Posted by: happyfan08 | August 18, 2010

The KLPGA Season Heats Up!

2010 has been a most unusual transitional season on the KLPGA tour.  Since 2006, one player or a group of players has generally seized control of the league by this point in the year, winning multiple times and leading in most statistical categories.  But this year, for whatever reason, the top players on tour have not played at their best, and coming into the High One Resort SBS Charity Women’s Open on August 13th, no player on tour had won more than a single event all season.  With a logjam on the top, the question became, would anyone gather enough momentum to become the decisive Player of the Year, and if so, when would that move occur?

The events of the High One tournament did answered some of those questions.  The field featured several top Korean golfers from the LPGA tour, notable 2009 US Women’s Open winner Eun Hee Ji and four time LPGA winner Seon Hwa Lee.  Also returning to action in Korea was Hee Kyung Seo, the 2009 Player of the Year.  Coming into this season, Seo was the player most expected to dominate the proceedings on tour.  In 2009 she had almost swept the tour Majors and won five total events to edge top teen So Yeon Ryu for all the big awards.  But this year, Seo has yet to win on the KLPGA tour.   She has had much more success internationally.  She posted a dominating win at the LPGA’s Kia Classic back in March, and followed that with her best finish yet at a Major, a tie for 21st at the Kraft Nabisco.  That’s on top of a top five earlier in the year at the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia. 

Hee Kyung with her Kia Classic trophy

With all of that early success in 2010, perhaps Seo began to think more about her future overseas than her domestic career?  She missed more events than normal on the KLPGA, and when she finally started playing in Korea, her results were less than stellar.  After nearly making a playoff at the Lotte Mart Women’s Open, she missed the cut in her title defense at the Korean Women’s Open, by far her worst showing since she ascended to superstar status in mid-2008.  She was not really a factor in the other events she played in the first half of the KLPGA season, finishing out of the top ten in two of her next three events.

Over the summer, Seo played more international events, but her results continued to be mixed.  She struggled at a Japanese tour event and was never in contention.  She made the cut at the Evian Masters and US Women’s Open, but finished well back in both.  But she finally righted the ship in a big way at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, where she notched a tie for fifth, her first ever top ten in a Major.  She took the next week off to rest, then resumed her KLPGA schedule at the High One.  This time she was on a mission: to finally get that monkey off her back and get her first win of the season.

Hee Kyung in Britain

Seo did a lot this week to make that win happen, but the elements were not cooperating.  Dense fog hit the course early on the first day, postponing play for several hours.  None of the players were able to complete their first rounds, but when play stopped on Friday, Seo was in second place, one shot out of the lead.  On Saturday, they were able to complete the first round, but torrential rains drenched the course and forced the officials to cancel the second round completely.  Still, Seo had moved to the top of the leaderboard with a 7 under 65 shot over those two days. 

Hee Kyung Seo at the High One tournament

So Yeon Ryu is another player trying to establish herself in 2010 after a phenomenal 2009.  In fact, she has won nowhere in the world this calendar year (although her win at the China Orient Open at the end of 2009 counts as a 2010 event).  Ryu has focused on the KLPGA this year, although she has had a few good results outside the tour.  Earlier in the year she finished fifth at the ANZ Ladies Masters, and she also notched her best Major finish at the US Women’s Open, a tie for 25th.  But other than that, her time has been spent trying to establish herself as the new top gun on the KLPGA. 

She has played well by and large, but wins have consistently escaped her.  She did miss her first ever cut at the Lotte Mart Women’s Open in April, but has still notched top tens in 7 of her first ten events, including the previous two events leading up to the High One.  In fact, she had a really good chance to win both of those events.  At the Hidden Valley Women’s Open three weeks ago, she was near the top of the leaderboard going into the final round, and played decently, but was passed by Shin Ae Ahn, who shot a final round 65 to win by three.  At the next event, the Lyle and Scott Women’s Open, Ryu led going into the final round, but played poorly in round 3 and finished fifth.

So Yeon Ryu meets the press at the Lyle and Scott Open

In the absence of the Big Two, several other players have stepped up their games.  Bo Mee Lee, Ran Hong and Hyun Hee Moon are all having great seasons, and rookies Jung Min Lee and Yoon Ji Cho, both winners in 2010, are duking it out for the Rookie of the Year crown.  But without question the breakout golfers in 2010 so far have been two young guns who were rookies last year and finished 1-2 in that year’s Rookie of the Year race: Shin Ae Ahn and Soo Jin Yang.  Ahn beat Yang for the Rookie title in 2009, even though Yang finished ahead of Ahn in the money list standings.  But Yang got the jump on Ahn big time in 2010, winning the year’s first Major, the Korean Women’s Open, for her first professional title.  Yang went on a tear after that, notching top tens in her next five events, including a second place at the Lyle and Scott and a third at the Woori Financial Women’s Ladies Championship.  All this success planted Yang firmly at the top of the money list entering the High One.

