Posted by: happyfan08 | June 16, 2010

The KLPGA Mid-Season Review

With the conclusion of the S-OIL Champions Invitational on June 11th, the KLPGA reached its mid-summer break.  Action will resume on that tour in late July.  If there is one word that describes the action from the first part of the year, that word would be ‘unexpected’.  The big stars underperformed, new players made big marks, and some players seemed on the verge of breaking through only to fall back again.  Here are some of the more notable developments of 2010 so far!

The Top Players Struggle

I doubt many people thought we would get to June without either Hee Kyung Seo or So Yeon Ryu claiming at least one tournament win in 2010, but that is exactly what has happened.  Both players have struggled surprisingly on the KLPGA tour thus far.  For Ryu, things haven’t been exactly terrible, but this is far from the four win season she achieved in 2009, at least to date.  She did win the first tournament of the year, which actually took place in December, 2009, but has not won an event since then anywhere in the world.  She even missed the first KLPGA cut of her career.  On the positive side, she has made top tens in all but three of the events this year, and another 13th at the Korean Women’s Open.  So she’s really only had two bad events: a 39th at the rain shortened S-OIL Champions, and the missed cut.  The worst thing about that 39th, of course, is that she was the defending champion there, so she doubtless wanted a better performance than that.  She currently sits 7th on the tour money list, and will doubtless be looking for a better second half of 2010.

So Yeon Ryu

So Yeon Ryu

For Hee Kyung Seo, the year started with a bang.  She lost a playoff to Ryu at the event in December, and followed that by just missing a playoff at the first KLPGA event she played in 2010.  But between those two events, it was what she accomplished outside of the KLPGA that made the most noise.  She finished fourth at the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia, then followed that with her dominating win at the LPGA’s Kia Classic (which she played thanks to a sponsor’s exemption).  The next week she finished just outside the top 20 at the LPGA’s first Major of the year.  Seo seemed on her way to establishing herself as one of the very best golfers in the world on any tour.  But then the struggles began.

Hee Kyung Seo wins the Kia Classic

After her third place, she missed the cut in defending her title at the Korean Women’s Open, a shocking development considering she had won three of the previous four Majors on tour.  She finished outside the top ten in the next two events before collecting a 7th at the S-OIL.  She also struggled at an event in Japan during this stretch.  She currently sits 10th on the KLPGA money list.  Did the Kia win have a bad effect on her, perhaps putting more pressure on her than she had felt before?  Time will tell, but in the meantime, Seo still seeks her first KLPGA win of 2010.

Hee Kyung's had a rough year on the KLPGA so far

Some Promising Players Move up the Rankings

Several players who have hovered on the edge of greatness have taken advantage of the malaise of the top players to make their own mark so far in 2010.  The player who has done the best in this regard is Bo Mi Lee.  Lee was already a top five quality player in 2009, but this year she has taken another step in her career.  She put together a great performance at the ANZ Ladies Masters in February, finishing tied for second in that event, ahead of both Seo and Ryu.  On the KLPGA, she got out to a great start, winning the Kim Young Joo Golf Women’s Open in April and making it to the final four at the Match Play.  In fact, she has notched a top ten in every KLPGA event she has played this year, including the China Orient Open at the end of 2009 (which counts towards this season).  As a result, she is third on the money list.  When all is said and done, Lee may wind up being the breakout star of the 2010 season.

Bo Mi Lee with her trophy from this year

Another young player who has shown promise of greatness is Ran Hong.  Hong has not been super consistent over the years, but she does win tournaments now and again, and she did just that when she captured the S-OIL Champions Invitational, the most recent event on tour.  She has four other top tens this year and two additional top 20s, showing that she is achieving a fair degree of consistency at last.  Currently she is 6th on the money list.

Ran Hong

The Young Guns Who Have Broken Through

This year, two teenagers who have been touted as big potential stars had major league breakthroughs, winning arguably the two biggest events of the season to date.  Now that they have those wins under their belt, they have to be included in the conversation among the best players on tour.

Soo Jin Yang joined the tour last year as a 17 year old with national team experience.  She instantly attracted sponsors due not only to her resume but her charm, looks and power off the tee.  But Yang did not win in 2009, and in fact finished second in the Rookie of the Year race to Shin Ae Ahn.

In 2010, Yang has improved in just about every way.  Although she missed the cut at the China event in 2009, in every other event this season, she has finished in the top 16.  Indeed, she has improved literally month to month this year.  In Feburary, she played two events in Australia and finished 30th in both.  In her first three KLPGA events of 2010, she finished 16th, 12th and 13th.  But then she hit her stride.  Her next tournament was the Korean Women’s Open, the year’s first Major, and there she held off a tenacious teenage amateur in a playoff to grab her first win (and first Major) since turning pro.  She barely slowed down after that, capturing top tens in her next three events, including leading after the first round of the S-OIL.  Yang is currently leading the money list on the KLPGA, is second in driving distance, and 4th in scoring average.  If that isn’t a breakout season, what is?

Soo Jin Yang at the S-OIL

Soo Jin Yang

18 year old rookie Jung Min Lee turned pro at the start of the year, and almost instantly won the Thai Open for her first pro win.  Like Yang, she is known for hitting the ball a long way, and quickly gained sponsorships.  And like Yang, she won for the first time on the KLPGA tour this year.  In Lee’s case, her victory came at the Doosan Match Play event, where she had to beat Hee Kyung Seo in the second round and Bo Mi Lee in the semifinals.  Lee had surprisingly little trouble for the most part, plowing down opponent after opponent in a relentless march to the win.  Lee has not been as consistent as Yang; she has only three top tens this year.  But she is nonetheless second on the money list behind Yang, and shows every sign of being a world beater in years to come.

Among those Jung Min Lee beat at the Match Play Championship was superstar Hee Kyung Seo (right)

Jung Min Lee

Perhaps the most interesting story in 2010 has been the continued success of amateur golfers on tour.  Several different amateurs have come close to winning in 2010, including one, Eun Joo Lee, who nearly beat Soo Jin Yang for the title at the Korean Women’s Open (two other amateurs finished in the top ten at that event).  All these amateurs are in their mid to late teens (one was as young as 14), and it continues a trend which saw amateurs Ha Na Jang and Hyo Ju Kim launch strong challenges in two Majors last year.  Will an amateur win a Major in the second half of the season?  Stay tuned!

17 year old Amateur Eun Joo Lee lost the Korean Women's Open in a playoff

What Happens Next?

No player has won more than a single event on the KLPGA tour so far this year, and Hee Kyung Seo, who had 11 wins in the previous two seasons, is not one of those winners.  What will happen the rest of the year?  Well, there are three more Majors coming up, plus the Hana Bank Championship, the LPGA co-sanctioned event.  The questions that still need to be answered: can So Yeon Ryu recover from her mini-slump and perhaps win her first Major?  Will Hee Kyung Seo return to form, or is she starting to think more internationally since her LPGA win and not able to focus mentally when playing on the domestic tour anymore?  Is Bo Mi Lee the next tour superstar?  Will Jung Min Lee or Soo Jin Yang become the new top gun?  Or are there players warming up for a fantastic second half of the year who have yet to make a splash?  The only way to tell will be to return in July and watch what happens!

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