Posted by: happyfan08 | May 4, 2009

Hee Kyung Seo: the newest stealth superstar

(If you enjoyed this article, you may also like the sequel.  Check it out!https://seoulsisters.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/hee-kyung-seo-stealth-no-more/ ).

A quick quiz for those who follow the KLPGA tour.  Since the start of the 2008 season, which player has won the most tournaments on that tour?  If you said Ji Yai Shin, I would congratulate you for knowing about the world’s #3 golfer and her exploits on the Korean tour.  But alas, you would be wrong.  Since that beginning of last year, Shin has notched 6 wins on the KLPGA tour (her 7th win of the 2008 season came at the end of 2007, although it counted for the 2008 season).

No, the golfer with the most wins lately on that tour is none other than Hee Kyung Seo, who has collected 8 trophies in less than a year.  Her latest triumph came this weekend at the Korea Women’s Open, when she pulled off another amazing comeback (six shots) to take her first Major title.  It was the fifth time she has launched a come from behind attack to win a tournament.  Considering her last day heroics, perhaps she should be considered the ‘Final Round Queen’ as much as Shin is?

Hee Kyung Seo

Hee Kyung Seo

Despite her many achievements, Seo is only now starting to get the kind of attention Shin has long engendered in her homeland.  Part of the problem is that she has heretofore been overshadowed by Shin, whom many consider to be the second coming of Se Ri Pak.  Even last year, when Seo collected six wins, Shin won seven times to maintain her stranglehold on Player of the Year honors on the KLPGA.  And amazingly, out of Seo’s eight wins, only once was Shin in the field.

Still, you cannot avoid the implications of the math.  No Korean golfer other than Shin has won as many events as Seo in the past year, anywhere in the world.  In a little less than a year, she has collected more KLPGA wins than Na Yeon Choi, Seon Hwa Lee or Eun Hee Ji, all top 15 golfers on the LPGA, have in their entire careers.  But only now is the Korean press starting to give her the attention she has perhaps long deserved.  Outside of Korea, of course, she is almost completely unknown, but that, too, may soon change.  For those Western golf writers whose knowledge of women’s golf seldom strays beyond a half dozen names, those same writers who seemed to think Ji Yai Shin emerged from the ether when she won the British Women’s Open last year, consider this article a service and a proper introduction.  You will be hearing the name Hee Kyung Seo before long.  Consider yourself duly warned!

Hee Kyung Seo

Hee Kyung Seo

On the surface, it may seem mystifying.  Seo is friendly, exicting to watch, fashionable and very attractive.  So why has she been the Rodney Dangerfield of women’s golf in Korea?  I think there have been several reasons.  For one, KLPGA stars tend to start making noise at a very young age.  Both Shin and Choi won their first events while still in high school.  Players like So Yeon Ryu and He Yong Choi were already making headlines at 17.  By contrast, Seo entered the professional ranks without much fanfare, and it took her several years to really make any noise at all.  She was a rookie in 2006, and during her first two years on tour, her best finish was third.  Not bad for a young player, but not the kind of results that would get one noticed, especially when Shin was breaking every conceivable record at the same time.

The KLPGA also had a prime candidate at the time for ‘Supermodel of the Fairways’, a golfer who has many of the same physical and personality traits as Seo:  Ha Neul Kim.  And Kim went about things in the more common way.  She joined the tour as a teen, won Rookie of the Year in 2007, and won twice early in 2008 to establish herself as the second best player on tour.  The media jumped on her bandwagon and pushed her while Seo was still struggling to make a splash.

But unknown to many, Seo had improved mightily between the 2007 and 2008 season.  One of her best friends on tour is Shin, and Seo decided to visit her in the off season to see what her training regimen was like.  What she witnessed stunned her.  Whereas Seo was working 5 – 6 hours a day, Shin was working nearly twice that much.  And Shin was spending a good portion of that time focusing on her short game, especially her putting.  Seo left that encounter with a new understanding of what she needed to do to get ahead.

