Posted by: happyfan08 | January 22, 2009

2008 Awards: Player of the Year

Ji Yai Shin
Last year, I chose Ji Yai Shin as the Player of the Year for 2007. It was a tough choice, as it was the first time I had ever chosen a golfer who was not a member of the LPGA tour for that honor. Shin’s accomplishments last year were so over the top great, however, that there could be in the end no other choice.

In 2008, Shin was even more amazing than in 2007, and there is simply no doubt that she is the most deserving player to be awarded the Player of the Year. She played a lot more often on tours other than the KLPGA while still dominating that tour as she had in the past. Her results throughout the year were once again jaw dropping, and if there might have been a few who doubted she was the second coming of Se Ri Pak at the start of the year, she had by year’s end made a lot more of them believers.

 

Ji Yai Shin

Ji Yai Shin

 

Her record on the KLPGA in 2008 was as impressive as ever. She only played 15 events, the least of any of the players in the top ten, yet still easily led the money list for a third straight year. Her total of 765 million won became the new all time record for most money earned in a single season. She started the season with a win, and won her final three events of the year as well. She swept the three Majors on tour, the first time anyone had ever done that, winning two of the Majors in playoffs against top players on tour. She only missed the top ten once all year, and had top fives in all but three tournaments.

She had some amazing highlights on the KLPGA in 2008. Perhaps the most memorable: 

  • She hunted down rookie star So Yeon Ryu in the final round of the Korean Women’s Open, catching her by the end of the round, then besting her in a playoff. 
  • She held off the amazing He Yong Choi in the final round of the year’s final Major. Choi shot the lowest score for a rookie in history while Shin was struggling, but Shin still managed to do well enough to force a playoff, then beat Choi and Sun Ju Ahn in that playoff to sweep the Majors.
  • Shin made a hole in one on the 16th hole of the Hite Cup to win a BMW. She would go on to beat a star studded field, including former KLPGA #1 players Soo Yun Kang and Se Ri Pak, for the title.
  • She outlasted arch rival Sun Ju Ahn for the win at the year’s second Major, the Shinsegae KLPGA Championship.
  • She also won another event in China, the first event on the KLPGA schedule, the China Ladies Open

In all, Shin notched seven wins on the KLPGA in 2008, down somewhat from the 9 she in 2007, but still a winning percentage of nearly 50%. That kind of success rate is almost unheard of in golf. No wonder Sports Illustrated picked her as the most dominant golfer in the game in 2008 (their number two choice? Tiger Woods).

In 2008, Ji Yai Shin played more international events than ever before, and had more success in those events. She started her year representing Korea, along with her pal Eun Hee Ji, at the Women’s World Cup in South Africa. They did fantastically, shooting a 61 in round one to take a big lead, and continuing to dominate through most of round two. Only a strategic mistake late in their second round prevented them from finishing the round in the lead. The Philippines played some inspired golf to prevent Ji Yai and Eun Hee from taking the title, but their second place finish marked a new best finish for Korea in the event.

Ji Yai Shin after winning the British Women's Open

Ji Yai Shin after winning the British Women's Open

Ji Yai also played two events in Australia. She probably should have won the Australian Ladies Open, where she finished the final round in the lead and looked like a lock to win. But Karrie Webb, who had won the event multiple times in the past, made two late birdies to catch her, then beat her in a playoff. Shin would have to wait a little longer for her first win outside of Asia. Shin also collected a second top ten at the ANZ Ladies Masters a week later.

Ji Yai played five events on the JLPGA tour (one of which was co-sponsored by the LPGA). In those four exclusive JLPGA events, she managed a win and several more second place finishes. She beat JLPGA star Sakura Yokomine in a four hole playoff to take her first ever JLPGA event, thus gaining membership on that tour. That allowed her to play several more tournaments over there, including several Majors. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for her was that she didn’t win the second JLPGA event she played, the Salonpas Cup, one of the JLPGA’s Majors. She got into a playoff for that title, but Japanese veteran Akiko Fukushima scrambled for par after par and eventually beat the seemingly unstoppable Shin on their fifth playoff hole.

Ji Yai was strongly considering playing the 2009 season in Japan, but her incredible success on the LPGA tour changed those plans in a hurry. She had contended several times in LPGA events in 2007, but 2008 was the first year where she actually won on that tour. In her first five LPGA events of 2008, she played well, but had not really had a good chance to collect a win. But in the second five events, it was a different story.

The first of these events was the Ricoh Women’s British Open. After three rounds, Shin found herself just a shot behind Japanese tour superstar Yuri Fudoh. But in that final round, Shin hardly played like a 20 year old golfer who had never won a Major before. She went into her full on blitz mode, and played a virtually flawless 6 under par 66 to wipe out the field by three shots. Just like that, Ji Yai Shin became a Major winner. Not only was she now one of the youngest Major winners in history (even younger than Se Ri was when she won her first Major), she also became the first player in more than 20 years to win an LPGA Major without being a member of the tour. It was also her first ever victory outside of Asia, and it made her a member of both the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA. She now had membership in every major women’s golf tour in the world.

