Posted by: happyfan08 | January 22, 2009

2008 Awards: Most Improved Player

Hee Kyung Seo
Of all the awards this year, this one was probably the toughest to decide. It really came down to two golfers, Song Hee Kim and Hee Kyung Seo, both of whom had amazing improvements in 2008 over their 2007 performances. Song Hee Kim was an exempt golfer in 2007, but was not even able to keep her exempt status on tour for 2008. Despite coming into the league off one of the greatest Futures Tour seasons in history, she was not able to make so much as a single top twenty on the LPGA tour in 2007. In 2008, she came in as a non-exempt golfer who would not even be able to get into every field. Her response was to have a fantastic 2008 season. She earned nearly a million dollars, finished in the top 15 on the money list, and notched seven top tens during the year. She was not able to win an event, but she came close a few times, notably at the Samsung World Championship, where she finished second, and was in the running for the title until the final hole. She also had a second at the Corona Championship and a third at the Ginn Tribute.

No doubt, Song Hee had a great season, and the difference between her 2007 and 2008 season was like night and day. But there was one Korean golfer who had an even more impressive improvement between 2007 and 2008, and that was Hee Kyung Seo. It’s true that Seo was a far better golfer, relatively speaking, in 2007 on the KLPGA tour than Song Hee was on the LPGA, but it’s also true that Seo had a historically great season on the KLPGA in 2008. She went from a golfer who never had won on tour to a six time winner in 2008, collecting a membership in the Ladies European Tour on the way. It is true that five of those six wins came when Ji Yai Shin, the tour’s greatest player, was not in the field, and it’s also true that winning on the KLPGA is not as impressive as winning on the LPGA. But her KLPGA win total was greater than any ever accumulated in a single season by any player other than Shin. Perhaps even more amazingly, she had all six of those wins in the second half of the season, winning six of the 12 events she played during that stretch. And the KLPGA had more truly gifted golfers contending for titles this year than perhaps at any other time in its history. Seo may not have had to deal with Shin too often, but Ha Neul Kim, Ran Hong, the two rookie stars So Yeon Ryu and He Yong Choi, and perennial star Sun Ju Ahn were usually there week in and week out. And she won at least three events where she had to deal with more than the usual KLPGA opponents. At the Saint Four Masters, the first event co-sanctioned by the KLPGA and the Ladies European Tour, Seo had to not only overcome Sun Ju Ahn, who led that event almost the entire week, but also the top stars of the LET, including Amy Yang, Veronica Zorzi, and five time 2008 winner Gwladys Nocera. At the Binhai Open, she had to go head to head with the best golfers from the Asian tour, including several Chinese and Thai stars. And at the SBS Ladies Open, her first win in 2008, she not only had to deal with Ji Yai Shin but also a plethora of LPGA guest stars, including In-Kyung Kim, Inbee Park and Eun Hee Ji, all of whom won LPGA events in 2008.

Hee Kyung Seo after winning the ADT CAPS Championship in November

Hee Kyung Seo after winning the ADT CAPS Championship in November

Seo credits her amazing climb to being good friends with Ji Yai Shin. In the off season, Seo had a firsthand look at the way Shin trains for golf. She was astounded at how much effort Shin put into her putting and short game, so Seo decided to similarly focus on that aspect of her game. Needless to say, it paid massive dividends, and Seo improved in just one season from a promising young player to one of the most impressive golfers on the tour in years. Time will tell whether she can maintain her momentum, particularly with Shin no longer on tour, but we believe, by a nose, she has earned the title of 2008’s Most Improved Player.

Honorable Mentions:
Song Hee Kim

As mentioned above, Kim’s 2007 season saw her lose her exempt status and not even manage a single top 20 finish all year. In 2008, she finished 14th on the money list, earned nearly a million bucks, came close to winning on tour several times, and in general re-established herself as one of the top young Koreans in the world. Her turn around was one of the most startling and impressive in recent years.

Song Hee Kim at the US Women's Open

Song Hee Kim at the US Women's Open

Ji Young Oh
Ji Young Oh had a decent rookie season in 2007; she earned nearly $150,000 and notched a top ten to easily maintain her exempt tour card, finishing 72nd on the money list. But she took a quantum leap forward in 2008. Last year, she earned over $680,000, more than four times her 2007 earnings, collected 4 top tens, and finished 26th on the money list. She led the MasterCard Classic after two rounds and looked poised to get her first win, but collapsed in the final round and finished tied for 8th. But she continued to play decently after that, making most of her cuts and notching a few top 20s besides. Eventually, she got herself once again into a position to win. This time the tournament was the State Farm Classic. This was the event where Michelle Wie famously forgot to sign her scorecard and was disqualified. Yani Tseng was in the lead by herself as a result, and looked poised for her second win of the year. But she played terribly in the final round, allowing Oh to sneak in and grab her first title. By the end of the season, Ji Young Oh had established herself as one of the top up and coming Korean golfers on tour.

Sun Young Yoo
Perhaps no one had more of a stealth improvement on tour in 2008 than Sun Young Yoo. Yoo finished 75th on the money list in 2007. In 2008, however, she finished 25th on the money list, by far her best season to date. She notched 6 top tens and was in contention to win a couple of times during the season. Her best finish was a tie for third at the Corning Classic, but she was also a factor at the Kapalua Classic and the Canadian Women’s Open. As one of the longer drivers on tour, and still a very young player, Sun Young Yoo seems to be exactly where she wants to be at this stage in her career.

Sun Young Yoo at the Ginn Tribute

Sun Young Yoo at the Ginn Tribute

Inbee Park
Inbee Park had a very good rookie year on tour in 2007, finishing 37th on the money list and notching a top five at the US Women’s Open among her many accomplishments. But she really took her game up several notches in 2008. By far her greatest achievement was winning the US Women’s Open in 2008, becoming the youngest woman in history to take that title. But she had six other top tens besides that one, and collected more than $1.1 million in earnings during the season, a huge increase over 2007.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: