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.

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 4, 2015

2014 SeoulSisters Awards (1 of 7): Best Start

It’s the end of the year, and time once again for the Awards, or Seoulies! Read on to see what we believe were the most noteworthy achievements by Korean golfers in 2014!

Best Start to the Season

And the Winner Is: Minjee Lee

Minjee Lee started the year with a bang. The teenage Australian began 2014 ranked as one of the top amateur women golfers in the world, but not the very best. By the time she finished her run in late February, she had taken over the #1 ranking among all amateurs, a spot she would hold until she turned professional in September.

Minjee Lee

Minjee’s great run started at the Australian Women’s Amateur in mid-January. She was defending her title that she had won in 2013, and she blasted through the field in 2014 as well. She won the final match 6 & 5 to repeat as champion.

After that, Lee played several professional events, looking for her first pro win. From the 24th-25th she played the Bing Lee Fujitsu General Women’s NSW Open. She notched a tie for 5th, 5 strokes behind the winner.

From February 6 – 9th, she tried again, this time at the Volvik RACV Ladies Master, one of the most important professional events contested in Australia each season. This time she played brilliantly, and as the event wound on, only one golfer seemed to stand between her and that elusive win: Tiger Woods’ niece, Cheyenne Woods. Alas, Woods had a career best week and captured the win, while Lee had to settle for her own career best finish in a pro event, a second place finish.

Minjee was the low amateur at the Australian Ladies Masters, but just missed winning the tournament itself.

The following week, she played at the Australian Women’s Open, an LPGA event. Once again, she found herself in contention for the title, even getting into the final group on Sunday with another player trying to get her first LPGA win, LPGA tour pro Chella Choi. But this time, it was Australian legend Karrie Webb who denied Lee: she came from behind and posted a score, and Lee collapsed in her final few holes trying to get to that score. She wound up tied for 11th.

Finally, everything came together for Minjee. From the 20th – 23rd, she played the Oates Women’s Victorian Open. This time she left nothing to chance, playing fantastically and eventually notching a 6 stroke win. That win finally moved her to the #1 spot in the amateur rankings. No other female golfer with Korean blood had such a nice start to their season as the teen sensation did!

Minjee with her first professional winner’s plate!

Other Nominees:

Kyu Jung Baek

Baek won her first KLPGA title in just the second KLPGA event of calendar year 2014 (and the fourth event with some KLPGA status, two of which happened at the end of 2013). She would win a second time not long after that. But between those wins came a few shaky tournaments, so her start to the year was not quite as impressive as Lee’s.

Biggest Disappearing Act

And the ‘Winner’ is: IK Kim

In Kyung ‘I.K.’ Kim did not have a good 2014 by her standards

In Kyung Kim has earned the nickname ‘Income’ Kim for her ability to cash in big checks week after week on the LPGA tour. But 2014 was a rare exception to that trend: she only managed two top tens all year, and made the least amount of money in a year since she had joined the tour in 2007. It was an especially big downturn given her great 2013, where she earned over a million bucks and had her lowest career scoring average for a season. What happened?

For starters, Inky did not even start her season until fairly late. She did not play her first event in 2014 until after the tour had finished its first Asian swing. It seems she had taken an extra long holiday before starting her preparations for the year. Her first few events were fairly weak; she did not even make a top 20 until the Swinging Skirts tournament in late April, where she finished tied for 13th.

Kim played in the International Crown for the Korean team, and that seemed to energize her: her results after that were much better. But even making the team, once practically a given for her, proved hard. She started the year well in the top ten in the world rankings, but steadily dropped down the list while several other Koreans, including Chella Choi, Ha Na Jang and Amy Yang, moved up. The week they determined the teams, Inky was only one position above Jang and two above Yang. Had the team been chosen even one week later, she would not have been on it.

South Korea’s 2014 International Crown team. IK Kim is second from right.

