Posted by: happyfan08 | January 22, 2010

2009 Awards (10 of 12): Weirdest Moment

Weirdest Moment

And the Winner Is: Ji Hee Lee injured during victory celebration at Kyoraku Cup. 

We’ve all seen this tradition many times: a team wins the big game, and they get together to toss the captain/coach/MVP in the air to celebrate.  Must happen a few dozen times every day all over the world.  But how often have you seen that little celebration go wrong?

Ji Hee Lee is tossed by her team at the end of the Kyoraku Cup

Ji Hee Lee was the Captain of the victorious Korean squad at this year’s Kyoraku Cup.  After Korea won, her team grabbed her and tossed her in the air in that typical ceremonial way.  But unfortunately, they did not catch her in the prescribed manner, and she fell to the ground and injured herself. 

At first, everything seemed fine.  But during a team photo, she suddenly became dizzy, and it suddenly became apparent that all was not well. 

Ji Hee Lee felt ill during this team photo

She was taken to the hospital for tests, and there was some worry that she would have serious injuries that might even affect her career.  But fortunately, as of this writing, it seems like she will be fine.  Next time Korea wins the Cup, I hope they decide to soak the captain in champagne instead!

Other Nominees:

Amy Yang fire at Evian.  

See ‘Happiest News’ for details.

Best Hot Streak

And the Winner Is: So Yeon Ryu wins three straight on the KLPGA tour

So Yeon Ryu in June

2009 was a fantastic breakout season for teenage star So Yeon Ryu.  Without any question, the highlight of that year came when she strung together three straight wins on the Korean LPGA tour, and looked to become one of the few players in history to win four straight.  Though she fell short in that attempt, she still became one of less than half a dozen in history to accomplish three straight wins.

Her great play actually started at the Doosan Match Play Championship, where she secured her second career win by beating her arch-rival He Yong Choi in a fast-becoming-legendary 7 hour match.  But that took so much out of her that her next week was a bit less impressive, and she only finished third, four shots behind the winner.  However, Ryu got her second wind at the very next event after that, where she started her streak.

That event was the Woori Securities Ladies Championship, contested in early June.  Ryu managed to get a share of the lead after two rounds, but the co-leader, Aram Cho, was not able to do much right on day three.  After just four holes, Ryu had a three shot lead, and she went on to an easy 4 shot win.

So Yeon wins at the Woori

Two weeks later came the next event on tour, the S-OIL Championship.  Interestingly, the leader after two rounds was Ryu’s old nemesis Choi.  On Sunday, Choi was not playing well, but despite that still had the lead going into the back nine.  Ryu seemed to be an afterthought, as she had started that day eight shots behind Choi.  But by the time she reached the turn, that lead had been reduced to three.  Then she really turned on the gas, making a birdie on 11 and three more starting at hole 13.  She got to 7 under total, taking the lead away from Choi for the first time all week.  Ryu finished about an hour before Choi, then had to wait to see if her rival could catch her.  But Choi couldn’t, and thanks to a final round 65, Ryu had her third win in four starts and second straight.

Ryu's second straight win at the S-OIL

At that point, the KLPGA ceased for two months to take its summer vacation.  The next event would not take place until mid-August, but Ryu picked up right where she left off.  The event was the High One Resort Cup SBS Charity Women’s Open.  The field was packed with LPGA stars, so Ryu would have her hands full if she were going to win her third straight.  After two rounds, a bunch of top stars were within a shot or two of the lead, including Ryu and her top rival for KLPGA Player of the Year, Hee Kyung Seo.  As the tournament wound down, however, the two players with the best chance to win became Ryu and longtime veteran Il Mi Chung.  Ryu bogied the 16th, but made a clutch birdie to finish the week at 10 under.  Chung needed to play well to take the trophy, but a bogey on the 17th hole knocked her out of her share of the lead, and Ryu had her third straight victory.

So Yeon won her third straight despite an injured finger

So Yeon finally ran out of gas in her next event, the Nefs Masterpiece.  She did finish 14th, but 12 shots out of the lead.  But her three straight wins was an incredible achievement nonetheless, and announced her as the newest superstar in the Korean golf world.

Other Nominees:

Hee Kyung Seo wins back to back Majors

Hee Kyung Seo was the leading candidate for Player of the Year early in the season, but after So Yeon Ryu won four of five events, Seo found herself playing catch up to the 19 year old star.  Seo managed to reassert control by winning two straight Majors late in the season, the Hite Cup and the KB Star Tour Grand Finale.  We’ll be talking more about Hee Kyung’s season a little later!!

It’s About Time Award

And the Winner Is: Commissioner Bivens given the boot

This column is not the place to rehash the entire sad history of what the Carolyn Bivens reign of error did to the LPGA tour.  But it is important to note that the tour has lost a bunch of tournaments in the past couple of years, has found itself with less media attention than ever, and for the first time I can remember, has even generated talk that it might cease to exist entirely.  It is certainly true that some of these problems were beyond Bivens’ control.  For instance, there is no way she could have predicted the huge economic downturn of late 2008, and no doubt that downturn would have killed at least a few events no matter who was in charge.  But Bivens seemed to make everything worse, sometimes disastrously so.  Things were heading south so quickly by the summer that the players did something unprecedented: they banded together and demanded Bivens be tossed out.  Thankfully as far as the tour is concerned, the powers that be listened, and Bivens was gone soon thereafter.

