Posted by: happyfan08 | April 28, 2018

2018 KLPGA Primer

It’s time once again for our annual primer for the KLPGA season: who to watch and what to expect on the Korean professional women’s golf tour for 2018!

Those Who Have Left

This season sees 10-time tour winner Jin Young Ko leave the Korean tour for the LPGA.  She punched her ticket for the big tour by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank last October in front of some of the biggest crowds the event had ever seen.  She joined the LPGA tour in February, and won her very first event as a member, the Australian Women’s Open.  She thus became only the second woman in tour history to win her first event.  So far she has been walloping the competition in the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year race, and seems well on her way to continuing the Korean dominance of that award.  Just last week, she managed a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open.

Jin Young holds the 2018 Australian Women’s Open trophy

The Big Stars

There are two big names to watch in 2018, and at least at this juncture, it seems likely that one or the other of them will dominate the top awards on tour.

Last year’s big star was Jeong Eun Lee 6.  Lee was numbered ‘6’ because she is the sixth golfer in tour history with the name Jeong Eun Lee.  She embraced the number, taking it on as her trademark and creating the nicknames Lucky Six and Hot Six to go with it.

She indeed did have plenty of luck going her way in 2017, and at times she certainly was white-hot.  Coming off the Rookie of the Year award in 2016, Lee won all the big awards on tour last season: she not only led the money list with over a billion won earned, she also was Player of the Year and had the lowest scoring average.  In fact, she ended up winning six awards, which is fitting given her nickname (the others were for most wins, Most Popular (as voted by the fans) and Best Player (as voted by the Press)).

Jeong Eun Lee 6 at last year’s KLPGA Awards Ceremony

Lee also played at the US Women’s Open, where she notched a top five in her first appearance there (her final score for the week?  Yup, 6 under par.  Lucky Six indeed!).

Lee also has a touching back story.  When she was younger, her father was in a traffic accident that left him paralyzed.  As they traveled from tournament to tournament, they always had to pay more money for accommodations, because cheap hotels were not designed to allow easy access to someone in a wheelchair.  Now that she has become so successful, she is thrilled to be able to share it all with her dad.

Lee and her parents

Lee certainly entered 2018 as one of the favorites to continue her impressive dominance, but there is one player out there who may not only give her a run for the money, she is probably a favorite to top her.  That player is Hye Jin Choi.

Hye Jin Choi

Choi is only eighteen, but she is a phenom the likes of which the tour hasn’t seen in a while.  Lee did well at the 2017 US Women’s Open; Choi, however, actually led the tournament on Sunday (as a 17-year-old amateur) until she hit a tee shot into the water late to allow Sung Hyun Park to pass her and take the title.  But Choi had many other highlights in 2017.  She won two KLPGA events before even turning pro.  In September she became professional and earned a nice chunk of change playing as a guest on the KLPGA.

After the year ended, she was invited to play in the limited field LF Point Championship, known as the Queen of Queens event.  And she won it, beating a bunch of the other top KLPGA stars.  A few weeks later, she officially started her KLPGA career.   Traveling to Vietnam for the Hyo Song Championship, she won there to take an early lead in all the KLPGA races.

Shhh!  Hye Jin is a rookie now!

Choi has everything it takes to be a star.  She is long off the tee, has a great iron game, and is fairly unflappable.  In short, she has no weaknesses.  Even better, she never seems to go more than a couple of events before she contends or plays well.  Given her talent, Rookie of the Year seems a foregone conclusion.  Can she become the first player since Jiyai Shin to win the Rookie and Player of the Year award in the same season?  Stay tuned!

Fun fact: Hye Jin Choi’s nickname is Penguin.  Let’s see if it catches on for her like In Gee Chun’s ‘Dumbo’ nickname caught on for that star.

The Other Top Names

Here are a few of the other top stars on tour to watch in 2018:

Ji Hyun Kim

Ji Hyun Kim at last year’s KLPGA Awards

Ji Hyun Kim had a breakout season in 2017.  She was the surprise top player the first few months of last year before she cooled off.  During that stretch, she won three tournaments, including the Korea Women’s Open, the year’s most important Major.  She wound up second on the money list with nearly 790 million won earned; only Jeong Eun Lee 6 earned more money.

Kim has played three events on the LPGA this year.  She missed the cut badly at the first two, including the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first Major.  Right after that, she returned home and won an event on the KLPGA, the Lotte Rent-a-Car.  Being that she is a bit older (26) than the other top players on this list, her sudden success is somewhat of a surprise, and it is hard to assess how temporary it will be.  But the fact that she followed up the foul-up at the ANA with a win in Korea, then followed that with a t-11 finish at the LPGA’s Lotte event in Hawaii, it seems likely that she can contend again for the big hardware in 2018.

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh

In 2017, there were four women with the first name Ji Hyun who won tournaments.  Besides Ji Hyun Kim, there was another Ji Hyun Kim who won (known on tour as Ji Hyun Kim 2), Ji Hyun Lee, and Ji Hyun Oh.  Besides the previously mentioned Ji Hyun Kim 1, Oh is the other top talent in that group.  Still relatively young (she just turned 22 earlier this year), Oh had managed two wins before 2017.  Last year was a big one for her: she won twice more, including her first Major at the Hanwha Classic.  She wound up third on the money list, ahead of Jin Young Ko.

Oh is having a bang up season so far on the KLPGA in 2018. Although she hasn’t won yet, she has two runner-up finishes and has only finished outside the top ten once in five starts.  This has allowed her to take the lead in the scoring average and Player of the Year races.  It still seems like Choi and Lucky 6 may be a bit better than she is, but if she continues to improve like she seems to be doing, that could very well change in 2018.

Seon Woo Bae

Seon Woo Bae

Seon Woo Bae is another of the rising young stars who continues to excel on the KLPGA tour.  The 24-year-old did not win on the KLPGA in 2017, but notched a bunch of strong finishes and wound up 9th on the money list.  Already in 2018, she has played one LPGA event (the Founders Cup) and finished with a respectable tie for 16th.

Bae is a consistent player who seems on the cusp of taking the next big step.  So far in 2018, her KLPGA results have not been impressive, but it might not be long before she turns that around.

Min Sun Kim

Min Sun Kim

Min Sun Kim was a rookie the same year as Jin Young Ko and Q Baek, and found herself often pitted against those two stars in the public’s mind.  But since then, both Baek and Ko have won LPGA events, while Kim is still struggling to take the next step in Korea.  Like in years past, Kim had one win and several more runner-up finishes in 2017, but also missed several cuts. She finished a decent 10th on the money list.  With her length, she periodically shows flashes of a truly talented player, but that potential remains largely untapped to date.

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang is already a winner in 2018

Ha Na Jang is the ringer on the KLPGA tour.  A former Player of the Year, she joined the LPGA in 2015 and won four total events over here.  But suddenly last Spring, she announced that she was forsaking her LPGA membership and immediately returning to Korea, which is what she in fact did.  A pity: with her exuberant personality and celebrated victory moves, Jang certainly broke the mold for what Americans expected from Korean golf professionals.

Alas, Jang did not have the great record in Korea after her return that you might have expected.  It wasn’t all bad: she did have a pair of runner-up finishes, but no wins.

In 2018, however, Jang seems to have rebounded in a major way.  Besides playing at the ANA Inspiration (she finished 30th), Jang also has notched a win and a runner-up on the KLPGA tour and is among the tour leaders in most categories early in the year.  She seems ready at last to make her return to Korea in style.

Up and Comers

Last year, there were three rookie stars, all 19 years old, who stood out on the tour.  None of them have managed a win to date, but all played well enough that they deserve attention in 2018.  All three seem to be good friends as well.

The most successful of the three is Eun Soo Jang, who won the Rookie of the Year title last year.  The other two are So Hye Park and Da Bin Heo.  Park is one of the few ladies on tour sponsored by Nike, and she was featured in an excellent TV commercial for that company last season.  Heo has oodles of charisma and often has a dimpled smile on her face.  Will one of them break through in 2018?  Will all of them?  They are all still young enough that they have few years yet to establish what they can do.

Eun Soo Jang with her Rookie of the Year award

So Hye Park

Da Bin Heo

Han Sol Ji + Gyeol Park

Han Sol Ji was a promising young rookie a few seasons back.  She has had a few good tournaments over the years, but finally got her first win at 2017’s final event, the ADT Caps.  You couldn’t have wiped the smile off her face if you tried.  Time will tell if this was the first step towards stardom or not.

One of her main competitors in the rookie race in 2015 was Gyeol Park.

Park established herself by winning the Asian Games gold medal back in 2014.  This same award was the springboard for greatness for two former world #1 golfers, Ai Miyazato (she won it in 2002) and So Yeon Ryu (the 2006 champ).  Park has had runner-up finishes and a decent career so far, but she is still more known for her potential than her success.

Hye Sun Kim

Hye Sun Kim stunned the tour last season by winning a tournament late in the year.  Even more impressively, she did it by beating top star Jeong Eun Lee 6 in a playoff.  The win garnered her a lot of attention; now will come the time to see if she can back it up.

So Young Lee

So Young Lee, like Gyeol Park, won a big title as an amateur.  In her case, it was the 2014 Junior Olympics Gold Medal.  Lee had won on tour before but was surprisingly toppled in her bid to win Rookie of the Year in 2016 by Lucky Six.  She hasn’t been super strong since then, but she did manage a surprise win just last week at the Nexen Saint Nine Masters, coming from behind in the final round.

Hyun Joo Yoo

Also known as Hyeonjoo Ryu, Yoo took the tour by storm last year.  But it wasn’t her play that garnered her so much attention.  In fact, she was not able to maintain her tour membership for this year, although she did have a few good rounds here and there.  Rather, it was Yoo’s attractiveness that helped to elevate her to the top tier of popularity on tour.  Now on the Dream Tour, Yoo is working hard to return to the big leagues, and will appear from time to time in fields when the sponsors allow.  Expect the press to be paying attention when she does show up!

