Posted by: happyfan08 | January 11, 2010

2009 Awards (1 of 12): Best Start to Season

It’s time once again for that annual tradition, the Seoul Sisters.com awards!  This year I’m giving them a new name, the Seoulies, but they will be for the most part the same old awards I have always given, celebrating the best (and in a few cases the worst) of the year just past.  Over the next few weeks I will be presenting a bunch of posts that will summarize this year’s honorees.  Let’s get cracking without any more ado!

Best Start to the Season

And the Winner Is: Hee Kyung Seo

Hee Kyung Seo had a fantastic breakout season in 2008, winning six events and finishing second on the money list behind only superstar Jiyai Shin.  With Shin leaving the KLPGA tour in 2009 to focus on the LPGA, Seo had a chance to establish herself as the new big gun on that tour.  And she got right to work, achieving two second place finishes and two wins in her first five starts of the year.

Hee Kyung Seo

The KLPGA season actually started in December, 2008, at the Orient China Ladies Open.  The recently crowned Rookie of the Year, He Yong Choi, took matters into her hands early, establishing a five shot lead after two rounds.  But in round three, Hee Kyung Seo made her move.  At one point she made three straight birdies to close the gap to three shots, but Choi was too tough and held on for the three shot victory.  Nonetheless, Seo had a runner up finish, a pretty good start to her year.

Over the next few months, Seo played in a few international events with mixed results.  She achieved a 20th place finish at the ANZ Ladies Masters in February, and a 15th place at the LPGA’s first event of the year, the SBS Open, where she appeared on a sponsor’s exemption.  But she missed the cut at the Kraft Nabisco, her first LPGA Major, and struggled at the year’s second KLPGA event, which took place immediately after the Nabisco.

But after that, Seo got herself in gear and began playing like the superstar she is.  She won the next event on tour, the Lotte Mart Open, stealing the headlines away from guest player Michelle Wie.  She was in the mix through two rounds, but shot a brilliant 67 in round 3 to vault ahead of several of her greatest rivals to get that win. 

Hee Kyung Seo wins the Lotte Mart Open

The next event on the schedule was one of the biggest all year, the Korean Women’s Open.  Seo had seven career wins to that point, but had never captured a Major before.  This was her first of four chances to change that in 2009, and she did not disappoint.  At first, it looked like this might not be her year.  After two rounds, she was six shots back behind Bo Mi Lee.  But on the front nine in the final round, Seo was on a mission.  She went three under for that nine, closing the gap to three behind Lee.  Lee made an ill timed bogey soon after that, Seo made a birdie, and the gap was now one shot.  It all ended up going down to the final hole.  Seo missed the fairway, but hit her approach to 12 feet, then nailed the clutch birdie putt to eliminate Lee.  When Bo Kyung Kim missed a must make birdie moments later, Seo had her first Major title.

Hee Kyung Seo at the Korean Women's Open

The next event on tour was the KB Star Tour #1.  Sun Ju Ahn, another big star on tour, managed to get a big lead going into the final round.  Seo struggled a bit, but still relentlessly closed the gap the entire round.  But in the end, Ahn was too tough, and Seo had to settle for second.  Still, four top twos in her first five KLPGA events earns her the Seoulie for Best Start of the Year.

Biggest Disappearing Act

And the Winner Is:  Angela Park

What on Earth happened to Angela Park this year?  The 2007 LPGA Rookie of the Year was once feted by no less a commentator than Johnny Miller as having the best swing on the LPGA tour.  Yet 2009 was in many ways a disastrous season for her, so much so that there were actually rumors that she would retire from golf entirely.  As far as is known, she was not having injury issues.  What could have happened to so thoroughly demoralize her?

Angela certainly started the season in fine form.  Her first event was the semi-official LPGA event that took place in Brazil in mid-January.  Being from Brazil, Angela was very excited to participate, and she did well, finishing third.  She followed that with a third place finish at the SBS Open, a tournament she was in contention to win at in 2008 before a two stroke penalty for slow play did her in.  She had another great finish in Singapore with a third place at the HSBC Championship, and a 7th at the JGolf LPGA International in Phoenix.