She lost most of her matches at the Crown, but her play definitely improved in the weeks that followed. The highlight of her season came at the Portland Classic a few weeks later. She was tied for the lead coming into the final couple of holes after the surprise leader to that point, Austin Ernst, made bogies on her final two holes. Inky managed a nice up and down on the final hole and forced a playoff. But she was not able to make par on the playoff hole, and Ernst grabbed the title. Inky’s winless streak has stretched back to 2010, when she won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and continued through her shocking one-foot par miss at the Nabisco, which robbed her of her first Major title. She would end 2014 still without a recent win.

I.K. Kim in Portland

Inky had a few more top twenties and one more top ten at the year’s final event. In all, she made $349,765, roughly a third of what she had made in 2013, and finished 48th on the money list (compared to 7th in 2013).

Hopefully IK can refocus for 2015 and return to the level she has shown most of her career!

I.K. Kim during a gala party at the year’s final Major

Best Korean Confrontation

And the Winner Is: The KLPGA Tour (all season)

This award could have been given to several memorable Korean clashes last year. Mirim Lee and Inbee Park at the Meier Classic, a battle of the rookie vs. the superstar; So Yeon Ryu vs. Na Yeon Choi at the Canadian Women’s Open, as the two bridesmaids from Inbee Park’s wedding (and International Crown teammates) battled for their first LPGA titles in two years; or even the great rookie clash on the KLPGA tour (but I think we’ll get back to that later!).

Instead, this award goes to the KLPGA tour, which had arguably its best ever season in 2014. One of the things that was so remarkable about the year was how often tournaments came down to a battle between big stars. Several times during the season events came down to a playoff between two or three great players, or else the result would only be settled on the final hole. PGA fans in the States are lucky to see one or two events finishing this way in a year; it’s not an exaggeration to say that at least HALF of the KLPGA events in 2014 came down to a clash of titans to determine the crown.

Here are five events that especially stood out (and I had to eliminate at least three other great events to narrow the list down this much!):

The E1 Charity Open (May, 2014): Ha Neul Kim, Yoon Kyung Heo and Ha Na Jang were all in the mix. Rookie star Jin Young Ko had a shot, too, but missed a crucial par save on the 17th hole. Fellow rookie star Kyu Jung Baek rallied with a 66 and tied for third with Ko and Jang. And they weren’t even the top contenders!

Kim led a lot of the way, but was struggling to hold onto the lead at 12 under. Heo, playing a group ahead of Kim, made a birdie on the 16th to move into a tie with her. But on the 18th, she was in trouble, leaving herself a lengthy par saving putt after a poor chip. Remarkably, she made it, getting into the house at 12 under!

Kim, meanwhile, missed a shortish birdie try on 16, then missed a long par save on 17 to drop back to 11 under, one back of Heo. She had to make a birdie on 18 to force a playoff, but left her birdie putt five feet short. An agonizing way for the popular Kim to lose after leading so much of the day!

Ha Neul Kim at the E1 Charity Women’s Open

KDB Daewoo Financial Classic (Sep, 2014): This one turned into a classic back-and-forth battle between Ha Neul Kim and In Gee Chun, two of the league’s most popular players. By the 15th, Chun, who was playing one hole behind Kim, had a two shot lead. Chun hit a terrible bunker shot on that hole, but made a long par save to maintain her lead.

Then Kim made her move, making a long birdie putt on 16, and another slightly shorter one on 17. Tie game! Chun missed two short birdie tries on the final two holes, and it was time for a playoff!

Chun hit a lackluster approach onto the hill near the green, and Kim, in the middle of the fairway, had a golden chance to finally get her first win of 2014. But alas, her approach was a bit short, and she watched in horror as the ball rolled backwards into the water. Chun went on to win with a par, and later Kim collapsed in tears into the arms of her good friend Na Yeon Choi, who was making a guest appearance in the event. This was truly a dramatic ending to a fantastic battle.

