Posted by: happyfan08 | April 2, 2023

2023 KLPGA Primer

April signals the coming of Spring, and also the arrival of the main part of the KLPGA season!  They have already played two events outside of Korea back in December, but the 2023 KLPGA season really starts in earnest on April 6th at the Lotte Rent-a-Car Women’s Open.  Before that happens, I will present to you our annual tradition, the KLPGA Primer: a brief look at the players to watch on the KLPGA this coming season.

Those who have left

First, a quick look at the players we won’t be seeing on tour in 2023.  Some, like Eun Soo Jang and long hitting rookie Jeong Min Moon, lost their cards and will be trying to get them back on the Dream Tour (Jang, in fact, has already won an event on that tour this year, so she’s on pace to make it back).  Some have left for other tours, and others have a big question mark by their names – have they left or not?

The most notable defector from the tour is Hae Ran Ryu

The 2020 Rookie of the Year, Ryu has already won six times on the KLPGA tour, and nearly won the Player of the Year and scoring title in 2022, finishing second in both.  She has also already achieved a tie for 13th at an LPGA Major, the 2020 US Women’s Open.  She decided to go to the LPGA’s Q-Series last Fall, and to no one’s surprise, finished first to earn her tour card.  In her first event as a member last week, the LPGA Drive-On Championship, she was just a shot back going into the final round and played in the final group on Sunday.  She faded a bit on the final day and finished 7th, but that’s still a great start to her LPGA career. 

She might in fact be better suited to playing the LPGA than the KLPGA: she’s a long hitter, and the Korean tour doesn’t tend to benefit such players as much as the LPGA does.  The fans will miss her in Korea, but she’s definitely where she ought to be.

Meanwhile, the player with the question mark by her name (did she leave or didn’t she?) is Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh and her hubby Si Woo Kim

A multiple winner on tour over the years, this beautiful and talented star was one of the biggest draws on tour.  She also drew the love of the PGA player Si Woo Kim, and they married last December in what I believe is the first marriage between a PGA and KLPGA player.  Just a few weeks later, Kim and Oh went to Hawaii so Kim could play in the PGA’s Sony Open.  He promptly won, showing that Ji Hyun might be a bit of a good luck charm for him.

Articles in Korea have implied that Ji Hyun either has retired to be with her husband or at least has temporarily put her career on hold.  I hope that, if she has retired, she at least returns to Korea to play one or two final events to let her fans say goodbye.  Kim did enjoy caddying for her several times last year at KLPGA events, so with luck she will tire of tagging along with her husband and make another go of the KLPGA.  But for now, she seems to be out of action.

The Superstar Repeats: Min Ji Park

Count them: six wins for Min Ji Park. Again!

In 2021, Min Ji Park had one of the most amazing seasons in tour history.  She won six times and became the first player to ever earn over 1.5 billion won (around 1.2 million dollars) in a season.  Well, unbelievably, she was almost as amazing in 2022.  She once again led the tour in money, albeit only 1.477 billion won, just the second highest total ever achieved.  She did not, however, win either the Player of the Year award or the scoring title.  Despite that small blip, she was almost always incredible all year.  She had 12 top tens and an amazing record in the five Majors, winning two and finishing second, third and fourth at the other three.  Needless to say, she is once again the player to beat on tour in 2023.

She also had an opportunity to pair with Mexican legend Lorena Ochoa at a special event where KLPGA stars teamed with former LPGA superstars in a competition to see which team was the best.  Park and Ochoa of course won.  But the event also got her thinking for the first time about making a run at the LPGA.  She intends to play overseas more often in 2023 with the hope of either winning an event to earn an LPGA tour card, or at least getting an idea how well she would do against top competition. She also is positioned to possibly make the International Crown team for Korea, which would put her on a team with three LPGA superstars. But if she is missing from the KLPGA frequently, that might give the rest of the tour a chance to stack up wins in her absence and possibly challenge her supremacy.

The new main rival: Su Ji Kim

Su Ji Kim with Korean golf legend Se Ri Pak; Su Ji won Se Ri’s namesake tournament last year.

If it weren’t for Min Ji Park’s dominance, we’d be talking a lot more about Su Ji Kim.  Kim has been on the KLPGA since 2017, but made little impact until 2021, when suddenly she became one of the best players on tour.  She finished 7th on the money list that year, winning two events (one a Major).  She was even more amazing in 2022.  That year she again won twice in back-to-back weeks, but accumulated a stunning 17 total top tens, meaning she was almost always on the leaderboard all season.  This consistency earned her both the Player of the Year award and the scoring title over Min Ji Park, as well as over a billion won and second place on the money list.

Kim has made no bones about it.  She wants to be #1 on the tour.  Min Ji is standing in her way, but if Kim improves even more in 2023, she has a great chance of toppling the queen.

The Swing Girls

The fantastic rookie class of 2019 has yielded five big stars who continue to be among the most popular and successful players on tour.  They have been given the collective nickname “The Swing Girls” based on a same named TV series that featured them when they were rookies (see what I mean by popular?).  In 2022, all five of them were in the top fifteen on the money list and all but one of them collected wins.

The most successful of the five last year was Hee Jeong Lim

Lim had another great season, finishing fifth on the money list with 750 million won earned.  She had just one win, but it was the most important event on tour, the Korea Women’s Open.  She dominated on the weekend, winning by six shots.  She might have had an even better year, but suffered a car accident early in the season that affected her for several months. 

Like Min Ji Park, she is preparing herself for possibly leaving the tour to join the LPGA.  She played a couple of LPGA events early on in 2022 but didn’t have great results. But expect her to play more on the LPGA in 2023.

So Mi Lee finished 7th on the money list. 

She had two wins – like Su Ji Kim in back-to-back events – and eleven total top tens.  Like Lim, she is also thinking about moving to the LPGA soon.  She had promising results in 2022, finishing fourth in Hawaii at the LPGA’s Lotte Championship in April.  So Mi is one of the biggest characters on tour, and her fun and wacky personality has made her a big favorite there. She is consistent and knows how to win, so she should be expected to be near the top of the money list again in 2023.

Ga Young Lee finished 9th on the money list with 636 million won earned. 

She has been a promising star among the Swing Girls for years but wins eluded her.  That is, until last year, when she finally got her first, very long overdue win.  Interestingly, it came at the only event all season played with the Stableford scoring system.  For the moment, she is interested in staying in Korea rather than going overseas, and is looking to add more wins to her resume.

Hyun Kyung Park is arguably the most popular of the Swing Girls, although Lim has beaten her in the Most Popular fan vote the past two years. 

Park, whose nickname is ‘Cutieful’, had an off year in 2022; she was the only one of the Swing Girls not to get a win, although she came close, losing to So Young Lee in a playoff.  Still, she earned almost 600 million won and finished 12th on the money list.  Park seems to excel at Majors in particular, so it’s quite likely she will get back on the winning track in 2023, possibly at one of the biggest events of the season.

The fifth and lowest ranked Swing Girl in 2022 is Ayean Cho, who was 15th on the 2022 money list. 

Cho was not nearly as consistent as Lim or So Mi Lee in 2022, but she did manage two wins, her first wins on tour since 2019.  Ayean and So Mi are best friends, so much so that one week when Lee was taking the event off, she served as Cho’s caddie!  They have a hilarious, sarcastic relationship, frequently appearing together in extra-curricular golf TV shows, and since Cho is also pondering moving to the LPGA, they will possibly both end up cracking each other up on the LPGA tour next season.  But for now, Cho, whose nickname is ‘Iron Cho’, will be one to watch on the KLPGA tour this season.

Surprise winners

The KLPGA had a few surprise winners in 2022, some of whom are worth looking out for in 2023.  Yun Ji Jeong finished 6th on tour in 2022 with nearly 740 million won earned. 

She had her win in May at the E1 Charity Open.  She also had two seconds and two thirds and a total of eleven top tens.  She had never finished in the top 20 on the money list in her previous two seasons, but her efforts in 2022 announced her as a player to watch.

Jeong Mee Hwang had an even less illustrious start to her career than Yun Ji Jeong. 

It took her several years to make it to the KLPGA, finally qualifying in 2020.  Her first two years saw her finish in the middle of the pack.  But in 2022 she broke out with a win and two runner-up finishes.  She wound up 16th on the money list.  Is this a sign that she is about to become a big deal, or will she return back to the middle?  Signs are good for her to keep up her momentum.

Jin Seon Han finished 17th on the money list in 2022. 

She had more success previous to 2022 than the other women in this category, with a few top threes here and there and a previous best finish on the money list of 20.  But in 2022, she broke through with a win at the High One Resort Women’s Open and two other 4th place finishes.  She had to wait a long time for her win, even longer than Ga Young Lee, and her challenge in 2023 will be to prove she belongs with the elite players in the league.

Hyo Ju You has been better known as a fashionista than a golfer in her time on the tour. 

In her first few years on tour, she has struggled to maintain her card, even losing it for a while in 2019.  She was more consistent in 2022, but still shocked the tour by grabbing an unexpected win at the WEMIX Championship.  The event turned into a free-for-all, with close to a dozen players having a chance to win on Sunday.  Amazingly, it was the unheralded You who made the crucial plays for the victory.  It was her only top ten of the season, her next best finish a tie for 12th.  This would not suggest that she has a great career ahead of her, but she has surprised before and might do it again.

Big returnees

A couple of very popular players who had lost their cards will be returning to the KLPGA in 2023. Se Hee Lee had barely lost her tour card in 2021 when she finished 71st on the money list. 

She played on the Dream Tour in 2022 but returned to the KLPGA via their Q-School.  She gets good TV exposure in SBS golf programming, making her fairly popular despite her limited success.  We can expect her to focus primarily on maintaining membership on tour, so it’s unlikely she will challenge the big girls for tour supremacy.

So Hyeon Ahn is one of the big bombshells in Korea golf. 

She has spent several years in the wilderness after briefly belonging to the tour a few years ago, but she earned her card back at Q-School and will be a full member in 2023.  Like Lee, it’s unlikely she will do more than just maintain her card, but it’s guaranteed that the cameras will be on her whenever she’s in the field.

Stars who were MIA last year

Da Yeon Lee has often been a top ten golfer in her career, but she struggled with injuries in 2022 and missed much of the year. 

She still has not been sighted in 2023, so it’s possible she is not yet over her issues.  Whenever she does return, she is bound to be a star again.

Ha Na Jang is a five-time LPGA winner who returned full time to the KLPGA several years ago. 

She has done quite well since returning, but last year she had surprisingly bad results.  She doesn’t seem to have been injured, as she played all season; she just didn’t play up to her usual standards.  She only finished 80th on the money list and didn’t come close to winning.  Is this a temporary slump or the sign of something more long-lasting?

Ju Young Park, the younger sister of LPGA star Hee Young Park., missed most of 2022 due to maternity leave.

But she’ll be back in 2023.  She is best known for her famous sister and her wacky fashion sense.  She hasn’t yet won on the KLPGA, but she has come close often enough that it seems like just a matter of time before she breaks through.

The Teenage stars

The 2022 Rookie class was full of great young players.  Ye Been Sohn and Uhjin Seo came into the year with strong amateur records, but both just missed hanging on to their cards and had to go back to Q-School in the Fall. 

Uhjin Seo was the highest ranked player last year to lose her card. She finished 61st and only the top 60 kept their full cards.
Ye Been Sohn finished 62nd last year on the money list, also barely missing keeping her card.

They both got their cards back for 2023, and Seo has already managed a third place finish in one of the first two events of the year (back in December), so she is off to a great start in her sophomore year.

Jeongmin Moon, as mentioned before, certainly made an impression with her long hitting in 2022.  But she was not able to keep her card nor earn it back at Q-School.

The biggest name in the rookie class was also one of the youngest.  19-year-old Yewon Lee had a fantastic season. 

She was not able to win, although she came as close as you humanly can to winning without doing it.  She was 1 up with two holes to play in the finals at the Match Play, but lost the final two holes to lose the match. She also finished runner up in back-to-back weeks, both times to Su Ji Kim, and once by just a single shot.  In all, she had three seconds, three thirds, a fourth and four fifths, earning 850 million won, third on the money list.  For context, that’s the most money a player EVER has earned on tour in a season without a win.  She also had the highest rookie point total in history, becoming the first to break 3000 points.  If there’s one player on this list who has a great chance to elevate herself to superstar status in 2023, it’s probably Ye Won Lee.

The other teen star is alas not allowed to play on tour in 2023, despite winning in 2022.  Ina Yoon was the only rookie who won last year, but she confessed to cheating at another event and was banned from the tour for three years. 

Lately, there have been several articles in the Korean press talking about a growing number of people clambering for her return, feeling that the KLPGA was way too harsh in their punishment.  At this point it’s still an underground rumble, but the fact that she has made no known moves towards playing anywhere else lends credence to the idea that she might be working to get back to the KLPGA soon.  Stay tuned.  If Yoon, with her incredible long driving prowess (she makes Jeongmin Moon look like a plinker) returns to action, it could be a huge boon for the tour.

The Rookies to Watch

The 2023 rookie class looks as promising as 2022’s did.  The big name seems to be You Min Hwang

The teen has been getting ample chances to show what she can do.  For instance, she was the only amateur chosen last year to participate in the event that paired KLPGA stars with legends.  She came close to winning a KLPGA event last year, finishing second to Min Ji Park.  More recently, she played in a special event a few weeks ago that sent teams based on their main sponsor to compete in a stroke play event.  Despite the fact that their team had only two players, and thus they had to play every round, Hwang’s team won the trophy.  And Hwang basically carried that team, which also included multiple tour winner So Young Lee.  Hwang has a complete game, is long off the tee, and is not lacking for confidence.  She seems to have ‘superstar’ written all over her, and its only a matter of time before she proves it.

Don’t sleep on teen Min Byeol Kim, however.

Kim won KLPGA Q-School last year, having just turned pro the previous month.  She is known for her iron play and being a “cool customer” on course.  Born in January, 2004, she is about a year younger than Yewon Lee. 

Two of the top Dream tour stars from 2022 are also often mentioned as future stars. Ga Bin Choi finished third on the 2022 Dream Tour.  She won three times last year on that tour. 

