Posted by: happyfan08 | January 17, 2011

2010 Awards (4 of 10): Best Near Miss, Most Dominating

Great Performance that came up short

And the Winner Is: Amy Yang, LPGA Tour Championship

Amy Yang at last year's LPGA Tour Championship

Amy Yang took a big step up in her career in 2010.  She finished 14th on the money list, notched 6 top tens, and had top fives in two Majors (with her worst Major in 2010 being a tie for 27th).  She was even featured in a promotional video for the tour, where she visited the World Golf Hall of Fame.  She contended seriously for titles a couple of times, and many pundits have been predicting that it’s only a matter of time before she becomes the next big Korean star.   

Her performance at the final LPGA event of the 2010 season, the LPGA Tour Championship in December, suggested that the future had arrived.  She took a share of the lead after one round, and after two rounds held a three shot lead on a tough course that was giving some other top players fits.  She struggled more in round three, but still held onto a one shot lead over Maria Hjorth and a two shot lead over a couple other golfers.

Dreams of a wire to wire win came crashing down early in round 4, when she went 5 over par on the front nine on Sunday, including a crushing quadruple bogey on one hole.  Just like that, Hjorth had the lead.  But Yang had played the back nine much better all week than the front nine, and when she reached those holes, she delivered again, rallying in a huge way.  On 13, she hit a phenomenal approach that bounced twice, lightly touched the flag pole, and hung on the lip, refusing to fall for eagle (tap in birdie, though).  She barely missed birdies on 15 and 16, and when she bogied on the 17th hole, it looked like Hjorth had it in the bag, leading by two with one hole to play.  But Amy didn’t give up!  She hit a great approach to ten feet on the final hole, then drained the birdie to put pressure on Hjorth.  Meanwhile, Hjorth’s approach landed in the greenside bunker, short siding herself.  She got it out, but still had an 8 footer for par.  Alas, the final heartbreak for Yang: Hjorth saved that par and collected the one shot win.  Yang had come incredibly close, but in the end, would have to wait until 2011 for another shot at victory.

Honorable Mentions:

Choi, Park Come up short at the State Farm

Na Yeon Choi shot a final round 65 at this year’s State Farm, but somehow Cristie Kerr managed to squeak out the one shot win despite struggling at times on Sunday.  Hee Young Park did even better, blistering the course with a 63, but came up two shots shy of her first LPGA win.

Koreans Almost Win Player of the Year

The Korean golfers have won every conceivable tournament and honor on the LPGA tour except one: the Player of the Year.  Last year, Jiyai Shin came within one stroke of finally breaking that streak and claiming the POY, but she still finished second.  This year, there were two Seoul Sisters who had a shot at winning the elusive prize: Shin and Na Yeon Choi.  But both of them needed to win the final event of the year, the LPGA Tour Championship, to get the job done.  Shin had an uncharacteristically weak tournament and missed the second cut (this event had a third round cut as well as a second round one).  But Choi finished round 3 with an outside shot at the big prize: she was seven shots behind tournament leader Amy Yang when action started on Sunday.  Choi made a great run at the top, too: she climbed as high as 3 under par, just a couple of shots behind the leaders, before two late bogies settled her at 1 under, good for a tie for 6th.  So no Player of the Year trophy, but she got to console herself with the Vare Trophy and money list win (not bad consolation, really!).

Na Yeon Choi holds the 2010 Vare Trophy for low scoring average

Clutch Performance of the Year

And the Winner Is: Jimin Kang, final round, Sime Darby

It’s tempting to choose Se Ri Pak for her stirring victory at the Bell Micro, but I chose instead to honor another more obscure Korean veteran who won in 2010.  Jimin Kang’s performance in the final round of the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia tournament was the most clutch performance of the year not only because she rose to the occasion again and again in a tough battle with a Hall of Fame golfer and seven time Major winner, but because Kang herself was not a golfer you would have expected had it in her.  Kang does have one previous win, in 2005, but since that time has only rarely posted top tens and almost never truly contended for a title.  Yet for one week in October, she went toe to toe with one of the greatest golfers in her sport and came out on top.

