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!

Changes

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!

Rookie of the Year

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun

This was the easiest award to give in several years. There simply were no other rookies on any tour who had such a massive and immediate impact as In Gee Chun had in her rookie year on the LPGA. We’ve already given some of her highlights, but here is the overview.

In Gee started the year in the top ten in the world rankings, vying for a spot on the Olympic team. It looked to be a tough battle, as she was competing not only with her old rival Hyo Joo Kim but also So Yeon Ryu, Ha Na Jang, Amy Yang, Sung Hyun Park, Bo Mee Lee, and Na Yeon Choi. But Chun established herself immediately as a force to be reckoned with. She notched a third place finish in her very first LPGA event, and followed that with a second place in the next event. She seemed poised to win when the luggage injury happened that affected much of the rest of her season (see Most Controversial Moment).

But even after missing several tournaments, her momentum was barely slowed. In her first event back, she again notched a runner-up, then made yet another second place in her next finish. By this point she had already established a lead in the Rookie race that was never seriously threatened.

Chun did eventually qualify for the International Crown and the Olympics. But the summer was a bit of a struggle for In Gee, who is also known by her nickname Dumbo. She had a lackluster KPMG, and missed her only cut of the year at her title defense at the US Women’s Open. She finished tied for 13th at the Olympics, not bad, but considering she was tied for fifth going into the final round, a bit of a letdown. Her play at the International Crown was also below her standards.

But starting with the British Open, she made a comeback. She had an eighth there, then notched her 6th top three of the season with a third at the Canadian Women’s Open. Her next event was the Evian Championship, where she smashed the all-time record for best score with relation to par at a Major, male or female (21 under par). She also became only the second golfer to make her first two LPGA wins Majors, after Se Ri Pak. Given In Gee’s propensity for winning Majors on tours all over the world, this should hardly come as a surprise.

In Gee greets fans at the airport after returning from her Evian win

In Gee only had that one win in 2016, but she still had one more surprise up her sleeves. She won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, beating Lydia Ko with a birdie on the final hole of the year (see Clutch Performance of the Year). She became the second woman in tour history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Vare Trophy in the same season, after Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez.

Her stats were very impressive for a rookie, especially given her injuries. Besides leading the tour in scoring average with an incredible 69.58, she had 11 top tens, seven of which were top three finishes. She made over $1.5 million dollars, tops for all the Koreans on tour in 2016, and finished fourth on the money list with just 19 events played (and one of her second place finishes did not count as official money, or her total would have been even higher). She finished the year ranked third in the world, again tops among all the ladies from South Korea.

In Gee at the Evian

Her other stats include: 2nd in putts per greens in regulation, third in rounds under par with 52, first in rounds in the 60s with 37 (keep in mind – she played a lot fewer events than most of the top players. Brooke Henderson had 13 more official events!). And she was 4th in the Player of the Year race, and just behind Lydia Ko in percent of top ten finishes, with 58% of her starts at that level.

And of course, her Rookie of the Year win was among the most dominating in history. She had 1,358 points, with second place Megan Khang at 526 points.

Hopefully she will rehabilitate her back and return in 2017 to build on this amazing start!

In Gee Chun at the KLPGA’s season-ending award show

Most Improved Player

And the Winner Is: IK Kim

In Kyung Kim was once upon a time one of the best Korean golfers on the planet. As recently as 2014, she was still good enough to qualify for the International Crown team, which featured the top four Koreans in the world. But Kim’s game has taken a massive downturn in the two years since then, and it began to look like she might be heading for an early retirement.

Not so fast! Inky had a major return to form this year. The first signs of her revival came at the ShopRite Classic in June, where she notched her first top ten of the year, a tie for 6th. She then disappeared again for a while, but surprised everyone by winning the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters in Germany the week before the Evian Championship. Although this wasn’t an LPGA tournament, it was still her first win in some time.

She played well at the Evian, carding a 6th, then rode that momentum to an impressive victory at the Reignwood Classic in China. It was her first LPGA victory in six years and the fourth of her career. After another top ten at the KEB Hana Bank in Korea, Inky disappeared from the tour for the rest of the year. Possibly she was injured, or maybe she was just enjoying a well-deserved rest after her comeback!

Player of the Year

And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park

Several ladies were in the running for this award, but Park had the most overall impact, not only on her domestic tour, where she rose to superstar status, but also on the LPGA, where her mere presence started fans and media buzzing about the long bomber with the stoic nature. No doubt she will be a much-anticipated addition to the LPGA next year.

Park’s year on the KLPGA was one of the most impressive in memory. She started her season with three straight wins (see Best Start to the Season), and would go on to win 7 times in total. Indeed, she had 7 wins so early that many were talking about her becoming the first player in history to win a double-digit number of events in a single season. That didn’t happen, but her record was still stellar. Besides the 7 wins, she had:

13 top tens in 20 starts. That included two seconds, a third, and two fourths. Five of her other finishes were top 20s.

Her scoring average was an astronomical 69.64. I’m not sure where that ranks in history, but I cannot remember more than a handful of KLPGA golfers in the past ten years who even came close to breaking 70 for a scoring average, and she shattered it. Also, the second place golfer, who herself had a fantastic season (Jin Young Ko), had an average of 70.41. That’s a good average for the KLPGA, but nothing compared to Park.

She made 1,333,090,667 won for the season, the all-time record for most money made in a single season.   Adding on her LPGA earnings, she probably made more money on the course than any other Korean in the world this past season.

She was also the longest hitter in the league. One of her few statistical losses came in the KLPGA’s Player of the Year category, where she finished second by one point to Jin Young Ko. That’s kind of inexplicable considering she won 7 events to Ko’s 3, but happened nonetheless.

About the only other knock on her KLPGA record was that she didn’t win a Major this season (Ko did). But considering how record shattering her money total and scoring average were, that is a small criticism indeed.

Park also played on the LPGA and JLPGA this season, and though she managed no wins there, still made impressive showings. She was in contention until the last hole at the US Women’s Open and finished third. She was not able to catch In Gee Chun at the Evian, but still finished tied for second. And she managed a tie for 6th at the ANA Inspiration, her first ever Major.

She also finished tied for 4th at the Kia Classic and tied for 13th at the Founders Cup and the KEB Hana Bank.

Park did not win on the LPGA, but earned enough money to earn a tour card anyway. She made $682,825 in seven starts, which would have placed her 25th on the LPGA money list. Non-members who would have finished in the top forty on the money list earn cards, so she did that easily.

Park’s nickname in Korea is Namdalla, which loosely translates as ‘She’s Different’. The Different Lady certainly showed she has the game to be the best, and with her amazing year wins our SeoulSisters Player of the Year.

Other Nominees:

In Gee Chun

In Gee had a fantastic rookie season. We’ve mentioned her highlights above. The main reason she didn’t win the Player of the Year is that, unlike last year when she did win this award, she only had a single win in 2016. But in every other way she was superb, and as the highest ranked Korean in the world, looks poised to continue her rise to greatness, especially if she can get totally healthy for 2017.

Inbee Park

Inbee Park did not have an Inbee Park-like year, but is included on this list because she won the most important event of the year and did it in dominant fashion: the Rio Olympic Gold Medal. That achievement alone was not enough to win this award, but certainly enough for her to make the final cut of top nominees!

Eun Jeong Seong

Eun Jeong Seong had one of the most impressive amateur records we’ve seen from a Korean in some time. As mentioned previously (see Best Amateur), she is the only female to ever win the US Girls and US Women’s Amateur in the same year. That, and her impressive run at almost winning a KLPGA event, gets her on the list, but she did not have the overall presence and success Park had, with some severe slumps especially late in the year.

Bo Mee Lee

Bo Mee Lee is a superstar in Japan

Once again, Bo Mee Lee led the money list in Japan and had another incredible season. Her year was not quite as good as 2015, though, and she has yet to succeed outside of Japan. And in Japan, her year was not as impressive as Park’s was in Korea. So, she gets an honorable mention only.