Seo Yoon Kim 2 was the top player on the 2022 Dream Tour.  She is 20 years old and also won three times. 

Lastly, Min Sun Kim 7 has already played a few events on the KLPGA and stood out. 

At 177 cm tall (about 5’10”) she is one of the tallest players on tour.  She also is the first player to get the number ‘7’ appended to her name, meaning there are that many players with the same name as she has.  There is also a Ji Hyun Lee 7 in the rookie class, so it will be fun to see which of the ‘sevens’ ends up being the better player.

Ji Hyun Lee 7

We will start to get the answers to all the above questions and more as the KLPGA gets going this week.  Another great season seems assured!

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 8, 2023

2022 SeoulSisters Year End Review (3 of 3)


There were a few high-profile players who retired in 2022 or had other significant life changes.  The biggest name was Na Yeon Choi, a 9-time LPGA winner who had been a major star in the Korean golf world since 2003.  She had not had much success in the past five years and finally realized that the time had come to hang it up.  Youngin Chun is a young player who had briefly been on the LPGA before losing her card a few years ago.  She retired due to previously unrevealed medical issues that prevented her, in her opinion, from really being able to compete at the highest level.

Youngin Chun

Babies seem to be everywhere!  Inbee Park is expecting in 2023; Sun Ju Ahn had her twins and is back to playing full time on the KLPGA.  Hee Young Park and MJ Hur are also mothers or mothers-to-be.

Among the gals who tied the knot in 2022 were Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Lydia Ko and Ji Hyun Oh, who made history by marrying a PGA player, Si Woo Kim.  It is the first ever union of a PGA and KLPGA star.  Ji Hyun plans to put her career on hold for at least the time being and move to Dallas to live with her new husband, but hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the talented 7-time KLPGA winner.

Ji Hyun Oh (right) and Si Woo Kim

Rookie of the Year

The KLPGA fielded an impressive rookie class in 2022, the best since the legendary Class of 2019.  Although there was only one rookie winner all year, several more made strong impressions on leaderboards.  Among the most notable rookies were long-hitting Jeong Min Moon; Da Som Ma; Ji U Ko, who came close to winning; former amateur standouts Uhjin Seo and Ye Been Sohn; the tragic Ina Yoon, the only rookie to win in 2022; and the Rookie of the Year Yewon Lee, who became the first rookie to ever break 3000 rookie points in a season.  The LPGA had three important Korean rookies: Yaeeun Hong, who never really caught fire; Na Rin An, who won Q-Series in 2021 and had her moments in 2022; and Hye-Jin Choi, the big KLPGA star who often dazzled in 2022 on her new tour. 

Before I talk about the winner in this category, let’s review what I predicted about the race last year.  In Rookie to Watch, I said that Hye-Jin Choi was obviously a big talent to pay attention to, but I was most interested in seeing how Ina Yoon would do.  I said, “Yoon is more than just a long hitter.  She has skills across her game…”  Yoon got started slowly in 2022 but gained steam during the summer.  She was the only Korean rookie on either tour to get a win and rose as high as second in the rookie standings behind Yewon Lee (as well as reaching 71 in the world ranking) when disaster struck and she was forced out of the rest of the season due to the aforementioned cheating scandal.  It’s hard to know if she could have kept up the momentum and beaten Lee, who had a fantastic year all around, for the top prize.  But she and Hye-Jin certainly distinguished themselves with their play in 2022, as I predicted they would.

Ina Yoon

There are some interesting new names to watch in 2023 on both tours.  On the KLPGA, the names I’ve heard most about are You Min Hwang and Min Byeol Kim.  Hwang, 19, finished 6th in Qualifying School to easily win a tour card.   She has already notched decent finishes in a few KLPGA events (including a t-7th at the 2021 Pak Se Ri Invitational) and was a top amateur golfer who, among other feats, played the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2022.  The press in Korea really likes her potential, so we should keep an eye on her.  Min Byeol Kim has also had her moments in KLPGA events, including taking the first-round lead at the 2019 ADT-Caps Championship, and was the leading amateur at several events.  In 2021, she dominated the qualifier for the National team and was all set to play in the Asian Games when it was postponed due to Covid.  She decided to turn pro, reluctantly passing up her chance to play in that event.  She won the KLPGA Qualifying School in December to earn her full membership.

Min Byeol Kim

Both of those players are ones to watch, but the rookies with the most potential to shine are on the LPGA tour next year.  I like Korean Australian Grace Kim, who came oh-so-close to winning the Australian Women’s Open in December.  She was tied for the lead on the final hole but made a mess there and missed her chance for the win.  She finished fifth on the Epson Tour money list in 2022 to earn LPGA status for 2023.

But without question, the rookie to watch in 2023 will be Hae Ran Ryu.  The big hitting star from the KLPGA easily won LPGA Q-Series to earn her tour card.  She has consistently been a top five star on the KLPGA, with five career wins on tour.  She was the 2020 KLPGA Rookie of the Year, finishing second on the money list that year.  She was 5th in 2021 and 4th in 2022 with one win each year.  She even managed a win on tour when she was still an amateur.  Her longtime goal has always been to get to the LPGA, and she has the talent and the driving distance to be a big star, something the LPGA Koreans definitely need.  If she stays healthy, she has an excellent chance to become the first Korean to claim the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year award since 2019.

Hae Ran Ryu

OK, back to the 2022 rookie competition.  Which Korean deserves to be called our Rookie of the Year for 2022?

It’s a close call.  Yewon Lee and Hye-Jin Choi share a dubious distinction: this season, they both became the players on their respective tours who set the all-time record for most money earned in a season without a win.  Not the records they wanted to set, I’m sure.  Both came really close to breaking through with wins, both were extremely consistent all year.  It was a harder road for Choi, given she had to deal with the implacable Atthaya Thitikul, who beat her for Rookie of the Year.  Lee, meanwhile, easily won the Rookie of the Year on the KLPGA, especially once Ina Yoon was out of the picture: Lee’s 3001 point total was nearly 800 points above second place Ji U Ko.  Yewon Lee therefore edges Hye-Jin Choi as my choice for Rookie of the Year.

Yewon Lee had just turned 19 at the start of the KLPGA season this year.  She was coming off a strong year on the Dream Tour, where she earned her KLPGA card by finishing fourth on that tour’s money list.  She earned nearly 850 million won in 2022, third on the KLPGA money list.  She compiled 13 top tens including 3 seconds and three thirds. 

Her closest brush with victory came at the Doosan Match Play.  She made it all the way to the finals, led her final match most of the day, but lost the final two holes to lose by 1.  She also came close at the Hana Bank Championship, losing by 1 to Su Ji Kim (although her position was elevated slightly by holing out from the fairway on her final shot).  Amazingly, she also had finished second the previous week at the Pak Se Ri Invitational, again losing by one to Su Ji Kim.

She was 8th in scoring average and finished the year inside the top 40 in world ranking, an enormous improvement from the start of the year, when she was outside the top 400.

Yewon Lee

Hye-Jin had a fabulous season that saw her hovering most of the year between 15 and 25 in the world ranking.  Her best finish was a tie for 2nd at the Canadian Women’s Open.  She was in the hunt all the way, and even though she struggled with her putting on Sunday, she had chances to pull out the win on the final two holes.  Alas, she lost to South African Paula Reto.  Weirdly, this marked the second time in 2022 that a Korean star lost to an unheralded South African getting her first career win in a national championship, after In Gee lost to Ashley Buhai at the British Women’s Open.

Even without a win, Choi’s record was impressive.  She made over $2 million for the season, one of only a handful of Koreans to ever break the $2 million mark.  That was good for 6th on the money list.  She was third in Greens in Regulation, 10th in scoring average, 4th in birdies made, 3rd in eagles made and, of course, second in the Rookie of the Year race to Thitikul.  She had 10 top tens.  She had a great Major record, too: 17th at the Chevron, 3rd at the US Women’s Open, tied for 5th at the KPMG (she made an epic lengthy birdie on the final green to the roars of the crowd), and top 25s at the other two.  She did everything except get a win and finish as the top Rookie. 

Given Yewon’s amazing year, and the fact that she crushed her rookie competition, I feel like Yewon should ultimately be the SeoulSisters Rookie of the Year, but Choi was so close she’s almost more 1a than 2nd.  Great year for both ladies!

Player of the Year

With all due respect to In Gee Chun, the Player of the Year award this year came down to three players: Lydia Ko, Minjee Lee and the KLPGA star Min Ji Park.  I’ve decided to give the award to Min Ji, but I will lay out the weak and strong points for all three.  It was a pretty tough decision!

As mentioned before, Min Ji Park won six times in 2022.  She also won six times in 2021.  The last player who has won at least 12 times in two years on that tour was Jiyai Shin back in 2008-2009. It is an exceedingly rare feat.  Even more impressively, her 1.477 billion won earnings was the second most ever earned on tour, exceeded only by her 2021 total.  But in some ways, her 2022 season was more impressive than 2021.  For one, that year she managed all six of her wins in the first half of the year.  In 2022, she won the final event of the year while her first win came back in May, the second month of the season.  She was more consistently great throughout the year.

Min Ji won her third event in July, then had a mini-slump and did not get her fourth win until the KB Star Championship in mid-September.  That was one of two Majors she won on tour in 2022, the other being the year’s final Major, the Hite Cup.  Besides her wins, she also had a third at the Korea Women’s Open, a second at the Hanwha, and a 4th at the KLPGA Championship, meaning she was top 4 in all five Majors in 2022.  Interestingly, those were her only top four finishes all year besides her wins.  She had 12 total top tens.

Min Ji with her Hite Cup trophy

On the downside, she had an unusual number of weaker events considering how great she often was.  She finished outside the top twenty ten times, although all but three of those were top 30 finishes.  She did not win Player of the Year, although she did finish a respectable third, and did not lead the league in scoring, finishing third there as well.  In her one event on the LPGA tour, the Amundi Evian Championship, she finished just tied for 37th, although since she has almost never played outside of Korea, this is not so surprising. 

All in all, given her six wins, amazing record in the Majors, near-record setting money list total, and solid POY and scoring results, she deserved the Player of the Year award for this year.

Minjee Lee, the Australian star, a.k.a. ‘the other Min Ji’, had a fantastic season in 2022 herself.  Besides In Gee Chun, she is the only Sister to win a Major in 2022, claiming the US Women’s Open for her second career Major win.  Minjee breathed down Jin Young Ko’s neck all year, threatening to become the #1 golfer in the world, but she was never able to get above 2.  Still, she was amazing all season, starting with a tie for second at her first event, the HSBC.  She shot a final round 63 to come from way back and almost steal the win away from Jin Young Ko.  She put together several more strong events before claiming her first win of the year at the Cognizant Founders Cup in May. 

At the US Women’s Open a few weeks later, she started with rounds of 67, 66 and 67 to put herself in the driver’s seat.  The course had wide open fairways and scoring was easier than usual, so even though Lee had the lead, she had to play decently to prevent someone sneaking up on her and snatching it away.  But fortunately for her, they decided to set the course up tougher on Sunday, making it hard for anyone to go low and catch her. Lee still needed to shoot a decent score, however, and her 71 allowed her to easily claim the prize.

Minjee almost captured a second Major when she made a huge run in the final round of the KPMG the next month.  She finished just a shot behind In Gee Chun, tied for second.  She also had a t-4th at the British Women’s Open.

But after that, she began to struggle mightily.  After withdrawing from the Canadian Women’s Open, she did not have a top ten the rest of the year.  Her best finish, in fact, was just a tie for 33rd in her final six starts.  It seems likely she had an injury to explain the sudden massive downturn in her game.

She made $3.809 million in 2022, beating Jin Young Ko’s record of 2021 for all-time highest season money total for a Sister (but see below; it only ended up being the second best in history after all!).  That was good for 2nd on the money list.  Her scoring average was 7th (69.69).  It was a very strong year for Lee, but the other Min Ji had a better record at the Majors (2 wins and top 4s in the others), led the league in money, had three times as many wins, and was more consistent throughout the year.  Even given the fact of the LPGA being a tougher league than the KLPGA, I still felt Min Ji had the better year.

Lydia Ko had a more impressive year that Minjee in some ways, although she did not win any Majors.  She did have a 5th at the US Women’s Open, a tie for 3rd at the Evian and a tie for 7th at the British.  Decent, but not the same level as either Minjee or Min Ji in their respective Majors.  Lydia did manage three wins, however, including capturing the CME at the end of the year to earn $2 million, the most money ever earned by a woman in a single event in history.  Her money list total ended up being first in the league, beating Minjee’s own best-ever Seoul Sister money total with an even better one, $4.364 million.  She also won the Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average with a 68.99 average.  She thus managed several awards Min Ji didn’t get but had only half the wins.  She had 14 top tens, slightly more than Min Ji.  Oh yeah, and she also rose to #1 in the world ranking, getting back to that level for the first time in several years.

Lydia with her many post-season awards

Without question, it was a fantastic season for the old Ko, after several years where the new Ko (Jin Young) had led the money list.  I decided, however, that Ko not winning any Majors and only half as often as Min Ji were the key factors in giving the SeoulSisters Player of the Year award to Min Ji Park over her.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 7, 2023

2022 SeoulSisters Year End Review (2 of 3)

Meanwhile, back on the KLPGA…

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  In 2021, Min Ji Park won six events and set the all-time record for most money earned in a single season on the KLPGA.  And what do you know, in 2022, she again won six times and led the money list, this time with the second highest money total ever achieved.  Min Ji has been so strong and consistent that she decided at the end of 2022 that it was at last time to prepare herself for the move to the LPGA at the end of the 2023 season. 

But as good as Park was in 2022, she did not win the KLPGA’s Player of the Year award.  That went to Su Ji Kim, who wins our award as the Most Improved Player in 2022.  Her world ranking rose from 81st to 33rd during the year.  2021 had been Kim’s breakthrough year, after several years of struggling to be seen.  That year she won twice and finished 7th on the money list.  But she far eclipsed that in 2022.  She had two wins again, in back-to-back events at the Pak Se Ri Invitational and the Hana Bank Championship.  But she was also in the top ten pretty much all the time, week after week: a mind-boggling 17 top tens on the year, including two seconds and two thirds on top of her two wins.  She earned over a billion won for the season, one of the few to ever achieve that, and only the second player to ever do that and not win the money list title.  She also had the lowest scoring average on tour in 2022, 70.47.