Ha Neul after losing the playoff

Ha Neul with Na Yeon Choi

Ha Neul breaks down in tears

The Hite Cup (Oct, 2014): The year’s third Major started its final day with Ha Neul Kim in great position to at last get her first win of the year, but she collapsed. Hyo Joo Kim, Ha Na Jang and Jung Min Lee, three of the tour’s top players, were all in the mix late. Jang got close but came up short, not able to make a birdie she needed to catch the other two. Kim, meanwhile, made two late bogies and seemed finished, but made birdies on the final two holes to catch Lee, a truly clutch performance that showed what a superstar she is becoming. Thus she forced a playoff, which she won when Lee hit her second shot into the drink. Kim’s second KLPGA Major of the year, and not her last (see below)!

Hyo Joo Kim wins her second KLPGA Major of 2014

KB Financial Star Championship (Oct, 2014)

Another awesome battle for a KLPGA Major title at the year’s final Major, featuring Inbee Park, Hyo Joo Kim and rookie sensation Kyu Jung Baek; between them, those three had the other three KLPGA Major titles and two LPGA Major titles in 2014. Now, with just five holes to play, those same three stars were tied for the lead. Things couldn’t have been more dramatic!

Kim made two late birdies to take a two shot lead. Baek had two makeable short birdie tries late, but seemed a bit intimidated by her arch-rival Kim and missed both. Inbee made one birdie, but could not make another to catch Kim, and so Kim won the trophy, her third KLPGA Major of the year. Wow!

Here we go again! Major #3 for Hyo Joo Kim

Chosun Ilbo-Posco Championship (Nov, 2014)

Yoon Kyung Heo and In Gee Chun battled down to the wire for the year’s final title.
Like in the event the previous week, Heo started the day with a three shot lead. But on the back nine, Chun made her move. She hit one of the shots of the year by dunking an eagle on the tenth, and after another birdie on 11, she had completely caught up to Heo. Heo made birdie on 14 to take a one shot lead, but Chun followed with a birdie on 15 to tie her at 11 under.

Chun then made a crucial birdie on 17 to move one ahead. Heo needed a birdie on 18, but instead hit her approach into the water, and Chun got her third win of 2014. A fitting way for the KLPGA’s great season to end.

In Gee Chun wins her third event of 2014

Yoon Kyung Heo loses a heartbreaker

Other Nominees:

Rookie battle on KLPGA (all season)

Inbee Park vs. Mirim Lee, Meijer Classic

A playoff between the top Korean golfer in the world and a rookie looking for her first win? Should have been a lock for the top player, right? Nope, the rookie won! How about that?

So Yeon Ryu vs. Na Yeon Choi, Canadian Pacific Women’s Open (Inbee third)

This one should have been an easy win for Ryu. She led for three and a half rounds, and going into the back nine still had a five shot cushion. But then Ryu started making mistakes, NYC capitalized, and So Yeon only barely held off her International Crown teammate.

Kyu Jung Baek vs. Min Sun Kim, round 1, Doosan Match Play

This was a corker. The match play event on the KLPGA is seeded based on the previous year’s money list; as a result, rookies are thrown randomly into the seeding brackets. As it happened, two top players in 2014 were also rookie rivals, and they ended up facing each other in the first round! In the end, Min Sun Kim outlasted Kyu Jung Baek for the win. Baek was clearly upset afterward, but her good friend Kim stuck around to cheer her up.

Kyu Jung Baek and Min Sun Kim following their match at the Doosan Match Play

Posted by: happyfan08 | October 23, 2014

Meet the Class of 95

Over the past few years, a new wave of Korean female golf superstars has been gaining momentum. They started with impressive performances while still amateurs, and this season have taken over the KLPGA. Now they are moving their act to the world stage. Get ready for the coming of… the Class of 1995!

