Posted by: happyfan08 | March 30, 2010

Hee Kyung Seo: Stealth No More!

The most popular column I’ve written on this site, according to sheer number of hits, is easily the one about Hee Kyung Seo I wrote last May calling her ‘The Stealth Superstar’ of the KLPGA tour. 

Back then, Seo was winning tournaments at an almost absurd rate, yet she was still relatively unknown even in her homeland.  Since that article, she continued to win and dominate, collecting two more Majors and three total wins, and she emerged from the shadows of her good friend Jiyai Shin to become one of the most popular golfers in Korea. 

But going into the 2010 season, she was still almost unknown outside of South Korea.  Her situation was very akin to the one Jiyai Shin faced at the start of 2008.  Shin had been destroying her opponents for several years in Korea, but other than the 2007 US Women’s Open, she had not made much of a mark in the world beyond.  That all changed, of course, when Shin won the British Women’s Open later that year (as well as two other events).  For Seo, the challenge was the same: start to contend and perhaps even win international events.  Last weekend at the Kia Classic, Seo not only won against a field containing virtually all the top talent in the league, she dominated.  If once Seo was the Stealth Superstar of her country, she has definitely come out of hiding now! 

Hee Kyung Seo and her good friend Ji Yai Shin

What makes her continued rise all the more impressive is that she hasn’t had a free ride by any means.  At the time I wrote the Stealth Superstar article, Seo was on the verge of becoming as dominant on the KLPGA as Shin had been in 2007.  But at that exact moment, So Yeon Ryu launched a counterattack that was so effective that she took over the top spot on the tour for several months.  Seo’s response?  She won two of the next three Majors and finished second in the other one.  By the time she was putting the finishing touches on that third Major, she had resumed control of the league and would not relinquish it the rest of the season. 

Hee Kyung wins the Hite Cup

But Ryu’s challenge is far from over.  In the very first event on the KLPGA tour for 2010, Seo and Ryu wound up in a playoff against each other, after Ryu came from behind to tie things.  Three holes later it was the teenager Ryu hoisting the trophy.  If anything, this level of competition will insure that Seo does not get soft, should she decide to forego LPGA membership for the short term. 

Hee Kyung and her arch rival So Yeon Ryu at a dinner in December, 2009

Seo also managed to be a team leader in Korea’s decisive victory over the Japanese ladies at 2009’s Kyoraku Cup.  Her most impressive achievement was taking out Sakura Yokomine, the JLPGA’s top player, in their one on one confrontation.  She also won her second match, although it was Bo Bae Song who won the MVP for the team (interestingly, Song is the last Korean to win on the LPGA before Seo did it at the Kia, and both of them were non-members of the tour when they won). 

Hee Kyung at the Kyoraku Cup, 2009

After that victory, Seo got a chance to kick back and celebrate her achievements.  The KLPGA’s annual Award Show could have been renamed after her, considering how many trophies she wound up bringing home.  She even provided some of the entertainment, doing a dance number with So Yeon and two other top rivals from tour!    

Hee Kyung practices for the salsa dance

Hee Kyung practices for the salsa dance

More practice

All in all, she brought home four awards: Player of the Year, Low Scoring Average, Most Money and Most Wins. 

Hee Kyung collects season ending awards

Other than that setback against Ryu, Seo has had a pretty decent start to her year.  This is the year of the Tiger in the Asian zodiac, and Seo was born under that sign, meaning it should be an especially lucky year for her.  As if she hasn’t already proved to be Tiger-like in her golf talent, she certainly has gotten her year off to a great start.  Besides the second to Ryu, she scored two top tens in two events in Australia, including a fourth place finish at the ANZ Ladies Masters with a 19 under total (Karrie Webb ran away with that title, but Seo was only a shot behind the next two golfers).  Ryu finished fifth at that same event, so score one for Hee Kyung! 

Hee Kyung was born under the sign of the tiger!

