Posted by: happyfan08 | January 18, 2009

2008 Awards: Best Breakthrough

Hee Kyung Seo, 6 wins on KLPGA


Coming into the 2008 season, Hee Kyung Seo was a promising young player who had occasionally notched a top ten here and there.  But in 2008, she broke through so convincingly that, were it not for Ji Yai Shin, she would be considered the hands down best golfer on tour.  Her secret?  She is good friends with Shin, and in the off season hung out with her friend while she practiced.  It was then that she discovered just how hard Shin works on her short game.  Seo decided that the way to become better was to put just that much effort into her own short game development.  Apparently, it worked, perhaps better than she ever expected it would!


Hee Kyung’s brilliance started when the KLPGA season resumed after a few months off in late August.  The event was the SBS Open, and several LPGA stars were on hand, joining all the top KLPGA golfers in the field.  In the end, though, the winner was Hee Kyung Seo, who shot back to back 68s to start the week, then held on to a one shot win with a 72 in round three.  Seo’s win was a bit of a surprise, especially considering how many good golfers were in the field, and the fact that she had not finished better than 4th earlier in the season.  But it wasn’t so unusual that a solid golfer like her would get a win on tour.


Hee Kyung Seo wins the KLPGA's SBS Open

Hee Kyung Seo wins the KLPGA's SBS Open





It’s what happened next that was truly shocking.  Hee Kyung continued her hot hand at the third KB Star tour event the following week.  In fact, she led the tournament start to finish, and just like that collected her second ever win.  In so doing, she topped Ha Neul Kim, who had been the second best golfer on tour to that point in 2008.  In the previous 6 rounds played on the KLPGA tour, Hee Kyung Seo had been the leader after each one of them.


The following week, the KLPGA moved to China, where they contested the Binhai Open, a tournament jointly sponsored by the Ladies Asian Tour and the KLPGA.  Could Seo become one of the few golfers in KLPGA history to win three weeks in a row?  Ji Yai Shin had achieved that very feat in 2007, but Shin was not at the Binhai Open this year.  In fact, the field was the weakest of the three Seo had faced during this stretch.  But she had far more pressure on her than she had the first two weeks.


After the first round, Seo was only a shot out of the lead, the first time she had not been in the lead after a round in three tournaments.  But she righted that ship immediately in round two.  She produced a 6 under par 66, 6 birdies, no bogies, and just like that zoomed into the lead.  When you are hot, you’re hot, but this was downright nuclear!  In round three, any thought that Seo might choke quickly evaporated.  She made three birdies right away, moved out to a huge lead, and cruised in despite a couple of bogies late.  Her final score of nine under par gave her a five shot win, and she joined the select few who had ever won three events in a row on tour.


 Could Seo do what even Shin couldn’t and win 4 straight events?  The next week, the two collided at the SK Energy Invitational.  Shin had been in Japan playing the JLPGA the two previous events, and the big question was if she could be the one to stop Seo at last.  But it turned out that the weather was a big factor this week as well.  In the second round, rain and lightning caused numerous delays to the action.  Ji Yai Shin moved into the lead ahead of Ha Neul Kim, and Seo was way back.  But then, the deluge hit, and the conditions got so bad that the officials decided to cancel the round entirely, throwing out all the results from the day.  What a huge break for Seo and her quest!  Interestingly, Shin had had the same thing happen to her when she was trying to win her fourth straight event the previous year! 


The next day, Shin climbed back into the lead, but uncharacteristically made a late bogey, and Ha Neul Kim claimed her third win of the year.  Seo finished tied for fourth, certainly a great result, even though her streak was over.


Hee Kyung was not done with winning in 2008, however.  A few weeks later, she captured her fourth win of the year at the Interburgos Masters.  Shin was once again not in the field, meaning that Seo had captured three of her four wins without Shin present.  One interesting aspect of the event was that it had a par 6 hole, the only event on tour that had one.  Seo had by now become such a star on tour that she and Ha Neul Kim were featured in a special charity Skins Game before the event with the PGA star Anthony Kim and a KPGA star.  The two Kims teamed together to top Seo and her partner in the Skins Game, but Seo gained revenge by beating Kim by three in the actual tournament.


