Posted by: happyfan08 | October 5, 2015

InGeeCredible In Gee Chun Wins Another Major!

In Gee Chun has had one of the most impressive seasons a Korean golfer has had in recent memory. It seems she is not yet done with collecting trophies, either. This past weekend, she added the Japan Women’s Open title to her collection. It was her seventh win of 2015 on three different tours, and her fourth Major.

In Gee with the 2015 Japan Women’s Open trophy

It was not an easy week for her. Since the Women’s British Open in August, she has been playing a bit worse than her 2015 standard. When she won her first Japanese tour Major back in May, she had taken control of the tournament by the third round and had a relatively easy walk to the title on Sunday. This time, she had to fight every step of the way, finally triumphing in a hard fought four-hole playoff against two other players.

In Gee’s win can teach us a lot about what makes a great golfer successful. Here are some of the lessons from the past week:

Never Give Up

Amazingly, for her entire 72 holes of regulation, In Gee never once led or even shared the lead. Most of the time she was two to four shots behind the leaders. It looked like she would end up with a solid top five, but the win seemed ever out of reach. But In Gee never once folded. She kept herself close to the leaders through four days. While pretty much everyone else had highs and lows, Chun shot 71-73-71-71, a model of consistency on the tough track.

In Gee after her win

In Gee made par on the final hole to finish one shot behind Japanese player Erika Kikuchi. But Kikuchi still had one more hole to play, one of the toughest on the course, and when she made bogey, Chun for the first time all week found herself with a share of the lead. Four holes later, she had the trophy.

The greatest Korean golfer of her generation, Inbee Park, has used this same attitude to win several of her Majors. Just this year, Park found herself behind Jin Young Ko entering the final round of the British Women’s Open. Ko was on a roll, making an eagle and birdie to increase her lead. Park stayed calm, kept in touch with Ko, and when Ko started to struggle, Park stuck the dagger in: a perfect approach shot on the tough 16th hole for a rare birdie. Moments later, Ko double bogied that hole, and Inbee went on to capture her 7th career Major.

You Can Make Mistakes, but When It Counts, Close the Deal

So many golfers believe that, in order to win the big tournaments, you have to be flawless. In Gee knows better. She did not have her best game much of the week in Japan, but when she started to struggle, she doubled her concentration to make sure her mistakes were not large ones. Thus she stayed close, which was the key.

As her week wound down, she remained two shots behind the Japanese leaders most of the back nine. She didn’t panic. Ahead of her, Korean starlet Mi Hyang Lee completed a 2 under par 70 and posted a clubhouse score of 2 under total. That was the goal. Chun made birdie to get to that level, and it then became imperative that she not make another mistake.

In Gee after another birdie

However, the 18th hole loomed. Chun had bogied this monster all three previous days. She was at 2 under. Another bogey, and that’s it for the week. She HAD to make par. And she did. When it counted the most, she raised her game. She was still a shot back, but moments later, it was Kikuchi’s turn to miss the crucial putt on that hole.

Putting for Dough. In Gee has been the top putter on the KLPGA this season

Enjoy Yourself

There may be no golfer on any tour who enjoys being on a golf course more than In Gee Chun. One who may be her equal in that department is fellow Korean star So Yeon Ryu. But for some reason, So Yeon, who contends often, rarely closes the deal and gets the trophy. Why?

I think the difference is that Ryu forgets what gets her there in the first place. She feels the pressure, and that affects her performance. At the Japanese Women’s Open, Ryu led the first two days, and came into the fourth round just two shots back (and one shot ahead of Chun). But almost immediately on Sunday, things got away from her. She made bogey after bogey right out of the gate, and in the space of half an hour had knocked herself right out of the tournament.

So Yeon Ryu putting in round 3

In Gee has had moments like that, too, but generally she finds a way to stay centered when she is out there. That was how she won the US Women’s Open in July: while her nearest competitors made big mistakes, In Gee was giving high fives to the fans along the ropes. Her goal was to “enjoy every moment”, and that’s exactly what she did. To a large degree, that is why she won the big prize.

In Gee usually has a smile on her face when playing

In Gee the Record Setter

Think about some of the things In Gee has accomplished this year.

In Gee earlier this year

She has risen to 8th in the Rolex Rankings; she would currently be on the Korean Olympic team if that decision were made today (but there is still a lot of time to go!).

She has won seven events on three different tours, and has somehow managed to remain the top player in Korea despite all the traveling she does so she can play in Europe, Asia and America.

In Gee gets flowers at the airport after returning from Japan

She won the first two events she ever played on the Japanese tour, both Majors. In the history of golf, I’m not sure if anyone, male or female, has ever made their first two events played on a tour wins at Majors.

She is the first Korean golfer to win Majors in Korea, Japan and America in the same season.

She has won the national championship in Korea, Japan and the US in the past three years.

In Gee greets her fans at the airport

She is the youngest golfer to win two events on the JLPGA in a single season, breaking the record held by Ai Miyazato. She was the youngest to win the Salonpas Cup, the year’s first Major, by about a year.

After her near miss at the KEB Hana Bank last year, one of her main goals this year was to win an LPGA event to earn a tour card for 2016. Mission accomplished at the US Women’s Open.

The KLPGA’s loss in 2016 will be the LPGA’s gain. In Gee Chun is coming, and it will be fantastic watching her compete against the ladies over here on a regular basis!

In Gee meets the press at the airport

Posted by: happyfan08 | July 20, 2015

In Gee Chun: Major Momentum

After two rounds at this year’s US Women’s Open, there were several names on the leaderboard familiar to LPGA fans. The most notable might have been Korean Amy Yang. Yang has contended at the event before without ever winning it; last year, she held a share of the lead heading into the final day but was not able to hold on, finishing in fourth place. in 2015, Yang held a three shot lead entering day three. Stacy Lewis sat in second position, with world #1 Inbee Park and Karrie Webb also lurking.

But five shots behind Yang was another player whose name was not so familiar to Western fans: In Gee Chun. In fact, many of the western golf writers, if they noticed her at all, expressed confusion as to who she even was. Korean fans, of course, were well familiar with the 20-year-old whose nickname is Dumbo: Chun was no less than the 2015 KLPGA money list leader, with three wins already on tour this year. Her great play had allowed her to rise all the way to 20th in the world rankings without playing much on the LPGA tour.

In Gee smiles after making a hole-in-one during the Doosan Match Play this year

On Saturday, Chun shot a 2 under par 68, moving into solo third place and earning herself a spot in the penultimate group on Sunday. Again the golf writers scratched their collective heads. “Maybe she’s decent; after all, she is 20th in the world?” they mused. But still, she got relatively little attention, as almost all of them expected the winner would be either the perennial bridesmaid Yang, who had maintained her three shot lead entering Sunday, or world #2 Lewis.

On the final day, however, it was Chun who made the headlines. She charged early, stayed in contention through a rough patch, suddenly found herself tied for the lead when Yang made a few mistakes, then blistered her final few holes to grab the outright lead by several shots. Yang, however, rallied, making a late eagle and another birdie to move to within one shot of Chun.  A final hole bogey left In Gee tied with Yang, But moments later, Yang also bogied the final hole, and the win belonged to Chun, the third youngest to capture this august title behind only the legendary Se Ri Pak and the almost-as-famous Inbee Park.

In Gee Chun with her US Women’s Open trophy

In a way, Chun’s treatment by the media is symptomatic of a myopic world view held by these sports writers, who often seem to think that women’s golf starts and ends with a subset of players on the LPGA tour. But especially in the past decade, the KLPGA has increasingly fielded more and more players who have gone on to superstar careers. Since 2008, on three different occasions, KLPGA stars have won Majors to earn LPGA tour cards. In two cases – Jiyai Shin in 2008 at the Women’s British Open and Hyo Joo Kim last year at the Evian Championship – the player in question was not only the top player on the KLPGA at the time but also among the top players in the world to boot. In the remaining instance – So Yeon Ryu at the 2011 US Women’s Open – the player was not the very best on the KLPGA, but was still a multiple winner who had finished in the top five on that tour’s money list several times. You’d think the writers would get a clue – KLPGA stars tend to do well at LPGA Majors, so educate yourself about who they are at the start of the week, it might come in handy! And certainly, it should not be the least bit surprising when one gets into the hunt at a Major.

But yet they still drew a blank about Chun, a player with 7 career wins on the KLPGA tour already in just two and a half years. Their comments that Chun had ‘come out of nowhere’ are particularly insulting, given her pedigree and world ranking.

Another trophy shot

Though Chun is for the moment at the top of the KLPGA like Shin and HJ Kim were, it is So Yeon Ryu with whom she has the most in common. Back in 2011, Ryu was a 21-year-old who was in her fourth year on the KLPGA tour. Chun is in her third year and just a few months shy of her 21st birthday. Ryu had won 7 times in her career to that point – the same number of wins as Chun. Both players were pro golfers also attending college at the same time, Ryu at Yonsei University, Chun at Korea University. Ryu had not been able to win the KLPGA Rookie of the Year award despite a brilliant rookie season which included a win. Chun, too, wound up second in the rookie standings (to Hyo Joo Kim), despite winning the Korean Women’s Open as a rookie. And weirdly, both players used the same caddie – Dean Herden – in their US Women’s Open winning efforts.

These two are also the only Korean stars to ever make the US Women’s Open their first career LPGA wins. Both players had also made an early choice to pursue golf instead of another passion at which they excelled. For Ryu it was violin that lost out, while Chun was a math prodigy who fell in love with golf and focused on that until she became a star.  And lastly, both have bubbly, personable styles that makes them very popular with fans.

So Yeon Ryu hoists the 2011 US Women’s Open trophy

In Gee Chun’s golf career started in the fourth grade, when she was ten years old. She was taken to a golf range by her father and a friend, where she hit a few balls for laughs. She wasn’t very good, and her dad teased her about it. Chun bridled, determined to show that she could do a better job. Taking up the game, she grew to love the sport, while discovering a talent that she soon groomed into national stardom at the amateur level in her homeland.

But as In Gee blossomed as a golfer, her family struggled. Both her parents lost their jobs, and money was tight. Her parents continued to provide for Chun and her career, sinking every last bit of money they could into golf. Chun did not even realize how bad their situation had been until years later; her family did a good job allowing her to focus on golf and not to worry about anything else. And so, Chun became a star on the Korean national team, where she helped Korea win several important international competitions and frequently clashed with (and sometimes teamed with) top players like Hyo Joo Kim.

Hyo Joo Kim and In Gee Chun back in their amateur days on the Korean National Team

Chun turned pro in 2012 and joined the KLPGA the following year. Within a few months, she found herself in contention at the Korean Women’s Open, the most important event on that tour. She was in the final group on Sunday with Kim and another young star, Kyu Jung Baek. Amazingly, Chun was the oldest of the three, though still just 18. She won the tournament after ripping off birdies on her final four holes. Thus, her first KLPGA win was a major. She would go on to push Kim hard for the rookie of the year, eventually finishing second to her friend and rival.

In Gee Chun with her first career pro win, a Major!

Chun’s second year on tour, 2014, was more consistent. She managed three wins that season, but perhaps the two most pivotal moments of the year were tangential to her KLPGA career. The first was this: she had earned the right to attend the 2014 US Women’s Open thanks to her money list finish in 2013, but that event took place the same week as her title defense at the Korean Women’s Open (an unlucky scheduling issue that had never happened before).    She chose to play the Korean event, and thus missed out on a chance to hone her skills overseas.

The second important moment came at the Hana Bank, the LPGA’s lone Korean stop. She played brilliantly, putting herself one short putt away from earning a tour card. Alas, she missed, and eventually lost in a playoff to rival Baek. Baek earned the card, while Chun remained in Korea another season.

In Gee soaks Kyu Jung Baek after Baek beat her in the Hana Bank playoff in 2014

But Chun’s fourth place finish on last year’s money list earned her more chances to try her luck on the LPGA tour in 2015, and she took them. She played four LPGA events early in 2015, including the year’s first Major, the ANA Inspiration. She did not manage a top twenty in any of them, but the experience was essential. It gave her the confidence that she could play against the best in the world, and this confidence immediately paid dividends. When she returned to Korea, it took her just two events to grab her first win of 2015.

