Posted by: happyfan08 | January 24, 2011

2010 Awards (9 of 10): Rookie of the Year

Rookie of the Year

And the Winner Is: Sun Ju Ahn, JLPGA

Sun Ju Ahn

Sun Ju Ahn has popped up a number of times already in these awards.  Her first season on the JLPGA has earned her yet another accolade: SeoulSisters.com Rookie of the Year for 2010.  But what’s perhaps most interesting about it all is that it could have been very different.

Back in 2007, Sun Ju was one of the Big Three on the KLPGA tour.  The other two big stars back then were her good friends and rivals Jiyai Shin and Eun Hee Ji.  Both Shin and Ji ended up leaving the tour thereafter.  Shin won a Major, the Ricoh British Women’s Open, in 2008, while Ji won her first Major the following year at the US Women’s Open.  Ahn was eager to join them on the LPGA tour.

Sun Ju Ahn and her friends Jiyai Shin and Eun Hee Ji, from 2008

To this end, she attended 2008 LPGA Q-School, winning her sectional in the process.  But in the finals, she suffered an injury that forced her out of Q-School.  She returned to the KLPGA in 2009 for one final year.

She had a good season that year, although she was overshadowed by the battle between So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo for top of the league honors.  But while she played her final year in Korea, the economy tanked, and the LPGA was hit particularly hard.  When the end of the year rolled around, Ahn decided to try out for the Japanese tour instead of the LPGA.  She succeeded in earning her JLPGA tour card for 2010, but what might have happened had she come to America?  The rookie class last year on the LPGA was somewhat weaker than normal, with only one rookie collecting a win.  Ahn, meanwhile, played so well in Japan that she climbed into the top ten in the world for the first time.  Perhaps she could have become the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year, had the situation been different.

Sun Ju Ahn and one of her 2009 KLPGA trophies

But it’s hard to second guess her, because her success in Japan was immediate and constant.  Ahn had always been very consistent in Korea, but tended not to win a lot of tournaments.  In Japan, that consistency saw her contend multiple times in 2010, winning four events in the process.  On top of her 4 wins came 2 second place finishes, 2 more thirds, and 19 total top tens in 27 starts.  She also had the lowest scoring average among the JLPGA players playing regularly on tour.  At one point she amassed a huge money list lead on the rest of the tour, and though it was decreased somewhat towards the end of the year, she still ended up with an impressive 145 million yen total for the year.  Her most impressive run came mid-year, when she achieved ten straight top fives, including three wins; one of those wins was a seven shot blowout over her former big rival Shin.

Ahn holds one of her JLPGA victory cups from 2010

For all these reasons, Sun Ju Ahn definitely deserves the Rookie of the Year award this year. 

Honorable Mention:

Inbee Park, JLPGA

Inbee played only part time on the JLPGA, but still managed a fantastic rookie year on that tour.  I suspect Inbee will appear again in these awards!

Most Improved Player

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park

Inbee Park holds her 2 JLPGA trophies from 2010

Inbee Park’s career went into a bit of a tailspin after her win at the US Women’s Open in 2008.  She had a top ten the following week, but did not have another top ten until the last two events of the 2009 season, more than a year later.  Meanwhile, she missed seven cuts in the 2009 season alone.  One had to wonder if the top pro prospect and once dominant amateur was ever going to return to the level she had once been approaching.

Well, in 2010 she returned with a vengeance, and did so while playing on two different tours.  In Japan, she was a rookie, and had an amazing start to her season (see Best Start to the Season for more details).  She won an event after several second place finishes, and won a second time at the final event of the year, the Ricoh Cup, which is also a tour Major.  In all she collected two wins, 6 seconds place finishes, and 10 top tens in just 14 starts.

But Inbee’s success was not limited to the JLPGA tour.  After starting with two mediocre results, Inbee finished second at her third LPGA event of the year, the Kia Classic; it was her best LPGA finish since the Open win.  She did not win an event in 2010 on the LPGA tour, but ended up with that second, a third, a fourth, and 11 total top ten finishes.  She also managed top tens in all four Majors in 2010, her best of those being a tie for 7th at the LPGA Championship.  Inbee saw her Rolex world ranking flirt with the top ten at times in 2010.

Without any question, Inbee Park had the most impressive comeback season for a Korean in 2010.  May she continue to play so well in 2011, and perhaps finally get another LPGA win to complete her journey back.

Honorable Mentions:

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin Yang from 2009

Yang’s record in 2010 was a marked improvement over what she had managed in her rookie year on the KLPGA tour, 2009.  That year she accumulated four top tens, with her best result a second place, and finished 16th on the money list.  In 2010, she had two wins, one of which was a Major (the Korean Women’s Open), three seconds, three more thirds, and 13 total top tens.  She made over 500 million won, good for second on the money list behind only Bo Mee Lee.  She was also third in the league in scoring average with a 71.07.  In all ways, Yang had a huge improvement in her game from one year to the next, and now stands as one of the top stars on the KLPGA tour at 19 years of age.

Shin Ae Ahn

Shin Ae Ahn meets the press at the 2010 Nefs Masterpiece

Shin Ae Ahn, also a second year player in 2010, had a similar year to Soo Jin Yang, although not quite as successful.  Ahn won the KLPGA Rookie of the Year award in 2009, but still only finished 21st on the money list, behind Yang, with just about 82 million won earned.  She had four top tens that season.

In 2010, she improved in almost every category.  She earned two wins, three more second place finishes, and 8 total top tens.  She earned more than 433 million won, good for third on the money list.

Amy Yang

Amy Yang had a breakout season in 2010.  Although she narrowly missed getting her first win (several times) she still markedly improved on her 2009 season, and showed that she may be ready to become a big star on tour.

Yang’s 2009 saw her notch 2 top tens, with a best finish of third.  She was 45th on the money list with a little more than $300,000 earned.  That’s not too bad for a young player like her, but in 2010 she improved on it exponentially.  Last year she had five total top fives, including her second place finish at the Tour Championship, and one other top ten.  Two of her top fives came at Majors.  She earned $765,000, more than double her 2009 total, good for 14th on the money list, by far her best placing on that list.  Watch out for Amy Yang in 2011!

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