Posted by: happyfan08 | September 8, 2010

Meet this year’s Futures Tour Graduates!!

This last Sunday, September 5th, marked the end of this year’s season on the Futures Tour, the developmental tour for the LPGA. The players who finished in the top ten on the money list at the end of the year’s final event, the Price Chopper Tour Championship, earned membership on the 2011 LPGA tour, with the top five earning full status on tour and the next five a more conditional form of status. As it turned out, a bevy of Korean and Korean American golfers have been contending for these cards, and when all was said and done, six of the ten who earned them had Korean blood: four were Korean Americans, one was Korean, and the sixth had dual citizenship. In addition, the players who finished 11th through 20th earned a pass into the final round of LPGA Qualifying School, bypassing the sectional qualifier.

The 2010 Futures Tour Graduates

There was some excitement even going into the final week, as only the top two players on the money list had secured their top five status for 2011. For everyone else, this tournament, a three round event held in Albany, New York, would have an enormous impact. Jennifer Song and Jenny Shin entered the week 4th and 5th on the money list, respectively. They were both in pretty good position to earn full status, but a win by any of the players ranked 6th through 11th would spell trouble for Shin. Song could lose out if two of the players ranked behind her finished first and second and she did poorly. Another Korean American golfer, Christine Song, was second on the money list and had already locked in her membership. In addition, there were several other Korean Americans who could get full status or at least partial status with good showings in Albany. Tiffany Joh, Jane Rah, Esther Choe, Hannan Jun and Angela Oh were all within shouting distance of the top ten and possibly even top five at the start of the week.

As it turned out, it was Shin and Jennifer Song who quickly put themselves into position to not only earn their tour membership, but possibly capture the title as well. Shin played particularly well, carding a 6 under par 66 to start the week and take the first round lead. Song might have been a bit worried at that point: one bad scenario for her would have been Esther Choe winning and Shin finishing second, which could have put them both ahead of Song and knocked Song to 6th on the money list. And who happened to be second after the first round? Esther Choe. Song, meanwhile, shot a respectable 71, but had a lot of ground to make up if she were going to be totally safe.

Jenny Shin with her first professional trophy

Fortunately for her, she played much better in the final two rounds. By the end of the second round she was tied for 4th, just a shot out of the lead. And in the third round, she finished her day with two birdies and wound up in a tie for the lead with the #1 player on tour, Cindy LaCrosse. The two went to a playoff, with LaCrosse winning on the first playoff hole. LaCrosse earned enough money to break the all time record, previously held by Seoul Sister Korean American Vicky Hurst, for most money earned in a season. But Song’s second place finish moved her to second on the money list and earned her that sought after card. Given that consolation prize, she was probably not too sad about losing!

Jennifer Song with her Futures Tour Rookie of the Year trophy

So, in the end, three women with Korean heritage finished in the top five, and three more in the top ten. The ladies finishing in the top five were Jennifer Song at number 2 ($63,375), Christine Song at #3 ($63, 036), and Jenny Shin at #4 ($53,686). Angela Oh just missed the top status card, finishing 6th ($50,156), with Tiffany Joh in 8th ($45,451) and Hannan Jun 9th ($40,406).

For 20 year old Jennifer Song, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and raised in Korea (she has dual citizenship), her finish marked an amazing run on tour. She only played 9 tournaments in 2010 because she turned pro and joined the tour several months after the 2010 season had started (she had delayed her professional debut to play on the Curtis Cup for the US). In her short time on tour, she managed 6 top tens, including 2 wins and 2 second places. She won the Rookie of the Year award over Shin, had the best money made per event average on tour, and also notched the top scoring average, a very impressive 69.148 (LaCrosse was second at 69.512, and mentioned in her press conference that she was pretty glad that she hadn’t had to face the super talented Song all year). Song was coming off one of the most impressive amateur careers of recent memory. In 2009 alone she won the US Women’s Amateur and US Women’s Amateur Pub Links, the first woman to win both of those events in the same calendar year since Pearl Sinn in 1988. She also finished the runner up in the NCAA Championship that year and was low amateur at the US Women’s Open to boot (a tie for 13th). This year Song has not done as well at the LPGA events she has attended since turning pro, although she did cop a top 15 finish at this year’s Canadian Women’s Open the week before Albany. If there is one Seoul Sister in this crop of graduates who has the makings of a superstar, it is Jennifer Song.

Jennifer Song with her 2009 US Women's Amateur trophy

Christine Song, who finished third on the money list just behind Jennifer Song (no relation), had an eye opening season in her own right. 19 years old, Song was in her second year on the Futures Tour this year. Last year she finished 8th on the tour and was a rookie this year on the LPGA, but focused on improving her status for 2011 rather than trying to get into LPGA fields. It sure worked! She won twice on the Futures Tour in 2010, at the Ladies Titan Tire Challenge and the following week at the Teva Championship. She collected 8 top tens in 17 total events. Her junior and amateur career was by no means as storied as that of Jennifer Song. Will she be a success on the LPGA? Time will tell, but the fact that she won twice on the Futures Tour shows she can rise to the challenge in pressure situations. That may hold her in good stead in the big leagues.