In mid-May, she sat atop the KLPGA money list, and took another gamble. She accepted an invitation to play the Salonpas Cup, the Japanese LPGA’s first Major of the season. She dominated, winning by four shots, but that margin does not even do justice to how completely she controlled the final two days of the event. It was her first event in Japan, and once again, like she had on the KLPGA, she made her first win on a tour a Major.

In Gee with her first JLPGA Major trophy at the Salonpas Cup

What resonated with In Gee was just how well she was able to play against top players on a tour she had no experience with. More than any other single event, this win propelled Chun onto a superstar trajectory. The JLPGA, according to her father, made it known that they wanted her to join the tour full time, and were impressed not only with her play and how quickly she established herself as a fan favorite, but also with how she donated a car she won that week to charity to help earthquake relief efforts. She was now making money enough to help her struggling family, but still made it a priority to help others as well when good fortune came her way.

Chun returned to Korea the following week and went on a winning tear. She outlasted all her opponents at the Doosan Match Play, notching six wins during the week in the process. These were not easy wins, either: several were either playoffs or came down to the final hole. But In Gee’s confidence had improved to the point where draining must-make putts was becoming second nature to her.

In Gee’s fans soak her after her match play victory

In Gee wins the Match Play trophy

She won again at the S-OIL Champions a few weeks later, claiming her first ever successful title defense in the process. Not long after that, she journeyed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, more than a week before the US Women’s Open, to play the course and get herself used to her new caddie and being in the States. Dean Herden came to her courtesy of Hee Kyung Seo, an 11-time KLPGA winner who had become a mentor to Chun. Seo had not been able to qualify for the Open, so she lent Chun her caddie for the week, and they got on like a house on fire (Herden had caddied not only for Ryu in her Open win, but also for Shin in her first British win as well). Chun spent July 4th in the States, absorbing the culture while playing multiple rounds of golf at Lancaster Country Club.

Chun’s nickname in Korea is Dumbo. This is not because she is slow witted; in fact, In Gee, a math prodigy, has an IQ rumored to be 138. It was her coach who gave her the Disneyfied nickname; he claimed it was because she seems to have almost superhuman hearing, which allows her to hear everything that goes on around her. As well, this hearing comes with a curiosity in learning and meeting new challenges.

In Gee Hears All, unless she tries really hard not to!

Chun went into her first Open experience with one goal: enjoy every moment. Stay positive, have fun, that was her mantra. And so, as the pressure mounted on Sunday and Yang and Lewis looked increasingly like they were walking to the gallows, Chun kept smiling. She missed a putt for par? Big smile. She made a clutch birdie to move into the lead by herself for the first time? Big smile and a fist pump. After a brilliant birdie on the diabolical 15th hole, she walked to the next tee grinning ear-to-ear, giving dozens of high fives and fist bumps to fans along the way. While Yang and Lewis both made over par scores on 15 behind her, Chun kept her attack going, getting up and down for birdie on the drivable par 4 16th, then striping a gutsy iron on the par 3 17th to a few feet for yet another birdie. The crowd was loving the smiling assassin and her sheer joy of playing.

In Gee waves to the crowd at the Open on Sunday

The 18th hole had been treacherous on this day, and Chun made the mistake of hitting her drive into the rough there. She left herself with a length par attempt which she barely missed. Her three shot lead was decreasing as Amy Yang rallied, making an eagle on the short 16th and a birdie on 17. Chun’s bogey left them tied for the lead. In Gee looked momentarily crushed, but as she walked off the green, her smile returned. ‘Have fun’ was her mantra, and even when it looked like she might have cost herself the title, she was going to stick with the attitude that had gotten her there.

ARGH! She just missed the par save on 18, but in the end she still won

As it turned out, the miss didn’t matter, for Amy Yang made the same driving error as Chun and was not able to save par. In Gee wound up winning the title by a single shot. For the third time, she made a Major her first win on a tour, just like she had done in Korea and Japan. Overnight, In Gee Chun’s already burgeoning popularity took a quantum leap forward, especially in her homeland.

What will happen to In Gee Chun now? She will complete her year on the KLPGA, playing a few LPGA events here and there like the two remaining Majors, possibly the CME at the end of the year, and the Hana Bank.

For next year, she will play in America, although Japan tried hard to get her to consider playing there. Chun made the announcement on her return home, where she was given a hero’s welcome at the airport.

In Gee was showered with flowers when she returned to Korea following her Major win

Whatever happens next, she does seem to have taken a huge step forward. She is now 10th in the world, just one spot out of an Olympic berth (ironically behind Amy Yang). She has a JLPGA and LPGA card for the taking. She just made over $800K and inscribed her name on the greatest trophy in women’s golf. But most importantly, through it all, she has remained the kid who loves golf, the happy fighter with the computer mind and iron determination, and has remembered to always have fun and keep smiling. She seems very likely to keep her ever growing fan base smiling as well!

High Fives from her fans at the airport

Posted by: happyfan08 | April 10, 2015

2015 KLPGA Primer

The KLPGA’s 2015 season starts in earnest this week at the Lotte Mart Open, so it’s time once again for my annual KLPGA Primer. Who are the players to watch out for on the Korean tour in the coming season? Read on!

Hyo Joo Kim with two of the founders of the LPGA

2014 was one of the greatest seasons in KLPGA history. It had it all: an overwhelming superstar shattering records (Hyo Joo Kim); no less than 8 multiple winners; a fabulous three-way Rookie race that came down to the final week (won at last by Kyu Jung Baek); a former Player-of-the-Year, Ha Neul Kim, repeatedly just missing a win (she had five runner up finishes); a couple of emerging stars in In Gee Chun and Yoon Kyung Heo; and two long hitters and the 1-2 players on the tour in 2013 making noise (Ha Na Jang and Sei Young Kim). Best of all, a staggering number of tournaments came down to a battle between one or more big stars, often in playoffs. You could depend on the KLPGA to present a compelling storyline almost every week.

2015 sees the KLPGA with the most tournaments in its history and the largest total purse.   But the tour is also at a crossroads: five of the top ten players from 2014 have left the tour for greener pastures, including last year’s #1 player and the players who had topped the money list from 2011 – 2014. The KLPGA has never seen such a massive exodus of top talent in a single year before. 2011 and 2012 Money List leader Ha Neul Kim has moved on to play in Japan, while 2014 #1 Hyo Joo Kim, Rookie of the Year Kyu Jung Baek, 2013 Player of the Year Ha Na Jang and 2013 #2 player Sei Young Kim have gone on to the LPGA.   Those players are already making a big splash: three of them are in the top four in the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year race, with Sei Young Kim having won a tournament and nearly won the year’s first Major, Hyo Joo Kim also having won in 2015, and Ha Na Jang with one runner up finish so far.

Sei Young Kim after sinking the winning putt at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA tournament in February

But with the KLPGA’s big stars stirring it up in the States, who will be left to make things happen in Korea? Yes, it will be a year of transition, but enough big names are still around that the KLPGA should weather this change well.

The Emerging Stars

Last year’s top gun, Hyo Joo Kim, has claimed she will play ten events on tour in 2015, and has already won the first one, the Hyundai China Ladies Open, which was contested in December. But her part time status will probably mean that a new top player will emerge. In fact, for the first time in many years, no top player from previous years will be playing full time on the KLPGA tour; however, three of the top five golfers from last year will be returning.

Hyo Joo with her second LPGA trophy from this year’s Founders Cup

Yoon Kyung Heo, 24, finished second on the tour in 2014. She won twice last year, but was more notable for the number of times she came close to winning but was not able to get the job done. She also briefly contended at the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank tournament in Korea, although she faded to 18th place by the end. In the final two events of the season, Heo held a three shot lead going into the final round, but won neither event. In all, she had 15 top tens during the year, 9 of which were top fives.

Yoon Kyung Heo at this year’s first LPGA Major, the ANA Inspiration

Heo certainly has the game to become the KLPGA’s new big star, and with her fashion sense, she is a popular figure over there. But she needs to find a way to close the deal more often. In her breakout year, 2012, she ran into the same thing: four runner-up finishes but no wins. She was still second on the tour’s money list that year, and followed that up with her first career win in 2013, but only finished tenth on that year’s money list.

Jung Min Lee, 23, was third on the 2014 tour money list, with two wins during the season. She had 14 top tens. Lee has been a player that for some years had been touted as a potential star, and she had won before last year (twice, in fact), but somehow she would fade back to the pack after each win. In 2014, she started slowly, but notched five top five finishes in the latter half of the year.

Jung Min Lee at the KLPGA Media Day a few weeks ago

Lee’s strength is that she is a fairly long hitter and one of the most placid players on tour. But she still came up short when duking it out with Hyo Joo Kim last year. Her tendency to struggle for long periods of time before kicking it into high gear makes her somewhat of a question mark going forward. But she is only 23, and if she has truly turned a corner in 2014 with her great season, she could yet become the player to beat on the KLPGA.

The golfer most followers of the tour think may be the tour’s next superstar is 20-year-old In Gee Chun. Chun is what they call the complete package: she is tall, with a classy demeanor and a ready smile that has made her extremely popular with fans. Indeed, her official fan club, which calls itself the Flying Dumbos, already has more than 2000 members and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Chun has a genius IQ (a member of Mensa and a math prodigy), and already has accomplished a lot in just her two years on tour. She also has a great game tee to green AND a superlative short game, and possesses one of the most beautiful swings in golf.

In Gee Chun at the HSBC event in Singapore last month

Chun won three times in 2014, following her rookie year, where she won only once (but that win came at the Korean Women’s Open, the biggest event on tour). She was fourth on the 2014 money list. She also contended at the 2014 KEB Hana Bank, where she lost in a playoff to rookie star Kyu Jung Baek. She had more wins last seasons but was not as consistent as Lee or Heo, notching only 8 top tens. She is also not a particularly long player off the tee, depending on tactical skill to make good scores.

Chun is already one of the poster kids on tour, appearing in a popular ad for the Ping Rhapsody driver, where she portrayed a golfing Barbie doll come to life (so can we add acting skill to her list of talents?)! Barely out of her teens, with four wins and a near miss at the KEB, Chun still has a lot of time to develop her skill and make her mark on the world at large. This season she has already played four times on the LPGA tour, and though she did not manage even a top 20, she did make the cut all four times. It is common for players to take a while to come up to speed when first playing in the States, and given these were her first events played over here, her results showed promise.

In Gee Chun as a golfing Barbie doll come to life in her Ping Rhapsody commercial

(for those interested in seeing In Gee’s Korean language commercial, it can be found here:)

The Rookies Come of Age

Last year’s tour featured a battle between three superb 19-year-olds for the Rookie of the Year title. Kyu Jung Baek managed to win three events, including a Major, as well as the KEB Hana Bank; but Jin Young Ko and Min Sun Kim, each of whom won only once, kept the race close with their intense consistency. Indeed, the week after the Hana Bank win, Baek and Ko were exactly tied atop the rookie standings, with Kim not far back.

Last year’s rookie stars: Jin Young Ko, Min Sun Kim and Kyu Jung Baek. Baek is on the LPGA this season.

Baek’s Hana Bank win earned her an LPGA tour card, and she is not on the KLPGA in 2015. But the other two players are back, both hoping to improve their ranking in 2015.

Jin Young Ko was the first of the two to get a win; she won her sponsor’s tournament, the Nefs Masterpiece, last summer. She wound up second in the Rookie race to Baek, and 8th on the money list with 14 top tens.

Jin Young Ko at the KLPGA Media Day

Min Sun Kim came close to winning several times, losing a particularly crushing 5-hole playoff to Min Young Lee at the Pak Se Ri Invitational (she missed several putts to win in that playoff). She finally broke through in the second to last event of the year, winning another playoff, this time against Sei Young Kim and Yoon Kyung Heo. Kim wound up with 12 top tens in 2014, 11th on the money list.