Lydia Ko

At the end of the year, the New Zealand wunderkind seemed to be in a tailspin. At the start of the LPGA’s Asian swing, she led the money list, Player of the Year and scoring average race, yet won none of those awards by the end of the year. She fired her caddie, switched coaches and moved to new equipment.

But is all the panic premature? Possibly. Ko doesn’t win our award, but she still managed four wins including a Major, plus a second place in another Major. She also contended at the US Women’s Open and won the Silver Medal at the Olympics. And she won the Annika Award for best record in the Majors. For most people, that would be a career year. For Ko, it is cause to reassess her entire approach. Some people just think differently I guess!

Best Amateur

And the Winner Is: Eun Jeong Seong

Both Eun Jeong Seong and Hye Jin Choi are 16-year-old amateurs from Korea who have had impressive seasons in 2016. Seong’s was just a little more impressive, and so she wins this award.

Seong’s season was highlighted by her winning both the US Girls Junior and the US Women’s Amateur. Nobody had ever won both of those prestigious events in the same season before. At the Girls event, Seong was in one bracket and Hye Jin Choi was in the other, and if they had both reached the final, they would have played each other. Alas, Choi lost to Andrea Lee in the semi, and so Seong ended up playing and beating Lee for the title. Later, at the Women’s Amateur, Choi and Seong did play each other, but in the third round. Seong easily won the matchup of titans, and went on to win the Amateur itself a few days later.

Seong also had an impressive result in one of the KLPGA events she played. At the BC Card Hankyung Ladies Cup in June, she was paired with KLPGA superstar Sung Hyun Park in one round, and frequently drove the ball as long as Park, who is the longest-hitting golfer on that tour.

On the final day, she had a three stroke lead with just two holes to play, but made a devastating triple bogey on the final hole to fall into a tie for the lead. She eventually lost in the playoff. Still, for a teenager to play so well on the KLPGA is testament to her great year and her potential in years to come.

Among her other events, she also managed a tie for 18th at the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank.

Other Nominee: Hye Jin Choi

Hye Jin Choi had a raft of impressive achievements in 2016. She was the low amateur at the US Women’s Open. She won the Canadian Women’s Amateur by four shots, and won the first AJGA event she ever played, the Polo Junior Golf Classic.

She also led Korea to the world amateur team championship at the Espirito Santo Cup in Mexico, and won the individual title there for good measure. As mentioned previously, she also was a semifinalist at the US Girls Junior.

Choi played several KLPGA events, managing a t-12 at the Fantom Classic. On the Ladies European Tour, she tied for 2nd at the New Zealand Open behind world #1 Lydia Ko, and tied for 5th at the RACV Ladies Masters behind winner Jiyai Shin. She was also low amateur at the JLPGA’s Salonpas Cup, one of their four Majors.

It’s seems only a matter of time before Choi breaks through with a win in a pro event.

Best Victory Celebration

And the winner is: Ha Na Jang

How do you pick your favorite Ha Na Jang victory celebration? Jang turned it into an art form on the LPGA this season, with three different victory celebrations for her three wins.

At her first win, she punctuated her final putt by whipping her putter around her back in a move she later compared to a samurai sheathing his sword.

A few weeks later at the HSBC, she followed her win with a dance based on a recent video by Beyonce.

Her third win celebration was a little more low-key, perhaps because of the criticism she got after the LuggageGate incident (see Most Controversial Moment). But she still did a little happy dance. Can’t keep Ha Na down!

Other Nominee: In Gee drenched by many top players, not just Koreans, at the Evian

It was nice to see that In Gee Chun’s victory celebration at the Evian included not only Korean friends but also other top players like Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. In Gee has managed to make herself quite popular in just a short time on tour!

Rookie to Watch in 2017

And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park

In 2015, I picked In Gee Chun as the obvious rookie to watch for the 2016 season. I wrote:

To be honest, this is a rather weak rookie crop, especially following this year’s bounty, so it would be very surprising to me if Chun struggles to win the Rookie title.

And indeed, despite an injury that set her back, she destroyed the competition in the Rookie of the Year race this season. In picking a second, more obscure, rookie player to watch, I wrote:

Annie Park seems more likely to struggle next season than excel, but she also has enough obvious talent that she is definitely one to watch.

I was pretty much spot on with this prediction, too. Annie Park did have a few highlights during the season (two top tens), but only finished 82nd on the money list, which is OK (she maintained status) but not really up to the level that we might have expected of her.

In Gee Chun receives her Rookie of the Year award at the end of this season

This year’s rookie batch is much like last year’s. 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. Given how well those two ladies have done on the LPGA (eight wins total), I believe Park will be in the same ballpark, if not next year, then sometime in the near future.

OK, so are there any other Korean rookies joining the tour to watch for? Uh… not that I can think of. So let’s look over to the JLPGA, where Chae Young Yoon and Min Young Lee will be rookies in 2017. Lee has been the superior talent, and I expect her to be a top ten caliber player next season over there. But Yoon may surprise. In her one event played in Japan this season, she nearly won. Her lack of length will not be as much of a liability in Japan as it would be over here. I expect she will at least get a few Japanese magazine articles written about her, and if she gets her ducks in a row,  might just get a win or two to boot.

Most Controversial Moment

And the Winner Is: “LuggageGate”

Wow, this year there is simply no contest for this award. The controversy that came to be known as “LuggageGate” wins this one in a walk.

The Set-Up: In Gee Chun and Ha Na Jang were among the six or so Korean superstars who were slugging it out for two available spots on the Korean Olympic and International Crown teams. The competition was fierce: Chun had started the year with a third place and a runner-up finish, while Jang had already notched a win.

The Incident: Chun and Jang arrived in Singapore to play the HSBC Women’s Champions, one of the most important LPGA events played in Asia, and an event guaranteed to help a player’s world ranking and thus chances to make the Olympic team. Chun was riding down an escalator at the airport. At the top of the escalator were Ha Na Jang and her father. Apparently her dad got distracted when Jang bent down to tie her shoe, and accidentally released a 15 pound hard-shelled carry-on case he was pushing. It went plummeting down the escalator and struck Chun in the back. Chun’s lower back was injured enough that she was forced to drop out of the HSBC and the next few tournaments.

The First Repercussion: Jang would go on to win the HSBC, moving onto the Olympic team for the moment while knocking Chun off. Jang did one of her patented celebratory dances. This rubbed Chun fans, of whom there are many in Korea, the wrong way. Not only had Jang benefitted by Chun’s absence, she seemed to be rubbing her nose in it. Chun posted on her homepage that she felt the Jangs had not adequately apologized for what had happened, and apparently her dad was even more angry. This inflamed things further.

Little did Ha Na Jang realize how her celebrations in Singapore were being received back home

What Happened Next: While In Gee recuperated, Ha Na Jang was relentlessly attacked online by internet trolls and angry Chun fans. The Korean media also weighed in with some negative comments. This affected Jang to the point where she not only publicly apologized at the next event she attended, but she also began to play worse and worse. She lost her appetite and couldn’t sleep. She finally took a several month break from the tour to get herself together.

Chun returned at the ANA Inspiration and notched second place finishes in her next two events. She moved ahead of Jang again in the rankings. She also announced that she felt that the Jangs had now adequately apologized and she wanted to put all the drama behind her.

The Pairing: In June, In Gee and Ha Na were paired together for the first two rounds of the KPMG Championship, the first time they had played together since the incident. The Korean press turned it into a huge deal. Having watched them play in person at this event (they wound up playing together in round 3, too), I can say that they were hardly friendly, but there was no overt tension, either. Chun expressed happiness that they had finally gotten this pairing out of the way.