Angela Park

And then, just like that, everything started to come apart.  She would not make another top 20 for the rest of the season.  Worse than that, she only made four cuts the whole rest of the year out of 13 starts.  Remember, this is a player who did not miss a cut in her rookie year, and was known for her consistency her first two years on tour.  What happened?

There isn’t a lot to go on, but we do have a few stories from the road.  One observer saw her play at the Navistar Classic late in the year.  She actually had a pretty good opening round, shooting a 69 that put her in contention.  But in the second round, she got off to a terrible start, going nine over on the first nine holes before finally giving up in frustration and dropping out of the tournament.  It seemed that she could not keep her drives anywhere near the fairway.  Could it be that she tried to tinker with that great swing to perhaps gain more distance, and in the process ruined it?

Angela Park in trouble

Whatever happened, here’s hoping a few months of winter training will allow her to correct what is wrong and get her back to her top form again.

Other nominees:

Seon Hwa Lee

It wasn’t a terrible year for Seon Hwa Lee, but it was by far the worst of her four year LPGA career.  In her previous three seasons she had had at least one win per year.  2008 had been her best year yet, with two victories and a 5th place finish on the money list.  But this year she came nowhere close to winning, with only 5 top ten finishes and a best result of third place.  Not exactly a disaster, but for the consistent Lee a curious anomaly.

Veteran Koreans

2009 was the best year in terms of wins for the Korean golfers in history.  They managed 11 total victories (12 if you include Korean American Michelle Wie).  But not a single one of those wins came from a golfer over the age of 25.  What has happened to the veteran Koreans?

In fact, a Korean over the age of 25 has not won on the LPGA since 2007, when Se Ri Pak won the Jamie Far Owens Corning Classic that July.  This year, the veterans had their chances to break that streak, but were not able to do it.

Some of the trouble comes down to injuries.  Grace Park has struggled with back problems her entire career, but they have been so bad the last few years that she has not even had a top ten finish since 2005.  Jeong Jang finally had her balky wrist repaired, but she missed a large part of the season and was not at her best when she returned.  Pregnancy has also played a part.  Mi Hyun Kim had her first child this year and missed much of the year, while Hee-Won Han is still trying to return to form following the birth of her son Dale more than a year ago.  The other veterans who have won on tour, such as Jimin Kang, Soo-Yun Kang and Young Kim, were never that consistent to begin with, so it’s not too surprising they haven’t won again.

Grace Park

Then there is the curious case of Se Ri Pak.  She seems to be playing pretty well, but for whatever reason, she is not able to put everything together to get back into the winner’s circle.  Putting seems to be the main culprit.  A few years ago, she was suffering from serious driving accuracy issues, to the point where she was having trouble hitting even 60% of her fairways.  This year, she hit nearly 70% of her fairways, so clearly she has addressed that problem.  But the wins still haven’t come.

Se Ri Pak

The good news is, the veterans did come close a few times.  Hee-Won Han had several great performances this year, including her best ever finish at a Major (a tie for third at the British Women’s Open).  JJ and Kimmie will doubtless soon be back to form, and Se Ri came within a clutch birdie putt by In Kyung Kim of winning this year’s State Farm Classic.  Both Han and Pak finished in the top 30 on the money list as well.  Then there was Soo Yun Kang, who looked like she had the Corning Classic in the palm of her hand before missing a short putt on the final hole to give it all away.  So, there are veterans who are putting themselves in position, they just need to give themselves a few more chances to end this peculiar streak.

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Responses

  1. I don’t know, I think Jee Young Lee had a much more disappointing 2009 than Seon Hwa did. The thing about SH’s ’09 is that her key performance stats didn’t drop off that much from her previous 3 seasons. But Jee Young really did play much worse than usual for the middle half of the season. In my year-end rankings, Jelly dropped from #18 in 2008 to #33 in 2009, while the Stone Buddha fell from #8 to #23….

  2. Yeah, I can see your point about Seon Hwa. You’ll note that I had her as a nominee, not the winner of that award. It seemed to me that last year was not only her best year as a pro, but also seem to portend greatness to come, so for her to have her worst LPGA season immediately after that seemed like a big comedown to me. I’d have to check Jee Young’s numbers, but it seemed to me like she was already slipping in 2008, and 2009 just continued that process. Again, I may be misremembering that, but that was my impression.


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