There are a bunch of reasons to be happy that new people are in charge.  Among her many mistakes were: her tendency to favor the flashy sponsor with big bucks over the longtime sponsors that had supported the tour for years.  Remember when she gave the prime spot on the schedule long held by the ShopRite Classic to newcomer Bobby Ginn, who was trying to start a second tournament called the Ginn Tribute?  ShopRite ended up not sponsoring an event, and Ginn’s two events ended a couple of years later when he went bankrupt following the real estate bust.   Bivens also had this grand idea to nab the LPGA a long term television contract, and lined up all the tour’s events to be up for renegotiation at the same time to accommodate this.  Bad move: when the economy tanked, a lot of tournaments suddenly found it harder to make ends meet.  Bivens refused to budge, even in the face of this, continuing to play hard ball by demanding the same purse levels she had expected before the downturn.  As a result, long time tournaments like the Corning Classic disappeared.

Why was Bivens so sure she could get that kind of money for the LPGA in the first place?  The rumor I’ve heard is that she was banking on Michelle Wie, who was set to join the tour full time, as the enticement for sponsors to pay up.  Betting your future on the mercurial Wie, whose lack of enthusiasm for women’s golf has been long established (she once said she would get ‘bored’ if she only played women’s golf all her life) is another sign that Bivens was not on the ball.

For fans of the Korean golfers, of course, Bivens’ worst mistake came last year.  Like so many before her, she decided that the influx of Korean golfers, especially those who were not fluent in English, was a dire threat to the league, so she prepared to implement a new policy requiring all golfers to be reasonably proficient in English a set time after they joined the tour.  Those failing to pass some sort of test to that effect risked losing their playing privileges on tour.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out that this rule was not aimed at the Swedes.  As usual with Bivens, when the controversy erupted, she first made one of her lieutenants answer all the questions (an employee who has since been fired due to the financial situation Bivens helped create).  Then, when she finally started fielding media queries, she defiantly defended the rule, despite umpteen objections.  When several civil rights groups threatened to protest, however, she finally caved in and abandoned it.  To my knowledge, she never apologized for the flap.  With a supreme sense of karmic justice, I can report that the week Bivens was given the axe, the player who won was none other than Eun Hee Ji, a Korean, who gave her entire press conference in Korean.  Interestingly, Ji was reportedly also the winner the week Bivens finally decided to implement the English only policy.  Ironic indeed.

Eun Hee Ji lets the Korean flag fly at the US Women's Open

In any event, I believe the players acted in the nick of time.  Almost immediately after Bivens’ departure, several tournaments returned from the near dead and reupped with the LPGA.  True, some of them did it with greatly decreased purses, but that is certainly better than if they died entirely, yes?  Among the tournaments that will return in 2010 is the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, the event Se Ri Pak has won five times, and which has also been won by Koreans Mi Hyun Kim and Eunjung Yi (the defending champion).  The tour also added an event in San Diego and saw the return of tournaments sponsored by ShopRite (remember them?  The sponsor that Bivens tossed aside for the Ginn event?) and HSBC.  Yes, other events have disappeared, notably the Samsung Championship and the event in Phoenix (Phoenix was on life support the past few years, but Samsung was a bit of a shock).  But all in all, the Bivens ouster was a very positive move for the tour.

Other Nominees: In Kyung Kim named Evian Ambassador

Every year, Evian, sponsor of one of the top events on tour, announces a player to be the ambassador for the tournament for the next year.  Usually, the winner is a causasian lady, but they have been known to give the title to a Korean or two (both Mi Hyun Kim and Grace Park have been given this honor, if I’m not mistaken). 

This year, the Evian Ambassador for 2010 was In Kyung Kim.  Choosing her was significant, for it was the first time one of the Se Ri Kids, that group of young Koreans who have invaded the LPGA in the past three years, has been named to a post like this.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the press Kim got from this inspired the sponsors of the Dubai Ladies Masters, another event on the LET, to award her a sponsor’s exemption to that event this past December.  And she made it pay, too: she won it for her first victory on that tour!

In Kyung Kim in November

Na Yeon wins Kolon, first Korean win in three years;

Na Yeon Choi has been the most consistent Korean, and possibly most consistent player, on the LPGA the past few years, but a victory had eluded her.  No more!  Her win in Korea at the Kolon Hana Bank Championship was her second in as many months.  But it also was the first time since 2006 that a Korean golfer took that prize.  Two years ago, Suzann Pettersen became the first non-Korean to win the event when the third round was canceled due to high winds.  Last year, the winner was Taiwanese player Candie Kung.

Korea takes Kyoraku Cup, first Korean win in four years.

It’s amazing to think that Korea, the team that dominated the Kyoraku Cup early in this decade, had not won the thing in several years.  OK, there was a draw and a sudden death playoff in there, and the event was canceled entirely due to weather last year.  But still, with their depth of talent, and the fact that the Japanese were rarely sending all their top players, Korea should have won at least once or twice in that span.  They made up for that in 2009, though, with a commanding win in Okinawa, capturing the Cup 31-17.

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