Min Sun Kim at Media Day

Both players seem capable of going far in 2015 Kim is one of the tallest players on tour at 5’9”, and might parlay that height advantage into longer drives and wins. Ko is shorter but incredibly consistent, with more top tens and a higher money list position than Kim. Both have earned the attention they will doubtless get this year!

This Year’s Rookie Crop

2015 sees a bunch of new players join the KLPGA tour as rookies. Two names immediately have bubbled to the top as the most promising.

Gyeol Park (L) and Han Sul Ji are the most promising rookies this season

Teenager Gyeol Park played on the Korean national team as an amateur in 2014. Her most notable achievement was winning the quadrennial Asian Games gold medal in women’s golf. The Games this year were held in Inchon, South Korea, and Park shot a final round 64 to come from behind and claim the gold in front of her home crowd.

Gyeol Park at Media Day

Since then, she has captured the attention of Korean companies, who have showered her with sponsorships. She looks to be the rookie to beat in 2015. But she has not had much success yet in the few KLPGA events she has played. The question facing her is, will it take her long to assimilate to her new surroundings, or will she have growing pains that will enable another talented rookie to steal the spotlight?

One rookie who might do just that is 18-year-old Han Sul Ji. Ji missed qualifying for the Asian Games team by a shot, but still was one of the top amateurs in Korea the past several years, winning 8 titles during her unpaid days. In 2014, she turned pro and played the Jump Tour, a developmental tour of the KLPGA, where she won twice. In 2015, she will be a full time rookie in the big leagues, and she has signed a primary sponsorship with Hoban. The press is already talking up the potential rivalry between Ji and Park. This could get really good!

Han Sul Ji

Another name that has been mentioned in 17-year-old Ju Yeon In. In was a standout amateur known for her crushing 270 yard driving average. She collected 27 total wins in her amateur days. She has real world beater potential, but sounds a bit rawer than the other ladies we mentioned. And based on her performance in the Dream Tour in the Fall, she probably will not start the year as a full KLPGA Rookie.

Ju Yeon In

Some other names to Watch

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin Yang with her boyfriend Sung Hyuk Kim at last year’s KPGA Awards Show

Soo Jin Yang was a top five golfer on the KLPGA for several straight years. However, last year was not so great for her. She seemed a bit distracted by off course activities. She designed a line of clothing for her golf clothing sponsor, Pearly Gates, and had a very public relationship with Sung Hyuk Kim, the top player on the KPGA tour in 2014. But while Kim admitted that the relationship with Yang helped his game, Yang floundered to a winless season, finishing just 26th on the money list. But Yang is usually a far more stellar golfer, so it’s quite possible that 2015 will see her return to her former glory.

Char Young Kim

Char Young Kim at Media Day

Char Young Kim is the glamorous and popular player who won three times on the KLPGA tour in 2012, but has not won since. In 2014, she finished 30th on the tour money list. But her 2012 season showed she is at least theoretically capable of being a top player again.

Chae Young Yoon

Chae Young Yoon at KLPGA Media Day

Yoon is another glamour girl, but in her case, 2014 was her best ever season. She won her first ever KLPGA event last year, after nine years on tour. She finished 20th on the money list. It’s possible this could be the start of something for this longtime player.

Je Yoon Yang

Je Yoon Yang

Yang won the 2012 Player of the Year award in an upset over money list leader Ha Neul Kim. But in the last two seasons, she has only finished 60th and 61st on the money list. Was she a flash in the pan? Or does she still have it in her to return to her top player level?

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh from her rookie year

Ji Hyun Oh was an 18-year-old rookie on the KLPGA last year. She had a decent season, but the fact that, unlike several of her older rookie rivals, she went directly from the amateur ranks to the KLPGA without playing the developmental leagues probably affected her success.

This season she is a year older and might be ready to live up to her potential. She was the low amateur at the Korean Women’s Open (in 2013), and many still believe she has superstar potential. The ‘Yu Na Kim of Women’s Golf’ (so named because of her resemblance to the Korean figure skating gold medalist) may have her breakout year in 2015.

Shin Ae Ahn

Shin Ae Ahn

No primer for the KLPGA tour would be complete without mentioning tour’s biggest sex symbol, Shin Ae Ahn. Ahn is these days primarily known for her bombshell looks and fashion choices, but what many forget is that she was the Rookie of the Year in 2009 (beating Soo Jin Yang), and won twice in 2010. Already this year she had a 7th place finish at the LET’s Mission Hills China event (which was won by So Yeon Ryu and featured three of the world’s top ten players).   The KLPGA brass would not be sad if this lady were to have a career best season in 2015. But Ahn seems to be suffering from a leg injury and will be sitting out early action while it heals.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 25, 2015

Meet the 2015 Korean LPGA Rookies

This year, the KLPGA has sent more top quality rookies to the LPGA tour than in any single year in history. On top of that, there are a bunch of promising young ethnic Koreans from America and Down Under getting ready to tee it up full-time on tour. Here’s a little preview of who these newcomers are and what they have accomplished to date!

The KLPGA Stars

Players who come from the KLPGA tend to be well prepared for the rigors of the LPGA tour. This is because the KLPGA itself is so competitive and chock full of top level talent.  In most cases, former KLPGA stars become reasonably big names on the LPGA. This year, four of the top ten golfers from last year’s KLPGA money list, including two of the top five, will be LPGA rookies. Chances are really good we will be seeing these ladies more than a few times on leaderboards this year. Here they are in order of Rolex Ranking!

Hyo Joo Kim
Rolex Ranking: 7th
2014 KLPGA Money List position: 1st
Age: 19

Hyo Joo Kim earned more than a bottle of water when she won the 2014 Evian Championship

Hyo Joo Kim is the teenage superstar who dominated the KLPGA tour in 2014. Her list of accomplishments since 2012 would almost be too long to include in a brief overview.  But just in 2014, she won five times over there, the most wins by a single player in a year since Hee Kyung Seo in 2009. Included in those wins were three of the tour’s four Majors. She shattered the record for most money earned in a season with over 1.2 billion won earned (that’s more than $1.2 million). She also won Player of the Year, Low Scoring Average and Most Wins. In addition, she has already won the first event of the 2015 KLPGA season. And if that were not enough, she also won the 2014 Evian Championship, the LPGA’s fifth Major and the first Major she ever played. And she did it in record shattering style, shooting a world record 61 in the first round, the lowest score ever shot in a Major by a woman or a man.

Hyo Joo is a cool customer who doesn’t get ruffled, and she is consistent. In her 9 or so LPGA appearances she has never finished outside the top 25. She intends to play only 15 LPGA events this year and 10 KLPGA tournaments. Even at her B level, she is still one of the best golfers to come out of South Korea in some time.  But expect her to do some spectacular things when she gets on a roll. We could be witnessing something really special with this kid!

Kyu Jung ‘Q’ Baek
Rolex Ranking: 11th
2014 KLPGA Money List Position: 5th
Age: 19

Q Baek in January, 2015.  The club should point the other way, Q!

Like Kim, Baek won an LPGA event to gain a tour card for this season. In her case, it was the KEB Hana Bank Championship. On Sunday, she reeled off five straight birdies to catch the leaders, then drilled a clutch birdie on the first playoff hole to take the crown. But Baek, who is a few months younger than Hyo Joo, did more in 2014 than just that win. She achieved three more wins on the KLPGA tour, including the only Major that Hyo Joo Kim did not win. She had 13 top tens and earned over 600 million won, good for fifth on the money list.  Oh yeah, and that was her rookie year, so she won the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year award as well.

Baek is a more emotional player than Hyo Joo Kim, and is somewhat longer off the tee. Occasionally she can get down on herself, but she usually manages to snap back and get the job done. She has taken the English name ‘Q’, which is all sorts of cool. Although she is probably half a notch below Kim at this point, she is definitely a force to be reckoned with, easily top 20 in the world and perhaps better. And she will be playing full-time in America, so that might be good enough for her to make a serious run at the Rookie of the Year award.

Ha Na Jang
Rolex Ranking: 21st
2014 KLPGA Money List Position: 6th
Age: 22

Ha Na Jang on a Korean talk show

Ha Na Jang was the dominant Player of the Year and Money List leader in the 2013 KLPGA season. She split her time between America and Korea in 2014, and thus did not have quite as good a 2014 KLPGA campaign. But she still finished sixth overall, won twice, had ten top tens, and made over 580 million won.

Jang’s 2014 LPGA event appearances were not so hot, with one exception: like Kim, she contended all week at the Evian Championship. In fact, with two holes to go, she was right in the hunt. But she missed two crucial putts on the final two holes and wound up tied for third. Undaunted, she went to LPGA Q-School in the Fall. She led that tournament for several days before a bad final round dropped her to sixth, but it was still good enough to get her a full tour card.

Jang is a firecracker. She is known as the Clover Girl because she was spotted picking clovers at a Major tournament she played in back in Korea when she was just 12 years old. The clover has become her symbol as a result. Who will lead the league this year in fist pumps? It might very well be Jang, who plays the game with a lot of spunk and emotion. She is also a very long hitter (she was 2nd in driving distance in 2014, and was ahead of bomber Mirim Lee in 2013 back when that two-time LPGA winner played full-time in Korea). Once she gets used to the tour and the culture, she could be a breakout star on the LPGA.  And she could be a player who shatters the stereotype of Korean golfers as quiet and unemotional for all time!

Sei Young Kim
Rolex Ranking: 39th
2014 KLPGA Money List Position: 10th
Age: 22

Sei Young Kim really loves her Hanwha Classic trophy

Sei Young Kim has been a top star in Korea the past two years; she won three times in 2013 and twice last year. She finished 10th on the 2014 KLPGA money list with ten top tens. She played several LPGA events as well. Although she didn’t have much success in them, it was a good learning experience for her. She got her tour card by tying for 6th at Q-School.

Kim was the longest hitter on the KLPGA the past two years, longer even than Ha Na Jang. Like Jang, she has a very emotional and engaging style of playing, and is known for her goofy and irreverent attitude (check out the trophy hugging picture above to see what I mean!). She is not as consistent as the other three players we’ve talked about, but she certainly has the game to contend on the LPGA, especially given how important long hitting can be on this tour.

And The Rest:

Ju Young Park
Rolex Ranking: 154th
Best KLPGA Money List Position: 31st
Age: 24

Ju Young Park (left) with her older sis Hee Young

Ju Young Park is a much lower ranked player from the KLPGA who is primarily known for being the younger sister of two-time LPGA winner Hee Young Park. In her five years on the KLPGA she never won a tournament, her best finishes being third places. So it was a bit of a surprise when she decided to attend Qualifying School last year. She actually played quite well, finishing tied for 11th to earn full status on tour.

She probably won’t be as noticeable a force on tour as the four previously mentioned players, but she has a few things in her favor that should help her maintain her tour card and perhaps contend from time to time. For one, she is another very long hitter, and that always helps more on the LPGA than KLPGA. For another, having her sister here gives her a built-in support system the other ladies won’t have. Here’s hoping she makes it work, because she and her sister should be a very entertaining and unique one-two punch!

Jeong Eun Lee
Rolex Ranking: 131st
Best KLPGA Money List Position: 4th
Age: 26

Jeong Eun Lee

Lee joined the KLPGA back in 2007, but her best season came in 2009. She won twice that year, finished fourth on the money list, and managed to win the one Major that Hee Kyung Seo was not able to win that year. She finished 7th on the money list in 2010, but has since been a little less effective. 2014 was her worst year in a while; she only managed a 31st on the money list. She has four total career wins.

So Lee is a pretty strong golfer in her own right, although not as good in the past year as she was before that. She got only partial status on tour in 2015 thanks to a tie for 28th at Q-School. It’s hard to say how she will do on the LPGA. She has had decent success on the KLPGA, and if she can return to that form she should easily maintain her tour card. On the other hand, it’s not easy getting into fields with a conditional status, so she will have a lot of pressure to do well when she does get in.

