to be the first Open winner to average less than 30 putts/round since she herself had done it in 2008.

The pressure was ratcheted up on Inbee on Sunday, but she never wavered much.  It was by far her worst round of the week, a 2 over par 74, but she never made worse than a bogey, and had at least three lipouts during the day.  Even when she missed, she didn’t miss by much.  IK Kim tried her best, but her putter was not working, and she, too, shot a 74.  In the end, only three players finished under par for the week, all Korean.  2011 champ So Yeon Ryu was at -1 and solo third, Kim at 4 under and solo second.  But it was Inbee who was rightfully the star, finishing at 8 under for the four shot win and her third straight Major.  Despite all the attention, she held her composure and gotten the job done when it mattered most.  She was rewarded on the 18th green by a champagne bath courtesy of Ryu and Na Yeon Choi, the past two US Women’s Open champions.

Three US Women’s Open champs celebrate Inbee’s amazing win

Inbee set all sorts of Korean records with her win: the first Korean to ever win six events in a season, and the first to collect three straight Majors and win three straight LPGA events.  She was also the first to win the Open twice.  Her money total climbed above $2 million for the second straight year, more money than the next two players on the money list combined.

After her amazing accomplishment, the golf world sat up and took notice.  She became the first Korean golfer to appear on the Today show, and did interviews for several sports shows.  Almost immediately, the talk turned to the possibility that she could win four Majors in a row.  Next up is the Women’s British Open, which this year takes place at St. Andrews, the home of golf.  If she somehow manages to win that event at that location for four straight, it would be one of the most epic achievements in recent golf history.

Inbee holds her Open trophy near Rockefeller Center after appearing on the Today Show

There is some confusion as to what you would call winning four Majors on the LPGA tour.  In years past, the LPGA usually had only four Majors, so winning all four would be considered a Grand Slam, the most hallowed of all feats in golf.  But this year, darn the luck, the LPGA added a fifth Major to the rotation, the Evian Championship.  It certainly would be far more resonant if Park were going for the biggest achievement in golf at the most important locale in the game’s history than if she merely would get 4/5 of the Slam with a win there.  But whatever you call what she will be trying to do next month in Scotland, she has already had a historically great year, and we should not forget to celebrate that in the rush to look ahead.

At the end of the event, Park told the press, ‘it’s scary to think what I’m capable of doing’.  She wasn’t bragging, just saying that it was scary that she had this extremely rare chance to make history in the next month.  She had never even considered she could do what she had already achieved, and realized the next step would be pressure like she had never imagined.  But she alone had the chance to make that history, and she was excited to have the chance.  The whole golf world will be watching closely next month to see if she can actually do it!  Best of luck to her!!

Three Majors – a truly historic achievement

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