Shot of the Year
And the Winner Is: Na Yeon Choi, US Women’s Open, 12th hole, round 4, from the weeds
The winner of this category was not only one of the most brilliantly executed shots of last year, it was also the most important, as it stemmed a potential meltdown by Choi, allowing her to right the ship en route to her first Major win.
The scene was Sunday at the US Women’s Open in Blackwolf Run. Choi had captured a commanding lead by virtue of her epic third round 65, and had to find a way to get into the house in one piece to claim the biggest prize in women’s golf. She had done well enough on the front nine, but an out of bounds drive and triple bogey on the tenth hole had made things more interesting than she would have liked. She rebounded with a birdie on 11, but after hitting the fairway on the 12th hole, things went south again. Her approach was too long and landed in some very tall weeds left of the green.
Choi inspected the shot for several moments, considering her options. For a while, she gravitated towards taking an unplayable, but any drop from those weeds was probably still going to end up in a bad place. And so, hip deep in tall grass, she stepped up to her ball and hit a superlative pitch shot, gently easing it out of the grass and onto the green roughly twenty feet from the hole.
This could have been a disastrous moment not only in her week, but in her career. She might have taken a swing at the ball and not moved it at all, given the lie. But instead, she set herself up for a fairly routine two-putt bogey. She went one better than that by actually sinking the tricky double breaking par save moments later. As far as great shots at crucial moments go, Choi’s pitch from disaster should rank among the best the Korean lady golfers have ever accomplished.
Na Yeon Choi, Round 4, 13th hole tee shot, US Women’s Open
The second greatest shot Choi hit in 2012 came only a few minutes after the Shot of the Year winner. Choi stepped up to the tee on the par 3 13th hole. Water lined the right side of this hole, so what a player needed to avoid at all costs was hitting the ball right. But her tee shot went in that direction, and it looked like a disastrous mistake. But then the luckiest break of the year: the ball hit the rocks near the water, and instead of bounding right, bounced straight, hit the rocks again, then rebounded onto the green. She made par.
This was a great shot to be sure, but because luck played far more of a role here than it did on the 12th hole pitch, it only earns runner-up status in the Shot of the Year contest.
Jiyai Shin, 16th hole bunker shot from 40 yards to two feet in terrible rain and weather, Round 4, Ricoh Women’s British Open
The weather was horrendous much of Sunday at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Shin was in no danger of losing by the time she reached the 16th hole and put her second shot into a bunker some 40 yards short of the green. Still, what she did there was something special. She stepped into the tricky bunker and hit a gorgeous sand shot that rolled to a stop barely a foot from the hole. A 40 yard bunker shot is among the hardest of golf shots under normal conditions. To hit such a great one in the kind of weather she was contending with, at the end of a very long 36 hole marathon day, was truly extraordinary. Even the commentator called it ‘magical’.
Inbee Park, Sunday, 18th hole, Sime Darby, from bunker to just off green
Inbee Park had seized control of the Sime Darby, but had a tough time closing out the win. On the 18th hole, her drive went right, and her rescue shot ended up in a bunker. She still had to worry about water fronting the green if she went for it; but if she hit a safe shot, she was opening up the door ever so slightly for Na Yeon Choi to steal the win. Making her situation even more dicey was the fact that she had muffed a fairway bunker shot a few holes earlier, hitting the lip of the trap and watching as the ball rolled back to her feet.
Nonetheless, Park went for it, hitting a great shot that cleared the water, landed on the green and rolled off to the fringe. Two putts later she was the Sime Darby champion.
Amateur Seo wins Bentley with hole-in-one at Hanwha Classic, but…
Amateur Yeun Jung Seo made a hole-in-one on the 17th hole during round 2 of the KLPGA’s Hanwha Finance Classic. The prize? A Bentley worth over $200,000.
Only one problem: Seo is an amateur and cannot accept prize money or other compensation. So, no Bentley! But she’ll always have the memory at least.