Thunder from Down Under: Minjee Lee

Rolex Ranking: 78th
Age: 18

Minjee Lee

Other than the KLPGA stars, the most intriguing Seoul Sister coming into the league this year is Korean-Australian teen sensation Minjee Lee. Lee, still just 18 years old, was the top women’s amateur golfer in the world for much of last year. She has some big amateur wins on her resume, and has won professional events on minor league tours as well. She got into the league by tying for the medalist honors at Q-School, so she has shown she has the ability to hang even with top KLPGA stars like Jang and Sei Young Kim, both of whom she beat.

Lee will have another advantage over the KLPGAers: she speaks fluent English and is used to Western culture, so her adjustment period should not be as severe. However, her record on the LPGA, while good, is not nearly as amazing as Baek’s or Hyo Joo Kim’s. Her best LPGA finish is a tie for 11th, and that came at the LPGA event in her home country of Australia. She doesn’t have nearly as much experience competing on the pro level in a tough league as the KLPGA stars do, either. Having said that, she has so much potential and so much talent that it seems highly likely she will be a big star at some point. The only question is how long it will take her to make her mark. It certainly could happen this year!

The Collegians

There are a bunch of former college stars who have turned pro this year and joined the LPGA as well. In recent years, the record for college players, even big stars, joining the LPGA has not been that good. Good pro experience, like one gets on the KLPGA, seems to count more than college success. Even the best of these players will have a tough battle to get noticed in this deep rookie class.

Alison Lee

Rolex Ranking: 480th
Age: This was her sophomore year in college, so she’s probably 19

Alison Lee

Alison Lee was born and raised in Southern California. She was an AJGA all-star for six straight years as a junior. She enrolled at UCLA in 2013, and won the award for top female golfer in the country that very year. She has competed in all sorts of important amateur tournaments in her career, including team events like the Curtis Cup and the Junior Solheim Cup. At Q-School, she finished the week tied with Minjee Lee for medalist honors (ie, she and Minjee tied for first). So she will have full status on tour in 2015.

Lee was the #2 ranked player in the country when she turned pro, but she has very little experience playing in the big leagues, and her best LPGA result I’m aware of was a tie for 26th. Despite her talent, it will be a tough battle for her to make a mark. But her college record and Q-School result has earned her some attention to be sure!

SooBin Kim
Rolex Ranking: 732nd
Age: This was her senior year in college, so she’s probably 21

SooBin Kim

SooBin Kim was ranked the #1 female college golfer this year, just ahead of Alison Lee. She was born in Korea, grew up in Canada, and set all sorts of records for the past three plus years at the University of Washington. She finished tied for 11th at Q-School to earn full status.

Kim has even less pro experience than Lee and a far less gaudy amateur record. But like Lee, her top status in college, especially this year, has earned her a certain amount of attention. This is more likely to be a learning year for her than a breakout one.

Kelly Shon
Rolex Ranking: 830th
Age: 22

Kelly Shon

Kelly Shon was a star junior player who had a great career at Princeton. She graduated in 2014, and earned a tour card by finishing tied for 9th at Q-School.

Shon is one of the few Ivy Leaguers to ever make it to the LPGA. Alas, she has even less pro experience than the previously profiled college players, and has not made a cut in the three LPGA events she has played. In all likelihood, keeping her card while she hones her game and gains experience will be her big challenge in 2015.

Julie Yang
Rolex Ranking: None
Age: 19

Julie Yang from March of last year

Julie Yang has had one of the craziest careers of any of the Sisters. Although only Hyo Joo Kim’s age, she has lived all over the world, including Korea, Arizona, Thailand, Oklahoma and Scotland, as she has honed her golf game. She won over 20 age group titles before she was 9. In 2007, at the age of 12, she won the third AJGA event she entered, becoming the second youngest to ever win an AJGA tournament. Later that same year, she played in a KLPGA event (but missed the cut)!

Her talent took her to Scotland, where she won numerous events. She returned to the States in 2011, becoming the youngest to ever win the Trans-National. She graduated from high school early in 2012 and enrolled in Oklahoma State in 2013. At 2014 Q-School, she finished tied for 18th and entered a playoff for the last full tour cards. She did not win one, though, and thus has conditional status for 2015.

What to make of Julie Yang? She is very young, has won a ton of events, but has so little pro experience that she has no Rolex Ranking. She did finish 46th at the LPGA’s Kia Classic when she was 16. But with limited status and less experience, she might be better off joining the Symetra Tour in 2015 to try to get a full card that way.  If she goes the LPGA route, she will need to take advantage of any events she gets into; if she can do well early, she can improve her status and get into more fields.

Rookie of the Year

And the Winner Is: Kyu Jung Baek

Kyu Jung Baek

Boy oh boy, I don’t expect that any award I’m giving out will be as disputed as this one. Rookie of the Year is obviously Lydia Ko, right? Can you think of another rookie who had a more impressive year in recent memory, on any tour? OK, Jiyai Shin maybe, but Shin was three years older than Ko in her rookie year (the year she also almost won Player of the Year). Ko is after all just seventeen frigging years old! I mean, Kyu Jung Baek is really young, and even she is a year and a half older than Ko. And Baek achieved her rookie accomplishments on a much less competitive tour, playing almost entirely in her home country. No international travel to get used to like Ko had to.

Yep, those are good arguments. I can’t deny that what Lydia Ko did was mighty special. Perhaps more impressive than what Baek did, even if you take into account (as I do) that this award is meant to only compare how a player did in her league and not try to take some kind of absolute measure of excellence.

I guess my main reasons for giving this to Baek are twofold. First, I have a hard time accepting Lydia Ko as a rookie. Yes, this was her first year on the LPGA tour, but she has been winning events on that tour for two years now. The same could have been said for Shin, I suppose, but Shin had the added challenge of coming to an entirely new culture, and really she had only been a top force on the LPGA for the year preceding her arrival (she won three times before joining the tour, all in the latter half of the season before she joined). Baek, meanwhile, was basically a new pro in 2014, and had played only a smattering of KLPGA events before this year. She had never played an LPGA event before she won the Hana Bank. That makes her much more of a true rookie in my eyes than Ko.

Kyu Jung still can’t believe she won the Hana Bank even as she accepts the trophy!

The second reason I decided against Ko was that she never really had much competition in her rookie race. It was pretty clear almost immediately that Ko was going to be the top Rookie. Certainly by early summer she had it all but locked up. Even when Mirim Lee won two late events, Ko was so far ahead that Lee would probably have to have won twice more to even get close to Ko. Baek, by contrast, was engaged in the single most epic Rookie of the Year battle the KLPGA has ever seen. Despite her continued excellence, she was frequently second or even third in the rookie standings, even late in the year. It was not until the final two events that she decisively put the kibosh on her big rivals, Jin Young Ko and Min Sun Kim. This battle generated almost as much ink in Korea as Hyo Joo Kim’s incredible year, which made it a boon for the KLPGA tour. And you have to give Baek credit for coming back not once but several times when her rivals seemed to have her beaten, throwing another win or top finish in the pot to keep the race close pretty much every time she needed it. It’s amazing to realize that the week after she won the Hana Bank, she was still only TIED with Jin Young Ko for top rookie (keep in mind that the Hana Bank win did not count towards KLPGA races). And Min Sun Kim, after winning the ADT CAPS, was only a few points behind them. It was anybody’s race.

The great KLPGA rookie class of 2014: Ji Young Ko, Min Sun Kim and Baek

Let’s look at the tale of the tape. Again, remember I am not saying that winning on the KLPGA tour is as hard as winning on the LPGA. I’m rather looking at what kind of season each player had compared to the league she was competing against on a regular basis. Which rookie, based on that criteria and given the handicap I’ve already given Ko, was more deserving of this award?

Firstly, both players had to deal with injury issues. It’s typical of Lydia’s charmed life that the injury she had turned out to be no big deal. She had a wrist problem that sidelined her for a short while. Some players have had their entire careers ruined by wrist issues; Jeong Jang never was the same once she started struggling with her wrist. But when Ko came back, her wrist was completely healed; she did not even need any surgery on it. Meanwhile, Baek had to deal with a lower back issue that required her to wear a wrap most of the season. Despite that, she still managed to win and stay competitive, playing through the discomfort.

Both players won three times on their tours, although Baek did manage a Major win at the KLPGA Championship, while Ko did not get a Major despite having five shots at it. And of course, Baek had the additional win at the KEB Hana Bank which doesn’t officially count as a KLPGA win, but is pretty significant nonetheless. Ko finished third on the LPGA money list, Baek fifth on the KLPGA list. They faced each other directly twice, with Baek winning their first meeting at the Hana Bank, and Ko winning their second one at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Baek with her Major trophy

Ko does have consistency on her side. She has never missed a cut in a professional tournament, and continued her perfect record this season on the LPGA. Baek did miss a few cuts on the KLPGA. Baek started her big league pro career with a tie for 4th at the 2013 Swinging Skirts in December, 2013, another event that Ko won. Still, this was Ko’s umpteenth international pro event. Baek was beaten by only three players, all amongst the top in the world: Ko, Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu, and tied with another big star, Hyo Joo Kim. A pretty auspicious start!

Three tournaments later, Baek had her first win on the KLPGA, at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters in April. She struggled in her next few events, but by early June notched her second win at the Lotte Cantata Women’s Open. In all, Baek had 13 top tens in 2014. And she needed them, because Jin Young Ko and Min Sun Kim were putting up almost as many top tens, keeping the Rookie race tight all year. Baek literally could not take it easy for a minute, because sometimes even a top ten would not be enough to keep up with her challengers.  On the LPGA, Lydia Ko had more top tens, 15 in total. Baek had the more impressive rise in world rankings, ending up as high as 11th. Ko’s world ranking slightly improved during the season.

So congratulations to both ladies, and good luck to both going forward! But in the end, I’m going to stick with my controversial choice of the teen sensation Kyu Jung Baek over the teen sensation Lydio Ko. It will be fun to see the two of them duke it out next year on the LPGA tour!

Other Nominees: Lydia Ko

Mirim Lee

A great rookie season for Mirim, including two wins, and she doesn’t even make the final cut. This season had some really great rookies!

Most Improved Player

And the Winner Is: Mi Hyang Lee

Mi Hyang Lee

To my mind, the most improved player came down to a battle between two players: MJ Hur and Mi Hyang Lee. Both of them were pretty far off the radar at the start of 2014, and both managed to win LPGA events last season. Hur had previously won but fallen far in the last few seasons, while Lee was just trying to find a way up from being a player struggling to keep her card. In the end, I give the edge to Lee. Hur had at least shown herself capable of winning on the LPGA in the past. Not only had Lee not done that, she had to come from even further down than Hur to get to where she got.

Lee first qualified for the LPGA tour in 2012, but she had limited status, and so focused on the Symetra Tour. It was a good move. She won once on that tour and finished 6th on their money list to earn an LPGA card for 2013. She also was the Symetra Tour Rookie of the Year that season. In 2013, she had a mediocre LPGA season, starting 17 tournaments but finishing no higher than 19th. Still, she made enough money to finish 92nd and retain her card.

At the start of 2014, she astounded everyone by going toe to toe with LPGA rookie-to-be Lydia Ko at the New Zealand Women’s Open – and winning! Ko was by far the highest ranked player in the field, playing in her home country with a huge home crowd advantage. But it didn’t matter. Somehow Lee was able to shoot a 9 under par 63, a course record, in the final round to top Ko; Lee had been 8 shots back to start the day.

Lee with her New Zealand Open trophy

Lee then had her career best LPGA finish at the Australian Women’s Open shortly thereafter, a tie for 11th. She followed that up with her first top 20 in a Major at the Kraft Nabisco in March. But Lee really got her second wind at the end of the season, during the LPGA”s Asian swing. She notched three top tens then, including her first career win at the Mizuno Classic in Japan.

Lee receives a necklace of golf balls from her sponsor at the airport in Korea

MJ Hur had the win in her rookie season, 2009, and had a decent 2010 as well. But in 2012 she only finished 52nd on the money list, and in 2013 she was even worse, 75th. She didn’t have to go back to Qualifying School, but she seemed on a trajectory towards obscurity. But as we talked about in ‘Cinderella of the Year’, she had a great run late in 2014 that included her first win in five years at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic. She wound up making over half a million dollars in 2014.