(L to R) Jin Young Ko, Kyu Jung Baek and Min Sun Kim earlier this year

Many western golf fans first became aware of this new wave when unheralded teen golfer Hyo Joo Kim shot a 61 in the opening round of the year’s final Major, the Evian Championship. It was the lowest score ever achieved in the history of Major golf for either a man or a woman. Kim would go on to stun the world (and seven-time Major winner Karrie Webb) by winning the event with a birdie on the final hole. But though Kim’s win came at her first ever Major, she had already played multiple LPGA events before then, notching several top tens in the process, including a tie for fourth at the Evian itself (before it was a Major) in 2012. The group of prodigies of which she is a part has been building on their success in Asia and the amateur ranks for several years leading up to that explosive Major victory.

Hyo Joo Kim with her Evian trophy

The Korean press has dubbed these ladies the Class of ‘95, as many of them were born in 1995. On the Korean pro circuit, there are currently five pros who are considered the core of the wave. They are Hyo Joo Kim, Kyu Jung Baek, Min Sun Kim and Jin Young Ko (all 19); and In Gee Chun (20. Chun was actually born in 1994, but why quibble?). Sometimes the press adds teenage Korean-Australian stars Minjee Lee and Su Hyun Oh and Korean-New Zealander Lydia Ko to the list, but though they are all roughly the correct age, for our purposes we’ll focus on the first five, all of whom were born in and grew up in Korea.

This new batch of kids has trained from a young age to be great at golf, and as a result started to show world class potential by the time they were in their mid-teens. All five ladies did some time playing on the Korean national team, representing their country in international amateur competitions.

Evian champ Hyo Joo Kim is without question the biggest star in this galaxy, at least so far. She started to make noise playing KLPGA events when she was as young as 14 in 2009. But it was 2012 when the young guns, and Kim in particular, made their first big splash on the international stage. Kim had risen to being one of the top amateurs in the world, and found herself frequently pitted against Lydia Ko and Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn in both amateur and professional tournaments. Kim did well in all the fields she tackled. She managed her first KLPGA win that summer as a 16-year-old amateur, absolutely trouncing the field at the LotteMart Women’s Open. She won that week by a mind bending nine shots and was 13 shots ahead of the top player on the KLPGA tour, Ha Neul Kim, who finished third! Winning an event as a 16-year-old was fairly rare on the KLPGA; but to annihilate a field of top players like she did? Almost unthinkable.

Hyo Joo Kim enjoys her romp over the KLPGA at the LotteMart Open in 2012

Kim was not done yet, for just a few months later she did the same thing to the Japanese tour. Playing in the Suntory Ladies Open, she shot a tour record 61 in the final round to capture a four shot win. She also became the youngest winner in the history of that tour, beating the record held by Japanese legend Ai Miyazato.

Not long after that, Kim played at the Evian Masters on the LPGA tour and found herself contending for the title. She finished tied for fourth.

Kim ended her amateur career in style: she led a phenomenal Korean team to an overwhelming victory at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship (aka the Espirito Santo Cup). At the time, Kim was without doubt the most familiar name on that team, but the squad also featured Kyu Jung Baek and Min Sun Kim, who were on their own trajectories to the top of the game.

Baek, Min Sun Kim and Hyo Joo Kim celebrate their win at the 2012 Espirito Santo Cup

Kim turned pro in late 2012, signing the biggest sponsorship deal for a rookie since Se Ri Pak in the 90s. It took her almost no time to win her first event on tour, collecting a trophy in just her second event. She seemed on an unstoppable trajectory to the Rookie of the Year award.

That’s when another teen prodigy stepped in and made things very interesting. In Gee Chun, like Kim, was a veteran of the Korean National team with a phenomenal swing and a ton of promise. At nearly 5’ 10” tall, she had size, but it was her finesse and strategy that made her a tough player. Her nickname is ‘Dumbo’, given to her not because of her intelligence (in fact, she has a 150 IQ and is a member of Mensa), but because, like an elephant, she always keeps her ears open, absorbing all around here. To her credit, she seems to get a kick out of the somewhat embarrassing nickname.