Stars On the Comeback Trail

Several older players are looking to return to form in 2018.  Here are a couple to watch.

Char Young Kim

Kim has had a bit of a renaissance in her game in recent years.  She won a match play event last year for her first win in years, and has contended from time to time since.  She is not one of the very best players on tour, but seems capable of reaching that level – she won three times in the 2012 season, showing that she is for real, and in her win at the Match Play event, she beat no less a player than Inbee Park in the finals.  She is another photogenic player that is usually more known for her looks than game, but with four career wins, she certainly has a decent resume as well.

Soo Jin Yang

For years, Soo Jin Yang has been known as much for her wild fashion sense and off course romances as her game.  Yang peaked early in her career, winning a bunch of times in her first few seasons.  The past couple of seasons, she became more known for her tabloid exploits, dating numerous high-profile athletes before marrying one and having a child.  She took most of last year off to have her child, but now is back and ready to compete again.

Yang is an artist who loves designing her own golf clothes.  She was fortunate that her previous clothing sponsor, Pearly Gates, was receptive to that.  She became known for her unforgettable outfits throughout the years.  Alas, she has now moved on to a different sponsor, and it seems like her clothes are far tamer than before.  But wild or mellow, it’s still great to have her back!


The rookie race is dominated by the shadow cast by Hye Jin Choi.  Is there anyone who could conceivably challenge her for the top Rookie honors?  To be honest, it doesn’t look like it.  One name that has surfaced is Ji Yoon Kim, who received a recent profile in Golf Digest Korea.  She flexed her considerable biceps in that article, but so far she has not made much of an impact on tour.

Ji Yoon Kim

The season is underway, and the fun is just getting started!  Good luck to all the ladies, and here’s hoping to see a few of them contend on the LPGA as well this year!


Most Improved Player

And the Winner Is: Jeong Eun Lee 6

Jeong Eun Lee 6 had a very good 2016 season. She was the surprise winner of the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year, upsetting the favorite So Young Lee. But she did not win an event, and so she came into 2017 as a player to watch, but not much more.

In 2017, Lee quickly showed she was a major talent, and by the end of the season, was the clear best player on tour. She won four times in 2017, and won all the major awards as well. As mentioned, she is known as Jeong Eun Lee 6 because she is the sixth player in KLPGA history with her same name. She has decided that 6 is her special number. She marks her balls with a big ‘6’, and her nickname is Lucky 6. And the number 6 seemed to follow her around in 2017.

For instance, she won 6 post season awards on the KLPGA: Player of the Year, money list leader, Scoring Average, and Most Wins, and was chosen by sportswriters as best player and by the fans as most popular. She became just the fourth woman to ever break a billion won in a season. Her scoring average of 69.80 was quite possibly the lowest in KLPGA history; she was certainly one of the few to ever break 70.

Lee shot a 60 in one of her wins (see Round of the Year), becoming the first player in KLPGA history to achieve that score. Yes, 60, another ‘6’ reference for her. As if that weren’t enough, she also played her first ever Major at the US Women’s Open this year, and once again found herself in contention all week. She wound up tied for 5th, even better than the 6th place you might have expected; but her final score was, yup, 6 under par.

Other Nominees:

IK Kim

Kim won once in 2016, but she had a fantastic year in 2017. For the first time in her career, she managed three wins in a single year, and also captured her first Major at the Women’s British Open (see Happiest News). She came close to capturing the LET’s Dubai Ladies Masters in December, losing in a playoff to American Angel Yin.

Ji Hyun Kim

Ji Hyun Kim is a veteran KLPGA golfer who joined the tour in 2010, but did not manage a win until 2017. In that season, however, she struck gold, collecting three wins including the Korea Women’s Open. She made nearly 790 million won for the season, placing her second on the money list behind just Jeong Eun Lee 6. By contrast, in 2016 she finished 13th on the money list, with a few top fives including a runner-up at the Doosan Match Play.

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh has shown promise before this year, but the young 4th year player really came into her own in 2017. She won her first career Major at the Hanwha Classic, and also won at the BC Card for her first multi-win season. In addition, she finished third on the KLPGA money list with about 746 million won. She notched nine total top tens and played for the first time at the ING Champions and Kowa Queens team events.

Player of the Year

And the Winner is: So Yeon Ryu

This award came down to three players: So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park on the LPGA and Jeong Eun Lee 6 on the KLPGA. In the end, I’m giving the award to Ryu by a razor-thin margin.

Ryu had a career best season in 2017. She at last delivered on some of the promise she has shown since she joined the tour back in 2012. But it was a tight neck-and-neck battle between her and Sung Hyun Park, and in the end, they wound up exactly tied in the LPGA’s Player of the Year race, the first time in history that had ever happened.

There are compelling arguments for both women. Ryu finished with more top tens, 12 to Park’s 11. Both collected two wins including one Major. For Ryu, it was her first Major in a long time, while for Park it was her first ever Major. So Yeon got a big break at the ANA Inspiration when leader Lexi Thompson was hit with a four-stroke penalty, but Ryu also had to deal with a hostile crowd after that who were practically willing her to fail.

Despite that, So Yeon rose brilliantly to the occasion to close the deal. Park also benefitted  in her Major win from a late mistake by teen leader Hye Jin Choi, but unlike Ryu, she was not dealing with negative waves from the fans in attendance.

The tiebreaker in terms of Majors goes to Ryu, who had the better overall Major record and won the Annika award as a result.

Sung Hyun Park had to deal with being a rookie and rising to the task of not only claiming Rookie of the Year, but also handling all the challenges inherent in changing culture and tours. So Yeon is used to the LPGA, so that’s a mark in Park’s favor.

Park finished ahead of Ryu on the money list (they were 1-2), and had a better scoring average (she finished 2nd, Ryu 6th). Advantage Park. But Ryu managed to climb to #1 and stayed there for 19 weeks, whereas Park only got there for one week before falling down. And So Yeon hung on for part of the Player of the Year award despite struggling with injuries the last few weeks of the year.

Another plus mark for So Yeon was her incredible start to the season, where she notched eight straight top tens and eleven straight dating back to 2016. She also had to deal with far more adverse publicity than Park, not only from the Thompson “fans” who hounded her after the ANA, but also the Korean trolls who made her life difficult because of a controversy involving her dad and taxes. For a while, she even stopped posting Instagram and Twitter posts. And that was on top of the pressure of dealing with the #1 ranking.

How close was this choice? If Park had managed to play a tad better in the final round of the CME (one stroke better would have been enough), she would have won the Player of the Year outright and possibly reclaimed the #1 ranking as well. In that case, she would have definitively clinched this award as well.  But she couldn’t get that done, and so, by the slightest margin, So Yeon Ryu gets our Seoul Sisters Player of the Year award.

Other Nominees:

Sung Hyun Park

Jeong Eun Lee 6


Rookie to Watch in 2018

And the Winner Is: Hye Jin Choi

There are two players who will be rookies in 2018 who both have the chance to shine. On the LPGA, Jin Young Ko, who earned her tour card by winning the Hana Bank; and teenage sensation Hye Jin Choi, who will play her first full season as a pro on the KLPGA. As exciting a prospect as Jin Young Ko is, we nonetheless have to give this award to Choi, who has the potential to be one of the all time greats, and who could certainly challenge for all the top awards on the KLPGA next year, not just Rookie of the Year.

Last year, the player I chose for this honor was Sung Hyun Park. I wrote:

There is one obvious superstar-in-the-making joining the tour, Sung Hyun Park. The 2016 KLPGA money list leader, Park managed three top tens in Majors on the LPGA tour this year and has spent some time in the top ten in the world rankings. With her booming drives, her game seems tailor-made for the LPGA in much the same way as Sei Young Kim’s and Ha Na Jang’s are.

Nailed that (admittedly pretty easy) prediction. Sung Hyun Park destroyed a decent Rookie class with the easy of a giant flicking a few bugs off her arm. In fact, she wound up winning both the LPGA Rookie and Player of the Year (tying with So Yeon Ryu), the first rookie to win both awards since Nancy Lopez in 1978.

Hye Jin Choi has world beater potential. The aforementioned Park got to see that first hand at this year’s US Women’s Open. Indeed, Choi seized the lead going into the final few holes, and only an ill-timed botched tee shot on the 16th hole prevented her from becoming the youngest player in history to hoist that trophy. She finished second.

But over on the KLPGA, she already has more than made her mark. She won her first KLPGA event while still an amateur, claiming the Chojung Sparkling Water Resort Open in late June after a final round 63 that include not one but two hole-outs for eagle. She would win again, still an amateur, at the Bogner MBN Women’s Open in August. If you’re keeping track, she managed two wins on the KLPGA and a second at the most lucrative event on the LPGA, and earned not a nickel for her efforts.

Choi was not done. After the KLPGA season ended, she was invited to play at the limited field LF Point Championship, where she again won, beating the elite golfers present in the two-day event. Then, she started her 2018 KLPGA season in Vietnam a few weeks later, and pocketed 140 million won by winning the Hyo Song Championship. She will go into her rookie year atop the money list with a win already in her pocket for the 2018 season.

What is it about Choi that makes her one to watch? In a word, everything. She is fairly long off the tee and very accurate. She has an incredible head on her shoulders and doesn’t get flustered. She has a great iron game and great short game. In short, she is solid in every conceivable way.

She has the occasional bad event or two, but never stays off her game for long. She may very well be the most promising young star to come along since Hyo Joo Kim, who won a Major while still a teenager. It would not surprise me in the least to see Choi contend and perhaps even win an LPGA event next season. She could be looking at not just Rookie of the Year on the KLPGA next year, but all the top prizes. It could be incredibly thrilling to watch this prodigy, still wearing braces on her teeth, get into gear in 2018.