But there was more to the tour in 2022 than Park and Kim.  Ga Young Lee is the winner of our It’s About Time Award for FINALLY getting her long awaited first win after non-stop excellence since joining the tour in 2019. That win came at the Dongbu Construction event in mid-October, interestingly the only event all year that used the Stableford scoring system.  Fellow 2019 rookie Ayean Cho had not won on tour since her rookie season but managed two wins in 2022.  So Mi Lee, Cho’s best friend and also a 2019 alumna, also managed two wins, although it took her until nearly the end of the season to get them.  Yet another 2019 star, Hee Jeong Lim, won the Korea Women’s Open, the most important event of the year.

Ga Young Lee and her long awaited trophy
Ayean Cho and So Mi Lee
Hee Jeong Lim

There were some surprising wins as well.  Jeong Mee Hwang and Hyo Ju You were both journeyman players who achieved surprise wins despite their frequent struggles to maintain their cards through their careers.  Hyo Ju is our Cinderella of the Year award recipient, as her win has led to a much higher profile for the fashionable star.  She was even given the chance to speak for the tour winners at the KLPGA Award Show and was invited to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game.

Hyo Ju You

Hae Ran Ryu continued her great career on the KLPGA in 2022, then packed her bags for the US after winning the LPGA’s Q-Series qualifying event in December.  A Lim Kim returned from that tour to play at the KLPGA Championship, the year’s first Major, and amazingly won, her first win since leaving for the States.  A Lim’s fantastic 50-foot birdie on the 16th hole followed by a massive double fist pump and shout was one of the most iconic shots and reactions of the year.

Hae Ran Ryu
A Lim Kim

Han Sol Ji, Jung Min Hong, Su Yeon Jang and Jin Seon Han all returned to the winner’s circle after long absences.

Jin Seon Han
Han Sol Ji

There was controversy as well.  Ga Eun Song was DQed from one event for using an illegal range finder.  This finder had a feature that allows a user to gauge the elevation change in the shot, which is not allowed.  Even though she claimed to not use the feature, it is still illegal to use a finder that has that capability even if that feature is unused.  Later that year, the KLPGA was embroiled in a series of controversies involving the way it decided which TV network would gain the rights for its popular events.  The winner, SBS Golf, had not made the most lucrative offer, and there were accusations of payoffs and other shady activity, so much so that a government agency got involved.  The investigation is ongoing.

But perhaps the biggest controversy of the year involved a young rookie named Ina Yoon.  The teenaged Yoon, one of the longest hitters in the history of the tour, electrified the fans with several brilliant performances in June and July, culminating in a win.  She was on her way to becoming the most popular player on tour when she admitted that she had cheated by playing the wrong ball at one event.  The tour took months to decide how to punish her before banning her from the tour for a staggering three years.  This draconian punishment might very well be the end of her career unless she leaves Korea to play elsewhere.  Yoon disappeared for a while, but in the last month has started posting on Instagram again and showed up, all smiles, at a fan meeting in December, where she was greeted rapturously.  Her main sponsor, Hite, also promised to maintain her sponsorship until its natural end in two years’ time.  It’s still not clear if she will abide by the KLPGA’s ruling and not play until 2025, or if she will go somewhere else to play, but hopefully she has a Plan B, because there basically is no viable Plan A.

Ina Yoon greets her fan club in December

KLPGA Fashion Stars of the Year

Like most years, the KLPGA was chock-full-of fantastic fashions.  Here are a few of the standouts from the year.

Chae Eun Lee proves it IS easy being green

Eun Soo Jang

Gagyung Lee

Hyo Min Jun

Hyun Kyung Park had a number of interesting Pearly Gates outfits in 2022, including this stunner

Ina Yoon wasn’t wearing the crown and scepter to accessorize with her pink outfit at the Ever Collagen Queens event; she was awarded them after winning!

Ju Yeon In

Jae Hee Kim’s colorful top matches her vibrant personality.

Jee Hyun Ahn – lots of interesting details on this outfit, including the mesh shoulder, the vertical ribbing, and the unusual open section on the leg.

Jenny Shin

Ji Yu Jung – she’ll be playing in Japan next season.

Keun Young An is still trying to get back onto the KLPGA full time, but she wore this shoulderless number during one of the times she did play on the KLPGA in 2022.

Hee Jeong Lim

Jeong Min Moon dazzled in this bright pink outfit.

Sei Young Kim 2 is not the LPGA star, but she made our list with this red outfit.

Ye Been Sohn is the Nike girl on tour. Since she didn’t have a shoulder on the outfit, they pasted the Nike swoosh right on her bare shoulder!

So Hye Park

Su Jin Lee 3

Ye Won Lee: the Rookie of the Year in bright blue

Yoon Kyung Heo wore this interesting outfit in a made-for-TV event.  Retro and stylish!

Hyo Ju You won her first trophy in 2022 and, as usual, was the center of attention in her interesting Descente ensembles. The second one kept her warm in the late Fall events.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 6, 2023

2022 SeoulSisters Year End Review (1 of 3)

It’s time once again for me to take a look at the recently completed year in women’s golf for the Seoul Sisters.

A Year of struggles

2022 will not go down in history as one of the greatest years for the Korean golfers.  2021 hadn’t been all that great, either, especially on the LPGA, but it was saved by the heroic brilliance of Jin Young Ko, who made one of the greatest rallies in the history of the sport to come from nowhere and steal the Player of the Year trophy from Nelly Korda.  Alas, after a strong start to her season this year, Ko was ground down by a nagging injury that caused her to play some of the worst golf she had played since turning pro.  Nobody else was able to entirely pick up the slack for Ko, although there were a few highlights here and there.  Because of this, I will forego the usual award format for the most part and will instead give an overview of the highs and lows of the year just ended.  Where it makes sense, I’ll highlight achievements by bolding the award they might have won for that success in previous years.

While Jin Young struggled, the other big names among the Korean veterans were also not doing much.  So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park had arguably their worst seasons in the past decade.  Inbee has recently announced her pregnancy, so it seems unlikely she will play much in 2023, either.  Sei Young Kim, just two years away from her Player of the Year season, was also lost, not winning an event for only the second year in her career.  Na Yeon Choi retired, In Kyung Kim only showed up a few times, and Amy Yang didn’t do much, either.  Only one over-thirty golfer, Eun Hee Ji, made big noise, and other than her win at the Match Play, she was not much of a factor.

Na Yeon Choi meets the press at her final LPGA tournament, the BMW Championship in Korea

Several of the younger players underperformed, too.  Jeongeun Lee6, despite a few promising outings, still seems to be struggling with swing changes.  Sung Hyun Park is still in the doldrums.  Among the rookies, Yaeeun Hong was not able to maintain a card, and Na Rin An only contended a few times during the year.  Hye Jin Choi, however, had a very strong year, while In Gee Chun had an incredible comeback.

Fortunately, some Sisters who represented other countries had strong years, and we will be talking about them in the highlights.

The Koreans had a terrible year on the JLPGA with almost no wins, but the KLPGA produced some great storylines, with an excellent rookie class for 2022 and some surprising new names atop the league.

Now on to the details!

Jin Young Ko: Tough Going

Jin Young Ko ended the 2021 season in as amazing a fashion as we’ve ever seen:  five wins in nine starts and hitting the final 63 greens in regulation in a row.  There is no known man or woman who has ever come anywhere close to that kind of greens in regulation streak since records have been kept.  She won Player of the Year, led the money list with the highest total a Korean had ever achieved, and other than a worrying wrist injury, seemed lined up for an explosive 2022.

But it didn’t happen.  At first, things were proceeding the same way as they had ended the previous season.  Her first 2022 event was in Singapore at the HSBC Women’s World Championship, arguably the most important tournament played in Asia each year.  Her GIR-in-a-row streak ended in the first round at 66 in a row, but she shot all four rounds in the 60s to set an all-time new record for most rounds in the 60s in a row at 15.  And that broke the previous record of 14, which she had just tied at the end of last year!  She also broke the record for most consecutive rounds under par with 31.  A trophy and three amazing records: situation normal for Jin Young Ko!

It didn’t come easy, though. She was in a battle all week with several other Korean stars.  This was without question the most exciting Korean vs. Korean confrontation of the year.  In the final round, she had a lackluster start and fell three shots out of the lead by the 12th.  In Gee Chun and Jeongeun Lee6 were both playing great, and Minjee Lee made a huge run up the leaderboard as well.  But at that point, Ko started making birdie after birdie, striped an iron to 15 feet on the final hole and took her first lead of the week.  In Gee had had her first third round lead since her Evian win in 2016, but could not hold on and finished second.  Six had the lead right up until her final hole but made a mess of 18 and handed the win to Ko.  Minjee Lee ran out of holes after shooting a 63.  With her win, Ko now had six wins in her previous ten starts.

In Gee Chun in the third round of the HSBC

Her rounds-in-the-60s streak ended in the second round at her next event, but she still managed a t-4th there.  That led into the year’s first Major.  Ko had amazingly not won a Major since 2019, when she won both of her career Majors.  But she sure seemed primed.  Alas, the final playing of the Chevron Championship (formerly the ANA Inspiration) at Mission Hills was a disaster for her.  She shot a 74 in the first round, her first over-par round since the last time she played a Major, back at the Evian in 2021.  She had another 74 on Saturday and only broke par once all week, finishing 53rd.

Jin Young’s game looked very shaky at the Chevron, but she bounced back a month later with a second place finish at the Palos Verdes Championship at the end of April. She played well, making 14/14 greens in regulation, but just didn’t make enough putts.  She followed that with a 4th at the US Women’s Open and a t-8th at the Evian.  But then things went completely off the rails for her.  At the Scottish and British Opens, she had three straight over-par rounds, the first time that had happened in her entire LPGA career.  She made the cut in Scotland but finished well down the leaderboard.  She missed the cut at the British the following week, her first missed cut in a Major since her rookie year.  She then missed the cut at her next event, the Canadian Women’s Open, where she was defending her 2019 title. 

Jin Young was all smiles at the Scottish Open but finished near the bottom of the leaderboard, tied for 71st

By this point it was clear that her wrist troubles were back and worse than ever; as a result, she was missing more fairways and greens than ever before.  She had tried changing her swing coach, but that didn’t work, either.  She took time off to regroup, returning to defend her title in Korea at the BMW.  But that was another disaster: she shot an 80 in the first round, one of her all-time worst scores.  Included was a sloppy and sad 10 on the par-5 18th.  She followed that with a 79 in round two, after which she withdrew.  She returned for two more events before the season ended, but it was clear that she was far from able to compete at her usual level.

What will become of this transcendent talent?  Is her wrist problem career threatening?  Or will she be able to get it fixed and return to her former level?  Hopefully she is taking care of her wrist in the off-season and will return ready to roll in 2023.

In Gee Chun’s Return to Greatness

There was at least one Korean star who had a fantastic year on the LPGA.  The woman nicknamed ‘Dumbo’, In Gee Chun, had not won an event since 2018 and had not been a top ten in the world golfer since 2019.  She had somewhat of a comeback in 2021, notching eight top tens, but she did not have any wins or top threes despite her increasing presence on leaderboards. 

In Gee started the year ranked 36th in the world, not even among the top ten Koreans in the rankings.  She would not be as consistently good in 2022 as in 2021, finishing in the top ten only three times all year.  But each of those was a top two finish, better than anything she had done in 2021.  And though she had few top tens, she had a lot of top 25 finishes, missing that level only six times all year.   Her performance in Majors was strong: t-25th at Chevron, t-15th at the US Women’s Open, and t-22nd at the Evian.  But it was at the other two Majors, and the HSBC – which is one of the most important non-Majors on tour – where she really shined.

In Gee played herself into the third-round lead at the HSBC in March with one of the best rounds she had played in years; it was her first third-round lead since the Evian in 2016.  She played in the final group on Sunday with Jeongeun Lee6 and Jin Young Ko, who were just a shot behind her.  She had a solid Sunday but was only able to finish tied for 2nd to the unstoppable Ko.

The year’s third Major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in late June, was played on the brutally hard setup at Congressional Country Club in Maryland.  In round one, the best players the game had to offer struggled to stay near par.  But not In Gee.  She shot the Round of the Year on Thursday, a mind-boggling 8-under-par 64.  How good was her day?  Only six other players in the morning wave she played broke par, and they all shot 71s.  In Gee had NINE birdies and a single bogey.  The average score when she left the course was 76.01.  Scoring got a little better in the afternoon, but In Gee still had a five-shot lead by the end of the day.  Her stroke differential vs. the field average was a record-shattering 12.04 strokes according to Golf Digest.  If true, that would be the best in recorded Major history, male or female. 

In Gee after her epic first round

In Gee had a strong second round as well, increasing her lead to six shots.  She played well in the third round, but couldn’t seem to buy a break, and a few silly decisions late cost her several strokes and a 75.  She still had a three-shot lead and looked in good shape to win.

The final round was a battle.  She had a lot of trouble on the front nine and both Minjee Lee and Lexi Thompson moved into the hunt.  Indeed, Thompson got the lead and looked poised to steal the win, but In Gee made several clutch plays late, Thompson missed several short putts, and In Gee grabbed the win, her third career Major in three different events.  It was the greatest single win by a Sister in 2022, and it made Chun only the third Korean, after Inbee Park and Se Ri Pak, to capture more than two career Majors.

In Gee had a chance to complete the career Grand Slam at the next Major, the AIG British Women’s Open.  She played brilliantly again, capturing the lead in the second round.  She even had a birdie putt that waited on the lip of one hole for several seconds before dropping, much to the crowd’s amusement; I’ll call that the Shot of the Year.  But unheralded journeywoman Ashley Buhai had a ridiculously great third round, rocketing to a five-shot lead.  In Gee hadn’t played badly, but she had her work cut out for her if she were going to catch Buhai.  On Sunday, Buhai hung in there until she made a huge mistake for a triple bogey.  It wasn’t a great back nine for Chun, but she made enough putts to force a playoff.  She also had several heartbreaker putts that lipped out or stopped just short of falling, any one of which would have given her her fourth career Major. 