In Gee Chun in May, 2014

Also like Kim, Chun made a splash on the pro tour while still in high school. At the 2011 Hite Cup, the KLPGA’s third Major, Chun seized the lead in the third round and held onto it tenuously most of Sunday. Alas, she made a big mistake late and handed the tournament to veteran star Ha Neul Kim, but she still showed that she had more going for her than the average teenage amateur. And in fact, Hite remembered her heroics, and signed her to a sponsorship deal when she turned pro the following Spring!

After turning pro, Chun played Korean minor leagues. In 2013, she joined the KLPGA, where she faced off against Hyo Joo as a rookie. Chun quickly made a name for herself, nearly winning the Match Play Championship (she lost in the final).

Chun’s only win of 2013 came at the most important event the KLPGA has: the Korean Women’s Open. More than any other moment, this might have been when the Class of 1995 had their Coming Out party. After three rounds, the leader was a young player who had only just turned professional weeks earlier: Kyu Jung Baek. In Gee Chun and Hyo Joo Kim were right near the top with her. Three members of the Class of 1995 in the final group at a Major! Chun wound up winning by making birdie on the final four holes, with Baek finishing third and Kim sixth.

In Gee Chun cries after winning the Korean Women’s Open

Chun and Kim finished third and fourth on the year ending money list, with Kim beating Chun for Rookie of the Year and winning the scoring title as well. The kids had successfully made their first attack on the old guard; but the best was yet to come.

In Gee Chun at the 2012 KLPGA Awards Show

2014 saw three new teenage prodigies join the KLPGA, and all three have proved to be stars-in-the-making. Coupled with Kim and Chun, these three have helped decisively turn the tide on tour towards the young guns.

Jin Young Ko, Min Sun Kim and Kyu Jung Baek: the KLPGA’s Super Rookies

The most heralded of the three is the aforementioned Kyu Jung Baek. After the Korean Women’s Open near miss in 2013, Baek played on the Korean pro mini-tours, and was ready for the big league when she started on the KLPGA in 2014. It took her only a few events to capture her first win at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters. But after that she stalled, missing several cuts. This allowed the other two stars to make a move.

Kyu Jung Baek with her first career KLPGA trophy

Jin Young Ko was a dominant player on the Jump Tour, one of the KLPGA’s developmental tours (the other is the Dream Tour). Ko won three events there in 2013. In 2014, it took her quite a while to get that first win, but while she waited she notched top ten after top ten. Min Sun Kim, another 18-year-old phenom, did basically the same thing.

Beak was almost caught in the rookie standings before she snapped out of her funk and won a second tournament, the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open. But Ko and Kim kept coming at her, and eventually Ko caught and passed Baek. When Ko finally won her first tour event, the Nefs Masterpiece in August, Baek suddenly faced a sizable deficit to make up in the Rookie of the Year race.

Jin Young Ko broke through with her first KLPGA win at the Nefs, her sponsor’s tournament!

Meanwhile, Chun and Hyo Joo Kim continued to rack up wins themselves. Chun won her first of 2014 at the S-OIL Champions in June. Hyo Joo snapped out of a long winless streak at exactly the right time, collecting a triumph at the Korean Women’s Open, then following that up with two more wins in rapid succession.

Hyo Joo Kim with the Hanwha Classic trophy, her third win of 2014

The round robin continued, with the young stars taking turns picking off trophies. Baek won the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship, but still trailed Ko in the Rookie race. Chun beat Ha Neul Kim at the KDB. Min Sun Kim came oh so close to finally getting her first win, but lost in a playoff at the Se Ri Pak Invitational to Min Young Lee.

At the year’s third Major, the Hite Cup, the teens were all over the leaderboard (Chun by then was actually 20). But once again, it was Hyo Joo Kim who won, taking her second Major of the season in a playoff over Jung Min Lee.

During that period, Hyo Joo also won the Evian, becoming the first of the Class of ’95 to win on the LPGA tour.