Christine Song and her 2010 Titan Tire Trophy

Jenny Shin, just 17 years old, was in a dog fight for Rookie of the Year with Jennifer Song much of the season. She lost to Song in a playoff at the Greater Richmond Golf Classic, the event that moved Song into the top five on the money list for the first time. But Shin had her own breakthrough earlier in the season, winning the International at Concord for her first career pro win. Shin had a pretty strong amateur and junior record before joining the Futures tour this year. Her biggest win came at the 2006 US Girls Junior, where she beat Vicky Hurst in a playoff and became, at 13, the second youngest girl to ever claim that title (behind Aree Song). Born in Seoul and still a Korean citizen, Shin has lived the past few years in Torrance, California. She had 7 top tens total in 2010. Given her strong AJGA and junior record and her quick success in the pro ranks, look for Shin to become a force on the LPGA tour sometime in the next few years.

Jenny Shin with her 2006 US Girls Junior trophy

Two of the three Korean Americans who nabbed partial status on the LPGA are players who have had status on tour in the past but have not been able to keep it. Angela Oh and Hannah Jun return to the LPGA in 2011 hoping that this time they will be able to keep their cards. They will have a tough go of it, as players with their status tend to only get into a few events a year. Unless they take advantage of those opportunities and finish well, they will probably be better off doing what Christine Song did this year and returning to the Futures Tour again next year if they cannot earn better status at LPGA Q-School this fall.

The final Korean American who earned a card will be making her rookie appearance on the LPGA in 2011, and she is a player many have long awaited on that tour. Tiffany Joh, who lives in San Diego, is 23 years old, and was on her second year on the Futures Tour. Few expected it would take her this long to make it to the big tour. As an amateur she was a superstar. She won the US Women’s Pub Links twice, beating Jennifer Song one year and Kimberly Kim, another Korean American superstar, the other. She was one of the best college players in the country all four years she was at UCLA. She played on the 2008 Curtis Cup team. But when she turned pro in 2009 and played on the Futures Tour that summer, she was in for a rude shock. She competed in 8 events, but only made the cut three times, finishing no higher than a tie for 35th. She was unable to qualify for the LPGA at Q-School in the Fall, but did win the Futures Tour Qualifying to retain membership for 2010. That was about the only positive thing that happened to her in the professional ranks in 2009.

Fortunately, things changed for the better in a big way in 2010. She made five top tens this year, including winning her first event on tour at the ING New England Golf Classic. Although she was not consistent enough to garner a top five finish on the money list, her 8th place finish was far far better than what she had accomplished in 2009. Whether she goes on to play on the LPGA in 2011 or returns to the Futures Tour, she seems to be heading in the right direction.

Tiffany Joh and one of her two US Women's Amateur Pub Links trophies

Another top amateur star who has struggled even more as a pro than Tiffany Joh also had a pretty strong season on the Futures Tour in 2010, even though her results were not quite good enough to earn her a tour card. That player is Esther Choe. Choe was one of the top juniors in the country, named the AJGA Junior Player of the Year in 2006, and seemed destined for a strong college career at the University of Arizona when she signed a letter of intent to play there. But suddenly in early 2007, she announced that she was turning pro. That was probably not the best move, as since that time she has struggled to even maintain status on the Futures Tour. In 2009, she was only 120th on their money list, and admitted that she had completely lost confidence in her game. But in 2010, she turned everything around. Although she was not able to win, she did manage five top tens, including a runner up finish. She made all but one cut, a huge difference from 2009, when she had missed more than half her cuts. In the end, it was not enough to get her status on the LPGA in 2011: she finished 12th on the Futures Tour money list. But certainly it was a big step in the right direction for her, after many missteps before that. If she does not make the tour via Q-School, expect a far better 2011 on the Futures tour for Esther Choe.

Esther Choe at the 2007 Nabisco

The history of players coming off the Futures Tour onto the LPGA is decidedly a mixed one. Some of them instantly establish themselves on the big tour, like Grace Park and Lorena Ochoa; but even those players did not become dominating stars right away. Seon Hwa Lee led the Futures Tour money list in 2005 and went on to a strong 2006 rookie year on the LPGA. But Song Hee Kim, who was the 2006 Futures Tour Player of the Year, did not make even a single top ten in her LPGA rookie year of 2007, and had to wait until 2008 before she began to realize her potential. It might not happen right away, but expect at least a few of this year’s Futures Tour graduates to make a big splash on women’s golf in the next few seasons.

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