The Kia Classic is a new event on the LPGA tour.  The presenting sponsor is JGolf, who broadcasts the LPGA in Korea.  JGolf was allowed to pick three sponsor’s exemptions, and chose Hee Kyung with one of them.  Seo certainly confirmed their faith in her with her win.  The broadcasters mentioned that this was only the third time a non-LPGA member won an LPGA event on US soil (Jiyai was one of the others to do this), but they did not mention how many times a sponsor’s exemption has ever won a tournament.  The LPGA claims that the last time it happened was in 2006, when apparently Jin Joo Hong was a sponsor’s exemption for the Kolon-Hana Bank tournament.  I find it surprising she didn’t get in as a KLPGA member (a certain number of them automatically qualify for the event), but I’ll take their word for it!  Anyway, it’s certainly rare when a sponsor’s exemption manages the feat. Quite an amazing achievement for Hee Kyung.

Hee Kyung at the Kia Classic

 Also amazing was the brilliance with which Seo played all week.  Coming into this event, she had played five previous times on the LPGA tour, but had never once really contended for a title.  So, perhaps the best her fans might have expected was for her to get herself into the hunt and perhaps give herself a chance for the title come Sunday.  Well, Seo wasn’t having any of that!  She played well in the first round, shooting a solid 70, then blasted into the lead in round two with a 5 under par 67.  Leading an LPGA tournament for the first time may be a daunting proposition for most players, but Seo is an old hand at winning, and she refused to get too ruffled.  Even after she started round three with a bogey, she quickly righted the ship.  Meanwhile other top stars were struggling with the tough layout.  In Kyung Kim, who plays La Costa golf course all the time as a resident of the San Diego area, played well for 15 holes before scoring double bogey-triple bogey on 16 and 17 to fall out of contention.  Inbee Park and Seon Hwa Lee also had high scores on day three, and even Michelle Wie and Jee Young Lee were unable to score under par on the day.  But Seo did not make another mistake after the bogey, scoring four more birdies to card a 69.  This moved her to a five shot lead with one round to go. 

Hee Kyung in round 2 of the Kia Classic

If Seo were nervous on Sunday, she hardly showed it.  She did make a few mistakes, such as another bogey on the first hole, but always followed those mistakes with an immediate birdie.  She had two chip ins for birdie as well, as if enough wasn’t already going her way.  Her one true blip came on the 16th hole when she hit a terrible tee shot into the water and ended up with double bogey, but by then her lead was so solid that she could afford several mistakes.  In the end, she shot a 70, the only player to be under par all four days, and wound up with a 6 shot victory.  Think about that for a moment.  Hee Kyung Seo had never even seriously contended in an LPGA event before, yet she not only beat a field of most of the top players in the women’s game, she dominated them with a huge win.  

Hee Kyung breaks through on the LPGA!

So now she has a choice to make.  She has until Thursday to decide if she will take LPGA membership this year or defer it until 2011.  In all likelihood she will return to the KLPGA to play her final year, perhaps seeking one more season long battle with arch-nemesis Ryu.  But she will go back vastly more famous than when she left, as a golfer who has now proved herself on the biggest stage in her sport.  There is no longer anything stealthy about her status; she is every bit a full-fledged, above the board superstar, one who now has rightly taken her place among the elite in the game.



  1. Excellent Hee Kyung blog entry…somehow I think there might be one or two…or more…press folks dropping by for a Hee Kyung Seo crash course if she is anywhere near the lead at KNC going into Saturday.

  2. […] about Hee Kyung Seo, HappyFan has done a good writeup about her on his blog…check it out here: Hee Kyung Seo: Stealth No More! SeoulSisters __________________ You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him to find it within […]

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  8. During the weekend of ManuLife, I began watching LPGA for the first time in probably 30 yrs, as the men’s golf truly bored me. By the end of one round, I was a bonafide Hee Kyung Seo fan, as well as a lot of other Korean golfers. While I’ve watched Miss Park during this hot streak, I still believe it’s Miss Seo that has the ability to really dominate ladies golf over the next few years. And so easy on the eyes (wink).

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