So going into the Hana Bank Championship, the annual event featuring the LPGA vs. the KLPGA, the tally stood at: 4 KLPGA wins for Hyo Joo Kim (2 Majors); three wins for Baek (1 Major); two wins for Chun and one win for Ko. Hyo Joo Kim had also become the first player in history to break 1 billion won earned in a single season, shattering the old record by more than 200 million won.

Interestingly, though several top KLPGA players have played the Hana Bank through the years, a KLPGA player had not won it since 2006. The Class of 1995 were playing so well, however, it looked like they might have a chance to end that long winless drought.

The first round was rocked by high winds, and none of the KLPGA teen stars played all that well. But in the second round, two of them made a move. In Gee Chun shot a 5 under par 67, which ended up being the lowest round of the entire day, while Kyu Jung Baek shot a 69. In round three, the two stars were paired together and continued their torrid pace. By the end of Saturday, Baek was tied for the lead at 5 under total, while Chun was one shot back.

That might sound promising, but in fact the leaderboard was jammed with top players. Seventeen golfers were within two shots of the lead, 25 within three. For any player to win, she would probably have to go low on Sunday.

Kyu Jung Baek after round 3

Chun started her Sunday very, very well. By the turn, she had moved into the lead, with several top players right on her tail. One group behind her, World #2 Inbee Park, the top player in the field, was not far back. Baek was also in that group, but she had stalled at 5 under, and by that point had dropped five shots behind her longtime friend and rival.

In Gee Chun in round 4

Kyu Jung had been feeling the pressure on the front nine, but on the back nine she relaxed and concentrated on playing her game one shot at a time. And that’s when she caught fire in a major way. In fact, she made five straight birdies at that point, and when Chun made a bogey in the middle of her back nine, Baek found herself tied for the lead with her.

Meanwhile, American Brittany Lincicome made a birdie on the final hole to post a score of ten under total. The final hole was a par 5, and Chun reached it next. A birdie would put her at 11 under and give her the outright lead. But she barely missed her ten foot birdie try and had to settle for a tap-in par. She was tied at 10 under and had to wait to see what Baek’s group would do.

The situation was this: Baek was also tied at 10 under and could win the event with a birdie. Inbee Park was at 9 under, and a birdie would tie her for the lead. Park had the longer birdie try, but just missed and was eliminated. Now the tournament rode on the putt of the teenage sensation. But she narrowly missed her own eight foot birdie try. She was completely annoyed, and though she tried to collect herself, it was obvious that she was deeply upset by missing her great chance to win her first LPGA event. Instead, there would be a three way playoff between herself, Chun and Lincicome.

Baek misses the winning putt on her final hole

On the playoff hole (they again played hole 18), all three were in the fairway after two shots, but Chun dunked her approach in the water on the third shot. She would have to wait another day for her chance to win an LPGA event, but she had still played wonderfully and shown what great talent and potential she has. Lincicome then put her approach to about five feet.

Now it was Baek’s turn. Still somewhat bothered by the miss on the previous hole, she had finally gotten over it by the time she hit this wedge. And so, her shot was a great one, getting even inside the American’s shot.

Amazingly, Lincicome missed the short birdie, and now Baek had that rarest of things: a second chance. This time, she did not miss, and as the birdie fell, the 19-year-old, who had just celebrated her birthday the previous Wednesday, was an LPGA winner in her first ever LPGA event. In Gee Chun was the first to give her a congratulatory soaking on the 18th green.

In Gee congratulates Kyu Jung after her win

And so, in the space of just two months, two members of the Class of 95 notched wins on the LPGA tour. Hyo Joo Kim has said she will split her time between the LPGA and KLPGA in 2015. She intends to play 15 LPGA events, focusing on the Majors and events near to Korea (such as the Asian events, Hawaii and Australia), while also playing 10 KLPGA events. Baek has still not said what she will do. She is still just a rookie on the KLPGA, so she might choose to stay another year to get more experience before she tries the big tour. But she has also said that she is inspired by her friend Kim, and the thought of going to America to challenge her for rookie of the year might be too tempting to resist.