Jimin Kang in Malaysia

The lead seesawed between the two often on the back nine.  Kang was playing in the group ahead of Inkster, and made birdie on 15, followed by a brilliant, gutsy birdie on the 16th hole which is described in detail under the ‘Shot of the Year’ award (did it win?  Wait and see!).  Inkster also birdied those two holes to stay tied for the lead.  Next Kang played the par 3 17th, but was not able to make birdie there.  As she moved on to play 18, Inkster hit the ball close on 17, made birdie, and took the lead with one hole to go.

Kang was pretty much forced to make birdie to put any kind of pressure on Inkster.  And she delivered, with her most clutch hole yet!  She hit her approach over the flag and calmly nailed the 12 footer for birdie to move into a tie for the lead after a final round 65.  Inkster, waiting in the fairway, hit her approach right into a greenside bunker.  She got out of the trap OK, but was left with a kneeknocker for par which she had to make to force a playoff.  When she missed it, the win, improbably, was Kang’s.  Se Ri Pak was among those who congratulated Jimin on her incredible victory.

Jimin with her second career LPGA trophy at the Sime Darby

Honorable Mentions:

Se Ri, Bell Micro playoff

We’ll get back to this win a little later!

Jiyai Shin at the Mizuno

Jiyai Shin was brilliant all three rounds at this year’s Mizuno, shooting rounds of 65-66-67 to beat some strong competition down the stretch.  Despite her fantastic scores, she was challenged pretty much the whole week, only definitively putting Ya Ni Tseng away in the final few holes.

In Kyung Kim shoots final round 64 at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational

We’ll talk more about this tournament in a bit, but though it is primarily remembered for an amazing act of charity by the young Korean, please don’t forget that that act was made possible thanks to a final round that contained possibly the best overall putting performance by anyone on the LPGA tour last year.  The win made Kim the first Korean to ever claim a tournament in Mexico.

Most Dominating Performance

And the Winner Is: Korean National Team, Women’s World Amateur Team Championship (and others)

The Korean National Team blitzed the competition all year long

The scariest thing about the absolute thrashing the Korean National team gave every other women’s golf team in the world at this year’s Women’s World Amateur Team Championship is not that they set a tournament scoring record in the process; nor that they swept the top three positions in the individual standings; nor even that they beat the second place Americans, which included this year’s US Women’s Amateur champ Danielle Kang, by a whopping 17 strokes.

No, the scariest thing about the Korean National Team is the sheer number of great golfers who didn’t even make the squad that competed at this event.  Anyone who thinks that the Korean wave has crested would be advised not to read the following list of players who were either amateurs or only had recently turned pro when the Women’s World Team Championship happened in October.

For instance, there was Hee Kyung Bae, who won a KLPGA event this year, the first amateur to do that since Jiyai Shin back in 2005.  Hyo Ju Kim finished second at a recent KLPGA event herself; she is 15.  Eun Joo Lee, a 17 year old amateur, lost the Korean Women’s Open to Soo Jin Yang in a playoff, with another amateur, Soo Yeon Kim, also in the hunt on Sunday.  Soo Yeon Jang, yet another amateur, had a KLPGA trophy seemingly in her hands before a bizarre rules infraction cost her the win.  She is 16.  Julie Yang is currently based in Scotland, but has been tearing up the European amateur golf scene.  She is 15.

Then there are the girls/women who were amateurs until recently.  Jung Min Lee and Ha Na Jang both turned pro at the start of last year.  Jang nearly won 2 KLPGA Majors the previous year, and considered staying amateur in 2010 to play in events like the Women’s Amateur Team Championship.  Jenny Shin turned pro and joined the Futures Tour, and though she has been based in the US, she certainly was eligible to be on this team.  She wound up earning an LPGA tour card for 2011.  Then there’s Jennifer Song, arguably the most dominant amateur of the past few years.  She usually plays team events as an American, but she has dual citizenship and could have played for Korea had she wanted.  She only turned pro a few months before this event.