Hee Kyung Seo wins another event, this time the Interburgos Masters

Hee Kyung Seo wins another event, this time the Interburgos Masters

Hee Kyung had another top three finish at the S-OIL before she finished the year in style with two more wins (once again, Shin was not in either field!).  The first win came at the St. Four Ladies Masters.  This tournament marked the first ever joint sponsored event between the Ladies European Tour and the KLPGA.  It took place on Cheju Island, and the KLPGA stars dominated the proceedings, capturing all the top ten spots for the week (the top LET player was Veronica Zorzi, tied for 15th).  Sun Ju Ahn, meanwhile, led the event virtually the entire way, but Seo finished with four straight birdies to come from behind and grab the trophy at the last moment.  She became one of only three golfers in history to ever win five times in a single season on the KLPGA tour.


The final event of the year, the ADT-CAPS Championship, came next, and once again, it was Seo who claimed the crown.  Shin was again out of the country, winning a million dollars that week at the ADT Championship on the LPGA tour.  For the first two rounds, the event looked like it would be won by a rookie.  Seo was well back and seemingly out of it.  But not so fast, for Hee Kyung was brilliant in the final round!  She was four under on the front nine, made three more birdies from holes 10-12, and added another at the 15th hole.  Her 8 under par 64 allowed her to vault into the lead, the only player under par when she finished her day.  As the event progressed and she waited, no one was able to catch her, and she wound up winning her 6th and final event of the 2008 season.  The only other player who had ever won so often in a year was Ji Yai Shin.  Seo won over 600 million won in 2008, again only matched in history by Shin.  And perhaps most amazingly, she won 6 of the final 12 events of the season.


The evidence certainly seems great that, when Shin is not in the field, Seo goes to town.  How will she play next season, when Shin is no longer on the KLPGA at all?  It seems likely that the rest of the league will be chasing Hee Kyung Seo!


Honorable Mention:

Inbee Park, US Women’s Open

Inbee had a very solid 2007, easily maintaining exempt status for 2008.  Still, she had not been able to win an event until she played in the US Women’s Open in Minnesota this year.  Even going into the third round, most of the focus was on the leaders, two young Americans named Paula Creamer and Stacy Lewis.  But it was Inbee, with uncanny consistency particularly on the back nine, who cruised to a four shot win.  The victory in the biggest event in women’s golf instantly made her a star back in Korea.  Shortly after the win, she returned home to a hero’s welcome and a brand new sponsorship.


Great Performance that Came Up Short

He Yong Choi shoots 64 in the final round of the KB Star Tour #4

Going into the final round of the final Major on the KLPGA tour this season, Ji Yai Shin had the lead, and no one who had won on tour was within four shots of her.  But then rookie star He Yong Choi (also spelled Hye Yong) got started, and suddenly, the outcome of the event was in doubt.  Choi started the day nine shots behind Shin, but produced a scintillating 8 birdie, no bogey 64 to catch her.  She ended up forcing a playoff with the superstar, but lost in the second playoff hole.  Still, her performance was amazing in a number of ways.  First of all, it was the lowest score ever shot on the KLPGA tour by a rookie, breaking a record once held by Hee Young Park.  Secondly, no other player on that day was able to shoot better than 69; even Shin was over par.  She might not have won the Major, but she does have some consolation: with this finish, she moved permanently ahead of So Yeon Ryu in the Rookie of the Year race.


Honorable Mentions:

Jane Park shoots 62, P & G Beauty

Jane’s final round 62 at the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship put her into the lead, and she remained in contention for the title until Seon Hwa Lee, the eventual winner, eliminated her with a birdie on the final hole.


Hee-Won Han flirts with 59, round 3, State Farm

Hee-Won Han gave everyone a kick in the pants with one of the best rounds of the year.  With three holes to go, she was 11 under par for the day, dialed in, and 59 was in her sights.  On her third to last hole, however, she missed a four foot birdie putt, and stalled finally at 61.  It was oh so close, though, and her play vaulted her into the final group on Sunday.



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