Regardless, we can expect that the Class of 1995 is only starting to take over the world. Keep an eye on these five talented youngsters to see what they do next!

Kyu Jung with her first LPGA trophy

Posted by: happyfan08 | June 11, 2014

Baek to the Future

Last week, 18-year-old KLPGA Rookie Kyu Jung Baek shot a blistering 64-65 to open the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open, giving her a six shot lead going into the final round. On Sunday she was heavily challenged by two of the biggest stars on tour, Hyo Joo Kim and Ha Na Jang, but managed to hold them off to claim the trophy. It was already the second KLPGA win of her young career. Baek is on a rocket trajectory towards the top of the game; the win not only solidified her lead atop the Rookie of the Year standings, it put her firmly into contention for all the top prizes on tour this year.

Kyu Jung Baek with her trophy from the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open

Baek started playing golf at the age of 7. She was born in October, 1995, and is part of a new wave of great young Korean female golf talents who were born around the same time. As an amateur, she played for several years on the Korean national team with contemporaries like Hyo Joo Kim (last year’s KLPGA Rookie of the Year); In Gee Chun (the winner of last year’s Korean Women’s Open); and Min Sun Kim (who is also a rookie in 2014). Perhaps her greatest amateur achievement came in 2012, when she teamed with Hyo Joo and Min Sun to capture the team title at the Espirito Santo World Women’s Amateur Team Championship.

Team Korea won the 2012 World Women’s Amateur Team Championship; Kyu Jung Baek (left) poses with her teammates Min Sun Kim (center) and Hyo Joo Kim (right)

In 2013, the 17-year-old star turned pro and joined the KLPGA’s developmental tour, the Dream Tour. Not too long after that, she played in the Korean Women’s Open, the biggest event on the Korean golf circuit. She led that event after three rounds, and, playing in the final round with old pals Chun and Hyo Joo Kim, wound up third behind Chun.

Baek at the 2013 Korean Women’s Open. She finished third.

Baek’s performance at the Open raised her profile in Korea, and many were now looking to her as perhaps the most promising player in her class. She did not disappoint. Playing on the Dream Tour in the Fall, she won twice and managed to earn a spot on the KLPGA for 2014. At the end of the year, she was invited to play at the Swinging Skirts, a tournament in Taiwan that often attracted a field of top women pros. Baek finished fourth, tied with her old pal Hyo Joo Kim, who had just won the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year award for the season just ended. The only three players who beat Baek that week – Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu and Lydia Ko – were all ranked in the top five in the world rankings. By this point, Baek had earned a new nickname: Super Rookie, and a gaggle of sponsorship deals, including a clothing deal with Elle Golf and a major sponsorship with CJ Shopping. But could this girl, still only 18-years-old, live up to the expectations she was generating?

Baek in December, 2013

Baek’s first two events as a rookie were nothing special, although she made the cut in both. But the third event, the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters, contested in late April, at last saw the rookie star put herself into the mix for a title. The week actually started well for another rookie star, Baek’s good friend Min Sun Kim. Kim took a three shot lead after round one, with Baek in second. Kim struggled more in round 2, but held onto a share of the lead. Baek took advantage, and moved into a share of the lead with Kim. The two rookies would be going toe to toe with one other player who was tied atop the leaderboard: Ha Na Jang. Jang was the biggest superstar on the tour, having won the previous year’s Player of the Year and money list titles. Two star rookies and Jang, all together in the final round – it promised to be an epic battle.

Baek at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters

On Sunday, Kim was for the most part out of it, leaving the battle to be waged between Jang and Baek. Baek struck first, clawing her way to a three shot lead. But at that point she made a double bogey, and the leaderboard was once again tight.

Baek awaits her next shot in the final round of the Nexen

On the 14th hole, Jang made birdie while Baek bogied. Now Jang had the one shot lead and seemed in control. But on the next hole, Jang inexplicably missed a short putt for birdie that would have put her up by two. Then on 16, she wailed her drive into the trees, and was not able to save par on the par 5.