Inbee Park, mega long par save, 14th hole, Evian Masters
Inbee Park put on a putting clinic at the 2012 Evian Masters, but her greatest moment came on the 14th hole. She had struggled to get to the green and was left with a fairly long putt to save par. Stacy Lewis, Hyo Joo Kim, Karrie Webb and Shanshan Feng were all breathing down her neck. But Park made the unlikely par save, and proceeded to birdie her final three holes to claim her first win in four years.
Round of the Year
And the Winner Is: Na Yeon Choi, 65, round 3, US Women’s Open
This year’s US Women’s Open was especially important to the Seoul Sisters because it took place at the site where Se Ri Pak ignited the Korean golf revolution, Blackwolf Run. Pak’s win there in 1998, as a 20-year-old, fired the imagination of thousands of young girls, including the woman who won the Open in 2012, Na Yeon Choi.
Choi made her own history in round 3 by shooting a 7 under par 65 to grab the tournament by the throat. It might very well have been the greatest round ever shot by a Korean golfer in a Major. She managed 8 birdies and one bogey on a course that was ripping the best players in the world to shreds. Amy Yang was the only other player who even shot in the 60s – she had a 69. The average score for the day was 77 – so Choi managed an unbelievable 12 shot edge over the *average* score on the course. She set the course record, and only a few golfers had ever shot a lower round in Open history.
In the future, golf historians might very well point to this round as the moment when Na Yeon Choi ignited a second golf revolution in Korea!
Jiyai Shin, 64, round 2, Ricoh Women’s British Open
Shin’s 64 in round 2 of the Ricoh Women’s British Open allowed her to grab a lead she never relinquished again. It was a superlative performance, the women’s course record, and even topped anything the men were able to do when they played the course in more benign conditions at their Open. As great as it was, though, it still wasn’t at the same level of incredible as Choi’s round, and it didn’t beat the round average as decisively as Choi’s round did. Also, the conditions Shin faced were not as tough as they would be the rest of the week. But without question, what Shin did in round 2 was awe inspiring in its own right.
So Yeon Ryu, RACV Australian Ladies Masters rd 2, 61
So Yeon Ryu’s 61 in round 2 of the RACV Australian Ladies Masters, in one of her first competitive rounds of 2012, announced that she was ready to take her game to another level in 2012. Although she did not win the tournament in the end, she did rack up an incredible number of great golfing performances in 2012, and it all started with this wake-up call to the rest of the world.
So Yeon Ryu, 62, final round, Jamie Farr
Ryu was tied with three other strong Korean golfers when the day started on Sunday. By the time she was done, she had lapped the field, thanks to a record tying final round 62. See ‘Most Dominating Performance’ for more details!
Hyo Joo Kim, 61, final round, Suntory Ladies Open on JLPGA
In June, Hyo Joo Kim played in and won her first Japanese LPGA event, the Suntory Ladies Open. She had to come from behind in the final round, and boy did she deliver! She shot an insane 11 under par 61 on Sunday, the lowest score in JLPGA history, to claim the win by four shots. In so doing, she became the youngest player to ever win on that tour, breaking the record by former world’s #1 Ai Miyazato. And she still wasn’t 17 years old yet. If the earlier win on the KLPGA tour had gotten her noticed, the Japanese win ignited a bidding war, with five major companies all clamoring to become her main sponsor whenever she turned pro.
Most Controversial Moment
And the Winner Is: Na Yeon Choi DQed at LPGA Championship for failing to sign scorecard
The title says it all. Na Yeon Choi failed to sign her scorecard and was disqualified from the year’s second Major. How did she respond? By winning the next Major she played. That’s how you react to adversity!
Sun Young Yoo, improper drop at CME Group TitleHolders
Sun Young Yoo started the week at the year’s final event by shooting a 66 and grabbing a share of the lead. In round 2 she had a more up and down day, with plenty of birdies and a few really bad holes.
Perhaps the worst moment came late on the back nine. She hit her drive into some trouble and decided to take a drop after an attempt to hit it out of the stuff resulted in barely moving the ball. She dropped, got to the green and wound up with a double bogey.