Hur’s improvement was impressive, but without question Lee’s was more unexpected and bigger, and so she wins the Most Improved Award for 2014.

Other Nominees: MJ Hur

Player of the Year

And the Winner Is: Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo raked in the awards in 2014

Hyo Joo Kim had a senses-shattering, historic season on the KLPGA tour in 2014. The only player who really could be talked about in the same breath as Kim was Inbee Park, who continued her brilliance of 2013 in a smaller way. But what Kim did was more even impressive, and thus she gets the Player of the Year award for 2014.

It seemed like every few tournaments, Hyo Joo Kim was doing something else historic, record shattering or just plain impressive. But her year merely started out great before she kicked it into another gear in June. In fact, at the start of the year, the big question on the KLPGA seemed to be: could anyone stop the irresistible rise of Ha Na Jang? Jang had dominated the money list in 2013, won the first event of 2014 in China, and seemed prepared to steamroll the entire league all year. But one key moment in the season changed everything.

An unfortunate scheduling conflict caused the Korean Women’s Open to be scheduled the same week as the US Women’s Open. Jang decided to play at Pinehurst, but Hyo Joo remained behind in Korea to play their national open. It was a good decision. Kim went on to win the title, her first KLPGA Major and first victory of any kind in more than a year. She certainly hadn’t been having a bad year even before that; no wins, sure, but she did have 6 top tens and no finish worse than 21st. But Jang still had been the dominant force on tour. After Kim’s Major win, everything changed. Kim went on to win the next event on tour when Jang returned, then after a 6th place finish, won again at the Hanwha Classic. That event is also the most lucrative on tour, and by the time she was finished there, she had set the new record for most money earned in a single season in KLPGA history. And there was still a ton of season left to go.

Hyo Joo with her third trophy in four starts

Hyo Joo would go on to collect 18 top tens (11 of which were top fives) on the KLPGA in 2014, with five wins. Even more impressive was that three of those wins were tour Majors. Indeed, were it not for the fact that the year’s second Major came immediately after she returned from France, and she suffered an uncharacteristic bad final round, she might have won that one, too. The last time someone had won five victories in a single season was Hee Kyung Seo in 2009. Seo had also been the last KLPGA golfer to win three Majors in a single season. Kim had only one finish outside the top 20 all year, on either tour, and that was her 21st place finish at the E1 Charity Women’s Open.

Kim also absolutely shattered the record for most money earned in a single season on the KLPGA. She became the first golfer to win over a billion won in one year, and wound up making 1,208,978,590 won in total. That’s over a million dollars, and was around half a million won better than the #2 golfer on the money list.

Hyo Joo

We haven’t even mentioned her record on the LPGA tour in 2014, which was also stellar. Kim played four events in 2014, notching top tens in all four. One of those tournaments was the Evian Championship. Kim had played the event as a 16-year-old amateur in 2012 and finished fourth. Now it was a Major, in fact the first LPGA Major Kim had ever played. And in her very first round of Major golf, she shot a 61, the lowest round EVER SHOT in a Major by either a man or a woman (see ‘Round of the Year’). She would go on to face down 7-time Major champion Karrie Webb in the final round, making a birdie on the last hole to cause a two-shot swing that gave her a one shot victory. The win earned her a big bonus from her sponsors and an LPGA tour card on top of nearly half a million bucks prize money.

Hyo Joo rocks at the Evian

Hyo Joo wasn’t even done when the KLPGA season ended. She led Korea to a crushing victory over the Japanese team at the Team Tournament in December (Kim was named MVP). A week later, she won the opening event of the 2015 KLPGA season in China, outscoring a surging In Gee Chun by a shot. That win was Kim’s seventh pro win of the calendar year 2014.

Kim won the money list title, low scoring average, most wins, and Player of the Year awards for the 2014 KLPGA season. She finished the year ranked 8th in the world, third among the Koreans and just behind LPGA star So Yeon Ryu, who was 7th.

Hyo Joo at the KLPGA Award Show in December

Kim plans on playing 15 events in her rookie season on the LPGA, with ten events played on the KLPGA. We’ll see if she sticks to that or if she feels she will need more events to be competitive in the LPGA Rookie of the Year race (it will be a very deep rookie class in 2015).  Regardless, she handily earned the Seoul Sisters Player of the Year award for this season just passed. Congratulations!

Other Nominees: Inbee Park

Inbee Park got married, won a Major and returned to the #1 ranking in 2014!

Inbee Park had another stellar year on the LPGA tour in 2014. It was always going to be hard following up her three Major 2013, and with her marriage this year, she had her mind on other things much of the time. Indeed, she played several events less than most of the other top players this year. That and a rather slow start to her year allowed her rival Stacy Lewis to pass Park as the number one player, although Park eventually got that ranking back at the end of the year.

Park picked up her game a lot in the second half of the season. Lewis had staked herself to a huge lead in most of the season races, but Park charged hard at the end. She won three times, and when she beat Lewis head-to-head at the Fubon in Taiwan, she moved to within just a small margin of catching Lewis in the Player of the Year race. Park notched ten straight top tens, got to within three points of Lewis in the POY race, but struggled in the year’s final event, allowing Lewis to escape with all the hardware.

Inbee also won her fifth Major in 2014, becoming the first Korean to ever repeat as a Major champion when she won the LPGA Championship for the second straight year. It was also, amazingly, her first ever successful title defense.

Inbee got married in October and nearly won the Hana Bank a few days later, missing a birdie putt that would have put her into the playoff. That was a rare missed opportunity for Park, who notched 17 top tens on the season and made over $2 million for the third straight year.

In addition, she also took down Suzann Pettersen early in the year in an LET event in China, shooting a final round 67 to best Pettersen by five.

So, it was a great year for Park, but all in all, it just wasn’t as impressive as the jaw dropping display Hyo Joo Kim put on all year. Park had several weak moments, such as her play in a couple of the Majors, which prevented her from capturing the Annika Award for best record in the Majors. She also missed a cut. Yeah, that’s picky, but when you are talking the best of the best, it’s the little things that separate them.

Best Amateur

And the Winner Is: Minjee Lee

See ‘Best Start to the Season’ for details on the great beginning to the year Minjee had.

Minjee Lee

After the start of the year, Minjee focused on professional golf for most of the rest of her amateur career, playing in several Majors in 2014. She missed the cut at the British Open and did not play at the LPGA Championship, but had top 25s in her other three Major starts.

Minjee saved one last grand event in her amateur career. She led the Australian team at the Espirito Santo Women’s World Team Golf Championship in September. In contention all week but not in the lead, she and fellow Korean-Australian amateur star Su Hyun Oh led an explosive charge in the final round. Lee shot a 65 and Oh a 66, and Australia roared from behind to grab its third trophy in the event.

Sisters from down under capture the Espirito Santo Cup! (L to R): Shelly Shin, Minjee Lee and Su Hyun Oh

The next week, Minjee turned pro and notched a top twenty at the Evian Championship, her first pro start. At the end of the season, she won LPGA Qualifying School (tying with Korean American Alison Lee) and earned her tour card for 2015.

Minjee Lee will be an LPGA Rookie in 2015

Other Nominees: Gyeol Park

Gyeol Park won the Asian Games gold medal in 2014

A candid shot of Gyeol Park from early January, 2015

Gyeol Park represented Korea in several important amateur events in 2014. The one where she did the best was the Asian Games, held this year in Inchon, South Korea. In front of her home crowd, Park shot a scintillating final round 64 to come from behind and capture the gold medal in women’s Individual golf for South Korea. It was the third straight games that Korea has won that gold; the 2006 winner, So Yeon Ryu, is now one of Korea’s top golf stars. It remains to be seen whether Park can reach Ryu’s heights, but soon after her win, she entered and won the KLPGA’s Qualifying School. So, she will be a pro on the KLPGA tour in 2015, vying for the Rookie of the Year award.

So Young Lee

So Young Lee won the gold medal at the Youth Olympics

Like Gyeol Park, So Young Lee represented Korea in several important amateur events in 2014. Her biggest moment came at the Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. This event, a junior version of the Olympics Games, featured the first Olympic golf competition in over 100 years. Lee shot a final round 65 to finish three shots ahead of the silver medalist from Taiwan. Lee also teamed with a male in the Mixed Team event; they won silver after losing a dramatic playoff to Sweden, who took gold.

Favorite Photo Op

And the Winner Is: The KLPGA Logo Song/Best Gallery Ad Campaigns

The KLPGA had a fantastic season in 2014. In fact, they had so many fans showing up for some of their events that newcomers unfamiliar with golf etiquette became a bit of a problem. The tour could have been jerks about it, but instead, they came up with a clever way to help their new fans come up to speed. They created a cute commercial starring some of the KLPGA’s most popular players in dual roles as both themselves and clueless fans. Each vignette showed a fan action that violated golf etiquette, with the player helpfully explaining that, no, you shouldn’t wear high heels to the course, and please, you shouldn’t deflect a player’s ball from the tall grass just to be helpful!

Hyo Joo jokes around as a clueless fan who ‘saves’ a pro’s ball from going into the woods

The name of the campaign, and its tagline, was: You are the Best Gallery. It featured KLPGA stars Sei Young Kim and Hyo Joo Kim (who will both be on the LPGA next season), Ha Neul Kim and Chae Young Yoon. Even if you don’t understand Korean, you can get the gist of what they are trying to say. The clip is on YouTube and can be seen here! Check it out!

The KLPGA also came up with another marketing winner. They had someone write a KLPGA jingle which played at some point during every broadcast. Then, they got their Ten Chosen Golfers to sing the song, shot a video, and featured that as an ad for the tour!

KLPGA stars record their tour’s logo song

Whoa, wait. Ten Chosen Golfers? What’s that about?

Backtracking for a second, the KLPGA each year chooses ten golfers to represent the tour during the season. These golfers are featured in ads and special photo shoots to market the tour. This year, the chosen ten were a combination of top talents, beautiful and popular players who were not quite as good (but still pretty good), and golfers who were both beautiful AND successful. The chosen ten were: Hyo Joo Kim, Ha Na Jang, Sei Young Kim (all moving to the LPGA next year); Ha Neul Kim (moving to Japan next year); young star In Gee Chun; glamour girls Shin Ae Ahn, Char Young Kim and Chae Young Yoon (who had her career best season in 2014, as it turned out); and top players Soo Jin Yang and Yoon Kyung Heo. All the players except Heo convened at a recording studio and recorded the Logo Song and its accompanying video.

And yes, we have found the clip on YouTube also! Here it is; revel in the K-POP goodness!

If you can’t get enough, there’s even a Korean language ‘Making of’ video for this clip. Here it is:

Rookie to Watch in 2015

And the Winner Is: Kyu Jung Baek

Kyu Jung Baek

In last year’s ‘Rookie to Watch’ prediction, I said the following:

In 2014, there is little doubt that the rookie to beat on the LPGA tour will be world #4 Lydia Ko. Ko already has two wins on tour as an amateur, and nearly won the Evian Championship for her first Major victory. She is simply in a class by herself… it would be a real upset for her not to be next year’s star rookie.

OK, got that right. Ko had a simply outstanding year on the LPGA tour, winning three times and earning more than $2 million. Currently she is the #2 ranked golfer in the world. But to be honest, that prediction was like shooting fish in a barrel, and I said so last year. So to make things interesting, I chose as my rookie to watch a different player:

Mirim Lee is a talented rookie who should not be ignored, and is my choice for Rookie to Watch in 2014. Lee earned her tour card by finishing second at Q-School, carding an 11 under par 61 in one of her rounds. Like many KLPGA stars that join the LPGA, she has a lot of experience winning in a professional environment against tough opposition… If she comes up to speed quickly (and I believe she will), expect her to make some noise before the end of the year.

Mirim Lee

I guess I was two for two, because Mirim Lee finished #2 in the LPGA’s rookie standings for 2014! Lee was great, even better than I was expecting, notching two wins, a top ten at a Major, and another runner-up finish. Every indication is that we may just be seeing the beginning of what she can do.