The Fallout: Chun ended up making the Olympic and International Crown teams, while Jang did not. It’s especially puzzling that Jang was not on the Crown team, since she was fifth in the rankings, the top four qualified, and Inbee Park could not play due to injury (sixth place So Yeon Ryu took Park’s place).

Both Chun and Jang recovered and did amazing things late in the season. In Gee won the Evian Championship and the Vare Trophy, while Jang managed one more win in Taiwan and nearly won in Japan as well. They both were top ten on the LPGA money list. But In Gee still suffers from the after effects of the injury, and hopes that offseason rest and treatment will finally get her back to 100%. And Jang still has to deal with trolls and criticism, although to a lesser extent than before.

Other Nominee: Jenny Shin’s Accent

When Jenny Shin won the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout, she surprised everyone by giving her winner’s interview with a thick Australian accent. Which is interesting, since Shin is from South Korea, and grew up in the US. She has never lived in Australia.

She later admitted that she and her friends, for fun, had started imitating Australian accents. Before she knew it, it had become second nature for her to speak that way.

When next she gave an interview, her normal American accent had returned.

Biggest Diss

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun rarely praised as one of the up and coming stars of the game

In Gee Chun with some of her hardware

To hear the American press and the LPGA tell it, the big stars in the women’s game are #1 Lydia Ko (no doubt), #2 Ariya Jutanugarn (Player of the Year, makes sense) and #8 Brooke Henderson. Wait, how’s that? OK, she won a Major, but long before that happened, they had been setting the Canadian teen up as the next big thing.

Which would be OK, except that Henderson’s ascension seems to always come at the expense of In Gee Chun, another young player who has done remarkable things. Chun came into this season a Major winner, yet didn’t get half the attention of much less accomplished players like Megan Khang, let alone Henderson. She never got a Rookie profile on the Golf Channel. She was not getting articles talking about her ability to challenge Ko for top dog status (note that articles like this have constantly been written about Henderson, even before Henderson had won a single event).

And even with a Vare Trophy in her pocket, still Chun gets little play. Here’s hoping In Gee gets a fairer shake from the American press n 2017!

Happiest News

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park in the Hall of Fame!

They handed out Inbee Park masks at the KPMG to celebrate her official qualification for the Hall of Fame

Inbee reached the magical 27 point level by winning last year’s Vare Trophy. This qualified her for the Hall of Fame, which she would be able to enter once she played ten events in her tenth season, 2016.  It turned out that finishing those ten events would be one of the toughest aspects of the whole thing, owing to a troublesome thumb injury that made it painful for her to swing a club.

But she finally did it, completing her tenth (and as it turned out, final) event of 2016 at the KPMG Championship in June. A gaggle of Hall of Famers were there to greet Inbee on the 18th green as she finished her first round. She joins Se Ri Pak (who was also there to greet her) as only the second Korean golfer to enter the Hall. Congratulations to her!!!

Other Nominees: Shi Hyun Ahn Wins Korean Women’s Open, Jin Joo Hong also wins

For all that has been made about youngsters winning events these days, two of the happiest victories of 2016 were achieved by thirty-something moms who had not won tournaments in a decade or more.

In June, Shi Hyun Ahn ended a long winless streak by winning the Korean Women’s Open, the most important event on the KLPGA schedule. It was her first win anywhere in twelve years. She had won an LPGA event as a 19-year-old and joined the tour the following year. She was the 2004 LPGA Rookie of the Year. She played on the LPGA until 2011, when she got married to a TV celebrity named Marco and had a daughter. She retired for a while from golf, but the marriage went south and she returned to golf in 2014, this time on the KLPGA. After two years on tour, she finally got her next win, with her 4-year-old daughter there to see it happen.

Jin Joo Hong has a similar story. She also won the same LPGA event as Ahn did, albeit a few years later, to earn an LPGA card, and played on the LPGA tour for a few years. She returned back to Korea in 2009, got married in 2010, and after a stint in Japan, had a son in 2014. She was injured and had to sit out for a while, but returned to golf in 2015. She won the Fantom Classic in November, her first win since the win that had sent her to the LPGA a decade earlier.

Maybe the players we should be looking out for are not the teenagers but the thirty-something moms?

Most Touching Moment

And the Winner Is: Se Ri Pak retires

After 18 years on tour, Se Ri Pak finally hung up her cleats in 2016. Her final event was the KEB Hana Bank Championship, fittingly in front of her Korean fans. They staged a lavish retirement ceremony after her round, with a children’s choir, an incredible video, and a gaggle of the women she had inspired wearing ‘Thanks Se Ri’ caps in tribute. Just about every Korean golf star you can think of, from Grace Park through Inbee Park to young guns like In Gee Chun and Hyo Joo Kim, were there to say goodbye.

The video was tear jerking and totally appropriate. I include a link to it here. Thanks Se Ri!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJXfJYVs5N4

Most Fashionable

And the Winner Is: So Yeon Ryu

For the most part, there is one golfer whom I could give this award to every year, and that is Soo Jin Yang. Not surprisingly, she has continued to push the envelope in 2016. But for a change, I decided to give the award to another deserving recipient: So Yeon Ryu. So Yeon always manages to look eminently professional, clean and crisp. This year, she came into her own with some especially nice looks. Here are a few of the better ones.

One of Ryu’s best looks of the year came in round 1 of the Evian. The media even realized how nice this outfit looked, as they took several close up studies of the socks and skort, commenting on So Yeon’s style. Here is the same outfit in two shots.

Ryu was on fire at the Evian. Here’s another nice one.  Even the sock stripes match!

Some more great outfits:

Other Nominees

We have to show some Soo Jin Yang. Here are some cool outfits from this season:

Soo Jin does bad weather well:

I love how the visor is patterned like the shirt.

No one pushes the envelope of what constitutes a golf hat like Soo Jin.  Check this one out!

The KLPGA rookies had some cool outfits, too. Here is star rookie So Young Lee:

And another rookie, Won Ju Jang, really stood out in these ensembles:

Rookie Hyo Rin Lee

Rookie of the Year on the KLPGA, Jeong Eun Lee 6

Chae Young Yoon made black beautiful!

Ji Hyun Oh won an event this year and turned heads with some nice outfits, too

She liked this diamond ring top and wore it often. Here, she pairs it with pink rain pants:

KLPGA Player of the Year Jin Young Ko looks really groovy in this throwback to the Swinging Sixties.

Welcome back from injury, Yoon Kyung Heo!  Her rain coat looks a little like a dress.

Speaking of turning heads, Hyeonjoo Ryu was a new photographers’ favorite in 2016.

The LPGA’s Hee Young Park showed that the KLPGA did not monopolize style:

Minjee Lee is another gal who really knows how to put a crisp look together.

Lastly, a couple of nice outfits from this season’s LPGA Rookie of the Year, In Gee Chun:

Shot of the Year

And the Winner Is: Ha Na Jang makes an albatross on a par 4.

In the sixty+ year history of the LPGA, no one had ever made an ace on a par 4 hole – until 2016, when, amazingly, two players did it. And they were both Sisters! But since Ha Na Jang’s came first, she gets the award.

Jang’s hole out came on a 212 yard par four in the Bahamas at the Pure Silk Bahamas, the year’s first event. After holing out the unbelievable shot, Jang, in typical style, bowed down and saluted the hole before taking the ball out of the cup. It was a sign of things to come: at the next event, Jang got the first LPGA win of her career.

Other Nominees: Minjee Lee makes another albatross on a par 4

Just a month after Ha Na Jang did it, Minjee Lee made her own hole-in-one on a par 4. Hers came at the Kia Classic in late March, in the third round, on a par 4 275 yard hole. It was not only history for the LPGA, it was the first time Lee had ever made an ace in her life!

In Gee Holes Out, Lotte Championship

In Gee Chun had a few amazing shots this year. She had a great chip-in for eagle during the third round of the Evian Championship that was key to setting herself up for that win. Her final putt to win the Vare trophy was also uber-clutch.

But my own personal favorite shot of hers came at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. During round 2, In Gee holed out on the 11th hole. What makes the shot so great is her sheer happiness after doing it. Check out the video!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hno6iKhE5Wo

Sei Young Kim, approach shot from rough, playoff hole, Meijer Classic

Sei Young Kim made a bogey on the final hole of this tournament to drop into a playoff with Carlotta Ciganda. But Kim had never lost a playoff as a pro, and she kept her perfect record intact here. She hit her drive into thick rough, and it looked like she might have blown her chance for the win. But her approach shot was absolutely brilliant, popping out of the thick stuff, rolling up to the green and stopping about two feet from the hole for an easy birdie and the win.

Su Yeon Jang, Hole 16, second shot, Singles, Kowa Queens

The par 3 16th hole at the team event called the Kowa Queens is pretty interesting. If a player hits the ball straight she has a great birdie chance. But, if she goes left, she is in BIG trouble: the hill slopes severely down, with a lot of trees and other junk in the way. It’s almost certain doom to be down there.

Su Yeon Jang reached the 16th hole of her singles match against Japanese star Ritsuko Ryu all square. She hit her tee shot into the left mass of trees, while Ryu put hers about six feet from the hole. Easy win for Ryu, right?

Not so fast! Jang took out a wood and hit a worm burner that scampered along the ground, under the trees and up the hill, stopping about two feet from the hole. The miraculous shot so shook Ryu that she missed her birdie, and Jang squared the hole. Jang would go on to win the match on the 18th hole when Ryu hit her approach into the water.

Most Dramatic Hole

And the Winner Is: 18th hole ANA Inspiration

The final hole of the ANA Inspiration, a par 5 with a water carry, is often the scene of dramatics, and this year was no exception. As mentioned earlier in Great Performance that Came Up Short, Ariya Jutanugarn reached this hole with the lead and her first Major seemingly in hand. But she dumped her tee shot into the water and that was that. Minutes later, In Gee Chun, now with a chance to win, hit her second shot behind a footbridge. Lydia Ko, with a one shot lead, laid up and hit her third to a foot. In Gee hit a great chip, but it didn’t go in, and Ko tapped in for the Major win.

Round of the Year

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun and Sung Hyun Park, 63, round 1, Evian

In Gee signs autographs during round one of the Evian Championship

In Gee and Sung Hyun set up their epic battle at the Evian by shooting identical 63s in the first round, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. They wound up the week first and tied for second, so that first round was crucial for their final results.

Other Nominees: Mirim Lee, 62, round 1, US Women’s Open

Mirim Lee had a great year in the Majors in 2016. She seriously contended at the KPMG and the British Women’s Open, notching top tens both times. But perhaps her most impressive moment came in the first round of the US Women’s Open at Cordevalle, where she shot an 8-under-par 64. That round included 10 birdies, the most ever achieved in a single round at the US Women’s Open! Not too shabby!

Minjee Lee, final round 64, Lotte Championship

Minjee Lee’s 64 in the final round of the Lotte Championship allowed her to overtake In Gee Chun for her second career win.

In Gee Chun, 62, Round 3, Kingsmill

In Gee’s third round vaulted her from 52nd into a tie for 2nd and a spot in the final group on Sunday. She struggled that day, but still notched a top ten.

Clutch Performance of the Year

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park at the Olympics

Inbee Park has done many amazing things in her Hall of Fame career, but perhaps the greatest moment of all came this year in Rio at the Olympics, when she defied all the odds to win the Gold Medal.

The Korean Olympic Squad: (L to R): Sei Young Kim, Inbee Park, Amy Yang, In Gee Chun, and Captain Se Ri Pak

Coming into this season, Inbee would have been one of the favorites to win that medal. No woman golfer over the past five years has been better at winning big tournaments than Park. However, she was hit with several nagging injuries in 2016, most worryingly a thumb problem that made it hard for her to grip a club without pain. After a couple of good results early in the season, she started to really struggle. Inbee was determined to play at least ten events so she could officially enter the Hall of Fame, but playing injured as she did, even finishing a tournament became a challenge. In the process, she shot some truly dire rounds, including an 84 at the Volvik Championship in May that was probably the worst round of her career. After shooting a 79 at the KPMG Championship to miss the cut, she would not play another LPGA event the rest of the year.

Inbee at the KPMG

The Korean press began to get nervous. There were a good dozen Korean golfers vying for the four spots on the Olympic team. They openly questioned why Park would take one of those spots instead of giving it up to a healthier golfer with a real chance of winning a medal. Inbee didn’t help her case when she played a KLPGA event a couple of weeks before the Olympics and missed the cut.

But Park was more fired up than she had been in a long time. She hired a second swing coach to help her work around the injury. She skipped two Majors to prepare. When she got to Rio, she immediately established that she was not just there for the experience, she was there to win. She shot back to back 66s to put herself into the lead. She struggled a bit more on day three, but even with the tough weather conditions, she produced a 69 to take a two shot lead into the final round.

Now with the medals on the line, Inbee found herself paired with Lydia Ko, the woman (girl?) who had taken her #1 ranking away. Ko had won two of the previous five Majors and finished second in another one; certainly her form in 2016 had been light years above Park’s.

Didn’t matter. Inbee quickly and decisively established that nobody, absolutely nobody, was going to deny her that gold. She whipped off three straight birdies starting from hole 3 to balloon her lead to five shots. A moment later it was 6, and Inbee was never threatened again. A couple of hours after that, she was raising her hands in triumph.

What is the definition of ‘clutch’? If it means rising to the occasion when it counts the most, well, consider this: the final round of the women’s Olympic golf tournament was shown live on all three major Korean TV networks. Nearly a quarter of all Koreans tuned in to watch, despite the fact the tournament ended at 1:30 AM local time. To put this in perspective, that is many times the number of Koreans who watched the Masters, and is believed to be the most watched golf event in Korean history. The pressure was on like it had never been before.

Playing the worst golf of her career, criticized for taking a spot a healthy player could have taken: of all the Koreans on the Rio golf team, Inbee was under the brightest spotlight. And she responded with a five shot victory over the top player in the game, tying the largest margin of victory she had ever achieved.

That, my friends, is clutch.          

Inbee meets the mob of reporters on her return to Korea after the Olympics

Other Nominee: In Gee Chun just manages to win Vare Trophy

The week before the Evian Championship, In Gee Chun was half a stroke behind Lydia Ko in the race for the low scoring title on tour. That is an enormous gap to make up in just a couple of months, particularly against a player who rarely shot a bad round.

Chun cut the gap in half after her record shattering performance at the Evian. She continued to beat Ko in the following events, and cut into the lead until, coming into the final event of the year, she trailed by less than .04 strokes.

The roller coaster continued all week. In Gee actually took the scoring lead after her first round at the CME, but Ko shot a 62 in round two to seize a .07 lead. Chun reduced that lead after round 3 so that she just needed to shoot a 70 and beat Ko by one shot to win the Vare Trophy.

They were paired together on Sunday. Neither golfer played well at first. But on the back nine, Ko made a run and seemed to lock up the Vare Trophy. That’s when In Gee produced some of the most clutch golf of her career. Kicking it into another gear, she birdied 16, then tapped in for birdie on the par 5 17th. Meanwhile Ko made bogey there, and her lead was, insanely, incredibly, .001 strokes with one hole to play!

Chun had a one shot lead in the tournament over Lydia, but a par would give her a 71, and she would need to beat Ko by two shots if she scored that. So it came to this: if In Gee made birdie on the final hole, she would win no matter what Ko did. But if In Gee made par, then Ko could make birdie or par to win the Vare. It was all in In Gee Chun’s hands.