But, as it turned out, she had done an illegal drop and got an extra penalty stroke. A helpful television viewer pointed out that Yoo had not held her ball high enough when she dropped the ball. The rule states that you must hold the ball at shoulder height when dropping, and Yoo’s ball was closer to her hip than shoulder. Doubtless she got no benefit from the shorter drop, but rules are rules. One controversy from this incident was that it was a television viewer calling in that caused a rules infraction to be called. If Yoo were not being televised at the time, she probably would have gotten away with what she did. This definitely suggests that those who get televised are held to a stricter standard than those who don’t, although how exactly to address this dilemma, short of greatly increasing the number of officials watching the action, is unclear.
Tournament of the Year
And the Winner Is: US Women’s Open
For nearly a year before the event, there was a growing excitement over the 2012 US Women’s Open. For only the second time, the event was to be staged at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin. The first time it was played there, of course, was 1998, and the winner, Se Ri Pak, toughed out the longest tournament in tour history, 90 holes, on one of the toughest courses the women had ever played, to beat an amateur of the same age, Jenny Chuasiriporn of Maryland. Pak’s win galvanized the entire country of South Korea, which was going through rough economic times. Simply put, the country needed a hero, and Pak arrived at the right time to give the nation a jolt of confidence and happiness. Literally overnight, the country fell under the spell of Pakmania, and thousands of little girls picked up golf clubs with the hopes of becoming the next Se Ri Pak.
One of those little girls was nine year old Na Yeon Choi, who had actually already been playing the game competitively even before Pak’s win. But still, Se Ri’s victory gave Choi a whole new way of looking at the sport she was playing, a whole new set of goals to shoot for that had never even occurred to her before. One of those goals was to someday play the US Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run, and perhaps even win it. And of course, in 2012, she did get her chance to play there and did take home the title, while her idol Pak greeted her on the 18th green to congratulate her. Na Yeon Choi’s dream came true in the biggest way possible, and it made for a gripping storyline, even for those not as familiar with the backstory of Se Ri and her progeny as the Koreans are.
There were other storylines, too, of course. Se Ri had inspired the 2011 champion, So Yeon Ryu, and accompanied Ryu to Blackwolf Run for media day. Ryu got her first look at the course and even played a practice round with Se Ri following along. In tribute to her hero, Ryu took her shoes off at the 18th hole to pose for a photo emulating Pak’s iconic shot from that same course location in ‘98. Although Ryu would not be a factor in the 2012 Open, she still finished tied for 14th in a respectable title defense.
Then there was Se Ri Pak herself, returning to the place of her greatest career moment. Even getting to Wisconsin was an adventure. Pak injured her shoulder in a freak accident a couple of months prior to the Open and was forced to miss several events while the doctors debated about her injury and how best to treat it. For a time, it looked like Se Ri would have to miss the Open; then, she suddenly improved and played the LPGA Championship a month before the Open. Amazingly, she even led that event for a couple of rounds before backing up on the weekend. In the end, Pak did make it to Kohler, and even though she did not win, she managed a tie for 9th and got a chance to watch Choi take home the crown.
Lastly, Choi’s adventures on the weekend made for compelling viewing. She trounced the field on Saturday with one of the greatest rounds ever shot in a women’s Major. It looked like she had the thing wrapped up until the back nine on Sunday, where a roller coaster four holes nearly did her in. But she showed steely resolve in overcoming adversity (see ‘Shot of the Year’), and claimed the year’s third Major.
The 2012 US Women’s Open was the most eagerly anticipated event for the Korean golfers in 2012, and it did not disappoint! With luck, it will return there once more before Pak retires, but if not, then she at least managed one great return to the site of her most significant achievement.
CN Canadian Women’s Open
The US Women’s Open was the year’s most important event for the Koreans, but the Canadian was arguably the most electric. Lydia Ko’s record shattering win garnered attention far beyond the ghetto that women’s golf news is usually relegated to. As far as the Koreans go, you not only had Ko attracting enormous galleries, but a sweep of the top five, with Inbee Park finishing second following a holed pitch shot on the final hole, and three more Koreans finishing tied for third (Na Yeon Choi, Chella Choi and Jiyai Shin).