Now moving on to next season, it is not an exaggeration to say that the KLPGA has never sent such a great collection of top talent to the LPGA in one season like it will do in 2015. Four of the top ten players on the KLPGA tour in 2014 earned LPGA tour cards for next year, two by winning LPGA events, two by qualifying at Q-School. As if that were not competitive enough, the rookie class will also include former world #1 amateur Minjee Lee and several promising college golfers, including stars Soo Bin Kim and Alison Lee.

Out of all those great players, why did I pick Kyu Jung Baek as my rookie to watch? If I were picking the most talented and successful of them all, I would pick Hyo Joo Kim. Kim has done things on the KLPGA tour (and the LPGA) that we haven’t seen a Korean player do in a long, long time. She is not only consistently excellent, but when she gets on a roll, she can be transcendent, doing things you will tell your grandkids about. There are a few variables about next year for her, though. For one, she has said she only plans to play around 15 events on tour in 2015. That’s potentially ten – twelve fewer than some of her top rivals. Even if she is really great in those 15 events, she is opening the door for another great player playing a full schedule to top her in the rookie standings. There is also the fact that she is still young and will have to deal with a new culture and new language which she does not speak. Despite these factors, I fully expect her to have a great rookie season.

But I’m picking Kyu Jung Baek because I think in some ways she is the dark horse in this group and may not get the attention she merits coming into 2015. Minjee Lee has played more LPGA events and is fairly well-known here as a result; the American golfers will get their press because they are American, and Hyo Joo Kim has the Evian title. Even Ha Na Jang and Sei Young Kim did well at Q-School, which gives them some cache. But Baek is known entirely to American fans for winning the LPGA event in Korea, and those late season Asian events don’t get even as much attention over here as the average LPGA event in an American small town.

Kyu Jung Baek

There are legitimate questions about her, too. Can she handle playing a full schedule out of her homeland, when she will be only 19 years old? How will she stand up to playing top players week after week, when she only has a year of pro experience in Korea (even Hyo Joo Kim has two years)?

But lost in the amazing season Kim had is the fact that Baek had a great year in her own right. She is the first rookie to win three times on the KLPGA since Jiyai Shin. And she really won FOUR times including the Hana Bank, the LPGA title she won to earn her tour card (this does not count as an official KLPGA win). Baek’s wins show what her main strength is: she plays emotionally, but does not let setbacks defeat her. If she has a slow start to 2015, I feel she’ll find a way to right the ship and get the job done!

After earning her card, she took some time to decide whether to come to the LPGA in 2015. She finally chose to take her tour card because she felt that she had a good support system on the LPGA, with several veterans, including Inbee Park, offering her advice and mentoring. I strongly suspect we will see Kyu Jung Baek vie for a few titles and make some serious noise in 2015.

Put ’em up! Kyu Jung is ready to rumble!

Also look out for: Hyo Joo Kim, Minjee Lee, Ha Na Jang, Sei Young Kim (LPGA); Ha Neul Kim (JLPGA); Gyeol Park (KLPGA)

Most Controversial Moment

And the Winner Is: Chella Choi DQed for improper placement of ball, Canadian Pacific Women’s Open

Chella Choi putts during round 2 in Canada

Chella Choi was struggling to make the cut on day two of last season’s Canadian Pacific Women’s Open. On the final hole, she picked up her ball in preparation of making a short, trivial one foot par save. She then replaced the ball and made the putt. But, she did not place the ball exactly from where she had lifted it. This was caught on TV, and she was assessed a two-stroke penalty. This was enough to cause her to miss the cut by a shot. However, Choi refused to accept the penalty and was disqualified.

From reviewing the video, her replacement of the ball happens so quickly, and is on such a short putt, that it is difficult to believe that it was caused by anything other than carelessness on her part. However, some who watched believed this was ‘proof’ thatChoi was cheating, and that she should have been penalized more severely. The fact that she didn’t accept the penalty, they claimed, made it seem even more fishy.Personally, I believe it was an accident, and that she chose not to accept the penalty because she probably believed that it would be admitting she cheated, which she did not intentionally do. Ironically, by not accepting the penalty, it looked to many like she was indirectly confessing that very thing.

At the end of the year, the LPGA players voted Choi the recipient of the William and Mousie Powell award, given to a player who best exemplifies the spirit of the LPGA. Obviously the players did not believe Choi was a cheater either, or they would not have given her that award! But doubtless there are blogs somewhere where the writers are questioning that gesture as well.

Chella Choi won last year’s William and Mousie Powell award

Happiest News

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park Marries her longtime beau

One of Inbee Park’s wedding photos

Inbee Park finally married her swing coach and longtime fiancé Gi Hyeob Nam the Monday before the KEB Hana Bank Championship. So Yeon Ryu, In Kyung Kim, Na Yeon Choi and Ji Young Oh served as her four bridesmaids. Just a couple of days after the nuptials, Inbee was competing at the tournament! And she played great, coming within one missed birdie putt of the playoff won by Kyu Jung Baek. No win for Inbee, but you have to think it was a pretty happy week for her nonetheless!

Inbee’s Bridesmaids: (L to R): IK Kim, So Yeon Ryu, Ji Young Oh, and Na Yeon Choi.

Other Nominees: Hee Kyung Seo Becomes a mommy

Hee Kyung Seo with her son

Hee Kyung Seo married her beau at the end of last year and got to work on starting a family right away! She took half the 2014 season off and had her first child, a boy. Congratulations to her, and we’re all looking forward to seeing her return to the tour in 2015!

Soo Jin Yang and her KPGA boyfriend

Soo Jin Yang and boyfriend Sung Hyuk Kim

The biggest new romance story of the season came when it was revealed that KLPGA star Soo Jin Yang was dating KPGA star Sung Hyuk Kim. Kim had his best season in 2014, topping the KPGA’s money list and winning three season ending awards. He credited his relationship with Yang as a big reason for his newfound happiness and success (interestingly, Yang had one of her worst seasons on the KLPGA in 2014, although it still wasn’t all that bad).

Congratulations to them both, best of wishes in the future, and here’s hoping Soo Jin will turn it around in 2015 like Kim did in 2014!

Most Touching Moment

And the Winner Is: the Retirements of JJ, Hee Won Han and Kyeong Bae

Jeong Jang (left) and Hee Won Han

Three veteran Korean golfers folded their tents and called it a career in 2014.

Jeong Jang and Hee Won Han were two of the last holdouts from the original wave of Korean stars that hit the golf world in the late nineties and early 2000s. Jang joined the LPGA in 2000 and pretty quickly became a force on tour. In 2005, she had her biggest win when she faced down Annika Sorentam to win the British Women’s Open, her only career Major. She would go on to win once more in Rochester the following year. At that tournament, she forged a lasting bond with the American veterans of the Korean War; each year during the tournament week, she would donate money to their group and pay respects at a Rochester-area memorial for them.

Hee Won Han joined the LPGA in 2001 and won that year’s Rookie of the Year, the third Korean to capture that award. Over the next few years, Han won six times, although she never won a Major. Han made a kind of Korean golf history when she became the first of her generation to get married and have children. She is also one of the few married Korean golfers to win a tournament after getting hitched. Jang also got married and had a child, and it is their wish to spend more time with their families that caused them to wind down their careers at this time.

Interestingly, they both retired the same day, playing their final round at the Portland Classic in September.

Kyeong Bae

Kyeong Bae has been a professional golfer since she was 15 years old. She played on the KLPGA for several years, then moved to the LPGA for several more before returning to the KLPGA to finish her career. She got married last year, and this coupled with her diminishing success on tour led to her decision.

We’ll miss you ladies!

Biggest Bummer

And the winner Is: Jiyai Shin Quits the LPGA

Jiyai Shin in December, 2014

The 2014 LPGA season started with a shocker: all of a sudden, Jiyai Shin was no longer listed as one of the tour’s players on their site. She did not show up for her early season title defense at the Australian Women’s Open. What happened?

Shin decided to resign from the LPGA and move to Japan to play full-time on the JLPGA. Her official reason seems to be that all her family is in Korea and Japan and she wanted to be near them. Another reason might have been that her longtime sponsorship with Mirae Asset ended in 2014, and perhaps it was too expensive to maintain an LPGA lifestyle without a sponsor’s help.

Her decision to move to Japan was a good one: she won four times and finished fourth on the tour’s money list. But it’s also disappointing. To be frank, it feels a bit like Shin is slumming when she plays the JLPGA. She is a world-class player with 11 LPGA victories, two of which are Majors. She needs to be competing against the best in the world.

One thing that was a bit odd about the whole thing, besides the silence of the LPGA tour on the matter, was that Shin chose to return her card immediately. Other players have chosen to play other tours in the past, but they allowed their cards to lapse naturally. Kyeong Bae, for instance, returned to Korea a few years ago, but her LPGA tour card still allowed her to play on the LPGA tour for another full year before it expired had she wanted to (as it turned out, she didn’t). Shin, however, instantly lost all playing privileges on the LPGA when she went back to Japan. It gave the impression that there was bad blood between her and the LPGA, although it’s hard to believe a good-natured player like Shin would ever harbor a grudge against anyone.

She also did appear in a few LPGA Majors and the Hana Bank Championship last year, so it’s not like she completely disappeared from the scene.

Continued good luck to Shin on the Japanese tour, but here’s hoping she changes her mind and returns to the LPGA tour sometime before her career ends!

Jiyai Shin

Best Victory Celebration

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun, Chosun Ilbo-Bosco Championship

After the popular player In Gee Chun won the final event of the KLPGA’s 2014 season, her friends drenched her in artificial snow instead of the usual water or champagne. They got her good!

In Gee Chun gets a winner’s bath in artificial snow!

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 7, 2015

2014 SeoulSisters Awards (4 of 7): Most Fashionable, Best Shot

Most Fashionable

And the Winner is: Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin Yang won the KLPGA’s Best Dresser award in 2013, and has been known as one of the most stylish and daring fashionistas on tour since she turned pro in 2009. But this year, Yang took it to another level, becoming a fashion designer and actually having several of her designs produced by her clothing sponsor, Pearly Gates. Choosing her clothes from existing designs already made her one of the big fashion names, but actually designing them, too? Yeah, she’s the Most Fashionable Player of 2014. Check out some of her designs, and Soo Jin at work on creating them!

Soo Jin at work on a new design

More design work

Some of Soo Jin’s designs!

Other Nominees: Ha Neul Kim

Always Ha Neul Kim. Count on her to come up with interesting clothes that look fabulous.

Ha Neul at a charity event late in the year.

Ha Neul out of golf uniform

At the KLPGA Championship

She lost the KDB, but looked great doing it

A new look for her at the year’s third Major. The Scottish type look carried over for several rounds

More plaid at the Hite Cup

Hite Cup

At the year’s last Major

For a fashion layout.

The Hana Bank

So Yeon Ryu

So Yeon Ryu is probably the Koreans’ best dresser on the LPGA tour. Here are some of her interesting looks this year!

So Yeon Ryu in Mexico

Meeting the press in Malaysia

An interesting skirt at the Toledo event

From last summer


Special mention: We love it that Inbee Park expanded her looks this year and went with a few unusual choices. Keep it up, they look great!

Inbee at the KLPGA’s fourth Major

Shot(s) of the Year

And the Winner Is: Danielle Kang makes aces to win cars in two straight events

Danielle with one of her two cars

It’s a little bit of a cheat to name TWO shots as shots of the year, but what Danielle Kang did this year was so rare, so amazing, that it got far more attention than the LPGA usually gets. She deserves to win this award for that achievement!

At the Blue Bay LPGA event in China in October, Danielle made an ace on the 17th hole of the first round on a 155 yard hole. She won a Buick LaCrosse.

The following week in Taiwan at the Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship, Danielle did it again! Once again, it was at the 17th hole on a 158 yard hole (almost the exact same length as the previous week’s hole), but this time it was in the second round. Her prize was an Audi A6 T2.0.

Danielle had three aces in 2014, tying the all time LPGA record for most in a season, but she did not win a car for the third one.