She and Buhai duked it out as the sun started to set, but alas Chun hit her drive on the fourth playoff hole into a bunker and Buhai hit a miraculous out from near the green to give herself a gimme par save.  In Gee couldn’t match it and Buhai had the win.  It was the Best Performance that Came Up Short this year, but two top twos in Majors and one win is a great record.  Her success got her back into the top ten in the world rankings for the first time since 2019.

As the season wound to a close, In Gee had two further notable moments.  First, she was chosen by her fellow LPGA pros to receive the Founder’s Award, given each year to the woman who best exemplifies the spirit and values of the tour.  Quite an honor indeed, and well deserved.

In December, she returned to Korea and held an exhibition of her artwork.  In Gee had started painting at the end of 2021 and quickly became obsessed.  She and her art teacher called the show ‘Bird Meet Dumbo’, as the teacher’s trademark is including birds in her paintings, and In Gee is of course nicknamed Dumbo.  The show will continue until mid-January, and any money made from paintings sold will go to her foundation in Lancaster, PA.  I read one article that said she had already sold the ‘Bird, Meet Dumbo’ painting for 20 million won (about $18K) before the show even began.

Eun Hee Ji’s Matchless week

Only four players representing South Korea won on the LPGA in 2022.  We’ve already talked about two of them.  Another was Hyo Joo Kim, who captured the Lotte championship in Hawaii in April.  Hyo Joo actually had a pretty good season, finishing top ten in three of the five Majors (best finish: t-3rd at the Evian) and grabbing 8 total top tens.  But she did not win again after the Lotte.

But the strangest win of the season was doubtless Eun Hee Ji’s at the year’s only Match Play event, the Bank of Hope Match Play in late May.  The event had a lot of Korean participants, some of which played quite well, but they had trouble getting out of the preliminary round robin portion.  Hye Jin Choi was brilliant, winning all three of her preliminary matches, but she ended up facing Eun Hee in the round of 16.  Ji had needed to tie Kelly Tan in her final preliminary round to advance to match play but left herself a 20 foot par save that she had to make.  Amazingly she drained it and advanced.  Jenny Shin was the only other Korean to get to the match play portion, although several, including Lee6, came close.

Choi and Ji were tied after 15 holes, but Choi did not take advantage of her length on the par5 16th and Ji won that hole and later the match.  Shin easily advanced over Annie Park.  Ji next destroyed Madeleine Sagstrom, who had to that point been undefeated.  But Shin lost, meaning the final four consisted of Ji and Korean-American Andrea Lee among the final four.  Ji beat Lee and then beat young rookie Ayaka Furue 3 & 2 to become the oldest Korean to ever win on the LPGA.  At 36, she broke the age record by more than THREE YEARS.  An unbelievable result for the wily veteran!

Korean Americans and Others Picked up the Slack

Andrea Lee’s semifinal ranking at the Match Play was one of several great results by Korean Americans on tour in 2022.  Add on to that the great years for Lydia Ko (Korean from New Zealand) and Minjee Lee (Korean Australian) and the Diaspora almost ended up carrying the year for the Sisters.  We’ll get to Ko and Lee soon enough, but first the Americans.

The year started well for the Sisters when Danielle Kang won the year’s first event, the Tournament of Champions.  She put herself into the hunt at the next event, the Gainsbridge, but Lydia Ko won that one with Danielle finishing second.  Still, Danielle was on a roll and looked ready to rise to the top of the heap among all American golfers on tour.  She notched two more top tens, but just as she was reaching her apex, she stalled, not producing another good event until the NW Arkansas event in late September, where she finished second.  She wound up ranked 16th in the world ranking at the end of the season.

Danielle on the cover of the American Golf Digest in late 2021, just a couple months before her win at the Tournament of Champions

Andrea Lee stepped up her game in 2022.  Her rookie year was 2020, and the former Stanford star had two top tens that year.  She only made 8 cuts in 2021, however, and fell to 109th on the money list.  So, she had something to prove in 2022, and she did it in spades.  She notched a tie for 5th at the Palos Verdes Championship in April, then a 4th place at the Match Play.  Later in the season, she followed up a tie for fifth in the Kroger Queen City event with her first ever win at the AmazingCre Portland Classic.  She came close to a second win at the BMW Championship in Korea.  She wound up 20th on the money list with over a million dollars earned, by far her best results since joining the tour.

Fun Interlude: Thirtysomethings get it done!

There is a group of different women’s golf leagues who are working together to create a set of big money events in Asia. Their goal is to allow Asian female golfers from all over the continent to compete a few times a year.  One of the first of these events took place in 2022: the Simone Asia Pacific Cup.  The event, which took place in Indonesia in August, had teams from several Asian countries, including Korea, and gave prizes for individual and team.  The team of Bo Mee Lee and So Yeon Ryu claimed the team title, while Ryu just missed out on the singles title, finishing second.  It was a welcome return to the winner’s circle for these two great veterans!

So Yeon Ryu (left) and Bo Mee Lee
Posted by: happyfan08 | October 26, 2022

For the Good of the Game

When does punishment become overkill?

Though she had just turned 19 a month earlier, Ina Yoon was fast becoming the biggest star on the Korean LPGA tour.  She had everything she needed to become not just a great player, but an above-the-line superstar.  She was young, extremely gifted, and walked with the swagger of someone who knew she was good and was only going to get better.  She knew how to dress and present herself and oozed with charisma.  The better she played, the more fans flocked to her.  And most of all, she possessed length off the tee like the KLPGA had rarely seen.  Every time she teed up another drive, it was an event.  What amazing thing would she do next?  She hit 300+ yard drives routinely, notching a 345 yarder at one point.  She was extraordinary, beyond anything the KLPGA had seen before.

In May and June of 2022, Yoon went from being a potential star to a phenomenon.  She notched top fives in consecutive events, then claimed a win two events later.  At the McCol Mona Park Open in early July, she was the only player on Sunday who made a strong effort to catch the leader Jin Hee Im.  She made a fantastic long birdie on 17, but still probably needed an eagle on the par-5 final hole.  The problem was that no one had been able to reach that green all week.  Ina was up for the challenge: she pulverized her drive, then hit a phenomenal second that got onto the green to the roars of the crowd and the utter astonishment of the commentators!  She missed the eagle and finished second, but the effort was so fantastic that the video replay of the hole became a viral sensation in Korea. Her Instagram popularity exploded.  Not long after, she achieved her first win at the EverCollagen Queens event by sinking a fifteen-foot birdie putt on the final hole.  She received a crown and scepter instead of the usual trophy.  It seemed strangely appropriate for a trophy ceremony that felt like the coronation of a new princess.

Ina wins her first KLPGA event

The videos the network posted of her exploits routinely garnered 4 to 10 times the views of anyone else’s.  They started using her in the pre-event hype, and at the next event after her win, the hype was almost entirely shaped around her, the other stars circling around her during the pre-event videos.

On the cusp of superstardom, it all came suddenly, viciously crashing down.  Literally overnight, she stopped playing in tournaments, ceased all social media, stopped giving interviews and disappeared from public view.  What happened?  Yoon admitted she had cheated at one event.  Suddenly, the only stories about her were: what would her punishment be?  The Golden Girl was tarnished.

The facts seem clear.  The incident happened at the Korea Women’s Open, the year’s most important event, in June, just a month after her 19th birthday (making her one of the youngest players on the KLPGA).  Yoon did not start well.  Because of her length, she has a tendency to hit off-line drives, and she started the week hitting plenty of them.  At one hole, she again ended up in the woods.  She walked to her ball, which was indicated by a helpful marshal, and hit it to the green.  But when she picked it up at the green, she discovered that the ball wasn’t hers.  She briefly considered telling someone.  She knew she wasn’t allowed to play a ball that wasn’t hers.  But, she claimed later, she wasn’t sure how to let someone know and what to do next.  She decided not to tell the officials (though her parents and caddie knew) and completed the round.  She wound up missing the cut by a lot and went on with her life.

Ina during the Korea Women’s Open round that changed her life

But that wasn’t the end.  A few weeks later, she decided to change caddies.  The rumor is that her caddie threatened to tell the officials about her illegal act if she fired him.  Without hesitating, she sent an email to the KLPGA, telling them about what she had done, then summarily fired the caddie.  She gave no excuses in the email, and said she was willing to take whatever punishment they decreed.  She announced at that point that she would stop playing any more events, do no more sponsor activities, and would not appear on social media or give interviews until the KLPGA decided what they would do to her.  And she kept her word.

According to every source I have read, she is only accused of committing that one infraction.  Even the caddie she fired did not accuse her of any other violations, and he had motivation to get back at her.  She cooperated fully with the tour.  She admitted everything and did not try to cover it up or throw her caddie under the bus.  She realized that what she had done was wrong.  She put herself into the hands of the tour, expecting they would do the right thing.

And then they blew it.  Amazingly, the KLPGA seemingly had no idea what to do.  You would think that they would have a policy in place for such an incident and would immediately punish her and move on.  But instead, they dilly dallied, claiming they needed to create a special panel to review the incident (why?).  They gave no indication that they supported Yoon in any way, gave her no positive reinforcement for coming forward and cooperating.  This young woman who had already done a lot to support the tour and improve its visibility seemed to mean nothing to them.

Ina before the fall

Complicating matters was the fact that the Korea Women’s Open was not a KLPGA event.  It was run by the Korea Golf Association, so the KLPGA gave them first crack at punishing her.  It took those people nearly a month to make a decision.  Their verdict: three-year suspension from all KGA events.  Which meant just one event per year, the Open, the only event of theirs she would ever play.  So, she would miss a total of three events over three years.  Harsh to be sure, but in the end not a death sentence.  What really mattered was the precedent the decision might set for the KLPGA.

The KLPGA delayed further.  While Yoon twisted in limbo, they waited another month.  Finally, on September 20, two months after they found out about the incident and three months after it happened, they called Yoon to HQ for the sentencing.  She was mobbed by reporters out front.  She looked ashen and defeated, a far cry from the confident woman she had been before. Bowing her head, she simply told reporters that she had been spending her time reflecting on her actions and would accept the punishment.  Several of her fans held signs outside, asking the KLPGA to be lenient on the young woman just starting her career.

Fans outside KLPGA HQ ask the tour to be merciful with Ina

The tour, however, was anything but merciful.  The KLPGA issued the same verdict as the KGA had: three-year suspension.  They didn’t even give her credit for the two months she had waited: it was three years from that date.  This wasn’t just three events like it had been with the KGA punishment; this was more like 80 events over three years.  A crippling, essentially career-ending punishment.  In my mind, a truly outrageous sentence and vastly more than she should have received. Was this punishment really for the “good of the game” or just jaw-dropping overkill?

Ina goes to KLPGA HQ to receive her punishment

Pro golfers almost never recover from taking three years off in the prime of their careers. If she does what they say, she won’t even be able to play another event until September 2025.  But even then, she will have lost her KLPGA membership and will have to earn it back.  Even assuming she hasn’t completely lost her game, she will probably have to return to the Jump Tour, the lowest tour in Korea.  Unless she gets a KLPGA card in Q-School that Fall (unlikely), she will probably not be able to seriously challenge on the Jump Tour until the following March (by the time she is allowed to join that tour its season will be almost over).  If she plays well there, she might make it to the Dream tour by May or June.  This is now nearly FOUR years after she last played on the KLPGA.  She would then have to earn a KLPGA card by getting in the top 20 on the Dream Tour money list.  Other than sponsor’s invites, she at best would not earn her tour card until the end of that year, meaning she will be on the KLPGA at the earliest in April 2027.  We are now closing in on FIVE years.  And that’s a best-case scenario.

Meanwhile, she will have lost most of her sponsorships, will have little money to hire coaches, and will have to deal with the stigma of this verdict, any psychological damage this might have done and the bad treatment she will get from fans who no longer like her.  It would take a very strong person to face all that and come out OK.  Forget about playing golf, she’ll be lucky not to fall into deep, lasting depression.

All of this because of ONE incident, at an event where she was already so far back that she had no chance of making the cut, let alone winning.  Nobody else in the field was adversely affected by what she did.  Yet still: for “the good of the game”, they will destroy the life of this young woman.  Based on the KLPGA’s actions, anyone who cheats in the future has learned a valuable lesson: NEVER admit it.  Had she lied and called the caddie crazy, she probably would have gotten away with it.  Cooperating with the KLPGA gained her absolutely nothing and probably was the reason her career was destroyed.

Ina Yoon shortly before the fall. Her driving average was 5 yards longer than anyone else’s on the KLPGA

The sport of golf has more pomposity and grandiose self-aggrandizement associated with it than almost any other sport (except possibly baseball).  But perhaps their most annoying pretension comes from the notion that ‘the players are their own referees’.  It goes without saying that this supposedly inherent tenet of the game has not been universally followed over the years; simply put, some people have gotten away with murder by being good at cheating, while others have paid a huge price for small infractions.  Golf would be better off having officials call penalties.  It would be fairer, at least.

How does the penal system in golf compare with other sports?  In basketball, it is a common practice for a player to fake getting fouled in order to perhaps draw a penalty on another player.  A player who is good at this – essentially cheating – is considered an asset.  If a player gets into a physical altercation, one that might perhaps result in criminal prosecution in the real world, he might get ejected for a game or two.  But I can’t recall any instances of a player being thrown out of the league for three years, no matter what they did.  Even assault, a far more serious crime than playing a wrong ball one time, doesn’t generate that kind of blowback.  To take another example, if they punished hockey players, notoriously prone to fighting, to the same degree as they punish teenage women in the KLPGA, there would be no teams in the NHL which could field a full squad by mid-season.