Despite her great success at this event, she still wasn’t entirely sure if she wanted to play the LPGA tour in 2009. She returned to Korea for a while. Her next LPGA appearance came at the Samsung World Championship, which she had qualified for thanks to the British Open win. She did well there, too. After the first round, in fact, she had the lead, and would go on to notch a top ten. She next played the Kolon Hana Bank Championship, the LPGA’s lone Korean stop, but didn’t do so well there. She had much more success at the next LPGA event she played, the Mizuno Classic. The lone Japanese stop on the LPGA tour, no Korean had won this event in the past decade. But Ji Yai easily put an end to that. By the second round, she had the tournament under control, and cruised to a six shot victory for her second career LPGA win.

That left just one more LPGA tournament appearance for Shin in 2008: the ADT Championship. This event boasts the largest prize in women’s golf: a million dollar first prize. It is also played on one of the tougher courses the tour plays all year. The event is played in three parts, with half the field getting eliminated after each part. Shin managed to make it through to the final day, and played fantastically on that day. With the huge money on the line and Hall of Famer Karrie Webb pressing her, Shin made almost every clutch shot she needed to. After two putting the 18th hole for par, the million was hers. If you consider this event, as many do, to be almost a fifth Major on tour, then Shin managed to win two of the five most important events on the LPGA tour in 2008. She won 3 of the 10 events she played, 30%, and became the first player in the 50+ year history of the LPGA to win three events before joining the tour. She also earned enough money that, if her money had been official, she would have been third on the money list for the year. In fact, if you added all the money she made in tournaments all over the world in 2008, she would have made more money than any female golfer, including Lorena Ochoa.

Ji Yai Shin with her million dollars at the ADT Championship

Ji Yai Shin with her million dollars at the ADT Championship

All in all, Shin had 11 wins in 2008, to follow up on the 10 wins she had in 2007. By winning three times on the LPGA tour in 2008, she became only the second Korean, after Se Ri Pak, to win more than twice in a single season on that tour. Mi Hyun Kim never did it; Grace Park never did it; neither did Hee-Won Han. But Shin did it, and she did it while playing less than half a regular season.

And she will only be a rookie officially on the LPGA starting in 2009. For all her amazing success, Ji Yai Shin is our Player of the Year for the second straight year. And if she continues to play like she has been playing, she looks good to do it again next year!

Honorable Mentions:
Seon Hwa Lee

Another great year for Seon Hwa Lee, who has consistently been one of the very strongest Korean golfers on the LPGA tour. She won twice in 2008, bringing her career total number of wins to 4, and earned over a million bucks while once again finishing in the top ten on the money list.

Vicky Hurst
For all her record smashing achievements on the Duramed Futures Tour, Vickie Hurst was one of the best players on any tour in 2008.

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Responses

  1. Welcome to the club!

  2. Fantastic post HappyFan. Ji Yai really is a phenomenon. I have 2 questions for you:
    1. the English KLPGA site seemed to stop updating the results halfway through the year – could you do a rundown of her event by event results on the KLPGA tour? We know the wins, but it would be good to see just how consistently amazing her results were.
    2. What is your view on the correct English transliteration of her name? The LPGA seems to have settled on Jiyai.

    Oh, and she actually played 6 JLPGA events including the Mizuno – after the ADT she went back to play the Ricoh Cup (their last major), but was jetlagged and exhausted and finished alone in 16th (still pretty good in a very strong field). I think she only really played because she had the chance to win majors on all 4 main tours.

    Keep up the fab work.

  3. Psyched for the ANZ? Do you know the story of why the KLPGA gets 18 spots in the field?

  4. Hi folks,

    Thanks for the comments. I’m still trying to get the hang of this, so I didn’t realize I had to approve your comments. Sorry about that! I’ll try to figure out how to turn that off…

    I will put up a complete rundown on Jiyai’s last season on the KLPGA in time for next week’s first LPGA event. The best way to transliterate her name into English would probably be ‘Ji Ae’ (as in the final two letters of LP-G-A), but Koreans do sometimes westernize their names in wacky ways. (Skater Kim Yu Na, for instance, should be Yeon-Ah; Yu Na is also a Korean name that is spelled differently. It’s like calling Tim ‘Tom’).

    Why 18 KLPGA spots in the ANZ? Why not? 🙂

  5. Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  6. Looks like Ji Yai is working on making it a three-peat on SS.com’s POY with this week’s HSBC win. But did I read that correctly? Did you refer to Sun Ju Ahn as Shin’s “arch rival”…don’t you have to be in the same golf universe to be considered an arch rival? Ji Yai is in a dimension inhabited by only the elite of the elite. 🙂

  7. Bobby – it’s true! I suspect that in years to come Jiyai will have no rivals. Constructivist – I think you predicted that she’d finish third on the money list. Is that because you think she’ll spend a lot of time playing in the Far East? Personally, I think she will be in a very tight finish with LO as long as she plays at least 25 events. And as for ROY – well, MW can forget it as far as I am concerned.


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