Other Nominees:

Jin Young Ko

With two KLPGA wins and the LPGA win at Hana Bank this year, Ko will definitely be the odds-on favorite to win the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year award in 2018, continuing the streak of the past three seasons, when the winners were all former KLPGA stars: Sei Young Kim, In Gee Chun and Sung Hyun Park. Like those three, Ko has been a force on the KLPGA for the past several seasons. She is ready to make this move, and even more seasoned in some ways than Chun and Park were when they went over (and both of them won Majors in their rookie years). Her specialty is her iron play. She was like a laser at the Hana Bank, nailing some incredibly accurate irons just when she needed to both Saturday and Sunday. But her short game and demeanor are also A+. It’s been a long time coming, but at last Jin Young is about to arrive!

Rookie of the Year

And the winner is: Sung Hyun Park

This was probably the easiest award choice in years. Simply put, Sung Hyun Park dominated the LPGA rookie class of 2017 more impressively than almost any other Korean in tour history. On the KLPGA, there was an impressive group of teenagers who joined the tour, including Rookie of the Year winner Eun Soo Jang, So Hye Park and Da Bin Heo. But none of those three won a tournament, and though they all easily maintained tour cards, their achievements cannot begin to compare to Park’s.

On the JLPGA you had Min Young Lee, who won that tour’s Rookie of the Year. She had a very good year, finishing in the top ten on the money list. But that’s still not in the same ballpark as Sung Hyun’s season.

So what did Sung Hyun Park do? She came over from South Korea, barely able to speak English, and with perhaps a larger assimilation task ahead of her than most Sisters face. She took a little time to find her feet on tour, but she still never missed a cut, and once she got going, she did some amazing things.

By the end of the season, Park was not only the Rookie of the Year, she also was in the running for Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, Money List title, CME million dollar bonus and #1 world ranking. Had she pulled all of those things off, it would have been one of the most amazing feats ever accomplished by anyone. She didn’t quite make it. She did finish first on the money list, the only player to break 2 million dollars in 2017. She also tied for Player of the Year with So Yeon Ryu and of course won the Rookie of the Year. But she just missed out the scoring average title, finishing second, and though she briefly ascended to #1, she could not hold onto that ranking.

But grabbing the Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year makes her only the second player after Nancy Lopez to manage that feat.

Park finished the year with 1,620 Rookie of the Year points, more than double Angel Yin, her nearest competitor. And Yin had a good year. She earned $2,335,883; only Inbee Park has ever earned more in a season among the Koreans. That gave her roughly a $350,000 edge over #2 So Yeon Ryu. Her scoring average of 69.25 was among the lowest ever achieved by a Sister.

Below: Sung Hyun faces the press on her return from the US after winning the Rookie and Player of the Year awards

She compiled 11 top tens and did not miss a cut. She had two wins, including a dramatic victory over teen sensation Hye Jin Choi at the US Women’s Open. Last year, Park had narrowly missed grabbing that title, but she made up for it this year. It was her first Major win (and first LPGA win, period). She won again a month later at the Canadian Women’s Open. She almost had a third victory, but was narrowly beaten by Jin Young Ko at the KEB Hana Bank. She also climbed to #1 in the world, only the fourth Korean (fifth if you count Lydia Ko) to ever reach that ranking. Alas, she was only up there one week, but it’s still an incredible achievement for a rookie.

For all these reasons, Sung Hyun Park is hands down the 2017 Rookie of the Year.

Other Nominees:

Min Young Lee, JLPGA Tour

Biggest Diss

And the ‘Winner’ Is: So Yeon Ryu treated poorly after her ANA win

The poor treatment of So Yeon Ryu after her win at the 2017 ANA Inspiration was one of the most uncalled-for things I saw in golf last year.

As mentioned in Biggest Controversy, Lexi Thompson had received a four-shot penalty due to her flagrant breaking of a rule during the third round of the championship. So Yeon Ryu managed to force a playoff, which she won in one hole.

Fans of Thompson wouldn’t let it go. They posted many nasty messages to So Yeon Ryu on twitter and Instagram. It got so bad that Ryu eventually stopped allowing comments on her Instagram feed. The messages basically broke down to two categories: criticism that she should celebrate her win when it came at the expense of Thompson, and anger that she didn’t do the ‘right thing’ by throwing the tournament to allow Thompson to win.

Whether you believe Thompson was wronged or not, there is no earthly reason to believe that Ryu is at fault. Ryu is known as one of the sweetest women on tour; even the Commissioner of the LPGA has said that his job would be the easiest on Earth if he had 150 women on tour just like So Yeon. Like many of the women on the LPGA, she has worked tirelessly on her game. But as talented as she is, she has frequently come up just short of the big wins that she probably should have had. Finally, at the ANA, she put everything together in a run of fantastic golf that culminated in her second Major win – and she is supposed to feel bad about that? She is not supposed to jump into the water to celebrate like every other champion?  And she is supposed to sacrifice her celebration for a rules violation she had nothing to do with?

So Yeon made it clear that she felt badly for Thompson and what had happened. But in no imaginable way is it Ryu’s fault either that Thompson broke the rules or that she was caught and punished. Lexi should have taken the entire blame herself for what happened and not tried so hard to act like a helpless victim. Yes, she did credit Ryu for playing well right afterwards and overtly said that what happened wasn’t So Yeon’s fault, but by positioning herself as a victim of a rip off at the same time, she inevitably invited the backlash by some of her less stable ‘fans’ against those who were ‘ripping her off’, which she should have realized would unfairly include Ryu.

These same fans, and even some of the media, got even worse. Some opined that Ryu should have hit her second shot into the water to throw the match, or should have handed the trophy to Thompson rather than take it herself. If she had done that, she would have lost me as a fan. It’s literally insane to suggest doing that! Women’s golf has enough challenges getting treated with respect by the public and media. If a player were to purposely tank, it would totally delegitimize the sport, perhaps irreparably. And why just pick on Ryu and not the several other players who might have won and still tried as hard as they could, including Suzann Pettersen? Lastly, imagine for a minute that the old rules had applied and Thompson had been DQed. Should all the other players have resigned in order to make sure she somehow won the trophy? Yeah, it’s a completely idiotic rant, made worse because it targeted a great, incredibly sweet person with bilious nonsense.

There were even lunatics who were implying that a Korean gambler had done this to ‘fix’ the match, totally ignoring the fact that there were several non-Koreans in contention after Thompson’s penalty that could have easily won. That argument was crazy on a new and sad level.  There was zero evidence of this being the case, by the way.

These same fans kept it up much of the year. I was still seeing some of them razzing Ryu on Twitter after she won the Player of the Year award, nearly nine months after the ANA.

Make no mistake about what I am saying: So Yeon Ryu won the ANA fair and square. She won according to the rules. She did not break any rules, nor did she have anything to do with reporting the violation. She deserved the trophy, the #1 ranking that came soon after, and her eventual Player of the Year award. And she handled herself in the face of all the negativity with her usual class and strength.

Other Nominees:

In Gee Chun Sponsorless in 2017

It was strange to see. Look at all the Korean golfers on the LPGA, the JLPGA, the KLPGA. Any of the stars on any of those tours. They come in many shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common. Almost every one of them has a main title sponsor on the front of her cap.

The one glaring exception in 2017 was In Gee Chun, who also happens to be one of the most popular of all the Korean golfers. Her deal with Hite Beer ended at the beginning of the season, and she spent the rest of the year without a main sponsor. She did have several other secondary sponsors, but it seems she kept hoping to sign a blockbuster deal for the top sponsor that never happened, at least not in 2017. It seemed weird to see her with that blank expanse.

Edit: As we were going to press, In Gee Chun at last signed a main sponsorship deal.  Her new primary sponsor is KB Financial Group, the same company who sponsors Inbee Park. You had to figure that she would not go into 2018 without a sponsor!

Happiest News

And the Winner Is: In Kyung Kim at last wins a Major

In all the history of the Korean stars in women’s golf, there is probably no more infamous moment than what happened in 2012 at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. It had been a brutal final round. Hee Kyung Seo, the previous year’s Rookie of the Year, seemed to have the title locked up, but made several bogies in a row to cost herself the crown. At that moment, In Kyung Kim, who had won three events in the past four years but was winless since late 2010, made her move. After a great late birdie, she had the lead going into the final hole. She reached the green in three and narrowly missed a birdie try. She had just a foot left to capture her first Major, and… we all know what happened next. She missed the putt, and ever since, she has had to live with the constant comments and questions about it.

She would not win another LPGA tournament until late in 2016. But in 2017, she was on a roll. She won twice in the summer, and headed into the Ricoh Women’s Open at Kingsbarns as one of the players to watch. After a scintillating third round, she sat atop the leader board with a six shot lead with 18 holes to play.

It would not be easy, but Kim hung in there, making par after par to stave off powerful challenges from multiple players. In the end, she sealed the deal with an epic 3-wood approach on the tough 17th hole. At long last, after five and a half years of living with the questions, Kim made the final par to grab her first career Major. Sweet!

Other Nominees:

Jin Young Ko coming to the LPGA in 2018

Jin Young Ko started the 2017 KLPGA campaign slowly. She would not win her first event of the year until August, and had to watch several other players steal the spotlight that many thought would be hers.

Ko made up for all that by staring down two of the best Korean golfers, In Gee Chun and Sung Hyun Park, to win the 2018 KEB Hana Bank Championship. In so doing, she earned her LPGA tour card if she wanted it, but it was not clear if she would take it.

After keeping her fans guessing for weeks, Ko played at the CME Tour Championship in Naples, Florida. There she confirmed that she would in fact be joining the LPGA tour in 2018. Will she be able to follow Chun and Park and claim the Rookie of the Year award? It will be great to cheer her on as she tries!