Even in golf, there are many examples of players getting away with far worse than what Ina did.  At the 2017 ANA Inspiration, Lexi Thompson obviously broke the rules on national television when she was in contention for the title: she replaced her ball on the green significantly away from her ball marker.  This was so egregious that, even though it was caught a day later, the LPGA couldn’t let her get away with it.  But even then, they were lenient: the punishment called for disqualification for signing an inaccurate score card the previous day (her card should have included the two-stroke penalty for the rules violation), but they let her play on, only giving her a four-stroke penalty: two for the wrong scorecard and two for the initial violation.  Amazingly, she was still tied for the lead after that and nearly won the event.  Not only did she never apologize for what happened or admit any wrongdoing (even inadvertent) whatsoever, she tried to turn the act of a viewer calling in to report her crime into the principal issue.  And it worked: the LPGA changed the rules so that in the future, a player would not be disqualified OR given a two-shot penalty if a wrong scorecard happened as a result of a viewer calling in after the round was over.  She never received any other punishment, not so much as a single event’s suspension, and has ever since been reframed as a ‘victim’ for getting a penalty when she had a chance to win.  So much for the integrity of the game.

The KLPGA is not innocent of this kind of double standard.  Back in the aughts, one of the biggest stars on the KLPGA was Bo Bae Song.  She left to play full time in Japan but returned to play an event in Korea around 2009 on a sponsor’s invite. She had a rules issue during one round and felt that that the referee made the wrong ruling. So, she dropped out of the tournament. In retaliation, the KLPGA banned her from the tour for two years. Song had been willing to quietly leave the event, but the KLPGA decided they had to make a big deal about it.  But get this: after returning to Japan, a few months later Bo Bae won the Japan Women’s Open. Then the KLPGA rescinded her punishment, explaining that she had brought honor to Korea by winning a Major over there and so should not be banned anymore.  How on Earth do you justify something like that?  The “good of the game” was served by banning her for a minor rules infraction, then rescinding it when she won a big event overseas?  What the heck is that all about? (Note that I am accepting the description of this incident from a Korean news article; I have no recollection of this from back in the day).

Bo Bae Song in 2009

The Korean media has fallen into lockstep with the KLPGA with regards to Ina.  I have not seen a single article with any empathy for her.  In fact, now that they have driven her from Korea, they seem determined to drive her from the game as a whole.  I’ve seen several articles claiming that Yoon would not be welcome on any other tour, as those tours are ‘much more serious’ about rules violations than the KLPGA (which is nonsense, as my example with Thompson shows).  One guy even went so far as to call the LPGA to get them to say they wouldn’t let her play, but the LPGA rep was hilariously non-committal.  Why are these writers so determined to wipe this woman out?  It seems to me obvious that the ridiculous KLPGA overreaction leaves her no choice: she has to go play overseas if she wants a career.  So why begrudge her that opportunity unless you really care more about punishing this woman for the rest of time than about the “integrity of the game”? 

Amazingly, Yoon has claimed that she has not yet made any plans to leave Korea.  Her world ranking had risen to 71, which qualified her to skip all the way to the final round of LPGA Qualifying if she desired.  But she doesn’t seem to want to do that, which makes no sense.  Perhaps she is still hoping that the KLPGA will soften their stance and let her play next year?  If so, she is definitely barking up the wrong tree.

Make no mistake: I am not advocating that Yoon should get away scot free.  Even though it was a small violation in the scheme of things, she should still in my opinion have been suspended for several months.  In fact, she technically was, since she waited two months to get a decision from the KLPGA and did not play during that time.  But after that, she should have been welcomed back into the league, chastened, and ready to challenge for the rookie of the year.  She had a great budding rivalry with fellow teen Yewon Lee that was completely destroyed by this kerfuffle.

Rookie stars Yewon Lee and Ina Yoon, both just 19 years old

It’s not too late for the KLPGA to reduce the sentence to a reasonable level and help this young talent to reintegrate into the tour.  This would be a great chance for Se Ri Pak to put her money where her mouth is and step in to help a young player who really needs help.  If anyone can empathize with a young player in over her head, it should be her.  So far, alas, she has not done anything of the sort.  But in my opinion, Yoon’s best strategy at this point is to say goodbye to Korea and make immediate plans to play overseas next season.  It wasn’t what she planned, but if she approaches these new challenges with the same brio as she attacked the courses earlier this year, she will come out fine.

Ina at last year’s KLPGA Awards Show, possibly the last one she will ever attend
Posted by: happyfan08 | July 4, 2022

Dumbo Flies Again

In Gee Chun has been one of the most popular Korean golfers since she broke into the pro ranks as a teenage KLPGA rookie back in 2013.  And for a while, she was also one of the very best, peaking as high as #3 in the world early in her LPGA career.  But since 2018, her record has gradually become spottier, and she fell as low as the 60s in the rankings by early 2021.  Yet last week, Chun shocked the world by claiming her third career LPGA Major at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.  By grabbing this win, she became only the third Korean, after Hall-of-Famers Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park, to collect more than two career Majors.    How did In Gee slip so low?  How did she manage this win, her first in nearly four years?  What does this mean for her career going forward?

In Gee returns home a champion a few days ago, receiving gifts including a Dumbo stuffie.  Her nickname is Dumbo

When she was still young, In Gee was discovered to be a math prodigy with a genius level IQ.  It looked for all the world like this would be the focus of her life.  But unexpectedly, fate had a different path in store for her.  When she was 11, she accompanied her dad and one of his friends to a driving range.  Dad put a club in her hand and asked her to try hitting a shot.  Having little idea what to do, she naturally duffed it, which caused her dad’s friend to laugh uproariously.  In Gee did not take kindly to that, and she spent the next several hours working with her dad to learn how to hit a shot.  By the end of that day, she was already hitting the ball decently, and this experience lit a fire in her that led her to become one of the best young golfers in the country.

What’s interesting about In Gee’s origin story is that the main element that drove her to succeed was the dismissal she received from her father’s friend.  Even at this early time, she proved herself to be susceptible to the judgment of others.  This issue would reappear later and threaten her success and happiness.

Eventually she became a nationally ranked amateur and, in 2013, joined the KLPGA as a teenager.  It didn’t take her long to establish herself as a future star: her first win on tour came at the tour’s biggest event, the Korea Women’s Open, just a few months into her career.  This started a stretch of several years where she continued to improve into a world class star.  In 2015, she managed a feat no one in women’s golf had ever managed: she won Majors on three different tours in the same year.  She collected two KLPGA and two JLPGA Majors on top of the win at the US Women’s Open.  That last win qualified her for the LPGA, and she won the Rookie of the Year the following year, winning another Major and the Vare Trophy to boot.  Her world ranking rose as high as third in the world.

In Gee after winning the 2013 Korea Women’s Open

But after that In Gee began a slow decline.  The next two years, she won only once, although she had other highlights, like a number of near wins and a brilliant MVP performance at the UL International Crown (in front of her home country fans).  By 2019, her game was much weaker; she only managed two top tens in each of the next two seasons.  She recovered somewhat in 2021, with eight top tens, but even then, she still rarely contended for titles and did not win.

In Gee had an early highlight in 2022 when she contended and nearly won the HSBC Championship, but that was her only top ten of the year coming into the year’s third Major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.  Based on her record over the preceding four years, it seemed very unlikely that she would be a factor in the outcome of that event, let alone win.  But at the end of the week, In Gee was holding the trophy.  How was she able to turn around her season so dramatically?

In Gee at this year’s HSBC Championship, where she contended for the title but lost

Well, first of all, her great talent never really went away.  Her main problems seemed to be mental.  Although she occasionally talked about it, most fans were not aware the degree to which she had battled depression when her results were not as strong as she had hoped.  Folks on social media and media types in Korea criticized her when she did not perform at her best.  Much like when she was eleven at that driving range, she took this to heart, so when she was not able to continually match their expectations, she found herself in a deep funk.  It got so bad that she seriously considered retiring from golf; in a conversation the week before the KPMG, she poured her heart out to her older sister, who suggested she quit rather than keep making herself miserable.  Interestingly, as soon as In Gee heard those words, she instantly realized that that was not what she wanted.  It strengthened her resolve to fight on and try to return to her top level again.

The results were immediate and stunning.  Congressional’s blue course was set up tough, and with a large amount of rain just before the first round started, was playing very long.  Some players were not able to reach some of the par fours in two and were hitting hybrids as third shots into par 5s.  This would seem to have been a terrible break for In Gee; she is not a long hitter.  Yet amazingly, she hit the ground running, playing the course as though it were a pitch and putt.  She ran off four straight birdies to end her front nine (which was the back nine of the course), including a birdie on the nearly impossible 18th hole.  After a bogey on 1, she made three more straight birdies.  She hit all 14 fairways, 15 of 18 greens, and made 25 putts with ten birdies.  Her 64 was the new course record.  Even more amazing, not a single other player was able to come close; the next best score was a 69 by fellow Korean Hye Jin Choi and Thai player Pornanong Phatlum.  She gained an astounding 11.38 strokes on the field, the best result in this event in the past ten years, and that was even though she played in the harder conditions in the morning.  It was one of the greatest performances in the history of the LPGA.

In Gee always had this talent; it had never gone away.  She just needed a way to free herself of her mental baggage to fully show what she could do.

In Gee during round 1 of the KPMG

Of course, now that she had a five shot lead going into round 2, the pressure was on in a way that it had not been before.  And she responded with another good round: a 69 to move to 11 under and increase her lead to six shots.  She was close to breaking the tournament wide open.  Interestingly, when the men had played the US Open at the same venue, Rory McIlroy had a similar great start, posting a 6-shot lead after two rounds.  McIlroy went on to win his year; would In Gee be able to do the same?

One of the decisions In Gee made really helped her at Congressional.  She played the course a month before the event and decided that she would need to put 7- and 9-woods in her bag to help her stop approach shots on the greens.  She had not used these clubs in a long time, but they proved pivotal, especially the 7-wood, which she used to stop the ball close to the hole several times in her first round.

Things got tougher for In Gee in the third round, although she still played solidly most of the day.  The conditions were drying up, and the course was made shorter, meaning that longer hitters were now able to take advantage in a way that they had not been able to earlier.  Lexi Thompson shot a great third round to put herself into the final group Sunday.  In Gee looked like her big lead would make that irrelevant, but she made a couple of key mistakes late and her score ballooned.  The most important of these was a bad layup on the par-5 16th.  The shot wound up in some tall weeds.  She probably should have taken a drop or punched it out, but she went for the green, with the ball flying far left under a tree and into an unplayable lie.  She was forced to drop back near the weeds and try again, this time flying the green.  Somehow, she got up and down from there, giving herself a double bogey.

With her challenges she shot a 75 and her lead dropped to 3.  She was still in the final group and would be paired against the long-hitting Thompson, on a course that would play to the American’s advantage.  Could In Gee hang on?  Would the demons that had haunted her game for years rear their ugly heads again?

In Gee tries to find her ball during round 3

Alas, it took only a few holes on Sunday for Thompson to catch and pass In Gee.  Chun struggled to keep pace but made four bogies on the front nine and dropped to a two-shot deficit.  She remained focused, though, and made a birdie on 11 to slightly mitigate the damage.  But she couldn’t seem to close the gap on Thompson.  On 15, In Gee rolled off the back of the green and wound up in a bad lie.  Thompson had missed a short putt on 14, but she managed a birdie on 15.  It was imperative that In Gee get up and down, and she did.  But she still trailed by 2.  And the next hole was a par 5, Thompson’s specialty.

If In Gee had memories of the double bogey on this hole from the previous day, she didn’t show it.  She hit a great lay up this time, and put her third right next to the hole, where it snapped back to about seven feet under the flag.  But Thompson’s second was right next to the green.  It looked grim for In Gee.

Then the nerves got to Thompson.  She hit a terrible chip, which rolled past the flag and off the other side of the green.  She putted from there, below the level of the green, and rolled it ten feet past.  Suddenly, she was looking at a bogey.  She indeed did miss the par, following which In Gee nailed the birdie.  The two-shot gap was gone.

In Gee kept smiling even during the tough round 4

In Gee hit a great approach on 17, as did Thompson.  Thompson blew her birdie try past, giving In Gee a golden chance to retake the lead.  But she just missed, tapping in for par.  But then Thompson missed another short par save, handing a one-shot lead to Chun with one hole to play.  In Gee had done well on 18, and if she made a birdie, she would win.  But her approach hit a down slope and rolled to the back of the green, forty feet from the flag.  Thompson put hers within fifteen feet.  Digging deep, In Gee rolled her birdie try to within three feet. 

Meanwhile, Minjee Lee, who had won the previous Major, had made a big run up the leaderboard and finished at 4 under, where Thompson now was.  If In Gee, who was at 5 under, missed the par, she would end up in a playoff with Lee and potentially Thompson.  Definitely not what she wanted; there was no golfer at that time playing better than Minjee.  But first, she had to see if Thompson would make the birdie.  She did not.  So, it all came down to that final par save.  And with supreme confidence, In Gee drilled the par and won her third Major.

It was a tale of two Majors.  For two days, In Gee was playing some of the best golf of the decade.  For the last two days, she fought every demon she ever had, but always with a smile and a positive attitude.  Her 75-75 weekend was the worst total score a Korean Major winner had had since the brutally difficult 1998 US Women’s Open Se Ri Pak had won at Blackwolf Run.  But all that mattered was that her total was one stroke better than anyone else.  In Gee showed that she could handle tough, long courses and faster, shorter courses.  She was brilliant tee-to-green and had a wicked putter.  But when things went south, she maintained her poise and handled herself like the champion she has always been. It was her clutch putting under pressure in the final few holes that made the difference.

Her win moved her back to 12th in the world, the highest she had been since the week after her most recent previous win in Korea in 2018.  Is this the start of something big for her, or will she return to her usual form again?  One thing we hope happens: she does not allow others to inflict negativity on her, regardless of her results.  She is now a three-time Major winner; among the Koreans, this is something only Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park, both Hall of Famers, have previously achieved.  The negative talkers will still be there; the doubts will come back again and again.  But perhaps she has figured out a way to handle these challenges? If she can use what she learned about herself at Congressional throughout the rest of her career, then the sky is truly the place where Dumbo will fly again.

Posted by: happyfan08 | April 6, 2022

2022 KLPGA Primer

It’s April and the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) is preparing for the start of the 2022 season. Which means it’s once again time for the SeoulSisters annual article about what to expect this year.  We call it the KLPGA Primer.