Hee Kyung Seo

Hee Kyung Seo

The hard work paid off in the second half of the 2008 KLPGA season.  At the first event after the summer break, the SBS Open, Seo beat a field that included Shin and US Women’s Open champ Inbee Park to claim her first ever tournament victory.  She later said that the win took all the pressure off of her, and she felt from then on that she could concentrate far better when a tournament was on the line.  She proved that the very next week, when she won the third KB Star Tour event in wire to wire fashion.  The tour next went to China, and her momentum barely flagged as she took the lead in round two of the Binhai Open and cruised to her third straight win.  To put this in context, only three other golfers have ever won three straight on the KLPGA: Shin, Korean legend Se Ri Pak, and Mi Hyun Kim, who has won 8 times on the LPGA tour.  That is some pretty august company to be in!

Hee Kyung Seo with her third straight win on tour

Hee Kyung Seo with her third straight win on tour

The media and the tour were excited that a new ‘supermodel’ had arisen to challenge Ha Neul Kim, and they began to promote a rivalry between the two.  The two golfers were paired with PGA star Anthony Kim and a top KPGA golfer in a Skins Game to benefit charity.  It’s clear the media still favored Kim at this time, as she was paired with Anthony Kim, the bigger male star.  The two Kims won the Skins Game, but Seo got revenge by winning the KLPGA event that week for her fourth victory.

Hee Kyung Seo and Ha Neul Kim at the Anthony Kim Skins Game

Hee Kyung Seo and Ha Neul Kim at the Anthony Kim Skins Game

Seo continued her run with a fifth win at the Saint Four Masters.  This was the first event co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and the KLPGA.  The LET sent their top players, including their biggest star, Gwladys Nocera.  But the Koreans dominated the week.  KLPGA star Sun Ju Ahn led almost the entire week, but Seo blasted off four straight birdies to finish the final round, and caught and passed Ahn for her 5th win.  With the victory, Seo gained membership on the LET tour as well.  She fully intends to use that status to gain entry into the Evian Masters later this year, as well as the British Women’s Open.

Hee Kyung with her fifth trophy of 2008, the Saint Four Masters

Hee Kyung with her fifth trophy of 2008, the Saint Four Masters

Seo has started playing in international events this season.  She notched a top 20 at the LPGA’s SBS Open, and a top ten at the LET’s ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia.  But she missed the cut at the Kraft Nabisco, her first LPGA Major.  But don’t make the mistake of confusing a slow start with a lack of talent.  After all, it took her two and a half years to dominate the KLPGA, but once she got going, she became almost unstoppable.  Could she become the next dominant star from the KLPGA to kick butt on the LPGA tour?  Perhaps, but Seo has said that she is interested in playing on the JLPGA (Japan’s home tour) next season.  It will be interesting to see if she sticks to that, or if she, like Shin before her, changes her mind based on her performance in other LPGA events later this year.

Hee Kyung Seo

Hee Kyung Seo

Regardless of her future plans, Hee Kyung Seo is at last emerging from Shin’s shadow and getting respect in Korea for her own greatness.  Her name is becoming better known; she now is often among the most searched sports celebs on Korean search engines.  And she has clearly established herself as the player to beat the rest of the year on that tour.   Korean golf fans are in for a lot of fun now that the ‘Supermodel of the Fairways/New Final Round Queen’ has kicked her game into top gear!

Hee Kyung is getting the attention she deserves!

Hee Kyung is getting the attention she deserves!

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Responses

  1. Hi Hee Kyung just saying hi and miss you hopefully we can do it again ! Im back working for Reilley next three weeks ! Hope you played well defending your title ! Stay in touch Danny

  2. Hola Seo, ayer pude la oportunidad de verte jugar por vez primera en el ANZ y la verdad es que tu juego es extraordinario. Espero verte pronto en la LPGA, lo mereces. Suerte

  3. […] https://seoulsisters.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/hee-kyung-seo-the-newest-stealth-superstar/  […]

  4. Ms Seo,

    I watched you with delight at La Costa and could not be more impressed! Your final round play and obvious work ethic were inspirational. What is your exercise routine? Best of luck on the LPGA in the future!!

  5. […] the “Supermodel of the Fairways”: a quickly rising star, Hee Kyung Seo has putted her way to fame and fandom for both her gorgeous face and seemingly effortless skill. […]


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