As you can imagine, if those ladies got left off the team, the players who did make the squad must have been pretty special.   Setting the pace was Jung Eun Han, whom many in Korea consider the top amateur in the country.  Han shot rounds of 72-65-68-70 to win the individual honors with a total of 13 under par.  Han is no stranger to success on the KLPGA, having contended at multiple events over the past year and a half.  Finishing second was Ji Hee Kim at 11 under total, while Hyun Soo Kim was third at 10 under, 5 shots clear of American star Jessica Korda in fourth.

The Korean National Team - be very afraid!

The same squad later represented Korea at the Asian Games in Guanzhou, China.  The Asian Games are a sports event much like the Olympics.  It occurs every four years, and countries from all over Asia send representatives.  The last time the event happened, in 2006, South Korea won all four gold medals, with a teenager named So Yeon Ryu winning the gold; Ryu is currently one of the top stars on the KLPGA tour.  Korea again easily won the team gold medal, this time by 11 shots over second place China.  Jung Eun Han was the star at the World Amateur, but the big winner at the Asian Games was Hyun Soo Kim, who claimed the individual women’s gold by ten strokes with an 11 under total.  Ji Hee Kim tied for second at 1 under but won the bronze medal, while Han finished fourth, thanks largely to a poor performance on the final day.

The Korean National Team claimed gold at the 2010 Asian Games

As if this weren’t enough, the Korean National Team also destroyed the competition at another important world team event in 2010, the Queen Sirikit Cup, which is a golf event that features countries from around Southern and eastern Asia and Australia.  This was the fourth straight win for the Koreans at this event.  The squad at this event was slightly different, with 15 year old Hyo Ju Kim joining Ji Hee Kim and Jung Eun Han.  They actually were behind New Zealand going into the final round, but produced an 8 under par final round to win this event by 7 strokes.  The star of the event was Hyo Ju Kim, who shot a final round 65 to take individual honors by 8 strokes with a 10 under par total.  Ji Hee Kim and Han tied for 6th at 1 over total.

By the way, lest you wonder how the New Zealand squad was playing so well?  Their two biggest stars are 12 year old (!) Lydia Ko and 15 year old Cecilia Cho.  Yes, they are both Korean ex-pats.  Ko had notched a top ten at the Ladies European Tour event that took place in New Zealand at the start of last year.  Did I mention Ko was 12?

Honorable Mentions:

Hee Kyung Seo at the Kia Classic

See Biggest Breakthrough for more details!

Sun Ju Ahn wins by 7 over Shin at Fujitsu Ladies

Sun Ju Ahn had a marvelous year on the JLPGA, becoming the first Korean to ever lead the money list on that tour.  Perhaps the highlight of her year came at the Fujitsu Ladies, where she shot a mind boggling 65-62 in the first two rounds to completely overwhelm a field that included top Korean Jiyai Shin.  Her 7 shot victory (Shin finished second) allowed her to carve out a huge lead of more than 50 million yen on the money list (124 million to 70.26 for Sakura Yokomine at that time).

Jennifer Song dominates first professional tournament

Jennifer Song in January, 2011

Jennifer Song played on the Curtis Cup team, then joined the Futures Tour mid-season in an effort to earn a tour card by finishing top five on the money list.  It was a crapshoot: she would have a lot fewer events than the rest of the golfers on tour to earn the money she would need.  But boy, she got out to a great start at her first event as a pro, the Tate & Lyle Players Championship.  She just got better round by round, shooting 68, then 67, then 65.  She saved the best for last, finishing the week with an unreal nine under par 61, tying the lowest score in the history of the tour, to win the event by six.  It wasn’t even as close as that, as only a great day from Esther Choe, who finished second at 13 under, kept the event from being a double digit rout.  Her 19 under total score also smashed the tournament record.


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