2021 saw the KLPGA get back to a virtually full schedule after the challenges of 2020.  This also meant that there were far fewer LPGA golfers playing events, although they still were around and, in some cases, even winning.  LPGA player Hyo Joo Kim, who led the tour money list in 2020, captured two more KLPGA wins in 2021, although she mostly focused on the LPGA (she also won an event on that tour).  And Jin Young Ko denied an LPGA tour card to Hee Jeong Lim by beating her in a playoff at the BMW Championship.  But for the most part, the tour was dominated by domestic players.

Those Who Have Left or Retired

Every year a few familiar faces leave the tour for retirement or other tours.  2021 was no different.

Among the retirees was one former Player of the Year, Ha Neul Kim

Kim was a rookie in 2007, but her salad days were from 2008 – 2014.  She led the money list in 2011 and 2012, capturing the Player of the Year in 2011 and the scoring title in 2012.  She just missed repeating as Player of the Year in 2012 when Je Yoon Yang won the final event of the year to edge her in the standings.

Ha Neul means ‘Sky’ in Korean, and Sky Kim was not done with her success in 2012.  Although she never made it onto the LPGA tour, she decided to move to the Japanese tour in 2015, where she had a second successful career.  Like her friend Bo Mee Lee, she quickly became super popular, and matched that with success on the course.  She never reached #1 but was in the top five for a while.  She also learned Japanese and became so loved that they published a Ha Neul Kim photo book for her fans over there.

Sky retired at the end of the 2021 season, but she hopes to continue with her recently launched YouTube channel and making appearances on various golf-themed TV shows.

Shi Hyun Ahn was the original ‘Cinderella’, the very first KLPGA member to win an LPGA event and earn a tour card when she captured the 2003 CJ Nine Bridges as a teenager. 

She won the 2004 LPGA Rookie of the Year award and played here until 2011.  Around then, while playing an event in Korea, she met a TV personality and started a very public relationship.  They got married and Ahn took 2012 and much of 2013 off to have a baby.  She returned to action late that year, nabbed a top ten, and was back full time on the KLPGA in 2014.

Alas, the relationship didn’t last, and they broke up in acrimony around that time.  Ahn returned to golf with a vengeance, shocking the league by beating top player Sung Hyun Park at the 2016 Korea Women’s Open.  It was her first win in 12 years.  From there, she slowly faded, playing less and less until she bowed out at last year’s Korea Women’s Open.

In 2021, Ran Hong set the record for the most official rounds played on the KLPGA, becoming the first player to surpass the 1000 round mark.  She had been on tour since 2005 and had multiple wins over the years to her credit.

The LPGA gained two strong former KLPGA golfers as rookies in 2022:  Hye-Jin Choi and Na Rin An.  Choi is one of the most accomplished players of her generation. 

Hye-Jin Choi

Choi has already won more than ten events and won the KLPGA Player of the Year award three consecutive years from 2017 – 2019.  In the past two years she has not played as well, but she was nonetheless still one of the premier stars on tour when she left. 

An was not as strong a presence, but she still won several KLPGA events in the past couple of years. She made her mark by winning LPGA Q-Series last year to earn her card (Choi finished tied for 8th).  They have each managed top tens already in their LPGA rookie campaigns, with An nearly winning the JTBC a few weeks ago.

Na Rin An

The Unexpected Superstar

Min Ji Park was already a star before the 2021 season, but nothing prepared the tour for her explosive brilliance in the first half of last year.  She won an incredible 6 of the first 13 events she played, including the Korea Women’s Open and the Doosan Match Play.  She cooled down considerably in the second half of the year, but she still broke the all-time record for most money earned in a year with over 1.5 billion won. She collected the Player of the Year award as well. 

Interestingly, when asked for her goals for 2022, Park said she wanted to win at least (only?) one event.  Even she doesn’t seem to believe she has gone to another level.  But if she can get back to her form at the start of last year, we could see many more records fall.

Top Stars

Ha Na Jang continued to be a great star on tour in 2021. 

The five-time LPGA winner earned nearly 900 million won on the KLPGA in 2021, third on the money list.  She had two wins, one of which was a Major, the KB Star.  She also won the scoring title, beating even Min Ji Park.  In addition to the wins, she had three seconds, two thirds and fifteen top tens.  Although she has yet to lead the tour since returning full time to Korea, she certainly is capable of doing that; perhaps 2022 will be the year she accomplishes that feat.

Three of the other top stars on tour are part of that incredible rookie class of 2019 known as the Swing Girls.  Hee Jeong Lim finished second on the 2021 money list, just missing out on a billion won season by a small margin. 

Lim’s biggest challenge has been getting wins; although she contends often, she went winless in 2020.  She did get one victory in 2021 but had several more near misses, including three seconds, three thirds, three fourths, and 15 total top tens.  She was second in Player of the Year points and third in scoring average.  She was even voted Most Popular by the fans!

Lim’s greatest week came at the BMW Championship, the annual joint LPGA/KLPGA event.  She was nearly flawless: she didn’t have a bogey all week and missed just two fairways.  She climbed to a 4-shot lead entering the final round but was not able to hold off world #1 Jin Young Ko, who caught her and beat her in a playoff.  Still, Lim has world-class talent, and if she can find a way to get in the winner’s circle more often, she could easily be the top player in 2022.

Hyun Kyung Park may have lost Most Popular to Lim (she finished second), but there’s no doubt that she is massively loved by the fans. 

She’s also another great talent from the Swing Girls class and she showed it again in 2021.  She repeated as the KLPGA Championship winner (a Major), and very nearly won the Korea Women’s Open as well.  Tied with Min Ji Park going into the final hole, Min Ji made a birdie to defeat Hyun Kyung; Hyun Kyung was 8 shots ahead of third place.  She also had a runner-up result at another Major, the KB Star.  When it comes to Majors, she brings her A Game.

In all, she had the win, four runner-up finishes, one third and 14 top tens.  She was fourth on the money list with 844 million won.  Hyun Kyung is young, stylish, talented, and fast becoming the face of the tour.  If she backs it up this year with post-season hardware, she could become one of the biggest stars the KLPGA has seen in some time.

So Mi Lee is another Swing Girl who has risen to the upper echelon in the league.

She is not as consistent as Park or Lim, but she wins more often.  In 2021, she started the season by winning the first event, and went on to win a second event later in the season.  She also added a second, two thirds and two fourths with 12 top tens.  She finished 6th on the money list with 758 million won earned.  Lee’s on-course trajectory seems to be ever upward, and she is also loved for her quirky personality.  She is slightly older than Lim, Park and Ayean Cho, but it still looks like her best is yet to come.

Other Big Names

Da Yeon Lee finished 8th on the money list in 2021 with 665 million won earned.  She won the Hanwha Classic and had seven total top tens.  She also achieved her career best LPGA finish, a tie for third at the BMW Championship. Known as one of the shortest players in stature on tour, she has a good sense of humor about it.  She seems more willing to play overseas than many other KLPGA stars; she was the only KLPGA full timer to play the US Women’s Open in 2021 (she missed the cut).

Ga Young Lee is yet another Swing Girl with a good record.  She finished 14th on the money list in 2021 with 501 million won earned.  But unlike the others, though she contended a lot in 2021, she has yet to win her first event.  If she starts winning, she could quickly become one of the tour’s biggest stars.

Ji Hyun Oh has been in a bit of a slump the past few seasons. 

She started the 2021 season with a bunch of missed cuts but got her act together and won for the first time in three years at the Samdasoo Masters.  She had six top tens in total, made 452 million won, and finished 16th on the money list.  But the win and her career best LPGA finish at the BMW (a 10th) indicates that she might be back on the road to becoming one of the tour’s big stars again.

Ayean Cho is yet another Swing Girl, but after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2019, beating Lee, Lee, Lim and Park, she has struggled the past few years.  2021 was another mediocre year for her.  She earned only 206 million won, just 36th on the money list.  She had only three top tens.  Can she return to her pre-pandemic form?  She still seems to have the talent to be a top tier star.

Former Rookies on the Rise

Hae Ran Ryu was a star as a rookie in 2020, and she extended her brilliance in 2021.

She earned 795 million won and finished fifth on the money list.  She grabbed two wins, including the year’s final event, and had 10 total top tens.  It was a bit quieter a year than her rookie campaign, but there’s every reason to believe that the long-hitting 21-year-old will keep it up this year.

Ga Eun Song won the tour’s 2021 Rookie of the Year award in a tight battle over Jung Min Hong. 

She finished 13th on the money list with 513 million won earned.  She had six top tens but really only seriously contended once: at the Hana Bank Championship.  There she ended up in a playoff with LPGA star Minjee Lee, who had just recently won her first Major at the Evian.  Amazingly, Song beat the Australian star for the title.  That win alone accounted for more than half her total winnings for the year.  So, it’s hard to know exactly how good Song is. 

Jae Hee Kim had a relatively weak rookie year in 2021; she finished 6th in that race. 

She had been the Dream Tour money list leader in 2020, but only finished 47th on the KLPGA money list in 2021, earning 168 million won.  But Kim has just turned 21 in March, so she might still have some tricks up her sleeve.  She also might be the single tour member with the most social media savvy; her hilarious Tik Toks and media posts made her so popular that there was a bidding war for her main sponsorship this year (eventually won by the ubiquitous Mediheal).  She might become more of a factor on tour this year, but she certainly will have many eyes on her to see what craziness she comes up with next.

Up and Comers & Fashionistas

There are several KLPGA stars who are not in the upper echelon of tour talent just yet, but who are bound to get attention in 2022.

Da Been Heo has been slowly gaining steam since her rookie year of 2017.

Like Jae Hee Kim, she was the focus of a sponsorship bidding war, won by QCells.  It’s easy to see why: she is pretty and charming, with an easy laugh that has made her very popular of late.  She is also a surprisingly good singer, which has been exploited in several made-for-TV events she has participated in.  In 2021, she made 300 million won and finished 26th on the money list.  She got into a playoff but lost.  It seems only a matter of time before she gets her first win and makes it into the top ten.

Hyo Ju You had an OK year in 2021, but had to go back to Q-School to earn full membership for 2022.  You might be the most striking of the fashionistas on tour right now: she wears her Descente outfits very well, and as a result always gets a lot of press attention. Is she more than a good dresser?  That will be something for her to prove in 2022.

Jee Hyun Ahn is another golfer who is for the moment better known for her looks than her golf, but she  actually finished 30th on the money list in 2021 – not bad at all – and had several top five finishes.  Another Mediheal star, she was named one of the 11 KLPGA spokesmodels this year. 

Rookies to Watch

The 2022 Rookie class might be the best since the Swing Girls.  No less than seven or eight ladies have been receiving a lot of preseason press.  Here are four I think are especially promising:

Ina Yoon was just 17 at the start of last season, too young to be a member of the KLPGA or Dream Tours.  Thus, she played as a semi-pro on the Jump Tour, the third-tier pro league. 

She quickly won several events and took over the lead on the tour’s money list.  In one event, she had a round where she made three eagles, the first time that had ever happened in any Korean golf league.  She turned 18 in May and advanced to the Dream Tour, where she again dominated, eventually winning the money list to earn a full KLPGA card.

Yoon is known for having huge distance off the tee, as evidenced by the three-eagle round.  The Dream Tour does not maintain stats for driving distance, but when she played on the KLPGA a few times in 2021, she was measured as hitting drives in excess of 300 yards on some holes.  Every sign is pointing to this young woman becoming a superstar; the only question is when. 

Yewon Lee had a similar trajectory to Yoon and is almost as promising. 

A few months older than Yoon, she was also too young early last year to play on the Dream Tour at first.  She also dominated early on the Jump Tour, turned 18 in February, and advanced to the Dream Tour, where she quickly became a top player.  She finished in the top five on that tour and earned a KLPGA card.  She also played a couple of KLPGA events in the Fall and did well.  And she, too, is known for her length.  It would surprise no one to see her become the 2022 Rookie of the Year.

Ye Been Sohn was a strong member of the Korean National team as a teenager. 

A year older than Yoon and Lee, she played on the Dream Tour in 2021, but amazingly did not earn a KLPGA card.  She went to Q-School in the Fall and won her regional qualifier, then won Q-School thanks to a 63.  She is sponsored by Nike, one of the few KLPGAers to be primarily sponsored by them.  This is a strong statement of belief in the teenager and her talent.

Uhjin Seo was another top member of the National team as an amateur.  She led Korea to a title at the Queen Sirikit Cup a few years ago. 

The same age as Sohn, she also was not able to earn a card through the Dream Tour and had to go to Q-School.  She earned a tour card by finishing 15th.  So far she has not had nearly the pro success of the other teens, but given her success as an amateur, it is wise not to count her out just yet.

Will one or more of the teens stars explode into the top reaches of the tour in 2022?  Will Min Ji Park be able to duplicate her success of last year?  Will one of the Swing Girls become the new Big Gun?  The season starts this week, and those questions will soon be answered!

Rookie to Watch in 2022

And the Winner is: Ina Yoon

Last year, I chose A Lim Kim as the rookie to watch.  I said:

She is an unusual KLPGA rookie in that, unlike most of the women who have won Majors to gain tour cards, she was far from the biggest name on the KLPGA when she shocked the world [by winning the US Women’s Open].  It would not be a bit surprising to see her struggle with all the changes, and perhaps she won’t have the kind of rookie year that players like Sei Young Kim, In Gee Chun, Jin Young Ko and Jeongeun Lee6 had. 

A Lim Kim in Seoul with her US Women’s Open trophy

I was essentially correct.  A Lim finished 52nd on the money list; thus she easily maintained her tour card.  But she only achieved 4 top tens throughout the year, which isn’t bad for a rookie, but not the high level of the Koreans who had won the top rookie prize in the past.  She did have two ties for third, although one came in the team event and the other when she was playing in her home country.  All in all, a solid year and a good place to build from for the future.