Best Hot Streak

And the Winner Is: Ji Hyun

Wait, the winner is Ji Hyun? What does that mean?

On the KLPGA in 2017, there occurred one of the oddest win streaks in the history of the tour. Week after week early in the season, players named Ji Hyun kept winning trophies. There had been win streaks by individual players before, but never had there been so many tournaments in a row won by different players with the same first name.

The run started in late May, when a little known KLPGA golfer named Ji Hyun Lee stunned the tour by claiming her first career win at the E1 Charity Open. The following week, at the Lotte Cantata, it was Ji Hyun Kim 2 who won. This started a mini-streak of three wins in a row by two different women with the *exact same name*. Ji Hyun Kim 1 triumphed the following week at the S-OIL, then claimed her first Major victory at the Korea Women’s Open. Finally, at the BC Card, it was the turn of a fourth Ji Hyun to shine: Ji Hyun Oh claimed the win there.

The streak came to an end when amateur superstar Hye Jin Choi claimed her first win, bringing the solid month of non-stop wins by Ji Hyuns to a close.

Other Nominees:

So Yeon Ryu at the beginning of season

See Best Start to the Season for more details!

Shot of the Year

And the Winner Is: So Yeon Ryu’s approach to the 18th green in the playoff, ANA Inspiration

As mentioned before in ‘Clutch Performance of the Year’, at the ANA Inspiration, So Yeon Ryu was in the very unusual position of being heavily rooted against by the crowd, who really wanted to see her opponent in the playoff, Lexi Thompson, claim the win.  The two players were playing the par 5 18th hole, which sets up well for a long hitter like Thompson.  Ryu hit a perfect drive into the middle of the fairway, but Thompson missed the short grass and would have to lay up.  It was too risky to go for the green with all the water danger from that position.

But So Yeon had her own decision to make: with the most important shot she had had in five years before her, would she risk going for the green, or lay up, too?  After all, Thompson was not guaranteed a birdie, but if Ryu hit it in the drink, she would potentially squander her Major.

With the crowd against her, she went for it.  The ball carried the water, hit the green, and started to roll towards the water on the right.  Fortunately, it stopped a few feet before going in; her gamble had paid off.  Minutes later, she sank a birdie putt to claim the title, and not long after that, she would jump in the same water that her ball had avoided, but this time to celebrate her win.

Other Nominees:

Sung Hyun Park chip on final hole of US Women’s Open

Park had played brilliantly all day.  She captured the lead when her chief opponent, teenager Hye Jin Choi, hit her tee shot into the water.  On the final hole, she wound up in a precarious lie behind the green.  It would have been very easy from that position to muff the chip and give herself work to save par.  Although unlikely, she might even have blown the entire trophy at the moment it was nearly hers.  Which is of course what had happened the previous year at this very tournament, when her approach to the final par 5 had landed in the water.

Not to worry: she hit a superlative chip to a foot for an easy tap-in and the win.

IK Kim goes for green on hole 17, Women’s British Open

IK Kim had played an amazing round of golf on Saturday to give herself a six-shot lead going into the final round.  But all day Sunday, she was relentlessly challenged by Michelle Wie and Jodi Ewart Shadoff.  When long-hitting Wie got to the 17th hole, she balked at trying to carry the water on her second shot and played it safe.  But when IK got to that same hole later, despite not having the length Wie has, she boldly grabbed a wood and tackled the shot that had frightened the Hawaiian.  And she made it!  A beautiful and gutsy shot that put the exclamation point on her first ever Major win.

Ha Na Jang great eagle putt on 17, Australia Women’s Open

Ha Na Jang made a big move on Sunday at the Aussie Open, but the shot that won it for her came on the 17th hole.  She reached the green in two on this par 5, but left herself about sixty feet for eagle.  Naturally, she drained it, unleashing one of her epic fist pumps in celebration.  Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of her celebrating on tour next year, even if it will only be as a visitor!

Inbee Park, 17th hole, final round, HSBC Champions

Inbee Park was challenged all day in the final round by Ariya Jutanugarn, who at that point was close to becoming the #1 women’s golfer in the world.  On the penultimate hole, the long hitting Thai striped her iron to a few feet, while Inbee was left with about forty feet for birdie.  But as she had done all day, Inbee drilled the unlikely birdie to put the win away.

Round of the Year

And the Winner Is: Jeong Eun Lee 6, 60, KLPGA OK Savings Bank Pak Se Ri Invitational, Round 2

Jeong Eun Lee is known on the KLPGA as Lucky 6, but on one particular day, “Lucky 60” might have been more appropriate.  Lee had not started the Pak Se Ri Invitational well, but she caught fire on day two.  Alas, most people didn’t even realize just what they were witnessing, because she saved the real fireworks for the last five holes.  She finished birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie for a 60!  So, she never had a putt for 59, but her score was still the only 60 in the history of the KLPGA tour.  Naturally, she went on to win the event as well, her fourth triumph of the season.  And though we jokingly called her lucky 60, there was little lucky about it.  How do you shoot 60?  Learn how to putt like Lee, who made one incredible putt after another in this epic round.

Other Nominees:

So Yeon Ryu shoots 61, 2nd round, Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

So Yeon Ryu had a great start in Arkansas, shooting a 65, but in the second round, she shot the best round of her career, a scintillating 61.  She would go on to win the event by two over Amy Yang, and in the process, climbed to the #1 world ranking.  Not a bad week!

Hye Jin Choi, 63, final round, Chojung Sparkling Water

Choi’s first professional win came courtesy of a final round 63 that included *two* hole outs for eagle.  When it’s your day, it’s your day.

Inbee Park, final round 64, HSBC Women’s Champions

Inbee Park had only played one previous event since coming back from injury.  But she looked like the Inbee of old in the final round of the HSBC in Singapore, making one great putt after another to claim a one-shot win over Ariya Jutanugarn, with whom she was paired.  The Thai star later expressed awe at having watched the Hall of Famer do what she does best.

IK Kim, 3rd round, Ricoh Women’s British Open

Kim shot a 66 in the third round of the year’s fourth Major to give her a dominating 6-shot lead going into the final day.  It was all the more impressive when you consider that Kim had never won a Major before.

Jin Young Ko, 66, final round, Samdasoo Masters

Jin Young Ko’s 66 in the final round of the Samdasoo Masters on the KLPGA tour was impressive.  But what made it special was the fact that she birdied THE FINAL EIGHT HOLES for a back nine 28.  It was the most amazing run of birdies by a Korean in 2017.

Most Controversial Moment

And the Winner Is: Lexi Thompson’s ANA Inspiration penalty

OK, technically this does not directly relate to a Korean golfer, but this has to be the choice for the most controversial moment of 2017 for two reasons: So Yeon Ryu did end up winning the tournament in question, which in turn produced more controversy.  And, it really WAS the most controversial moment in women’s golf in 2017.

For those who don’t remember or didn’t hear: Lexi Thompson, American star, was leading the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first Major, by a couple of shots, when she was pulled aside by an official and told that she had been assessed a four-shot penalty.  On Saturday, she had replaced her ball on the green, noticeably moved from where she had picked it up and marked it several moments earlier.  This had been caught on TV, and an eagle-eyed TV viewer saw it and contacted the LPGA to let them know.  Thompson received two penalties as a result.  First, she was docked two shots for the illegal replacement.  Secondly, because she had signed for an incorrect scorecard on Saturday (obviously, her score was two shots worse thanks to the penalty, which she didn’t know about at the time she signed the scorecard), she received an additional two shots penalty.

Thompson somehow shook off the penalty enough to be competitive, but she still was only able to tie Korean So Yeon Ryu in regulation.  However, So Yeon beat her in the playoff to take the title.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was another minor controversy.  The player who had the better score in round 4 was supposed to draw lots to determine who went first in the playoff.  They allowed Ryu to do this, but the penalty was applied to Thompson’s Saturday score, not her Sunday score.  She actually had played slightly better than Ryu on Sunday and should have been the one to draw.

Message boards everywhere were filled with people complaining about the results and the penalty.  Some even took it out on Ryu (we’ll get to that in our next award).  But IMO, it was a tempest in a teapot.

Simply put: Thompson clearly violated the rule.  The rules were very explicit that she should receive four shots penalty for doing that.  In fact, she got lucky, because before they had been changed a few years ago, the penalty would have been *disqualification*.  Was it unfortunate?  Yes.  But absolutely legal and by-the-books.

As for the question of whether a fan should be allowed to call in to affect the outcome of a tournament: again, this is totally by the rules.  Is it fair that some players are on TV more and thus more likely to get called?  Maybe not, but if this is such a worry, they could always try SHOWING THE KOREAN GOLFERS MORE ON TV.  I’d be all for that.

(and, of course, all penalties in all sports are inherently unfair, in that some players will be caught breaking the rules and others won’t.  You can’t simply stop calling rules infractions because of this, it wouldn’t make sense).

The drawing of lots was a complete non-issue.  Yes, they did it wrong, but it’s a random drawing.  It doesn’t make any difference who ends up drawing, it’s random!

What bothered me as a fan was Thompson’s continued attempts to portray herself as a victim.  While it was unfortunate she got called, she DID break the rules.  And she has never just admitted that.  I recall a few years ago when a very similar thing happened to Chella Choi.  She had mismarked her ball, was penalized, and decided to not accept the penalty and withdrew.  Americans on message boards were calling for her head.  They branded her a cheater and demanded the LPGA suspend her.  Funny how there was very little of that from them about the American golfer.

The interesting denouement: the governing boards of golf have recently voted to change the rule to no longer allow users to call in during an event, and to remove the additional two-stroke penalty when a player is penalized after a round is done.  I’m totally fine with this change, but it is awfully interesting that these two changes both directly relate to what Thompson did.  It’s amazing how quickly golf’s governing bodies can act when an American is on the bad end of a rules controversy, isn’t it?