Other Nominees: Hyo Joo Kim third shot, 17th hole, Evian, to save tournament

Hyo Joo Kim is draped in the Korean flag after winning the Evian Championship

Hyo Joo had just botched her second shot on the 17th hole on Sunday. She was one shot down to Karrie Webb and HAD to make par. She was 60 yards from the hole, and the green was severely sloped such that, if she hit her ball just a tad too far left, a par save would be almost impossible. She proceeded to stripe her pitch to a foot for a virtual tap-in. If she had even slightly mishit that shot, she doesn’t win the Major.

Inbee Park final hole, LPGA Championship

Inbee had lurked behind Brittany Lincicome most of the back nine on Sunday. She made a birdie on the 17th hole to close the gap to one, but after missing the green on the 18th, her chip still left her about fifteen feet from the hole. However, she drilled the ultra-clutch par save, which enabled her to get into a playoff with Lincicome when the American missed her own par save moments later.

In Gee Chun holeout, 10th hole, final round, Chosun Ilbo Posco Championship

In Gee Chun tips her cap during the final round of the Posco

This shot was named the KLPGA Shot of the Year at the KLPGA Awards Show in December. Chun had trailed Yoon Kyung Heo by around three shots the entire front nine. On the 10th hole, she hit her approach to the edge of the green, then watched as it rolled right into the hole for an eagle. She made birdie on the next hole, and just like that was tied with Heo for the lead. She would go on to win the event.

Most Dramatic Hole

And the Winner Is: Mirim Lee, 17th hole, Sunday, Reignwood Clasic

Mirim Lee with her second LPGA trophy of 2014

Mirim Lee had two amazing wins in 2014. In the first one, she beat the world’s #2 golfer, Inbee Park, in a playoff. At the second one, she duked it out with the world’s #1 golfer, Stacy Lewis.

Lee seemed poised to put Lewis away when she reached the par 3 17th hole on Sunday. But she hit a weak tee shot and watched in horror as it flew, seemingly too short to clear the water fronting the green. Somehow she did reach dry land, but her ball sat perched on a rock, a dicey spot from which to hit a chip. Due to the shape of the rock, Lee had to chip away from the flag to have any chance of getting the ball on the green. She did manage that tricky shot, but left herself with a 30 foot par save. Amazingly, moments later, she drained that unbelievable putt to preserve her lead! She would go on to claim the win moments later, the second of her impressive rookie campaign.

Other Nominees: Portland Classic 18th hole:

IK Kim reached this hole tied for the lead with Austin Ernst, but her approach rolled all the way off the back of the green. She was left with a tricky chip; if she hit it short, par would be tough, but if she hit it long, she might end up in the water. Inky instead hit a great shot, made the par, and got into a playoff.

A few minutes later, So Yeon Ryu, also tied for the lead, reached the hole. But she hit her approach into the water from a fairway bunker, ending her chances for the win.

In the playoff, Inky again missed the green, this time off to the right. She was not able to get her chip as close and missed her par putt, losing the tournament to Austin Ernst. It was nonetheless Kim’s best finish of the year.

18th hole, KEB Hana Bank:

In Gee Chun celebrates with Kyu Jung Baek after Baek won the Hana Bank

Lincicome made the par save to post a number. In Gee Chun reached the hole tied with her but could not make the birdie to move into the lead. Inbee Park got there later and needed a birdie to tie for the lead and get into a playoff, but she missed. THEN, Kyu Jung Baek had a birdie putt to win outright but missed it. She was severely bummed.

In the playoff on the same hole, Lincicome hit her approach close, but Chun hit hers into the water. Baek then made a great swing to get her approach even inside of Lincicome. Lincicome missed her putt, Baek made hers, and the win (and LPGA card) was hers!

Round of the Year

And the Winner Is: Hyo Joo Kim, 61, first round, Evian Championship

Hyo Joo Kim en route to shooting a 61 at the Evian

Hands down, this was the clear-cut winner for round of the year. Hyo Joo Kim had played at the Evian before, in 2012, but it wasn’t a Major then and the course was fairly different. So her first round at the 2014 edition was also her first EVER round in an official LPGA Major. She delivered, shooting a flawless 10 under par 61, the lowest score shot at any Major, by any male or women, in history. That’s right, in the 100+ year history of Major golf, no one had ever accomplished what Kim did that first day. That’s some serious brilliance!

Other Nominees: So Yeon Ryu, first round, Canadian Pacific Women’s Open

So Yeon Ryu during round one of the Canadian Women’s Open

So Yeon Ryu started this year’s Canadian Women’s Open by shooting a 9 under par 63, a course record, to establish a one shot lead over friend Na Yeon Choi. They had both eaten dinner together the night before, and both were determined to get off to a great start to feed off the good vibes following their teaming at the International Crown the previous month. In the end, three of the teammates from that event wound up 1-2-3 on the leaderboard: Ryu, Choi and Inbee Park.

Inbee Park, final round 61, Manulife Financial LPGA Classic

A couple of months earlier and just down the road from where they played the Canadian Women’s Open, Inbee Park produced one of the best rounds of the year to win the Manulife Financial LPGA. It had been 11 months since Park’s most recent LPGA win, and she had just lost her #1 ranking the week before. So she was plenty motivated, and responded by shooting a final round 10 under par 61 to achieve a three shot win over Cristie Kerr. It matched the course record. For Park, putting was the key: she had struggled with her putting all season, but on that day in Waterloo, Ontario, she couldn’t miss.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 6, 2015

2014 SeoulSisters Awards (3 of 7): Clutch Performance

Clutch Performance of the Year

And the winner Is: So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park beat Americans in sudden death playoff, International Crown

Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu talk in the fairway during the playoff at the International Crown

This was a very tough award to decide on, but in the end I went with what I believe was the single most pivotal moment of the 2014 LPGA season. When everything comes down to how you play on a single hole, the pressure can’t get more intense than that. Add onto it playing not just for yourself but your teammates and your country, and the situation becomes more intense still.

At the International Crown, the top two favorite teams were the Americans and the South Koreans. At the start of the year, the Koreans had a huge advantage in the rankings of their four top players vs. that of any other team. But as the year went on, the Americans had one success after the other, while the Koreans had an unusually weak start to the year. By the time the Crown started, it was the Americans who had a solid lead over the Koreans, both in world ranking and in their success on the LPGA tour to that point in 2014.

However, the Americans did not score a single point on day one, and by the end of day two, the two teams on the cusp of elimination were the Koreans and the Americans, with only one of them allowed to advance to the singles portion on day three. A playoff was held, featuring two players from each team playing a par 5 hole. If the low scores of the two teams matched, the second players’ scores would be used to break the tie.

Interestingly, the Americans did not send their top player, Stacy Lewis, out to play this playoff. Instead, they sent Christie Kerr and Lexi Thompson. The Koreans sent their top guns, So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park, who had been basically carrying their squad to this point.

More playoff action at the Crown

The nature of the playoff definitely favored the Americans. Both American players had the ability to reach the green in two, while it was far more unlikely that either of the Koreans would. As it turned out, So Yeon came close, but her ball stopped just short, while Inbee needed three shots to get close to the hole. Kerr was on in two, but Thompson’s second shot stopped just short.

Who would blink first? Ryu hit a great chip to a few feet, giving her a short birdie try. But Thompson was not able to get her ball to the flag. If Kerr were able to hit her long eagle try, the Americans would win, but Kerr two putted for birdie. Inbee then did what Inbee does, sink a masterful breaking birdie putt, and everything was tied.

After Thompson missed her birdie, it all came down to So Yeon Ryu making her short birdie attempt. Ryu nailed it! Korea advanced, and the Americans, despite the home field advantage, were eliminated. Inbee later said it was the ‘most nervous’ she had ever been on a golf course, including her four (at that time) Major wins.

So Yeon Ryu celebrates after holing her birdie in the playoff

This win was not only clutch, it changed the entire nature of the LPGA season for the rest of the year. The Koreans had only won a single event before the Crown, but afterwards, they went on to win over and over again for much of the rest of the season. Included in their wins following the Crown were two Majors, and both Ryu and Park went on to win tournaments.

Other Nominees: MJ Hur, Yokohama Tire Classic (see ‘Cinderella of the Year’ for more details)

Inbee Park, final two holes at LPGA Championship

Inbee Park won her fifth career Major at the LPGA Championship

Inbee was two shots down on Brittany Lincicome with two holes to play at the year’s fourth Major, the Wegman’s LPGA Championship. On the 17th, she hit a fantastic iron to ten feet and drained the must-make birdie. But on the 18th, she hit her approach into the rough near the green. She did get the ball out of the thick grass onto the green, but still had a ten-footer for par to have any chance to win. She drilled it, and a few minutes later, Lincicome missed a must-make putt of her own, forcing a playoff, which Park won.

Hyo Joo Kim, final two holes at Evian

Hyo Joo’s masterful performance in the final round of the Evian Championship was very close to grabbing this award; it’s virtually a tie in my eyes. 19-year-old Kim had never played in a Major before, but was in the midst of a great week in France. But Karrie Webb had grabbed a one-shot lead by the 17th hole on Sunday, and Kim had just duffed her second shot. She could not afford another mistake. Miraculously, she hit an incredible pitch shot from about 60 yards to within a foot of the hole to save par. On the 18th, she drove her ball right down the middle, put her approach to within ten feet, then drilled one of the most clutch putts of the year for a birdie to force a tie with Webb. Webb missed a par save moments later, and the win belonged to Kim.

Baek makes five straight birdies at Hana Bank

Kyu Jung Baek missed a putt for the win at the Hana Bank, but she would still gut out the win in the playoff

Another KLPGA teenager had another mega-clutch performance in an LPGA event. Leading going into the final round, Kyu Jung Baek had fallen a bit behind the leaders by the 11th hole on Sunday, but she turned it up a notch, making five straight birdies to grab a share of the lead. On the final hole, she had a short putt for the win, but missed. She looked completely devastated. Somehow, she collected herself, and during the playoff moments later, she hit a fantastic approach to five feet. This time she did not miss, and gave a glorious fist pump to celebrate her incredible come-from-behind win.

Biggest Disappointment

And the ‘Winner’ is: Inbee Park, Ricoh Women’s British Open

Inbee Park at the Women’s British Open

Inbee Park had just one LPGA win in 2014 when she arrived in July at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. The British was the only Major tournament she needed to win to finish the career Grand Slam. And she put herself in great position to do just that, securing the lead after the third round. On the back nine, she was in contention, and at several points, in the lead.

But she kept making mistakes, and somehow was managing to hang onto the lead or stay in contention despite everything.

Meanwhile, a few holes ahead, extremely unlikely contender Mo Martin hit an incredible approach on the par 5 which clanked against the flag and stopped within eagle range. She made the eagle putt and got into the house at one under par, instantly leaping from pretender to contender. Suddenly, Park needed to find a way to stop the bleeding in a hurry.

Alas, she couldn’t, made several more mistakes, and fell all the way to 4th after shooting a 77. She was so close to making history, but just couldn’t get control of her game when it counted the most. (Fortunately for her, she won the next Major a month later, and recaptured her #1 ranking in the world not long after that. That must have certainly helped her mood after this disappointment).

Other Nominees: So Yeon Ryu, Portland (see Great Performances that Came Up Short)

Chella Choi, Australian Women’s Open

Chella Choi in Australia

Chella Choi continued all through 2014 trying to get that elusive first LPGA win, but it still didn’t happen, despite several close calls. Her best chance probably came at the Australian Women’s Open. Choi played in the final group on Sunday with Minjee Lee, the Australian amateur sensation, thanks to setting a tournament record in the third round to capture a share of the lead. But Karrie Webb, playing ahead of them, posted a low score, and though Choi had four more holes to try to catch her after that, she couldn’t do it. She missed a ten footer to tie on the final hole and wound up second.

Most Dominating Performance

And the Winner Is: The Korean Team vs. the Japanese Team, Korea-Japan Women’s Golf Team Championship

Sun Ju Ahn, the top player on the JLPGA; Hyo Joo Kim, the top player on the KLPGA; and Inbee Park, the #1 player in the world. Yup, the Koreans had a killer squad!