This year, there are seven interesting rookies joining the KLPGA and LPGA.  The most accomplished by far is ten-time KLPGA winner Hye Jin Choi, who finished 8th at Q-Series and brings a gaudy three-time KLPGA Player of the Year record with her to the LPGA.  Hye Jin has been relatively quiet the past two seasons; but given all her amazing achievements in her young career, she is still the player to beat next year for the Rookie of the Year award.  Joining her will be multiple winner Na Rin An, who finished first at Q-Series, and teenager Yaeeun Hong, one of the better amateur players from Korea a few years ago.

Hye Jin bears watching for sure, but the Rookie I’m most interested in following next year has an absolute ton of untapped potential.  Her name is Ina Yoon, and she will be joining the KLPGA next year.

Yoon was too young at the start of 2021 to qualify to play on the KLPGA or the Dream Tour, so she played as a semi-pro on the Jump Tour.  Right away she showed she had special gifts.  In one event, she made three eagles in a single round, something that had never been done before in Korea.  Her secret?  Yoon is crazy long off the tee.  Her exact length is hard to gauge, as the minor league tours in Korea don’t keep track of driving distance.  But she also played a few KLPGA events later in the year, and on a few holes was measured at 300+ yards.

But Yoon is more than just a long hitter.  She has skills across her game, and as a result, she quickly came to dominate the Jump Tour, earning a promotion to the Dream Tour upon turning 18 in late Spring.  She formally joined that tour in June.  And within weeks, she was dominating again, quickly grabbing two wins and leaping to the top of the money list, even though she had played only half of the events most of the others had played.  Yoon went on to be the top player on the Dream Tour, earning playing privileges to the KLPGA in 2022. 

She also earned a couple of chances to play on the KLPGA late in the year.  She missed the cut at the S-OIL Championship in November, but the more fascinating event was the Pak Se Ri Invitational in September.  The first round leader was another 18-year-old whose career path has been nearly identical, Yewon Lee.  But Lee faded in round two while Yoon remained in contention.  In the end Yoon finished tied for 7th, not bad at all!

Other Nominees

Hye Jin Choi

As mentioned above, Choi is a three-time KLPGA player of the Year in just four seasons.  She also finished one bad swing away from winning the US Women’s Open as a 17-year-old.  If she can get remotely close to that form next year, she could be AWESOME.

Yewon Lee

As mentioned above, Yewon Lee had a remarkably similar trajectory to Ina Yoon this year, just a little less successful.  Lee was also too young at the start of the year to play the Dream Tour, so she started on the Jump Tour, where she quickly won multiple times.  A few months older than Yoon, she joined the Dream Tour first, and had already won an event by the time Yoon came along.  But Lee stalled a bit after that and finished 5th on the money list.  Still more than good enough to earn a tour card for the big leagues in 2022, however.

Lee also made a lot of noise in two KLPGA appearances.  She shot a first round 64 to take the lead at the OK Savings Bank Se Ri Pak Invitational but faded to 25th by the end.  She had had far more success the previous week at the KB Star Championship.  She moved into a tie for the lead after round 2, outplaying Min Ji Park in her group!  She struggled more on the weekend and finished tied for 14th, but it was still a great result for her.  

Rookie of the Year

And the Winner Is: Ga Eun Song

Ga Eun Song sneaked up on everybody on the KLPGA this year.  She didn’t have a lot of publicity at the start of the season, but quickly established herself as one of the three best rookies.  She was in a tight battle with Jung Min Hong in the latter half of the year but edged her (barely) to capture the crown.  Song made over 500 million won during the year, finishing 13th on the money list.  She had 6 top tens, four of which were top fives.

Her best result without question was her lone win of the year.  She achieved it in style.  The Hana Bank Championship was once the only LPGA/KLPGA co-sanctioned event, but that was changed to the BMW Championship a few years ago.  It’s still a big money event, though, and attracts big names.  One of those big names was Minjee Lee, who had recently won her first career Major at the Evian.  Lydia Ko and Yealimi Noh were two more LPGA stars in the field.  Noh missed the cut, but Ko would contend.

After two rounds, Song was playing well, but still in 16th place.  But she shot a fantastic third round 65 that moved her into a tie for second, just one shot behind Minjee Lee.  They fought hard all Sunday, with Song making a clutch birdie on the final hole to tie Lee and force a playoff.  On the third playoff hole, Song hit her approach to 2 feet and made birdie, while Lee missed her chance from 12 feet.  Song got her first career KLPGA win by beating an LPGA Major winner head-to-head.  Very impressive!

Most Improved

And the Winner Is: Su Ji Kim

Su Ji Kim turned pro in 2015 and spent her first two years on the Dream Tour.  She finally made it to the big leagues in 2017, where she finished 37th on the money list.  She had similar results in 2018 and 2019, maintaining her tour card, but only rarely notching top tens, and almost never contending for wins.

In 2020, however, she struggled, only finishing 84th on the money list.  She had to return to Q-School, where she earned back her card for 2021.

In 2021, however, her game finally clicked, and she managed two wins, the first of her career.  She made nearly 750 million won, more money than she had made in all her other years combined.  That was good for 7th on the money list, the first time she broke the top thirty.  Her bigger win was at the Hite Cup, a Major, where she beat two of the top players on tour, Min Ji Park and Hee Jeong Lim.  She also managed two seconds, a third and a fourth.

Other Nominees:

In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun was not able to secure a win in 2021, but this year was still a huge comeback for her.  In the three previous years, she had not been able to make more than two top tens per year; but in 2021, she started her year with three straight top tens (and might have had 4 but was DQed from the Kia Classic after forgetting to sign her card).  In all, she made 8 top tens, her best since her great years of 2016 and 2017.  She made over $750,000 and finished 25th on the money list.  Even more impressively, she was in the hunt for the Vare Trophy right until the final event of the year, and wound up with a great 69.63 average, good for 7th in the league.

Min Ji Park

Min Ji Park has been one of the best players on the KLPGA the past few years, but she took an enormous leap in 2021.  For the first few months she was almost unbeatable, notching 6 wins and becoming the first in history to make over 1.5 billion won in a single season.

Player of the Year

And the Winner is: Jin Young Ko

2021 was a brutal year for fans of the Seoul Sisters, but two amazing players bucked the trend and produced magical years.  In the first half of the season, Min Ji Park was smashing records with one amazing result after another.  As she cooled down, Jin Young Ko caught fire, and ended the year with one of the most sustained bursts of excellence in LPGA history.  It’s hard to choose between the two for the title of Player of the Year, but Jin Young’s efforts were so mind-boggling that in the end she deserved the prize more.

The first part of the 2021 season was rough for the world’s #1 player.  She suffered a wrist injury early on that affected her for the rest of the year.  In addition, her grandmother became very sick.  Jin Young wanted to spend more time with her, but Covid travel restrictions made that tough.  Unfortunately, her grandma died when Jin Young was out of the country.  It took her several months to get over it.

In the meantime, Nelly Korda was playing some of the best golf of her life.  She won her first Major at the KPMG Championship, allowing her to ascend to the #1 ranking for the first time.  Jin Young still wasn’t playing well by her lofty standards, although she still notched mostly top tens, including a tie for 7th at the ANA Inspiration and another tie for 7th at the US Women’s Open.  But she would not achieve her first 2021 win until the Volunteers of America Classic in early July.  Amazingly, this was only the third win to that point for the Koreans in 2021.  After that, she had a weak finish at the Evian, then competed at the Olympics, where she was not able to seriously contend for a medal.

Jin Young at the Olympics

After that, she decided it was time to reset.  She skipped the final Major of the year, the British Women’s Open, and spent the next month working hard on her game, trying to iron out the kinks and get back to her top form.

Whatever she did worked better than anyone could have expected.  Her next event was the Cambia Classic in Portland, Oregon in mid-September.  She played brilliantly, and after two rounds was in the hunt.  Rain threatened the rest of the week, but they somehow got another round finished on Sunday.  Jin Young took advantage.  She was a total machine, hitting greens like it was going out of style.  She missed a few putts by the slimmest of margins, but at no time did it look like she was going to lose.  She wound up with a 4-shot win over Jeongeun Lee 5 for her second win of the year.  She was still well behind Nelly Korda – who by then had three wins including a Major – in the Player of the Year standings.  But for the first time in a while, there was someone at least in the same zip code as Korda.

Jin Young with win #2 in Portland

Ko played the following week in Arkansas, but only managed a tie for sixth.  But the week after that, she was once again in the hunt at the ShopRite Classic.  She was tied for the lead going into the final day, and she has almost always won when in that spot.  Yet neither she nor Inbee Park, the other star she was tied with, were able to close the deal, and she wound up tied for 2nd.

Jin Young was playing well, and if she had ended her season with two wins, it would not have been all that disappointing.  But at this point, she took it up another level, and things got really amazing.

The next event she played was the Cognizant Founder Cup.  She sent a bold message right away by shooting an 8 under 63 in round one.  She extended her lead somewhat in round 2 with a 68, then shot a 69 in round 3 to move to a four-stroke advantage.  Needless to say, she wasn’t going to lose at that point.  She closed out the win with her 14th consecutive round in the 60s, tying the all-time record held by Annika Sorenstam and So Yeon Ryu.  At this point, her stats went from simply world class to borderline insane.  After her 14 straight rounds in the 60s, she shot a 71 next, then reeled off 11 more rounds in the 60s to end her year.  That’s 25/26 rounds in the 60s.  Unreal.

Jin Young next flew to Korea to play the BMW Championship.  For the first time all year, she was within a win of actually catching Korda.  And she played brilliantly once again, maintaining a strong presence on the leaderboard for the first three rounds.  The leader, however, was KLPGA star Hee Jeong Lim, who had been virtually flawless: through three rounds she had missed just one fairway and made no bogies.  That gave her a four-shot lead going into Sunday.  But Ko was on a mission, and by the turn had caught and passed Lim.  Lim, however, refused to break.  Still without a bogey, she fought back into the lead.  Ko made a clutch birdie to tie.  They wound up in a playoff.  But, as mentioned in Shot of the Year, Ko hit her approach on the first playoff hole to three feet, made the birdie, and collected her fourth win of the year.  She moved ahead of Korda in the world rankings and in the Player of the Year race.  And the win was the 200th ever achieved by a Korean on the LPGA tour; an august achievement she managed to do in Korea! 

At the Pelican Women’s Championship, the penultimate event of the year, Jin Young was never quite in line to get a win, but she still managed a tie for 6th.  Korda looked like she had it in the bag, made a terrible late triple bogey to drop two back, then made two more birdies to sneak into a playoff.  She won it when Lexi Thompson missed a short birdie, and that moved Korda back into the lead in the Player of the Year race ahead of Jin Young.

The year’s final event, the CME Championship, also boasted the biggest first prize award in women’s golf history, $1.5 million.  Jin Young needed to win or finish second (with Korda out of the top ten) if she wanted to get her second Player of the Year award.  But her wrist was acting up again and hurt so much that she seriously considered dropping out of the event.  She toughed it out, not hitting so much as a single full practice shot all week to reduce the strain on her wrist as much as possible.  She had a rough front nine in round one, paired with Nelly.  She did better on the back, but Korda had the early advantage.

Jin Young dug deep and shot a 67 in round 2, which moved her onto the leaderboard, but still a bit behind Celine Boutier and the leaders.  At least she now had a chance, but she needed to keep producing magic to track down Korda and company.

And magic is exactly what she conjured.  In round three she was flat out incredible: she hit every green, as she had in round two, and had seven straight birdies on the front nine to move into the lead.  Although she made no more birdies after that, her 66 moved her into a tie for the lead with none other than Korda herself (as well as Nasa Hataoka and Boutier).  The goal was in sight: all she had to do was beat the #1 player in the world, get her fifth win of the year, and she would become the unlikely Player of the Year.

If round three had been magic, round 4 was miraculous.  She hit the ground running, blasting birdie after birdie to climb into the lead.  Korda was left behind, although Ko still needed to win to get Player of the Year.  Hataoka hung in there, made several clutch birdies, and looked primed for an upset.  But it never came, because Jin Young was literally perfect.  She flat out refused to make a mistake, shooting arguably one of the very greatest rounds in LPGA history.  18/18 Greens in Regulation.  14/14 Fairways.  No bogies.  And her best ever round, a 9 under par 63.  Korda called it ‘The Jin Young Ko Show’, and she wasn’t wrong.  Ko got the win and the Player of the Year, the first Korean to win the award twice.  She also grabbed the money list title for the third straight year, becoming the first Korean to break $3 million in a season with $3,502,161 earned.  Her scoring average was 68.87, the lowest ever by a Korean (although she didn’t play enough events to qualify for the Vare Trophy).

Win #5: at the CME

But even that wasn’t her most jaw-dropping achievement of the week.  Ko had managed to finish the event by hitting a mind-numbing 63 straight greens in regulation.  63!  To put this in context: the PGA (the men’s tour) has been tracking this stat for thirty years.  In all that time, the best a man ever did was 51 straight.  In Tiger Woods’ best season, 2000, his best was 29 straight.  This year on the PGA, the top was 35 straight.  Jin Young’s consistency is simply on another level.  It’s almost inconceivable that anyone could hit that many quality shots in a row: she had not missed a green since the 9th hole in round one!

For all these reasons, Jin Young is the ideal winner of the SeoulSisters Player of the Year award!

Other Nominees:

Min Ji Park

Min Ji Park would be the clear winner of this award most years; like Jin Young Ko, she also set several records en route to a domination of her tour in 2021.  She earned over 1.5 billion won during the year, which was close to 200 million won better than anyone else in history.  Her 6 wins was among the most ever achieved in one season, and one better than Ko on the LPGA, and she also claimed Player of the Year.  She also had a Major win, which Jin Young did not.  On the downside, she only finished 4th in scoring average, and when she started to have injuries mid-season, she did not handle it as well as Ko did.  She did not win again after July, although she did notch a bunch more top tens in that span.

Min Ji started her winning ways early.  After an 11th in the first event of the season, she won the second event she played, the Nexen Saint Nine Masters.  She missed the cut in the next event, but two events later she won again, edging Na Rin An.  She next notched an amazing hard fought win at the Doosan Match Play, one of the harder events to win on tour each year.  After winning all the preliminary matches, she advanced to the round of 16, where she won close matches the next three rounds to reach the finals.  She met Ju Young Park there, and the match went down to the wire, with Min Ji claiming 4 of the final 5 holes to win 3 & 5, her second straight win and third of the year.