Other Nominees:

KLPGA’s KB Star Championship has entire first round canceled due to ball marking fiasco

Boy oh boy was this one a foul up! The KB Star Tour Championship is one of the five Majors on the KLPGA tour. This year, the course superintendents mowed the grass so closely around the greens that it was tough in several spots to tell where the greens ended and the fairway began. As a result, a number of golfers lifted their balls to clean them, thinking they were on the greens when they weren’t. They received the requisite two-stroke penalties.

But when it became obvious that more and more women were making the mistake, the officials decided to stop giving the penalties, and also to rescind the ones that had already been given.

Pandemonium resulted. Several of the golfers threatened to quit the tournament if the other golfers’ penalties were excused. Another group threatened to quit if the penalties were NOT excused. The arguments went into the night. Finally, the officials decided to completely scrub the first round score, a decision that no one liked. But at least no one quit.

Eventually, at least one of the officials resigned in disgrace.  This was such a fubar that it was one of the rare times when a KLPGA event made the American golf press. Alas, it was for the wrong reasons!

Cristie Kerr dreadful slow play at Volunteers of America Texas shootout

In Hawaii at the Lotte Championship, American golfer Cristie Kerr had seemingly adopted a strategy of purposely taking an abnormally long time to take each of her shots. The KLPGA player Su Yeon Jang seemed to be in a good position to win, but Kerr’s idling threw her off her game, and Kerr wound up with the trophy.

The following week, Kerr again found herself in contention at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout. This time, another golfer with Korean blood, half Japanese/half Korean Haru Nomura, was the player she was trying to beat. Nomura forced a playoff, and it seemed to go on absolutely forever, as Kerr took her time over each shot in agonizing slow motion. It got so bad that the commentators became audibly frustrated, and actually apologized to the audience for what was happening. The playoff lasted a mind-numbing six holes, but Nomura hung in there and eventually triumphed after what seemed like four hours but was probably a tiny bit shorter.

The next day, golf message boards all over the internet were full of criticism for Kerr and the LPGA for allowing her to get away with what they perceived as poor sportsmanship. Amazingly, even many American fans were criticizing her. In any event, the LPGA made a few statements about how they were serious about limiting slow play, but it doesn’t seem to have changed much as of now.

Clutch Performance of the Year

And the Winner Is: So Yeon Ryu at the ANA Inspiration

Without question, the player who had to overcome the most to get a big win this year was So Yeon Ryu at the year’s first Major, the ANA Inspiration.

Ryu had been playing brilliantly all season (see ‘Best Start to the Season’), but had not yet been able to win despite coming close. As the fourth round wound on, it looked like it might be another near miss for her. But then, suddenly, Lexi Thompson was assessed a four-stroke penalty thanks to a viewer calling in, and Ryu was right back in the thick of things with just a few holes to go.

The fans at that point turned vocally towards supporting Thompson, and though there were several Major winners still in the hunt, none of them were able to play quite well enough to take Thompson down.

Except for So Yeon. She managed to reach the green in two on 18, but her ball nestled into an extremely challenging lie near the grandstand.  She would have to get up and down from there to have any realistic chance of victory. And she did it, while her playing partner, 7-time Major winner Inbee Park, was not able to make birdie.

A few minutes later, Ryu was in a playoff with Thompson for the title. Again, the crowd was very vocally cheering for Thompson and against Ryu. But So Yeon never wavered: while Thompson hit a poor drive, Ryu put hers in the middle of the fairway, then hit a gutsy second shot to the water-flanked green. Her ball rolled nearly into the water, but stopped in time, and from there, So Yeon pulled off another clutch up-and-down to win her second career Major.

Biggest Disappointment

And the Winner Is: Ha Na Jang returns to Korea

Ha Na Jang quickly established herself as one of the most popular players on the LPGA. And one of the best. She came over to the tour in 2015, hoping to qualify for the Olympics. She was not able to win in her rookie year, although she did have several close calls. But in 2016, she collected three titles, each time sealing the deal with a memorable and fun victory celebration.

Jang continued the brilliance in 2017, winning early at the Australian Women’s Open. But just a few months later, she suddenly renounced her tour membership and returned to South Korea to play on the KLPGA. What happened?

There was nothing sinister about it. She simply missed her family and friends, and wanted to be closer to them. She has played a few times in Majors and other important events since then, and will probably continue to do so in the future. But for now, she seems content to play full-time on the KLPGA. She has to do what is best for her, but it’s unfortunate that the LPGA has lost another big Korean star (interestingly, Jiyai Shin also suddenly left the tour a few years ago after winning in Australia, and for the same reason).

Other nominees: Inbee Park still injured

When Inbee Park collected a win at the 2017 HSBC Women’s Champions event, even she was surprised she had managed to win so soon after her return to action. She had barely played at all since winning the gold medal the previous August in Rio, and before that she had been out of action for a lot of 2016. But though she managed a few more good finishes here and there after that, she soon began to struggle with injuries again, and by the middle of the season, she was back on the bench for much of the rest of the year.

Here’s hoping she will return again in 2018, this time fully healthy!

In Gee Chun doesn’t win

It was a great year for In Gee, but as I mentioned before, she was not able to get a win despite numerous close calls. Even at the year ending LPGA vs. KLPGA team event, despite winning her two matches, In Gee was not able to get a trophy: the KLPGA upset the LPGA for the first time. She seems healthy, though, so maybe next year will be a chance for her to return to the winner’s circle!

Most Dominating Performance

And the Winner Is: Seung Hyun Lee, Hite Cup

The Hite Cup is one of the five Majors on the KLPGA tour. Seung Hyun Lee is a top player on the KLPGA, but she was not having a particularly great year when this event arrived in the Fall.

Amazing how one week can change everything! The field contained Sung Hyun Park, the leading money winner on the LPGA, and Ha Neul Kim, who was leading the JLPGA money list at the time. But after three rounds, it was Lee who had a three shot lead over the field.

Still, nothing prepared the fans for the massacre about to occur. A three-shot lead is nice, but certainly no guarantee of victory. But Lee was not about to stumble. Her fourth round 67 was the top score of the day, and when the tournament concluded, she held a staggering nine shot victory margin over two of the top players on the KLPGA, Hye Jin Choi and Jeong Eun Lee 6. It was the largest margin of victory on the KLPGA in a very long time.

Other Nominees:

Mirim Lee, Kia Classic

Mirim won the Kia Classic for her third career LPGA triumph. It was a six-shot margin, one of the biggest by a Sister on the LPGA in 2017. Lee can be inconsistent, but when she is on her game she is dynamite. Second place was So Yeon Ryu, but even the future world #1 could do nothing to slow Lee down on this day.

Sung Hyun Park annihilates rookies

We knew Sung Hyun Park was going to be good, but she absolutely dominated a decent rookie class in 2017. We’ll be talking about her a lot more later!

Eun Hee Ji wins by 6 at Swinging Skirts, her first win in eight years

It was pretty surprising to see Eun Hee Ji even in contention at the Swinging Skirts in Taiwan, but the way she absolutely dominated was completely stunning. She beat a charging Lydia Ko by six shots, and topped third place So Yeon Ryu (there she is again!) by ten. Not bad for her first win in EIGHT YEARS.

Most Fashionable

This year, Soo Jin Yang, the perennial fashionista of Korean Women’s Golf, has been largely absent from action. She got married earlier in the year, then got pregnant, and so missed most of the season. As a result, things were a little more sedate on the fashion front than in years past. But here are a few of the nice looks that were spotted on the fairways in 2017.

Char Young Kim

In Gee Chun

KLPGA Rookie Da Bin Heo sports Charlie Brown stripes. Good grief!

KLPGA Rookie of the Year Eun Soo Jang

Ga Yeon Kim is a Screen Golfer who played an event or two on the KLPGA this year. The below was a look straight from Pearly Gates, the same company that sponsors Soo Jin Yang.

Gyeol Park

Hye Sun Kim broke through with her first career win this season

Hyun Ju Yoo was a photographer’s favorite all season. Alas, she did not play well enough in 2017 to maintain her tour card.

KLPGA golfer Ju Yeon In wore this unusual jacket at one tournament

Jin Young Ko in green

Ji Hyun Oh had a great year on the KLPGA. Here she models outfits and some interesting head covers as well

So Yeon Ryu got to #1 in the world this year

Another KLPGA rookie, So Hye Park

Yet another rookie, So Hyun Ahn

Yul Lin Hwang

Best Korean Finish

And the Winner Is: the US Women’s Open

The top Major of the season had a leaderboard filled with Koreans. The top four were all Sisters: the winner was Sung Hyun Park, the runner-up Hye Jin Choi, and world #1 So Yeon Ryu and MJ Hur were tied for third.

In addition, KLPGA sensation Jeong Eun Lee 6 was t-5, while three more Sisters were tied for 8th: Sei Young Kim, Mirim Lee and Amy Yang.

Also slipping into the top 20 were: Eun Hee Ji (t13), In Gee Chun and Jin Young Ko (t-15), and another KLPGA talent, Seon Woo Bae (t-19).

Other Nominees:

Honda Thailand

This leaderboard featured four Koreans at the top: 1 (Amy Yang), 2 (So Yeon Ryu), 3 (Sei Young Kim) and t-4 (In Gee Chun).  These four ladies also happened to have been the previous year’s Korean International Crown team.

Cinderella of the Year

And the Winner Is: Hye Sun Kim beats Jeong Eun Lee 6 at Seokyung Ladies Classic

This choice may seem like a bit of a surprise. The obvious selection for this award would have been Jin Young Ko for winning the KEB Hana Bank. While it is true that this could turn out to be a life-changing win for Ko, it is also true that Ko has been knocking on the door of a LPGA card at least since she nearly won the Women’s British Open back in 2015. She has 10 career KLPGA wins and has been one of the top players on that tour since nearly winning the Rookie of the Year in 2014. She is certainly a Cinderella, but I went instead for a truly unknown player who managed an amazing feat.