Soo Jin Yang at the Lyle and Scott

Perhaps the success of her rival was a wake up call for Ahn, because she stepped up her game after that and started achieving great finishes herself.  She finished 2nd at the S-OIL Champions Invitational in June, and following the blistering final round 65 she posted at the Hidden Valley Open, collected her own first professional win.  She followed that with another solid performance, a 4th, at the next event.

Shin Ae Ahn with her trophy from Hidden Valley

Going into the final round of the High One, Ahn was tied for 8th, four shots out of the lead.  She had some tough players ahead of her.  Not only was Seo in the lead at 7 under, but four time LPGA winner Seon Hwa Lee was second at 6 under and Ryu was among those tied for third.  But as strong as those three players were, none of them was having a great day on Sunday, and Ahn seized her chance.  She vaulted up the leaderboard on the front nine.  By the turn, Seo was in a neck and neck battle with Hyun Hee Moon, who was also having a sterling day, while Ryu and Lee were struggling a few shots back.  Ahn was playing well, but basically was one or two shots back the whole back nine.  On the final hole, she made birdie to move to 7 under and at last into a tie for the lead for the first time all week.  Moon and Seo were also at that level, but Seo made an uncharacteristic bogey on the 16th and never recovered. 

Hee Kyung Seo and Seon Hwa Lee on the final day of the High One Resort tournament

In the end, the tournament became a playoff between Ahn and Moon, which Ahn won with a par on the first playoff hole.  Just like that, Ahn became the first player to achieve multiple wins on the KLPGA in 2010, and assumed the lead on the tour’s money list to boot, with Yang now sitting second. 

Shin Ae Ahn wins again

Shin Ae Ahn lived in New Zealand for four years during her elementary school years.  She frequently travels down under in the off season to hone her game, and seems to speak English fluently.  She joined the KLPGA tour as an 18 year old in 2009, and pretty quickly established sponsorship deals with several companies, including Puma Golf.  But as promising as she seemed, she was right away overshadowed by an even younger rookie, 17 year old long bomber Soo Jin Yang.  The two players slugged it out for the Rookie of the Year award most of the season.  Ahn in the end captured that award, achieving four top tens during the season, with her best finish a fifth.  A decent start, to be sure, but nothing compared to what she would accomplish this season.

In fact, Ahn was known as much for her sense of fashion and appearance as for her game in 2009.  This blog even anointed her as one of the Fashion stars of the Korean players in last year’s Seoul Sisters awards. 

Shin Ae Ahn from last year

She nabbed several more lucrative sponsorships in 2010, notably with BC Card, who became her primary sponsor, and Le Coq Sportif, a golf clothing line.  Her TV advertisement for that company, which also features KLPGA players Ha Neul Kim and Soo Ji Lee, can be seen here on YouTube (Ahn appears in hair curlers and, later, black leather pants in the ad):

But Ahn is more than a clothes horse, she can flat out play, and her results that year have borne that out.  Although she definitely stepped up her game following Yang’s Korean Women’s Open win, she was making top tens even before that, and has finished in the top 15 in 8 of 10 events she has played this year. 

Cheer up, Shin Ae! You finished 4th at the Lyle and Scott!

In the off season, she trains in Australia with the same coach as LPGA star Hee Young Park, Steve Bann.  Here is a video link to a clip of her working on her game with Bann:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjMERo2k44A

The training seems to have helped her a lot.  Just a few days after this clip was shot, Ahn finished tied for 12th at the Australian Women’s Open, one of her first international events since turning professional. 

The next month or so will be pivotal on the KLPGA tour, as the ladies play their three remaining Majors leading up to the joint KLPGA-LPGA tournament the Hana Bank Classic.  Ryu has been consistent enough that a win streak is not out of the question, and Seo has shown she has her world class game back and could reestablish her Major dominance.  Yang, Hong and Bo Mee Lee continue to excel as well.  But only Ahn has multiple wins, and for the first time, she is on top of the heap on tour, with the target on her back.  Will she be able to continue to excel in that position, or will the pressure get to her?  Can she end the season as the KLPGA’s top gun or will the superstars fight back?  Those are the questions we look forward to seeing answered in the coming months!

Shin Ae Ahn with her second career trophy at the High One

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Responses

  1. she looks nice while holding the trophy. Got a good smile 🙂


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