Chun put her approach to 9 feet, then coolly drained the birdie putt to clinch the Vare Trophy. Her final scoring average of 69.583 was .013 strokes better than Ko, the second smallest margin in the history of this award. In Gee became only the second rookie, after Nancy Lopez, to win both the Rookie of the Year and Vare Trophy in the same year. And it all came down to three straight birdies when she absolutely had to make them. Clutch!

In Gee Chun and her Vare Trophy for low scoring average

Biggest Disappointment

And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park, US Women’s Open

Sung Hyun Park had an incredible season going in 2016 when she reached the US Women’s Open in July. Given the way she had been playing to that point and the history of Korean success in this event, it seemed quite likely that she could walk away with the trophy. And indeed, she set herself up nicely, shooting a second round 66 to take over the 36 hole lead.

Even after Lydia Ko shot a 70 in round 3, Park still was just a shot back and well positioned. And when Ko made a big mistake on the ninth hole on the final day, Park, with her booming drives wowing the crowds, looked ready to get the glory.

She reached the 18th hole, a par five, needing a birdie to join a playoff with Brittany Lang and Anna Nordqvist. With her length, reaching the hole in two should have been easy, meaning a birdie was almost a guarantee. But amazingly, she pulled her drive into the water on the left of the fairway, ending her chances there and then.

It was a huge disappointment, but Park still earned enough money to earn her tour card and will have another chance for the title next year.

Other Nominees:

International Crown

The Korean International Crown Team: (L to R): So Yeon Ryu, Sei Young Kim, Amy Yang and In Gee Chun

The Koreans had a fantastic team at this year’s International Crown and were looking for redemption after coming up just short in 2014. In the end, it came down to the singles, where all four Koreans fought the best players from the opposing teams. So Yeon Ryu managed to top Lexi Thompson of the US, and Sei Young Kim trounced Charley Hull of England, but In Gee Chun lost to Taiwan’s Theresa Lu, and Amy Yang was not able to beat Haru Nomura of Japan. If either one of those last two ladies had won, the Crown would have been Korea’s. Better luck in two years, when the Crown will be played in… South Korea!

In Gee Chun Meets the Press at the International Crown

Most Dominating Performance

And the Winner Is: The KLPGA Annihilates the JLPGA at the Kowa Queens to take the title.

The Kowa Queens is a four team competition in its second year. It pits teams from the JLPGA, KLPGA, LET and ALPG against one another. The first two days are team competitions, and the third day is singles competition.

The KLPGA Team from the Kowa Queens

The Korean squad last year was formidable, featuring player like In Gee Chun, Bo Mee Lee and Sei Young Kim. Despite the star power, they lost to Japan. Japan had swept the team events the first two days. Korea managed to win all but one of the singles matches, but that one loss came to a Japanese player, and that’s all it took for the JLPGA to win the Cup.

Cut to this year, and a Korean squad determined to get payback. The KLPGA team was not as tough as 2015’s edition: only one top player from outside the KLPGA, Jiyai Shin, was on the team, and they were missing their best player, Sung Hyun Park.

But this KLPGA group had already nearly shocked the LPGA squad the previous week at the ING Champions Trophy (see Best Korean Confrontation), so they were not to be taken lightly. The Japanese continued their team domination on day one, once again sweeping the matches. But on day two, Korea played the Japanese teams twice, and this time it was Korea who swept all four matches, including their two tilts against Japan. That left the Koreans with a 12-11 lead after two days. On to the singles!

The format changed this year, with the top two teams playing all eight singles matches against each other with the title in the balance. And like last year, once they got to singles, the Koreans were an unstoppable juggernaut. They won 7 of the 8 matches and tied the last one. Even when the Japanese seemed to have an advantage, the Koreans rallied. In the Ritsuko Ryu-Su Yeon Jang match, for instance, they were all square when they reached the 16th hole. Korea’s Jang put herself into a seemingly hopeless situation, down a hill behind trees, while Ryu hit her tee shot to within 6 feet. But then Jang hit an insane up-and-down to square the hole (See Shot of the Year for details). On 18, Ryu hit her approach into the water and lost 1 down. It was that kind of day for the Japanese.

Captain Jiyai Shin celebrates her team’s dominating victory

So the trophy was Korea’s, thanks to one of the most dominating displays of golfing excellence seen in some time!

Other Nominees:

Inbee Park at the Olympics

See Clutch Performance of the Year for more details!

In Gee Chun at the Evian

See Best Korean Confrontation for more details!

In Gee Chun’s rookie season

We’ll talk more about In Gee during our Rookie of the Year discussion later!

Cinderella of the Year

And the Winner Is: Chae Lin Yang, Mirae Asset Daewoo Classic

The KLPGA is usually good for a Cinderella story or two each season, but the two they had this year were truly special.  In the end, I gave the award to Chae Ling Yang, whose win was even more improbable than the other main contender (whom we’ll talk about below).

Going into the final round of the KLPGA’s Mirae Asset Daewoo Classic in September, one of the two players tied for the lead was Sung Hyun Park, the superstar who would dominate the season on tour. She was looking for her 8th win of the year, and it certainly looked like nothing was going to get in her way: not the rookie she was tied with heading into Sunday (Ji Young Kim), and certainly not a player named Chae Lin Yang, who was tied for third two shots back. Yang was the textbook definition of a journeyman player: before this week, she had missed ten cuts in 2016, and her best previous finish all year had been a tie for 20th.

But Sunday was a classic Cinderella day for Yang. Park, the Terminator of KLPGA golf, had a completely unexpected collapse, shooting a 78, one of the worst rounds of her season. She not only didn’t win, she fell out of the top ten.

LPGA star and Mirae sponsored athlete Sei Young Kim was also in the field, and made a run up the leaderboard at the title. But she stalled at 9 under, which was just one shot worse than she needed.

Meanwhile, Yang played well, making a birdie on the final hole to force a playoff with Hee Won Jung. Jung is no Sung Hyun Park, but she has still won several times on tour and was the prohibitive favorite to beat Yang. Not this day. The Cinderella hung in through three holes to beat Jung and claim easily the most unlikely KLPGA win of 2016.

Other Nominee: Seong Weon Park, Lotte Cantata Ladies Open

Almost as big of a Cinderella was Seong Won Park, who won the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open in early June. Park has been a journeyman player who has bounced back and forth between the KLPGA and minor league Dream Tour the past four years. In 2016, she had played six KLPGA events before the win, making three cuts, with her best finish an 11th.

But for one week in June, she was a superstar, handling both Sung Hyun Park and Jin Young Ko, the number two player on tour, and coming up with a staggering five shot victory over Min Song Ha. It’s unclear if she will ever be heard from again, but she sure got the job done when it counted!

Seong Weon Park was such a Cinderella in her win, she even got to ride in a horse-drawn carriage!

Best Breakthrough

And the Winner Is: Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang had a solid LPGA rookie season in 2015, but her breakthrough year was 2016. Jang won three times during the season and made over $1.3 million dollars, which placed her 8th on the season ending money list.

She got her year off to a bang with tie for 11th at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. The very next week, she carded her first career win at the Coates Golf Championship in Florida. After a few more top tens, she won again in Singapore at the HSBC. See Best Start to the Season for more details!

At this point, Ha Na Jang got embroiled in one of the biggest controversies of the year, involving a suitcase and an injury to fellow player In Gee Chun (more on this later!). The fallout from this incident affected her for months. She skipped nearly two months of action, which probably prevented her from making the International Crown or Olympic teams. Eventually she made her comeback to action, and by early July, she was slowly returning to her early season form. She then made a top five at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

At the Fubon in Taiwan, she shot a third round 62 to rocket to a 6 shot lead, and held on for her third win of the season. She nearly won a fourth time in Japan, settling for second place behind Chinese star Shanshan Feng.