Jeong Eun Lee 6 had been the dominant player on the KLPGA all season. She managed 4 wins overall, and won all the big awards at year’s end. But she might easily have had five wins had things gone differently.

The Seokyung Ladies Classic was played in the Fall, and the weather did not cooperate. After two rounds, Lee was in a familiar place: atop the leaderboard. She was tied with a virtually unknown second-year player named Hye Sun Kim. But it seemed inevitable that Lee would be able to exert her will in the third and final round; would Kim have any chance against the tour’s top gun?

At first, the answer seemed to be ‘no’. On the final day, Lee ran up a quick lead on Kim, and looked headed for her fifth win of 2017.

But the weather was terrible, and a few holes into the third round, the wind became so strong that balls were being blown off the greens. There seemed little likelihood that the entire field would be able to complete three rounds. The tour decided to cancel the third round and shorten the event to just two rounds. But that left a problem: with the third day scores wiped, Kim and Lee were once again tied for the lead. They decided to have a three-hole, aggregate score playoff between the two. The conditions were brutal, but if they just had to keep three greens playable, they thought it could be done.

And wouldn’t you know, after the three holes were finished, it was Hye Sun Kim who came out on top! Fate and luck seemed to be on her side as she claimed her first career win over the powerful Lee. A Cinderella indeed!

Other Nominees:

Jin Young Ko wins KEB Hana Bank

Char Young Kim tops Inbee Park at Doosan Match Play

Inbee Park has never won a professional tournament in Korea. Let that sink in for a minute. The top player of her generation, only the second Korean to ever qualify for the Hall of Fame, has never won a tournament in her home country. Part of that is logistics: she never played on the KLPGA, and indeed played much of her formative golf in the States. But it’s also the case that she just seems to have been snakebitten whenever she’s come close to capturing a title there.

At this year’s KLPGA Doosan Match Play Championship, it looked like Inbee would finally get her title. She relentlessly worked her way through the field, reaching the final round, where she was matched against Char Young Kim. Kim had three career wins, but none since 2012; though she is a talented golfer, she would not be in the short list of top KLPGA talents.

And yet, she also had made the finals that week, proving she was playing well, and in the end, she handed Park the stunning loss. Kim grabbed her first title in five years, while Inbee would have to wait once again to get her long sought Korean victory.

Best Breakthrough

And the Winner Is: Hye Jin Choi

Choi started the year as one of the very best amateur golfers in the world. By the time she finished, she had nearly won the US Women’s Open, collected three official KLPGA events, and was on her way to a very likely 2018 KLPGA Rookie of the Year award.

Her professional breakthrough win came at the Chojung Sparkling Water Resort Open in late June. Choi was still a 17-year-old amateur when she teed it up there. After two rounds, she found herself six shots behind Ji Hyun Kim, who was looking for her third win in four starts.

But on Sunday, Choi went ballistic, shooting one of the most amazing rounds of the year. She produced a 9 under par 63 that included not one but two hole-outs for eagle. In the end, this was good enough for a one-shot victory, her first professional title. Choi would go on to win another KLPGA event before finally turning pro and joining the tour for the remainder of the year, but it was at this event that she broke through and warned the tour what they might be in for in the next few years.

Other Nominees:

Jeong Eun Lee 6

Jeong Eun Lee was last year’s Rookie of the Year, but 2017 was without question her break out season. She won 4 times, grabbed a top 5 at the US Women’s Open, and won 6 season ending awards. Her scoring average, well under 70, might have been the lowest in tour history. It certainly was one of the five best ever recorded. She might be the sixth woman with the name Jeong Eun Lee to play on the KLPGA, but she is well on her way to establishing herself as the best one!

Great Performance that came up short

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun in Portland (and all season).

In Gee Chun had a strong sophomore year on the LPGA; her scoring average, for instance, was even better than the one she had when she won the Vare Trophy in 2016. But despite her best efforts, she was not able to get a win in 2017. Not that she didn’t come close…

She wound up with five second place finishes and two thirds, and the two thirds were in some ways as close to wins as some of the second places were. She lost a playoff at the Manulife to Ariya Jutanugarn, and was passed on the final day by Sung Hyun Park to lose the Canadian Women’s Open. She was also in the final group at the KEB Hana Bank, but lost her duel with fellow stars Park and Jin Young Ko.

But her closest brush with victory came at the Portland Cambia Classic. Stacy Lewis, who had not won in years, was in the lead going into the final round, and the entire crowd was rooting hard for her to take the title: not only was Lewis a big American star with a long history of just missing wins, she also had pledged to give her entire check that week to aid the hurricane relief efforts in Houston. But though In Gee has a heart as big as all outdoors and much empathy for the hurricane victims, she wanted the win, too, and was playing well enough to get it. She relentlessly tracked down Lewis all day, inching closer and closer as the tournament neared its end.

On the 17th hole, Chun hit a marvelous approach to a few feet while Lewis struggled to make par. The birdie would have tied Chun for the lead, but she just missed. In Gee was not able to make birdie on the last, and once again she found herself in second place. She was five shots ahead of third, but even playing her best golf of the year was not enough to get her the win on this day.

Other Nominees:

Hye Jin Choi, US Women’s Open

Hye Jin Choi was a 17-year-old amateur on a mission at this year’s US Women’s Open. As the final round proceeded, Choi moved herself into the lead and a chance to become only the second amateur to ever win the event, and the first in 50 years. She also would have been the youngest to win the title. Her only real competition seemed to be Rookie star Sung Hyun Park, herself looking for her first win on the LPGA. It remained tight until Choi reached the 16th. A par 3 with a water carry, Choi chose the wrong time to hit one of her less brilliant tee shots. Her iron landed in the drink, and that was enough to cost her the title. She finished second, but how amazing her year might have been had she made just one fewer mistake!

It’s time once again for my annual Seoul Sisters Awards for the best accomplishments by Korean women golfers in the 2017 season. Let’s get right to the fun!

Best Start to the Season

And the winner is: So Yeon Ryu’s consecutive top ten streak

So Yeon Ryu finished the 2016 season with three consecutive top five finishes, and she hit the ground running immediately in 2017. In her first event of the year, she played brilliantly, but fellow Korean star Amy Yang was too tough, and Ryu wound up 2nd. So Yeon notched top tens in her next two tournaments, then at the Kia Classic, found herself again playing great but behind a dominating Korean winner, in this case Mirim Lee. Still, she managed a tie for second there. The next tournament, the ANA Inspiration, would be her first win of 2017.

She would notch three more straight top tens before she finally finished outside the top ten. But her start to the season saw her make eight straight top tens which, when combined with the end of the previous season, gave her 11 straight top tens before she missed one.

Other Nominees:

Jeong Eun Lee 6 gets the first win of her career to start season.

Jeong Eun Lee 6 won the 2016 KLPGA Rookie of the Year award, but by the end of the season, she still had not broken into the winner’s circle. It didn’t take her long to correct that in 2017. Lee is known as Jeong Eun Lee 6 because she is the sixth KLPGA golfer in history with the name Jeong Eun Lee. She has embraced the number 6 as her lucky number. In her first event of the KLPGA season that took place in South Korea, the Lotte Rent-A-Car Women’s Open, Lee lived up to her nickname. She shot three consecutive rounds of 66 to claim her first career win. She would follow that up with four more straight top tens, including a runner-up finish, and would wind up dominating on the tour in 2017, claiming – yup, you guess it – six total awards at the year ending awards show. Maybe six really is her lucky number!

Biggest Disappearing Act

And the ‘Winner’ is: Kyu Jung ‘Q’ Baek

It’s incredible when you realize just how short Q Baek’s career has been, and just how young she still is. She joined the KLPGA in 2014, winning three times on tour including a Major, then claiming a fourth win that year at the KEB Hana Bank to earn her LPGA tour card. She won the Rookie of the Year award over such powerhouses as Jin Young Ko (who would herself win the Hana Bank tournament in later years), Min Sun Kim, multiple tour winner Ji Hyun Oh, and the recent world #1 Sung Hyun Park.

Joining the LPGA the following season, Baek struggled. She played full-time in America in 2015 and 2016, but became so discouraged that she returned to Korea this past season. Alas, she had little luck there: she made just 16 million won and finished outside the top 100 on the money list, possibly losing her KLPGA status in the process. On occasion, she played so badly that she not only finished last in the field, but sometimes was half a dozen or more strokes behind the next worst player.

Obviously, Baek has the talent to be a great player, and something has happened to her to cause her to completely lose confidence in her abilities. It could be burnout; that’s happened before. It could be an injury, although I’ve heard nothing about that. Whatever it is, hopefully she will be able to figure it out and return to her previous form. She is still just 22 years old, and could potentially have a long career ahead of her.

Runner up: Na Yeon Choi

Two years ago, Na Yeon Choi won twice on the LPGA tour. Last year, she missed a lot of cuts, but still finished 55th on the money list with nearly $350,000 earned.

This year, she was barely a blip on the radar all year. She earned only $46,000, just 135th on the money list. It’s quite possible she will lose her card on the LPGA for the first time since joining nearly a decade ago. Now, it’s quite possible she is struggling with injuries; the information on her situation is not complete. But for a player who was once the top player of all the Koreans (and #2 in the world) to fall this far, just two years after a two win season, is quite incredible.