Min Ji celebrates her win at the Doosan Match Play

A few weeks later, she had two epic battles with Hyun Kyung Park, as detailed in Best Korean ConfrontationMin Ji won a squeaker at the Celltrion, but her tournament of the year was at the Korea Women’s Open, where she and Park were 8 shots ahead of anyone else in the field.  It went to the final hole, with Min Ji hitting a great drive and Hyun Kyung screwing up off the tee.  Min Ji birdied, Hyun Kyung bogied, and Min Ji won by two, her only Major win of the year.

The first week of July, Min Ji claimed her sixth win.  She still had a bunch of events left in the year and was already close to the all-time most money earned in a year, but there would be no more wins for her.  Injuries slowed her down just enough to prevent her from challenging Jiyai Shin’s all-time record of nine wins in a year.  But she still had two runner-ups and two thirds among her remaining events, so she didn’t completely fall apart.  In all, she had six wins, 2 seconds, 2 thirds, a 4th, and 14 total top tens.  At her hottest, she won 6 times in 13 events.  Most years, that would have been enough for the top SeoulSisters award as well, but she’ll have to settle for second to Jin Young and her amazing late season heroics.

Another win for Min Ji

Most Fashionable

The Korean ladies, especially on the KLPGA, have gotten more and more stylish with each passing year.  Here are some of the many striking looks the ladies wore in 2021.

Hyo Ju You is a KLPGA starlet who was not able to maintain her tour card this year despite a few good weeks.  Fortunately, she did easily earn her card back at Q-School in the Fall.  Which means we’ll be able to enjoy watching her fashion statements in 2022 as well.  She seems to always be stylish and interesting in her clothing choices. Here are a few highlights.

Jae Hee Kim was a rookie on the KLPGA in 2021.  She charmed everyone with her friendly, goofy attitude.  She also had a few colorful outfits courtesy of Le Coq Sportif, her clothing sponsor.

with Ha Neul Kim

In Gee Chun’s clothing deal with FairLiar made waves

Jeongeun Lee6 and Fantom’s Lucky Six line

Ga Eun Song

Hye Jung Lee and the “oversized shirt”

Hyun Kyung Park is a popular young star.  Best Dresser?  No wonder the gals always dress for success…  Prizes are involved!

(even the umbrella is color coordinated – that’s next-level attention to detail!)

Ji Yu Jung

Hee Jeong Lim’s Winter style

Ri An Kim accessorizes splendidly

Sae Ro Mi Kim

So Hyeon Ahn

Teen star Ye Been Sohn will be a rookie in 2022

Screen golfer Ye Ji Choi also likes the bare shoulder look

Shot of the Year

And the Winner Is: Jin Young Ko, approach shot, playoff, BMW Championship

As mentioned earlier, Jin Young Ko had a ferocious battle with KLPGA star Hee Jeong Lim at this year’s BMW Championship in Busan, South Korea.  They wound up in a playoff, the first ever in Jin Young’s LPGA career.  After good drives, Lim hit her approach to about 25 feet.  Ko then hit the best shot of the year at just the right time: a beautiful shot that landed 25 feet short of the flag and rolled up to within three feet.  Lim soon missed her birdie try, and Ko had no trouble sinking hers to capture the win.

Other Nominees:

Inbee Park, eagle, final round, 16th hole, Kia Classic

Inbee Park played well all week at the Kia Classic, but with drivable par 4s all weekend, there were several long hitters who were challenging her for the win.  But Inbee also could reach greens, and after getting on the 16th green, she nailed a 20 foot eagle putt to pretty much put her 21st career win in the bank.

Jeongeun Lee6, Amundi Evian, Round 4, 17th hole

See ‘Biggest Disappointment’ for a description of this stunning shot, where Lee somehow made a birdie after blocking herself behind the trees.

Round of the Year

And the winner is: Jin Young Ko, 63, final round, CME Group Tour Championship

Jin Young Ko with the largest winner’s check in women’s golf history

The stakes couldn’t have been higher.  Tied with her biggest rival, Nelly Korda.  One round left in the season.  If she wins, she also wins the money list title and the Player of the Year.  Any other finish, even second, and Korda gets those.

Jin Young quickly established that she would be tough to beat.  She left Korda in the dust on the front nine.  But Nasa Hataoka still lurked, and if she somehow stole the trophy, Jin Young would still lose the Player of the Year.

She responded by playing one of the most perfect rounds of golf in LPGA history.  18/18 Greens in Regulation.  14/14 Fairways.  No bogies, and a 9-under-par 63, her all-time best score.  She won by a single shot over Hataoka, and the title(s) were hers.

Other Nominees:

Jeongeun Lee6, 2nd round, Evian

Lee6 shot a 61 in the 2nd round at the Evian, tying the all-time lowest score in the history of Major Golf, male or female.  Yes, the course was playing way too easy for a Major test, but even so, a 61 is an amazing accomplishment.

Moments to Remember

There were several happy moments and a few tears outside the golf course as well as on it this year.

Back in 2008, the KLPGA had one of its most popular and offbeat rivalries.  Three different beautiful young ladies, each with the nickname ‘Supermodel of the Fairways’, all had fantastic years.  One of them, Hee Kyung Seo, would soon go on to win the Player of the Year, before playing on the LPGA for a few years.

The other two both happened to retire at the end of 2021.  Ha Neul Kim was the top player on the KLPGA in 2011 and 2012.  She eventually moved to Japan to play on the JLPGA, where she had a fair amount of success.  With her charisma, great sense of humor, looks and style, she became hugely popular there, even publishing several photo books for her fans.  Her game started to decline in the last few years, so she decided to call it a career this year.  She has started a YouTube channel and hopes to continue being a presence in the game for years to come.   Good luck to her!

Ha Neul meets the media at her last KLPGA event

The third lady in that rivalry was Ran Hong.  Hong never made it off the KLPGA, but her success there gave her a bit of immortality as well.  This year she became the first KLPGA golfer to ever play 1000 official rounds on tour.

Short tidbits:

“Big Mama” Sun Ju Ahn became a mom for real in 2021 when she gave birth to twins!

There’s a new power couple in golf: PGA player Si Woo Kim is dating KLPGA star Ji Hyun Oh. There have been examples before of Korean women golfers dating other athletes, notably Hee Won Han and Mi Hyun Kim; but this is the first time I can recall where one dated a top level male golfer.

LPGA veteran Chella Choi got married in December.  It was a rare instance these days of an event that attracted a bunch of Korean golf stars.  Among those at the wedding were Grace Park, Jee Young Lee, Hee Won Han, Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, and Na Yeon Choi.  Congrats to the happy bride and groom!

Welcome once again to my annual summation of the golf year just ended, the SeoulSisters Awards, or “Seoulies”.

This year was a real struggle for the Koreans, not just on the LPGA but all over the golf world.  For that reason, I’m going to abbreviate the awards this year and focus mostly on the amazing things that did occur.  But right out of the gate, we’ll address the slump in our first award:

Biggest Disappearing Act

And the “winner” is: The Koreans on the LPGA

The fact is, there were a lot of important Korean golfers who underperformed this year.  Just as a few examples: two-time winner Mi Hyang Lee lost her tour card, Sei Young Kim had her first winless season, So Yeon Ryu struggle more than I ever recall, and Amy Yang seemed to be missing in action.  Not sure what happened to stars like MJ Hur, I.K. Kim, and Jenny Shin.  Sung Hyun Park continued her freefall, Lee6 only contended a few times this year while working on swing changes, and Inbee Park and Hyo Joo Kim both underperformed after promising starts and wins.  Which star struggled the most?  Hard to narrow down.

Inbee Park was one of the only Koreans to win an LPGA event early in the season at the Kia Classic

The Olympics didn’t go any better.  The Koreans sent one of their best imaginable squads:  four Major winners led by the defending gold medalist Inbee Park and the world’s best player, Jin Young Ko.  They also had 12-time winner (and 2020 LPGA Player of the Year) Sei Young Kim and last year’s KLPGA money list leader Hyo Joo Kim.  None of them were a factor.  The best finish by any of them were ties for ninth by Sei Young and Jin Young, arguably two of the four best players in the field.

The Korean women’s squad at the 2020 Olympics

There were five Majors besides the Olympics this year;  the Koreans didn’t win any of them.  This was the first year without at least one Major win for them since 2010.  But worse than that, they only seriously contended in one of them, the Evian, and that event ended with an epic collapse that we will talk more about later.

It gets worse.  The Sisters had won the previous five straight LPGA Rookie of the Year awards but were non-factors this year.  They had also managed to win the US Women’s Open in every odd numbered year since 2007 (!) but were again not even in the hunt on Sunday this year.  They also had a very weak year on the JLPGA.

Fortunately for the Koreans, Jin Young took some of the heat off of them with a spectacular end to the year that pretty much saved the season all by itself.  But they can’t depend on Jin Young to carry the weight all by herself in 2022; at least a few of them besides her will need to step up and give her needed support next year.

Best Korean Confrontation

And the winner is: Jin Young Ko vs. Hee Jeong Lim, BMW Championship

Since her rookie year in 2019, Hee Jeong Lim has been one of the strongest golfers on the KLPGA tour.  But she really outdid herself at this year’s BMW Championship, the annual event co-sanctioned by the LPGA and KLPGA tours.  How amazing was Lim?  She didn’t make a single bogey in 73 holes, and only missed two fairways ALL WEEK.  By the end of the third round, she had a four-shot lead and looked like she was on her way to earning an LPGA tour card.

But Korean superstar Jin Young Ko was on a mission, at last playing the kind of brilliant golf she was known for after struggling the first half of the season.  On Sunday, it took her just eight holes to catch Lim, and she began to pull away after that.  Lim didn’t give up though; she managed to catch and pass Ko, before Ko made a birdie on the 17th to tie again for the lead.

It came down to a playoff, the first one in Ko’s LPGA career.  Ko hit a superlative approach on the playoff hole, made birdie and denied Lim the card.  But it’s hard to think of a more spectacular runner-up finish than the one Lim produced.

Jin Young claimed the win at the BMW Championship

Other nominees:

Jeongeun Lee6 vs. Minjee Lee, Amundi Evian Champinship

It was a battle of the Lees at the Evian this year.  Jeongeun Lee6 had a 61 early in the week, tying the lowest round in Major history, and ended the third round ahead by five.  But she struggled in the final round, losing her lead before the the surging Korean-Australian Minjee Lee.  Six caught back up and forced a playoff but lost on the first playoff hole.  This was the only real chance a Korean had to win a Major this year, but at least the winner was still a Sister, claiming her first career Major at last.

Min Ji Park vs. Hyun Kyung Park, Korea Women’s Open & Celltrion Queens Masters

Min Ji Park, Hye Jin Choi and Hyun Kyung Park teamed to win the 2016 Women World Team Championship.  The three teens led Korea to a 21-stroke victory.  They would all go on to become big stars on the KLPGA

From the Battle of the Lees to the Battle of the Parks.  Min Ji Park was as unstoppable early in the year as Jin Young Ko was at the end.  At times she was literally winning every other week.  But talented young gun Hyun Kyung Park was having a great season herself, having won the year’s first Major, and they had two epic clashes in the early summer.

First came the three round Celltrion Queens Masters.  It all came down to the final hole, with Min Ji matching Hyun Kyung’s final round 67 to win by a shot.

Min Ji Park

The next week, the two battled hard at the biggest Major of the year, the Korea Women’s Open.  Hyun Kyung was looking for her second straight Major win. On Sunday, Min Ji managed to get a one-shot lead on the 15th, but made an unexpected three putt on 16 to fall back into a tie.  They were still tied when they reached the 18th tee, but Hyun Kyung hit a surprisingly poor drive.  Min Ji striped her approach to four feet.  Hyun Kyung could not save par, and the win was Min Ji’s.  Min Ji’s final score was 17 under, Hyun Kyung 15 under, and the next nearest player 7 under.  9 out of ten times, Hyun Kyung would have easily won, but Min Ji was too unbeatable at that point.

Hyun Kyung Park

Great Performance that came up short

And the Winner is: Jeongeun Lee6, Amundi Evian Championship

This was the biggest heartbreaker of the year, no question.  Jeongeun Lee6 has been working on her swing all year, trying to get more consistent.  She was starting to see results.  She had put herself into the hunt at the US Women’s Open but faded in the final round.  At the Evian, though, it finally seemed to be her week.  She had a good start, but in the second round had one of the best rounds of the year by a Sister, a scintillating 61 that tied the all-time lowest score in a Major (previously shot by Hyo Joo Kim at this very event).  After the third round, Six had a five-shot lead and looked primed to grab her second career Major.

It was not to be.  The course had been set up for scoring all week, and especially so on Sunday, with a second player shooting a 61 on the final day.  Minjee Lee came from seven shots back to shoot a 64, while Lee6 struggled to hang on.  She lost her lead, fell two back, but rallied.  She had a fantastic birdie on 16 and hit a phenomenal shot over the trees on 17 to five feet and made another birdie.  She reached the 18th in two and had a decent eagle chance for the win, but only made birdie and forced a playoff with the Australian star.  Alas, Six hit her approach on the first playoff hole into the water, basically handing the trophy to Minjee.  It was still a great week for her, but letting that Major get away had to sting.

Other nominees:

Inbee Park and Jin Young Ko, ShopRite Classic

Jin Young was in the midst of her best run of the year, and Inbee Park was also playing well.  On Sunday, the two best Koreans in the game were tied for the lead with one round to play.  Jin Young had converted in that situation six of the previous seven times, and Inbee was a strong front runner as well.

But everything that could have gone wrong did.  Jin Young hit a decent birdie try on one hole and it horseshoed out.  On another hole, she hit a poor tee shot and put herself in a bunker that she did not get up and down out of. 

Meanwhile, Frenchwoman Celine Boutier was playing great and took a slim lead.  Still, these are the two best Korean golfers, both excellent clutch putters, and a par five awaited.  They were only one shot back.  But Inbee missed a five foot birdie try, and Jin Young was not able to two putt from 40 feet.  Boutier beat them both by a single shot.

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