Jang all in all made 8 top tens, a bunch more top twenties, and did not miss a cut despite her struggles mid-season.

Other Nominee: Haru Nomura

Haru Nomura is a Japanese golfer with a Korean mother. Nomura speaks Korean about as well as she speaks Japanese, and spent much of her childhood in South Korea.

2016 was a breakthrough year for her. She made over $1.2 million, 11th on the money list. She made just six top tens during the season, but two of those were wins. Her first victory (also the first win of her LPGA career) came at the Australian Women’s Open, where she stared down Lydia Ko. Her second win came a couple of months later in San Francisco at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. She also had a second place finish in June at the ShopeRite and represented her country at the International Crown (where she beat Amy Yang in the singles, which was pivotal in preventing Korea from winning) and the Olympics.

She did not miss a cut all year and made ten additional top twenty finishes on top of her 6 top tens.

Great Performance that came up short

And the Winner Is: So Yeon Ryu all season

Usually, this award goes to a player who played extremely well at a tournament but was not able to get the win. But this year, I am going to give it to a player who has played at a super high level not just this season, but her entire career, and yet somehow only rarely finds herself in the winner’s circle. That player is So Yeon Ryu.

So Yeon Ryu joined the LPGA in 2012 after winning the 2011 US Women’s Open to earn her tour card. In her first four seasons, she notched an unbelievable 51 top tens, 38 of which were top fives. But only two wins.

This year, she continued her torrid pace. She has not missed a cut in more than two years; the last time she prematurely left a tournament was the 2014 Evian, where she was disqualified for using a club that had been damaged during the round. Her streak of made cuts is the longest on the LPGA currently.

She ended up earning over $1¼ million dollars in 2016, good for 10th on the money list. She had 11 top tens during the season, meaning she has had double-digit top ten totals in all five of her seasons on tour. Six of those finishes were top fives. But no wins.

Why doesn’t So Yeon Ryu win more often? Most top quality players can be counted on to win at least a fifth of the time they get top fives. By that measure, Ryu should have more like 8 wins by now.

With Ryu, it always seems to be something. Two examples from this season will illustrate. At the Evian, the year’s final Major, Ryu was so consistent that she only made one bogey all week. ONE. No one in the field came close to that. But this was the week In Gee Chun shot the lowest score at a Major in the history of the tour. As great as So Yeon was, she just ran up against someone who was even better.

At the CME Tour Championship, it looked like it might finally be So Yeon’s week. She found herself in a final round battle with Charlie Hull, a promising youngster who had never won on tour before. Hull and Ryu both played well on Sunday, and on the 16th hole, Ryu finally caught Hull. On the next hole, a par 5, So Yeon hit a perfect drive, then an approach that wound up smack against the wall of a five foot tall bunker. Had her shot gone two feet farther, it would have rolled within eagle range. Had it been five feet shorter, she would have had a straightforward up and down for birdie. She ended up, however, in the one place she absolutely could not be, and that was that. She finished second.

Sooner or later, the breaks have to start going So Yeon Ryu’s way. Given her talent and great consistency, don’t be surprised if we see her have a monster season soon, perhaps next year!

Other Nominees: In Gee Chun at the ANA Inspiration

The year’s first Major came down to a battle between world #1 Lydia Ko, soon-to-be superstar Ariya Jutanugarn, and Korean superstar In Gee Chun. Ariya took a lead into the final few holes, and seemed poised to run away with her first win on tour. Meanwhile, both Ko and Chun struggled, but managed to make one miraculous up and down after another to stay in the hunt.

Chun didn’t pay for her mistakes until she duffed a chip on the 16th hole. At that point, she dropped one behind Ko.

Then Ariya dumped her drive on 18 into the water, and suddenly Ko had the lead and Chun was just one back. Chun decided to go for the par 5 18th in two, but wound up in perhaps the one spot near the green where eagle was impossible: just behind the bridge one crosses to get to the green. Ko laid up and hit her third to inches for a sure birdie. So Chun needed the eagle from behind the bridge to fall. Amazingly, she gave it a good run and made a tap-in birdie, but moments later Ko tapped in for the win. In Gee was so close to getting that second Major! Fortunately for her, she would get her next Major trophy later in the year at the Evian.

Posted by: happyfan08 | December 18, 2016

2016 SeoulSisters Awards (1 of 7): Best Start, Best Korean Finish

As we do every year, it is time for the SeoulSisters.com season-ending awards, where we talk about the best (and some of the worst) performances by Korean golfers in the year gone by. Let’s Go!

Best Start to the Season

And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park

Sung Hyun Park could not have started the 2016 KLPGA season any better. She is the first player in my memory to win the first three tournaments for the year, making a bold statement that she would be the player to beat for all the season-ending honors on that tour.

Her year started in December of 2015, when she went toe to toe with the two previous KLPGA Players of the Year, In Gee Chun and Hyo Joo Kim, at the Hyundai China Ladies Open. Hyo Joo was not only the defending champ, she had won the past three times she had played in China. And Chun was coming off her 8-win season as the top player on the KLPGA. Park shot a 64 to take the lead right out of the gate. Chun and Kim made a game of it, with Kim catching Park in round 2 only to have Park retake the lead in the afternoon. Kim climbed to a three shot lead on Sunday, but a double bogey allowed Park back into the match. In the end, they both shot a final round 67, which gave Park the two shot win. Chun finished fourth.

Hyo Joo Kim and In Gee Chun at the Hyundai Ladies China Open in December, 2015

Park next played on tour in April at the Samchully Together Ladies Open. The event was plagued by bad weather, mostly fog, but Sung Hyun Park started with a 65 and hung in over the next two rounds, eventually taking the tournament in a one-hole playoff with Ji Hyun Kim 2.

The following week, Park played the Nexen Saint Nine Masters. By round 2, she had again climbed to the top of the leaderboard. Her third win was not an easy one, though. She struggled much of Sunday and was involved in a battle with Min Sun Kim, who luckily for Park also struggled. In the end, Park made a testy 6-foot par save to claim the one shot win. In three events, she had three wins!

Other Nominees:
Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang started the 2016 season just missing a top ten in the Bahamas. But at her very next start, at the Coates Championship in Florida, she made up for that, scoring her first career LPGA win thanks in part to a first round 65.

Jang followed that with a tie for 4th in Australia and a tie for 8th in Thailand. She then wrapped up her second career win at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. In her first five events she had four top tens including two wins.

In Gee Chun

In Gee started her rookie year on the LPGA in style, coming from a ways back on Sunday to notch a tie for third at the Coates Championship. A few weeks later in Thailand, she bettered that: she managed to catch up with and nearly tie Lexi Thompson in the final round before Thompson reasserted herself on the back nine. Still, In Gee managed a runner-up finish.

Chun then suffered a lower back injury that kept her out of action for several weeks. But when she returned, she picked up right where she left off. At the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first Major, Chun was right in the hunt until the final hole, when Lydia Ko made a birdie to take the title. In Gee wound up second. She had yet another tie for second at her next event, the Lotte Championship. In her first four events as an LPGA member, she had four top threes.

Biggest Disappearing Act

And the “Winner” is: Na Yeon Choi

Just a few years ago, Na Yeon Choi was the second ranked player in the world and the top ranked Korean. Last year she managed two wins on tour. She didn’t have a great start to the 2016 season, but she did achieve a tie for 4th in Singapore and a tie for third in early April. And she contended with a great chance to win at the Swinging Skirts. She followed that up with a near win in China at the Buick Championship on the LET; indeed, this one was hers to lose, and somehow she made just enough mistakes to lose to Shanshan Feng in a playoff. But though she wasn’t winning, there was no reason to expect she would not contend again and maybe even earn a trophy or two.

But after a tie for 11th at the ShopRite Classic in early June, Na Yeon’s game took a complete nosedive. She missed 7 of the next 8 cuts, including at the tournament in Arkansas where she was the defending champion. Her best finish since then has been a tie for 50th.

