Posted by: happyfan08 | June 30, 2010

Song Hee Kim: Superstar Without a Trophy

The name atop the leaderboard during much of the 2005 Futures Tour Qualifying tournament was known only to the most diehard followers of women’s golf.  She was a 17 year old amateur named Song Hee Kim, and though she was a member of the Korean national team in 2004 and 2005, she had rarely played in this country.  She had come to the US in the middle of the year to hone her game at a golf school in South Carolina.  But she dominated the Futures Tour Q-School just a few months later, winning by five shots, and that margin had actually been reduced by a last minute charge by the second place finisher.  Thus did the Futures Tour, and American professional golf, first meet Song Hee Kim.

Song Hee Kim

But there was a slight problem: the Futures Tour did not allow seventeen year old golfers to play on tour, even ones who won their Q-School.  Kim did not let that deter her: she petitioned for special consideration, and the tour not only granted it to her, they changed their rules, thenceforth lowering the minimum membership age for all players from 18 to 17.  As a result, two more women with Korean blood, Inbee Park and Korean-Brazilian Angela Park, were also allowed to join the tour in 2006.  Before striking a single shot as a professional, Kim had already had a big impact on the game in this country.

Song Hee Kim in 2005

Just a few months later, Kim once again made history.  In her third event on the Futures tour, the Louisiana Futures Classic, she collected her first win.  The victory made her the youngest female professional golfer to ever win a professional golf event in the United States.  Kim would go on to dominate the Futures Tour, winning a total of five times, to easily lead the tour money list and qualify for the LPGA in 2007.  Every indication was that Song Hee Kim was going to quickly become another Korean star on tour, and perhaps even more than that.

Song Hee Kim with one of her five trophies from 2006

But cut to June, 2010, and Song Hee Kim is still looking for her first LPGA win.  Several of the other players in her rookie class of 2007 have already accomplished impressive things, including the two teenagers who were allowed to join the Futures Tour thanks to Song Hee, and who also qualified for the LPGA tour via the Futures Tour money list in 2006.  Angela Park won the 2007 LPGA Rookie of the Year award, while Inbee Park won the 2008 US Women’s Open.  And others from Kim’s rookie class have also prospered: In Kyung Kim, Eun Hee Ji and Ji Young Oh all have two victories apiece to date.  Jiyai Shin and Na Yeon Choi, who joined the tour after Kim, have won six times and twice, respectively.  But although Kim has been one of the most consistent players on the LPGA tour, she has the sorry mantle of the Best Korean, and perhaps Best Player, to have never won on tour.

Song Hee in 2010 at the LPGA Championship

Perhaps the weirdest part of her LPGA story is how poorly it started out.  After dominating Futures Tour Q-School and the Futures Tour itself, she was clearly one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year in 2007.  But something went very wrong that year.  Kim played horribly, and by the end of the season she had not been able to make a single top twenty finish, let alone win a tournament.  She finished so far back on the money list that she was reduced to conditional status for the 2008 season.  The Sure Thing was anything but after a year in the big leagues.

But just as suddenly as her mysterious slump began, it ended, and from the beginning of the 2008 season to the present, Song Hee has been one of the most consistent golfers on tour.  A few months into the 2008 season, she finally had her first top ten, a second place at the Corona Championship in Mexico.  She made more money in that one tournament than she had made in all of 2007.  From that point on, the hits just kept on coming: a tie for fifth at the next event, the Michelob Ultra Open, two more top 20s, then a third at the Ginn Tribute.  She also made another second place finish later in the year at the Samsung World Championship.  She wound up with 7 top tens for the season, and finished 14th on the money list.  A win seemed right around the corner.

Song Hee in 2008

But the win still hasn’t come, despite numerous close calls.  Sometimes Song Hee is the victim of circumstance: she’s playing well, but another player is having a phenomenal week and just cannot be caught.  This was what happened at the just completed LPGA Championship.  Song Hee was great all week, finishing solo second for her best ever Major.  But she was still a whopping 12 shots behind the winner, Cristie Kerr, who took over the event Friday afternoon and never looked back.  Sometimes she gets herself right into the hunt but falters at the last moment.  This happened in 2009 at the Michelob Ultra Open.  Coming into the final holes, she had a great chance to win, but made a crushing double bogey on the 16th hole to fall out of the lead.  Cristie Kerr got that win, too.

But lately, Song Hee Kim has been about as hot as you can be.  After making top tens in the final two events of 2009, she has been on a mission in 2010.  In fact, she had made a top ten in her first 8 straight events of the year, finally “faltering” with a 22nd at the ShopRite before the second place at the LPGA Championship.  She has accumulated the second best scoring average in the league this year, is third in Greens in Regulation and first in birdies made.  She also has the best top ten percentage on tour, is second in rounds under par, and top ten in putting average.  She has a third and a second in the year’s two Majors, and is 4th on the money list. She has climbed to 8th in the Rolex Rankings, the highest ranked player without a win. It has gone beyond saying that Song Hee is overdue a win.  With stats like those, it is almost inconceivable that she has not collected a victory until now.

Will Song Hee ever reach the top of her sport?

Keep an eye on Song Hee Kim.  She will probably have another great tournament next week, and perhaps the week after that as well.  But how long will she have to wait before that first win is hers?  Waiting for that day when she finally gets the champagne bath on the final green is one of the most compelling storylines in women’s golf right now.  And when she does break through, who knows what might happen next!? She might even have the skill to contend for the top spot in the game.  The sky is literally the limit for this ultra-talented young player.

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Responses

  1. It took Miyazato a few years to break through on the LPGA. Golf is cruel sport. With Hee’s numbers its should be just a matter of time. Then again, how many “sure things’ in this game of golf have just faded away.
    Golf is a cruel sport.


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