Best Korean Confrontation

And the Winner Is: KEB Hana Bank final round: In Gee Chun/Sung Hyun Park/Jin Young Ko

The most amazing battle featuring Korean golfers took place at this year’s annual LPGA visit to South Korea, the KEB Hana Bank Classic. The final round featured a pairing of three of Korea’s most popular and talented golfers. Sung Hyun Park and In Gee Chun are not only two of the three highest ranked Korean golfers in the world, they are also two of the most popular, both equipped with huge fan clubs who turn out in force whenever they play in Korea. Jin Young Ko is a top KLPGA star who is used to battling both of those ladies on the domestic tour. Although not as big a star, she still has quite a following in her own right.

Everyone knew having all three in the same final group was going to be big, but few guessed just how insanely jam-packed it would end up being. Over 30,000 fans showed up during the round, with thousands of them packing alongside the ropes to watch that final group alone. The golfers did not disappoint. All three played well and wound up as the top three golfers on the leaderboard, but surprisingly, it was the KLPGA player Ko who came out on top, thanks to an unbelievable display of iron hitting. She earned her tour card and will be playing on the LPGA in 2018. Park had to console herself with a runner-up finish, her second at this event in three years, while Chun finished third.

Other Nominees:

Hye Jin Choi vs. Sung Hyun Park, US Women’s Open

With the biggest prize in women’s golf on the line, teen amateur sensation Hye Jin Choi went toe-to-toe with LPGA rookie star Sung Hyun Park. It was anyone’s guess who would win until the 16th hole, when Choi unfortunately hit her tee shot into the water. A few holes later, in front of the President of the US and other fans, Park made a clutch up-and-down on the final hole to claim her first career Major.

Sung Hyun Park, Mirim Lee, and In Gee Chun, Canadian Women’s Open

Park came from well back like an unstoppable freight train. Mirim Lee, another long bomber, was in it most of the day, but made key mistakes late. She did make a clutch eagle on the final hole, but it was too little too late. The only player left who could stop Park from getting her second win of the year was In Gee Chun, but the Korean was just not able to close the gap. On the final hole, she needed eagle to force a playoff, but her approach landed in the bunker, and she could not get up and down from there to even make birdie. She dropped to third, and Sung Hyun collected her second national championship of the season.

ING Champions, KLPGA beats LPGA

This event is fast becoming quite an end-of-season tilt. The LPGA had won this the first two years, but this time, the KLPGA took a lead on day two, forcing the LPGA to come from behind on the final day, the singles competition. They only were able to break even, and the KLPGA won for the first time ever.

The pivotal moment came when the team of So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park were not able to win their match. Ryu also lost her singles match 1 up to Seon Woo Bae, and those two losses by the recent world number one golfer were probably the difference.

We were denied perhaps the ultimate match. In the singles, In Gee Chun was originally scheduled to play Ha Na Jang, who now represented the KLPGA. Fans will recall the brouhaha that resulted last year when Jang’s father accidentally injured In Gee at the Singapore airport. Alas, the match did not come to pass: Jang had to drop out with an injury, and Chun wound up playing (and beating) old friend Min Sun Kim 1 up.

Posted by: happyfan08 | May 4, 2017

2017 KLPGA Primer

Another KLPGA season is underway, so it’s time for our annual preview of what to expect this year on that tour!


The biggest change from last year is the flight of Sung Hyun Park to the LPGA. Park was the dominant player on the KLPGA last year. She won seven times and set the record for most money ever earned in a single season with over 1.3 billion won (about $1.15 million). Although she was not able to win an LPGA event to earn a tour card, she did manage several great finishes, including a tie for third at the US Women’s Open and a tie for 2nd at the Evian Championship. That enabled her to earn enough money to qualify for the LPGA based on earnings alone.

Besides Park, popular golf beauty Chae Young Yoon and multiple tour winner Min Young Lee left Korea to join the Japan LPGA tour full time. Another golf beauty, Shin Ae Ahn, also earned partial membership on that tour and will play at least part time over there.

Jin Young Ko, the other Billionaire

With Park gone, the biggest remaining star on tour is Jin Young Ko. Ko won three times in 2017 and became just the third player in history to break the billion won in a season mark. She still got convincingly beaten by Sung Hyun Park on the money list, but did beat her by a single point in the Player of the Year race to win that award.

Park’s caddie is Dean Herden, who has made a name for himself by caddying for many high-profile Korean stars. He was on Jiyai Shin’s bag when she won the Women’s British Open in 2008, and caddied for So Yeon Ryu when she won the 2011 US Women’s Open. After carrying Hee Kyung Seo’s bag for a while, he caddied for In Gee Chun when SHE won the 2015 US Women’s Open. Since 2016, he has been looping for Jin Young Ko, which says a lot about the potential this star has.

Ko showed what she could do in 2016, but also in 2015, when she finished 2nd at the Women’s British Open behind only Korean legend Inbee Park. So far in 2017, however, Ko has underperformed. She’s had two top tens in four starts, her best finish a 5th. But the year is still young, and she is still the player to beat on the KLPGA tour.

Other Top Stars

The KLPGA has several players who showed promise in 2016 and might be ready to become the big name on tour in 2017.

Su Yeon Jang

Jang has shown that she can compete with LPGA stars. In 2015, she played the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, and contended for the title, eventually finishing fifth. This year, she again played that event, and did even better. Playing in the final group on Sunday, she at one time had a three shot lead, but eventually stumbled and finished tied for second behind American Cristie Kerr.

Jang was no slouch on the KLPGA, either. She finally broke through with her first two career wins in 2016, and thanks to them and 12 total top tens, finished third on the year ending money list, behind only the two record setters, Jin Young Ko and Sung Hyun Park.

Interestingly, other than her near miss at the LPGA tournament, Jang has not started 2017 so well; she has yet to get a top ten in three starts. But now that she’s back in Korea for a long stretch, she may be able to improve her standings.

Hae Rym Kim

Hae Rym Kim is a veteran who has surged the past couple of seasons. She did well in 2015 but was not able to win. But in 2016, she did break through, winning twice, including the year’s final Major. She finished 6th on the money list for the season with ten top tens.

Kim has had a great 2017 so far. She has finished 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th in her four starts. Her win came at the World Ladies Championship in China, an event jointly sponsored by the KLPGA and the LET. As a result, she is currently second on the KLPGA money list. She also played well at the LPGA’s Lotte Championship, carding a tie for 16th finish there.

Seon Woo Bae

Seon Woo Bae is a young player who broke through in 2015 and followed that up with an even better 2016. In 2015, she finished 6th on the money list, with three second place and three third place finishes. But wins eluded her.

In 2016, she set that right, winning twice, including at the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship. She had 13 additional top tens and finished 5th on the money list. She also managed a 7th place finish at the LPGA’s annual event in Korea, the KEB Hana Bank.

Bae has had an interesting 2017. She nearly won the World Ladies Championship in China, but was caught and beaten by Hae Rym Kim at the end. She also had a second place finish at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters. However, she has missed two cuts as well. Presumably she will improve her consistency as the year progresses.

Min Sun Kim

Min Sun Kim is a contemporary of Jin Young Ko who has shown a ton of potential over the years, and seems like she could be on the cusp of greatness.

Kim has steadily notched wins and top tens, but has yet to have the breakout season that would establish her as one of the two or three best in the league. She is gifted with great length off the tee, but struggles at times on the greens.

Kim had a win in her rookie year of 2014 and another in 2015. In 2016, she finished 8th on the money list, again with one win and a lot of top tens. She also showed her potential as an LPGA player by contending at the KEB Hana Bank that year before fading to third.

Kim continued to shine when she played at the Kowa Queens, a year ending team event. Representing the KLPGA, she won all three of her matches and was named the MVP.

So far in 2017, Kim has notched her mandatory win, at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters. She also has a third at the Women’s World Championship in China. Could this be the year Kim finally takes over?

Other potential stars

Jeong Eun Lee 6

Jeong Eun Lee 6 is the sixth player in KLPGA history with the name Jeong Eun Lee, and she is trying to establish herself as the best. Lee won last year’s Rookie of the Year title on the KLPGA. This was a bit of a surprise; coming into the season, most experts expected So Young Lee to win that award, given her superior amateur record. But Jeong Eun Lee caught and passed her at the end of the year, finishing 24th on the money list with 257 million won earned. She had seven top tens, including a third.

In 2017, Lee has been dynamite. She captured her first career win at the Lotte Rent-a-Car Ladies Open. She also had a runner-up finish and three other top tens. Her only finish outside the top ten was an 18th. As a result, she surprisingly leads the money list, player of the year race and scoring average. Whether she will come back to Earth or not is unknown, but for now the 20-year-old is making a big statement!

Gyeol Park

Gyeol Park is now in her third season on the KLPGA. She had an impressive amateur career, which included a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2014. In two seasons on the KLPGA, she has yet to win. She only finished 31st on the 2016 KLPGA money list.

So why do we include Park here? Because she is a player who has shown a lot of promise in the amateur ranks, and in 2017 is starting to excel in the pro ranks. She still hasn’t won yet, but she has managed a second place (lost in a playoff) and fourth place, which has lifted her to 10th on the money list. She has the potential to have a breakout year in 2017.

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh is another young player who has been on tour a few years. She is slowly becoming more of a force out there. She finished in the top ten at the Korean Women’s Open in 2013, before she even turned pro. Her first pro year, 2014, was nothing special, but she improved in 2015, gaining her first win near the end of the season. In 2016, she played better still, climbing to 12th on the money list with a second win to her credit.

Oh has the looks and talent to become one of the big stars of the league, but her game is still not quite there yet. In 2017, she has gotten out to a slow start, with no finish higher than 14th in her first five starts.

Old Timers who still could make noise

Yoon Kyung Heo

Yoon Kyung Heo was one of the top players on the KLPGA a few years ago, but major injuries kept her out of action for nearly a year. In 2016, she finished 39th on the money list in her return from injury. So far she has not done much better in 2017. However, this is a multiple tour winner who may be capable of getting there again, so she cannot be counted out.