There is a rumor that she is dealing with back issues that have hampered her game. But she took almost no time off, playing event after event even as her results continued to be dire. Whether an injury or something more insidious is plaguing her, here’s hoping Na Yeon soon recovers from this slump and returns to her winning ways.

Other Nominees:
Inbee Park

Inbee in Thailand at the start of the year

It’s a little unfair to include Inbee Park in this category, since, unlike Na Yeon Choi, it’s public knowledge that Inbee struggled with some severe injuries in 2016. And she did manage one spectacular result at the Olympics (which we will get to later!).

But it’s also true that 2016 was one of the worst seasons of Inbee’s LPGA career. She played more events than she probably should have, largely because she needed to play ten events to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame this year, and because she was still hoping to stay tuned up for the upcoming Olympics.  And in those events she did play, she only managed 2 top tens and a whole lot of missed cuts and drop outs after a round.

She has been resting since Rio, and hopefully she will return to the tour fresh in 2017 and ready to return to the top.

Best Korean Confrontation

And the Winner Is: KLGA vs. LPGA, ING Champions Trophy Inbee Park

The ING Champions is a relatively new team event that pits a team of LPGA golfers of Korean nationality against a team of KLPGA golfers. On paper, this should be a rout. Only a small handful of KLPGA golfers are in the top 50 in the world rankings, while many of the LPGA golfers are.

This year, Inbee Park, still recovering from injuries, captained the LPGA team but did not play. Still, even without the resurgent IK Kim, the LPGA Rookie of the Year In Gee Chun, or three-time winner Ha Na Jang, the LPGA had a formidable team that was heavily favored. Among the stars teeing it up for Inbee’s side were So Yeon Ryu, Sei Young Kim, Amy Yang, Hyo Joo Kim, Hee Young Park, MJ Hur, Mirim Lee, and Chella Choi. Every player on the LPGA squad had won at least one LPGA tournament.

The KLPGA Squad (top) and LPGA Squad (bottom)

The KLPGA, meanwhile, had most of their tour’s top players, with the notable exception of their best, Sung Hyun Park.

On paper, this one shouldn’t be close, but the KLPGA surprised everyone by leading 4-2 after the first day. And even when the LPGA won, they had to fight: one of their two wins came on the final hole, while the other came on hole 17.

Amazingly, the KLPGA kept it up on day two. This time, the teams’ records were identical, but it was the KLPGA who won several close ones. Two of their wins came down to the final hole, while another went to 17.

The LPGA finally woke up on day three, the singles competition. The KLPGA won 2 of the first three matches, but the LPGA claimed the next three and went on to win 8 of the 12 matches to achieve a 13 to 11 victory. Chella Choi was the MVP, but it was a hard-fought match for all concerned.

The victorious LPGA Team

Other Nominees:
Minjee Lee vs. In Gee Chun, Hawaii

In Gee had a poor start at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, but she slowly crept up the leaderboard until she was right in the hunt. In the final round, she managed to track down the leader, American Katie Burnett, and seemed ready to get her first win as an LPGA member when…

Out of nowhere, Minjee Lee shot a scintillating 64 to take the title by a shot. It was a great effort by Chun, but she would have to wait a few more months before claiming her first win of the year.

Minjee Lee does a victory hula at the Lotte Championship

Sung Hyun Park vs. In Gee Chun, at the Evian and for history

In Gee Chun was the dominant player on the KLPGA in 2015; Sung Hyun Park dominated in 2016. Although by 2016 Chun had moved on to the LPGA, there’s no doubt that these two young golfers have risen to become the two most popular golfers of their generation in Korea. And not surprisingly, their success makes them rivals of sorts, even as they have remained good friends.

For the most part, they did not clash this year at LPGA tournaments where both were playing well. In Gee outplayed Park at the ANA Inspiration, though both made top tens. At the US Women’s Open, In Gee missed the cut, and Park came close to winning. But it was at the Evian Championship, the year’s final Major, where the two really went toe to toe.

They both started out strong, shooting 63s to take a share of the lead into round 2. Chun continued her sterling golf, producing a 66, while Park stumbled just a tad with a 68. Park countered in round 3 with a blistering 67, temporarily catching In Gee, but Chun responded with a late chip in eagle and carded a 65. By this point, she had amassed an insane 19-under-par total for three rounds, but even so, because of how well Park was playing, she would still have to reach deep to make the title happen.

In the end, Chun was too much, setting the all-time record for score in relation to par at a Major (men or women!), but the intense battle over four days, which culminated in a head-to-head Sunday tiff, was one of the best Korean confrontations of 2016.

Best Korean Finish

And the Winner Is: Evian Championship

As mentioned before, we had In Gee Chun as the winner in record fashion. Sung Hyun Park tied with So Yeon Ryu for second, four shots back. Sei Young Kim was fifth, edging out In Kyung Kim, who finished 6th. Five of the top six on the leaderboard were from Korea!

Other Nominees:
Coates Golf Championship

Ha Na Jang won; In Gee Chun, Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim all tied for third; and Julie Yang tied for 6th.

Honda LPGA Thailand

Hee Young Park in Thailand

American Lexi Thompson won, but In Gee finished solo 2nd, Amy Yang tied for 3rd, Haru Nomura/Chella Choi/Hee Young Park all tied for 5th, and Minjee Lee and Ha Na Jang tied 8th. That means women with Korean ethnic backgrounds comprised seven of the top nine spots!

HSBC Women’s Champions

Even with In Gee Chun missing the tournament due to injury, Sisters dominated here. Ha Na Jang won, Amy Yang was 3rd, and Chella Choi/Na Yeon Choi/Mirim Lee were all tied for 4th. That’s five of the top eight.

Posted by: happyfan08 | September 24, 2016

Chun Magnifique!

In Gee Chun is known as the “Major Queen” in South Korea. Looking at her record, it’s easy to see why:

On the Korean LPGA, her first career win came at the 2013 Korean Women’s Open, the most important Major on that tour. In 2015, she made her first two wins on the Japanese tour Majors: the Salonpas Cup, followed by the Japan Women’s Open. Then, in July of that year, she made her first win on the LPGA another Major, the US Women’s Open. She is the only player in history to have made her first wins on three different tours Majors.

In Gee Chun with her first Japanese tour Major trophy in 2015

Chun made a little more Major history last week when she won the LPGA’s Evian Championship. Like in Japan, she has now made her first two wins on the LPGA Majors victories, becoming only the second player in history to achieve that. The first? Korean legend and Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak.

In Gee Chun returns to Korea a few days ago after winning the Evian Championship

Chun’s win puts her in elite company among the Koreans. Only three other Korean golfers (four if you count Lydia Ko, who was born in Korea but plays for New Zealand) have won multiple Majors in their careers. Se Ri Pak, the Hall of Fame legend, has won five. Inbee Park, the Hall of Famer and Olympic Gold Medalist and former world #1, has won seven. And Jiyai Shin, another former world #1, has won two. Now add In Gee Chun to that august group. With her win in France last week, she has now risen to #3 in the world, becoming the highest ranked Korean in the world. It’s the first time Inbee Park has not been the top Korean in nearly four years.

In Gee Chun’s LPGA rookie season has been remarkable, but the only thing she had not been able to do up to now is win. She has dominated the Rookie of the Year standings and will almost 100% certainly win the Rookie of the Year award this season. She started the year with a third, followed by two second place finishes. But every time she got close to winning, someone was playing just a little bit better. Still, it looked like just a matter of time until a win would be hers.

In Gee tips her cap during this year’s Honda Classic in Thailand. She finished second.