Baek took advantage, drilling a 20 foot birdie putt to move into a one shot lead. On 17, Jang had another shot at birdie but again missed, so it all came down to 18. Jang put her approach closer to the flag, but Baek had a 20 foot birdie putt first to win. And she drained it, seizing the title before Jang could do a thing! Baek didn’t even make it to the hole to pick up her ball before she broke down in tears. The Super Rookie had won her first KLPGA title, and had faced down two of her biggest rivals to do it.

Baek drills the winning putt at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters

Baek begins to cry as her first victory on the KLPGA tour sinks in

Her first KLPGA trophy

Just when it looked like Baek was en route to the Rookie of the Year, however, she hit a speed bump. She missed the cut in her next event. Then at the next tournament after that, she seemed fine until a terrible second round 81 caused her to miss another cut! The next event after that was the Doosan Match Play, and who should Baek draw as her first round opponent? None other than her rookie friend/rival Min Sun Kim!

No way! Kyu Jung Baek draws her good friend Min Sun Kim as her first round opponent at the Doosan Match Play

It was a close match, but Kim managed to defeat Baek. Baek was clearly torn up about it, needing a little consolation from the very woman who had taken her down! Although Kim lost in the next round to In Gee Chun, she still earned enough points to overtake Baek for first place in the Rookie standings. It was incredible how quickly things had soured for the Super Rookie Baek.

Kim consoles a crushed Baek after their match, which Kim won

Just when things were starting to look dark, however, Baek dusted herself off and returned to her former glory. She managed a third place finish at the next event to return to the top of the rookie standings. And then came last week’s tournament, the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open.

Coming into the event, there were three players who seemed on a roll: the previous week’s winner, Yoon Kyung Heo, who had also finished third at the Match Play; Ha Neul Kim, who had two straight runner-up finishes; and Baek. Baek would be teamed with Kim in the first two rounds of the Lotte, and both golfers absolutely lit up the course. In the end, Baek had the first round lead following a 64, while Kim was second with a 65.

Baek during the first round of last week’s Lotte Cantata Ladies Open

Baek did not let up in round 2. While Kim struggled to a 72, the rookie star shot a 65 to cruise to a dominating 6 shot lead going into the final day. But the third day would prove to be more difficult than at first seemed likely. Baek was challenged by two superstars who both went ultra low: Hyo Joo Kim and Ha Na Jang, looking for payback from the loss to Baek the previous month. They started the day 7 shots back.

At first, everything went Baek’s way. She pitched in for birdie on the first hole, and was three under at the turn.

Baek drives in round 3

But Jang and Kim would not go away. Kim ran out of holes and wound up at 15 under in third place, but Jang kept making birdies. Baek made a bogey on the 16th thanks to a lipped out par save, dropping the margin to just two strokes. A few holes ahead, Jang was in the process of making birdie on the final hole. Could Baek keep her nerve and not give away the tournament?

Things are looking up for Baek after taking a huge lead at the Lotte Cantata

Indeed she could and did. On the par 3 17th, she saved her week with a brilliant iron shot to a foot for an easy birdie. When she made par on the last hole, she claimed her second career win by two strokes. With the win, she earned a ticket to next year’s Lotte Championship in Hawaii (this event is on the LPGA tour). It will be great to see the rookie star go toe-to-toe with the best players in the world!

Baek is congratulated by her rookie rivals Min Sun Kim (left) and Jin Young Ko (right)

Meanwhile, Baek became the first KLPGA rookie since Jiyai Shin in 2006 to win multiple events in her rookie season. Think about that: Hyo Joo Kim, In Gee Chun and So Yeon Ryu were only able to win once in their rookie years; Ha Neul Kim and Soo Jin Yang didn’t win at all in theirs. And the season is not even half over yet. It will be awesome to see what this superstar rookie does when the Majors start just a few weeks from now!

Baek with her second KLPGA trophy of 2014

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