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin Yang is the fashion star of the KLPGA. The last couple of years, however, off course distractions have impacted her results. After a very public series of relationships with notable Korean sports stars, she got married to a soccer star in March of 2017. Will Yang rededicate herself to the game now? Time will tell, but there is no doubt that the talent is there.

Shi Hyun Ahn

Shi Hyun Ahn has managed quite a comeback from hard times. The Rookie of the Year on the LPGA back in 2004, Ahn returned to the KLPGA in 2012 after she met and wed a celebrity named ‘Marco’ (he has one name). They had a daughter together, but the marriage broke up, and Ahn found herself a single mother with a child to support. She returned to the KLPGA and had a triumphant comeback, winning the 2016 Korean Women’s Open, the tour’s most important event.

She has already shown signs that she is continuing her form in 2017. Playing on a sponsor’s invite at the LPGA’s Kia Classic, Ahn shot a final round 63 to finish tied for 31st.

Rookies to watch

Min Ji Park made a statement by capturing a win early in the 2017 season. She becomes automatically the rookie to beat now.

Woo Ri Chun is a 5’10” powerhouse with an incredible pedigree: her dad is a former KPGA player, her mom a former KLPGA player.

Also look out for Da Bin Heo, Nike star So Hye Park and Eun Soo Jang, who was one of the top players on the Dream Tour (the developmental tour for the KLPGA) in 2016.

The season continues until November. It will be fun to see if anyone can wrest control of the league from Jin Young Ko, or if Ko will become the next player to dominate the tour.

Posted by: happyfan08 | April 10, 2017

So Yeon Ryu Wins Major Amid Controversy

For most of the past four years, the face of Korean Golf has been Inbee Park, the Hall of Famer who time and again has won important tournaments and postseason awards on the LPGA tour, while consistently being among the top ranked golfers in the world. But somewhat obscured by the glow of Park’s brilliance was another golfer, herself one of the very best in the world. Time and again this golfer, So Yeon Ryu, notched top tens, top fives and runner-up finishes, but wins were few and far between. Consistent she certainly was, but as she passed her 26th birthday and fifth complete season on the LPGA, the question persisted: would she ever rise to the top and make her own history? Or would she continue to be the Scottie Pippen obscured by Inbee Park’s Michael Jordan?

From the time she joined the LPGA tour in 2012, So Yeon has been one of the most consistent players on tour. In just her rookie year alone she notched 16 top tens, tied for the most on tour that year (and 12 of those were top fives!). But she only had one win, and one more in 2014, and after that, nothing. Combined with the 2011 US Women’s Open win that earned her a tour card, she had just three wins to show after five years of tour life.

From joining the tour in 2012 to the end of last season, Ryu amassed an incredible record and quite a healthy bank account as well. She had a total of 62 top tens, 44 of which were top fives. She managed 11 top tens in Majors, including several second place finishes, but no wins. Her last missed cut was at the 2014 Evian Championship, the longest run of consecutive cuts made on the tour right now. And she only missed the cut that time because she accidentally damaged her putter when slamming it against her foot, and was disqualified for using “altered” equipment.

But for all her success, she only managed two wins during that same span. That is less than five percent of her top fives ending up in wins. If she had even managed to win once in every five times she finished in the top five, she would have notched 8 wins in that span.

Finally, at the end of 2015, So Yeon had had enough. She felt a change was in order. She asked her caddie to find a new coach for her, and he recommended Cameron McCormick, famous for being the coach of PGA star Jordan Spieth. Ryu even relocated to Dallas so she could be closer to him while they worked on her swing.

So Yeon had a good season in 2016, but not good enough to earn her the ranking necessary to get her on the Olympic team, which had been one of her primary goals for the year. But slowly the swing changes began to bear fruit. She managed top tens in four of the year’s Majors and an 11th place in the fifth. At the year’s final Major, the Evian, she was especially impressive. She made only a single bogey all week, finishing tied for second beyond record-breaking In Gee Chun.

As the year came to a close, she caught fire in a big way. She finished tied for 5th in Malaysia and tied for 3rd in Japan. But it was at the year’s final tournament, the CME Tour Championship, where she really excelled. She found herself chasing British youngster Charlie Hull most of the week, but finally caught her on the 16th hole of the final round. On the 17th hole, a par five, she hit a perfect drive, then striped her second shot straight down the fairway.

Alas, her shot ended up in a bunker, right up against a six-foot tall vertical face. Had her ball ended up three feet longer, she would have had an eagle chance. Had it been three feet shorter, she would have had a routine bunker shot. But from where she was, she could do almost nothing.

She wound up with a bogey and another runner-up finish.

So Yeon hit the off-season training with more determination than ever, and when she came out in 2017, she was as fit as she had ever been, and ready to hunt for that next win. Every week she played, she found herself somewhere near the lead; in fact, in her first four starts, she had two runner ups, a fourth and a seventh. She was at the top of the league in money earned even without a win, top in scoring average, and top in greens in regulation. Yet she still wasn’t winning.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. At the Honda, her first second place finish, she could do nothing to stop Amy Yang, who played the best tournament she had played in a year. At the Kia, she ran into another buzzsaw Korean, Mirim Lee. And at the other two events, she did not play well enough at the end to get into the hunt, despite her great placings.

(So Yeon with Amy Yang in Thailand this year)

Still she was undeterred. She was riding a string of seven straight top tens, including three second places, stretching back to October, 2016. She was now the top ranked Korean in the world, moving to third to top her friend Chun. She was now pinning her hopes on taking the dive into Poppie’s Pond at the year’s first Major, the ANA Inspiration.

But that tournament generally favors long hitters, and despite playing well, after three rounds of tough battling she was still three shots behind long bomber Lexi Thompson. Fate seemed to have a sense of humor, putting her in the third to last group on Sunday paired with her old friend Inbee Park. But though they both played well on the front nine, they were not able to put a dent into Thompson’s lead.

Then one of the most bizarre rules incidents of all time happened, and everything changed. A viewer emailed the LPGA, informing them that Thompson had not placed her ball properly on the green after picking it up before a short par putt the previous day. Misplacing a putt is a two-stroke penalty, but if it happens in a concluded round, that requires an additional two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect score card for that round. Thompson was notified of the four-stroke penalty after she completed the 12th hole on Sunday, and just like that, she fell back to the field and found herself in a pitched battle with Ryu, Inbee, Suzann Pettersen and Minjee Lee for the title.

When Ryu has been in contention to win in the past, she has often folded under the pressure. Inbee, meanwhile, usually gets better, and that’s just what happened at the ANA. With three holes to play, she made birdie on 16 and 17 to move into a tie for the lead with Pettersen, Thompson and Ryu. Ryu was about to watch her friend win again while she once again had to settle for a strong finish but no trophy.

But this time, things turned out differently. So Yeon dug deep and reached the green on the par 5 18th hole in 2 shots. Inbee got there in three. Ryu had a fantastically tough chip shot facing her, and executed it majestically, getting her ball to within five feet. Park, meanwhile, had a ten footer for birdie to take the lead. The exact kind of putt that Park seems to drop almost every time she needs to. But not this time. Her putt barely scraped by the hole, but did not drop, and she wound up with par. Ryu than stepped up and made the birdie to take the lead and eliminate her friend. For once, it would be Inbee on the sidelines cheering for So Yeon.

(Above, So Yeon makes a tough chip look easy on the final hole of the ANA Inspiration)

Thompson, meanwhile, rallied hard behind them, driving the crowd into fits of ecstasy. They were already on her side before to be sure; but since the penalty, they tried everything they could to inspire her to come back and win. She and Pettersen got to the green on 18, but though Thompson missed an eagle for the win, she made the short birdie to tie Ryu. Pettersen was not able to follow suit, setting up a playoff between So Yeon and Thompson.

So Yeon finally had a great chance to win a Major, but she was facing a crowd heavily biased against her. Nonetheless, on the playoff hole, she hit a perfect drive, while Thompson put hers in the rough and had to punch out. Ryu then had 221 yards to the flag over water. She hit her shot, cleared the water, and watched on pins and needles while the ball rolled towards the water on the side of the green. Thankfully, it stopped short. But many of the people in the crowd showed a regrettable classlessness by openly rooting for her ball to roll into the drink. Even Cristie Kerr, rooting greenside for her friend Thompson, later commented negatively about the unfortunate turn the fan cheering was taking.

So Yeon had a chip to win, but just missed. Now it was Thompson’s turn, but she left her birdie putt short. So Ryu had a five footer for the win. She had often missed this kind of putt in the past. But not this time. She drained it with authority, and nearly collapsed from the release of emotion afterwards. Inbee and MJ Hur gave her a well-deserved champagne bath a few minutes later. A few minutes after that, she jumped into the pond with her mom, sister, agent and caddie, her second career Major in hand.

The tough stuff was just beginning for her. Thousands of fans were infuriated by the result and spammed her Instagram and twitter accounts with nasty comments. Many ridiculously suggested that her win was tainted, and that she should have conceded the win to Thompson. Ludicrous. Thompson’s penalty was by the book. If the LPGA had allowed her to get away with her indiscretion once they had learned of it, that would have sent the terrible message that popular players are above the rules. And imagine if So Yeon had in fact conceded to Thompson – not only would Thompson have hated to win that way, it would have put a permanent stain on women’s golf: players should always play to win, even if they get to that point through an unfortunate controversy. No, So Yeon had no choice, just like the other women in contention: she had to try everything she could to win. And finally, after two and a half years, win she did. A Major, and no asterisk needed. It was fully earned.

So Yeon Ryu rose to second in the world thanks to her win, and now leads the tour money list, Player of the Year, scoring average and greens in regulation stats. Can she keep it up all year? Given how consistent she is, I have to think her next goal will be to win several more tournaments and at last live up to the potential she has always had. Congratulations to her!

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