For more than a dozen years, the best women golfers from South Korea and Japan have met in an annual team competition in December. At the start of this rivalry, it used to be a fairly tense and close affair. The Koreans tended to have the best players in the field, but the Japanese squad was deeper, so their second tier golfers would win enough of the remaining matches to make the outcome a real tossup. As a result, the teams pretty much split the wins in the event.

But in the past four or five years, the Koreans have become so deep on the international scene that the teams they would field for this event became a murderer’s row of world-class golfers. Top to bottom, they were tough. Last year, the Japanese tried their best, but were thoroughly trounced by a Korean squad that included the likes of three-time Major winner Inbee Park and KLPGA Player of the Year Ha Na Jang.

After that result, there was talk that the Korean team would be limited in the future to only include golfers who played full-time in Korea. Given that the KLPGA had an amazing season in 2014, with eight golfers notching multiple wins and two collecting LPGA trophies, even a squad like that would have been top-notch. But for whatever reason, they decided to send a team of top golfers from the LPGA, JLPGA and KLPGA as usual. And as can be expected, the Koreans absolutely dominated; even the fact the event took place in Japan this year made little difference, and the Koreans took the cup yet again by a score of 25-11.

More team members. (L to R): Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu and Inbee Park

How lopsided were the teams this year? The top Japanese player in world ranking, Shiho Oyama, would have been only the 13th best player if she had been on the Korean team. In other words, 12 of the 13 Korean players were higher ranked than the top Japanese player.

For the record, the Korean team included this jaw dropping collection of talent. From the LPGA, world #1 Inbee Park; Canadian Open champ So Yeon Ryu; 7-time winner Na Yeon Choi; two-time winner Mirim Lee; and Chella Choi, who had ten top tens in 2014. From the JLPGA came Sun Ju Ahn, Bo Mee Lee and former world #1 Jiyai Shin. Those three players were ranked 1,3 and 4 on the JLPGA last year, higher than any of the Japanese players on Team Japan! From the KLPGA came Evian champ Hyo Joo Kim; Hana Bank champ Kyu Jung Baek; three-time winner In Gee Chun; three-time winner Min Young Lee; and KLPGA #3 ranked Jung Min Lee. Whew! (As amazing as that team is, they still left off such stars as IK Kim, Amy Yang, 2014 winner MJ Hur and Hee Young Park from the LPGA; Ha Na Jang, Sei Young Kim (who were at LPGA Q-School that week) and Yoon Kyung Heo from the KLPGA; and Mi Jeong Jeon (who has a great record of wins in this event) from the JLPGA)(oh, and Se Ri freaking Pak. Just saying!).

Team Korea. All 13 players were ranked in the top 50 in the world.

In the team portion of the competition, In Gee Chun and Min Young Lee teamed for Korea’s only loss, with, amazingly, Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu, Korea’s top team, only tying in their match. In the singles, Korea suffered three losses, including world #1 Inbee Park. It says something about this team that their top gun Park only earned one point, and Na Yeon Choi, another top player, earned none, and yet they still mopped the floor with Japan.

Mirim Lee had a great week, winning both of her matches

As incredible as it is to see such an awesome group of women come together on one team, perhaps it would be better to limit the squad to just the KLPGA golfers in the future. Especially given the exodus of top players from Korea at the end of this season, the 2015 edition of this might end up being pretty close. But without question, the 2014 Korean team earns honors for biggest blowout of the year.

Team Captain Sun Ju Ahn accepts the trophy for South Korea

Other Nominee: Hyo Joo Kim, Hanwha Classic

Hyo Joo Kim reached the Hanwha Classic in late July on an incredible roll. She had won two of the previous three events, including her first Korean tour Major, the Korean Women’s Open. Her last start had not been so impressive (still a top ten, though), but it didn’t take long for her to seize control at the Hanwha, the tour’s most lucrative event (top prize 300 million won, or roughly $280,000).

Kim started the final round after having given up a few strokes at the end of the third round (while still maintaining her lead). Any notion that this was going to be close, however, was quickly quashed, as Kim made birdies on holes 2, 3 and 4 to establish a lead no one could come close to threatening. The rest of the day was a walk in the park, and Kim claimed her third win of the year by a comfortable six-stroke margin.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 5, 2015

2014 SeoulSisters Awards (2 of 7): Best Finish, Cinderella

Best Korean Finish

And the Winner Is: The Canadian Pacific Women’s Open

So Yeon Ryu with her trophy from the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open

So Yeon Ryu pretty much dominated this one all week, getting out to a big lead and shattering records left and right. It became more interesting when, on the back nine on Sunday, she started to struggle and Na Yeon Choi made a charge at her. But Ryu managed to make a crucial late birdie to hold off her friend and claim the title. NYC finished second, with world #2 Inbee Park third.

Other Nominees: Portland Classic

The Koreans didn’t actually win this one, but they sure dominated the leaderboard. Unlikely American champion Austin Ernst charged up the leaderboard in the final round and looked like she had the win locked up, but made two bogies to finish her day. That dropped her into a tie for the lead with So Yeon Ryu and In Kyung Kim, and MJ Hur and Chella Choi were also within  shouting distance.

In the end, Ernst won a playoff with IK Kim. So Yeon Ryu just missed the playoff by hitting her approach on the final hole into the water. Chella Choi was also tied for third, and Na Yeon Choi and Eun Hee Ji were tied for 5th. MJ Hur finished tied for 9th.

The Evian Championship

Hyo Joo Kim beat Karrie Webb with a super clutch birdie on the final hole. MJ Hur was again in contention but wound up tied for third. Ha Na Jang also had a shot, but two late mistakes relegated her to T-3rd as well. And Na Yeon Choi finished fifth.

KEB Hana Bank Championship

Two KLPGA stars – In Gee Chun and Kyu Jung Baek – slugged it out with Brittany Lincicome in the playoff (Baek won). Inbee Park was one putt away from joining them. Hyo Joo Kim made a nice run for a top ten as well.

Cinderella of the Year

And the Winner Is: MJ Hur, Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic

MJ Hur cried tears of joy after winning her first LPGA event in five years

MJ Hur had a dream return to form in 2014. She had won a tournament in her rookie year of 2009, but in the intervening years had slowly slipped down the rankings. By the time she reached Portland in 2014, five years after her win there (but on a different course), she was all but forgotten.

But amazingly, Hur brought her A+ Game to the tournament, and as she reached the back nine on Sunday, she was right in the hunt. Alas, a couple of big mistakes late dropped her into a tie for 9th, but it was still a really good result for her.

At the next tournament, the Evian Championship, Hur again found herself in the hunt for the win. She came much closer, too, ending up tied for third, by far the best Major finish of her career.

The third time was the charm for MJ. Playing in the next event, the Yokohama Tire Classic in Alabama, Hur shot a first round 64, and played well in the next two rounds to establish a solid lead over the field. To make the event even more magical, she was playing with her father on her bag. But one player threatened to send her home unhappy: world #1 Stacy Lewis. Lewis went on a tear on the front nine on Sunday, nearly catching Hur. Hur responded with some truly great golf, possibly the best of her career. In the end, MJ shot a 66, the same as Lewis, and at long last won her second career LPGA tournament. Almost immediately she broke down in tears as the emotion overwhelmed her. In three magical events she had climbed closer and closer to the win; after two close calls, she finally grabbed the brass ring (or should we say the glass slipper?).

MJ Hur with her long awaited second LPGA trophy

Other Nominees:

Mirim Lee, Meijer Classic

Mirim Lee not only won the Meier Classic for her first career LPGA win, she beat world #2 Inbee Park in a playoff.

Chae Young Yoon, Cheju Samdasoo Masters

Chae Young Yoon waited nine seasons before finally winning a KLPGA tournament

Chae Young Yoon has been a very popular player on the KLPGA tour for nine years. But though she has played well at times during her career, she had never won a tournament; that is, never until last July. At the KLPGA’s Cheju Samdasoo Masters, she found herself in a pitched battle with none other than Inbee Park, as well as two KLPGA golfers. In the end, Park just missed the playoff between the other three. Not long after that, Yoon grabbed her first trophy.

Christina Kim, Lorena Ochoa Invitational

Christina Kim has two LPGA wins to her credit, but had fallen quite far in the past few years, only rarely appearing on leaderboards. Then, all of a sudden, she caught fire in a big way at the LPGA’s second-to-last event of 2014, the Lorena Ochoa Invitational. She consistently hovered near or in the lead all week, and when it looked like she might stumble, she would make a great save or clutch shot to keep herself in the mix. Eventually win #3 came her way, one of the more unexpected results of the year.

Great Performance that came up short

And the Winner Is: Ha Neul Kim, five runner-up finishes without a win.

Ha Neul Kim takes the ice bucket challenge last summer!

Ha Neul Kim played her final year on the KLPGA in 2014. She had been a top player and KLPGA mainstay since winning the Rookie of the Year in 2007. She was certainly hoping to get at least one win in 2014 to go out in style. But wins kept eluding her, sometimes by the slimmest of margins.

Ha Neul started the year at the end of 2013 with a runner-up finish in China at the Hyundai China Ladies Open. No biggie; she lost to 2013 Player of the Year Ha Na Jang there.

A few months later, she looked poised for a big win at the Doosan Match Play Championship. She outlasted In Gee Chun in the quarterfinals after forcing a playoff with a clutch late birdie. She then beat Yoon Kyung Heo, another player struggling with closing out wins in 2014, in the semis (both of those ladies would get their revenge on Ha Neul later in 2014). So Ha Neul was all set up for her win, playing surprise finalist Sul Ah Yoon. But in the final match, Yoon caught fire with wins on 5, 7, 9 and 10 and won easily, 4 & 3.

Ha Neul Kim during the final match at the Doosan Match Play

The next week, Ha Neul was again in the hunt, this time at the E1 Charity Open. But Heo made a clutch par save late, Ha Neul missed another one, and Heo managed to get the win.

Then came the YTN Volvik Women’s Open. Ha Neul played well, but Jung Min Lee was on fire and cruised to a three shot win.

Finally came the KDB Daewoo Financial Classic, which we talked about in ‘Best Korean Rivalry’. That was the event where Ha Neul lost to In Gee Chun in a playoff after hitting her approach shot into the water.

In total, Ha Neul had five runner-up finishes, but at least she did successfully earn her membership for the Japanese LPGA tour in Q-School. Hopefully she will not have to wait long before she gets her first win over there in 2015!

Other Nominees: Ha Na Jang, Evian

Jang was in contention at the 2014 Evian Championship all the way until the last couple of holes. She missed a short but tricky birdie putt on 17, then made a bogey on the final hole when she had a birdie try from not that far. Had she gone birdie-par, she might have won the tournament.

So Yeon Ryu, Farr + Portland

So Yeon Ryu seems to have more close calls than just about any Korean golfer. This year she had two fairly close near misses. The first one came at the former Jamie Farr event in Toledo. Ryu got into a battle with Lydia Ko, who the previous December had caught and passed Ryu to win the Swinging Skirts in Taiwan. Ko made a birdie on the final par 5 18th hole to take a one shot lead. Ryu needed to match the birdie, but hit a terrible drive into the trees. She punched out, then hit a superlative iron to give herself a five footer for the tie. Alas, she missed the putt.

Ryu had another chance later in the summer at the Portland Classic. Tied with Austin Ernst with two holes to play, she toughed out a par on the 17th. But on the 18th, she hit her drive into a fairway bunker, then dunked her approach from there into greenside water to cost herself any chance of the playoff.

So Yeon Ryu during the final round at the Portland Classic

In Gee Chun, KEB Hana Bank

In Gee Chun at the KEB Hana Bank Championship

Chun had a wonderful week at the LPGA’s only event staged in Korea in 2014. She got off to a weak start in round one, but played well in the next two rounds to put herself in position for a run at the title. On Sunday, she charged into the lead, and battled with Brittany Lincicome most of the day. Once Lincicome posted her score at 10 under, Chun had a few more chances to make a birdie to take the lead, but couldn’t pull it off. On the par 5 18th hole, she had about a ten footer for birdie, but just missed sinking it. Alas, during the playoff with Lincicome and Kyu Jung Baek, she hit her third shot into the drink, ending her chances for the title and an LPGA card.

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