Then the Incident happened. The place was Singapore’s airport, as she was arriving to participate in that week’s LPGA tournament, the HSBC Champions. As she rode down the escalator, from above, the father of another Korean golfer, Ha Na Jang, lost control of a piece of luggage. It tumbled down the escalator, striking Chun in the lower back. The resulting injuries sidelined In Gee for nearly a month and three straight events. To complicate things further, who should happen to win that week but Jang! And this came at a time when both golfers were intensely trying to qualify for the Olympics; in fact, Jang’s win put her on the team for the moment, knocking Chun off of it.

The Korean internet went into a tizzy. Chun’s fans were up in arms about what they perceived as insufficient apologies on the part of the Jang family, and when Ha Na did one of her victory dances at the end of the HSBC, that was seen by many as insensitive to Chun.

In Gee eventually recovered enough to play, and in her first tournament back, the year’s first Major, the ANA Inspiration, finished second. But the media craziness began to take a toll on both players, driving Ha Na Jang into virtual seclusion for several months as she dealt with sleeplessness and anxiety. In Gee, meanwhile, did not seem to be quite the same player she had been before. Although she notched a few more good finishes here and there, her momentum has stalled. And she still struggled, even up to the Evian, with soreness from the injury.

In Gee at the 2016 ANA Inspiration, another runner up finish.

Though you wouldn’t know it given her ebullient exterior, Chun became depressed. “It was an inner struggle,” Chun said after winning the Evian. “I just had to keep it quiet inside, but I had to go through all those hard times, not being able to mention anything about my injury and my hurt and pain.”

She struggled in the summer to an unimpressive finish at the year’s second Major, the KPMG. But she really hit the wall when she missed the cut at the US Women’s Open in July. She had been looking forward to defending this title all year, and finishing as she did was a crushing disappointment to her. Fortunately she still managed to hang on to the final spot on the Olympic team, which was decided at the conclusion of the Open.

It was in Rio that things finally started to turn around for Chun. She found herself tied for fifth after three rounds with a legitimate chance for a medal. Alas, she did not have a good final round and finished tied for 13th. But her teammate Inbee Park won the gold, and watching a woman with whom she had spent a lot of time in Rio win the top prize galvanized her and inspired her anew.

In Gee at the Olympics in Rio

Her very next tournament, the Canadian Women’s Open, proved a good one. In Gee played great, shooting 68-67-66 in the first three rounds to put herself into the final group on Sunday. Alas, Thai star Ariya Jutanugarn was playing even better, and won rather handily, but In Gee produced a third place finish, her sixth top three of the year.

Her next event, the Manulife, marked her third top ten in a row, an 8th. She had three more rounds in the 60s there.

And so In Gee came into the final Major of the year on a bit of a roll. She would be tested right away: in the first two rounds, she would be paired with Ariya Jutanugarn, who had beaten her just a few weeks earlier in Canada. The weather was another test: rainy and at times cold, the kind of conditions that would exacerbate her back issues.

But right out of the gate, Chun played magnificently. While Ariya struggled in an up and down performance, Chun started with two birdies in her first four holes. She stayed at that level for a while, but when she made the turn and played the front nine (she had started on ten), she caught fire. She made birdies on 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7, then wrapped it up with yet another birdie on 9. A six under par back nine, and an 8 under par 63. She hit every single green on the day, and made no mistakes. After the morning was done, she held a three shot lead.

In Gee during round 2 at the Evian

In the afternoon, a player who looked to be one of In Gee’s biggest threats started her week. Sung Hyun Park had already won 7 times on the Korean tour in 2016, had managed two top tens in previous LPGA Majors, and had just set the all time record for most money earned in a single season in Korea. She was on an epic roll, and she continued it by shooting a 63 of her own to match In Gee.

Park played in the morning on Friday and continued her torrid pace. She shot a 3 under par 68 to move to 11 under and set a target for Chun. In Gee had a few problems early, including her first bogey of the week, and she actually missed a few greens. But she soon righted the ship, ripped off a bunch of birdies, and produced a 5 under par 66 to move to 13 under and a two shot lead. That set up the clash all of Korea was waiting for: the 2015 KLPGA Player of the Year vs. the almost certain 2016 Player of the Year, mano-a-mano in the final group on Saturday.

In Gee during round 2 at the Evian

They did not disappoint: on Saturday, in soggy conditions, the two stars played great. In Gee held onto the lead tenaciously, but faced her biggest test of the week on the 9th hole when her second shot flew into an unplayable lie in the woods. She decided to hit her next shot from the same spot, and somehow managed to eke out a double bogey. But now the gap had closed, and Park was in good position to take over the lead.

Sung Hyun Park in round 3

It was not to be. Like the champion she is, In Gee made a birdie on 11, another on 13, then chipped in for eagle on the par 5 15th hole. After another birdie on 16, In Gee had produced a 65, an even better round than on Friday. Park had played well and still lost two shots to Chun.

In Gee in round 3

In Gee sat at 19 under par, the all time lowest third round score in a Major in LPGA history. In fact, 19 under would tie the all time 72 hole record, so if Chun just broke par on Sunday, she would break that record. And the men’s record of 20 under par sat ready for the taking as well.

In Gee chills during round 3

But In Gee’s main concern was to win, and with a four shot cushion over her rival Park, she was certainly in a great place to do just that. Sunday, however, started with absolutely miserable weather. The rain was pouring down, and the second green got so bad that the grounds crew had to squeegee the greens before every putt to remove some of the water. In those conditions, it became more imperative than ever to hit fairways and greens.

Alas, In Gee started out by putting her first drive in the rough, while Sung Hyun Park hit a perfect drive down the middle. In Gee rose to this first challenge, first by punching her ball out into the fairway, then by hitting her third shot to within a few feet for a par save. Meanwhile, Park overshot the green and wound up with bogey. What could have been a disaster for In Gee was anything but.

In Gee in the rain in round 4

The final group waited nearly a half an hour on the second tee for their chance to go. Again, patience was tested, but In Gee responded with an easy par. Park, however, made a birdie to climb back within four. Her tee shot landed next to the flag, where it embedded nearly entirely into the soaking wet green. No bouncing tee shots on that wet day!

In Gee in round 4

In Gee continued to be solid on the front nine, making no bogies and two birdies to move to 21 under par. Park was far shakier, missing some birdie tries while making one more birdie and one more bogey. By the turn she was six shots back.

The tournament was all but completely in In Gee’s hands, and to make matters easier, the rain stopped and the wet weather jackets came off. So Yeon Ryu played really well, eventually shooting a 66, but even though she wound up tied for second, she still was too far back to really challenge. The only player who could take the tournament from In Gee now was Sung Hyun Park. In Gee hit some nice approaches on the back but just missed birdies, then made a bogey on 14. When Park hit her approach on the par 5 15th to eight feet and dunked the eagle, she moved to within three shots. For the briefest of moments, it seemed like In Gee might have some trouble.

In Gee waits to play

But no sweat. In Gee made birdie on the same hole to move back to 21 under par and would eventually win by 4 shots. Now the only challenge remaining to her was historical: could she finish at 21 under and set the all time record?

It wasn’t easy. She hit her drive on the final hole into the rough, then briefly considered going for the green before her caddie talked her out of it. She hit her third shot to ten feet, and fought nerves on the walk to the green. She had to make the putt to set the record. Her caddie told her he would pay for dinner if she made it and, determined to get that free meal, she stepped up to the ball and drilled the final par to set the record.

In Gee wears her country’s flag in victory

In four days in France, In Gee Chun set all sorts of records. Not only was her 21 under par the lowest score against par ever achieved in a Major for either men or women, but her total number of strokes was also the lowest ever achieved in any women’s Major. And as mentioned before, she became only the second women in LPGA history, after Se Ri Pak, to make her first two wins at Majors.

In Gee and the trophy

The future looks bright for In Gee Chun, Korea’s Major Queen. Tres Magnifique!

In Gee Chun Celebrates

Older Posts »

Categories