Posted by: happyfan08 | March 23, 2012

The Runner-Up Jinx?

Korean golfers have been playing very well at the start of the 2012 season, but a trend has developed that is all the talk of the press back in their home country.  Namely, though the Seoul Sisters have repeatedly put themselves in contention at LPGA tournaments, they have not yet been able to grab so much as a single win.  This phenomenon is known as the ‘Runner-Up Jinx’ in Korea, and has pundits speculating what it will take for one of their golf stars to break through and get a win.

The roots of this problem started showing up at the end of last year.  Several times in the latter half of the 2011 season, Korean golfers were in a good position to win an event, only to falter or see someone else surge to the victory at the last moment.  At the Safeway Classic, for instance, Na Yeon Choi had the lead going into the final few holes, but made some mistakes and fell into a playoff with Suzann Pettersen.  Choi then hit an approach into the water on the first playoff hole to lose the tournament.  At that same event, Hee Young Park had a share of the lead going into the final hole, but bogied to miss the playoff by a shot.  At the Ha Na Bank in Korea a few weeks later, Soo Jin Yang and Na Yeon Choi both had great chances to win, but world’s #1 Ya Ni Tseng ended up taking the title by a stroke.  But those frustrating near misses were offset by two wins by Choi and Park, so in the end, it wasn’t so much a jinx as a string of missed opportunities followed by some successes.

Hee Young Park helped prevent a jinx last year with her win at the Titleholders

In 2012, too, there have been a few notable international achievements for the Koreans.  Perhaps the most startling happened in late January, when 14 year old Korean-New Zealand amateur Lydia Ko stunned the world by becoming the youngest player in history to win a professional event when she claimed the title at the ALPG’s New South Wales Open.  Also, the Korean players have played well on the Japanese tour.  Bo Mee Lee broke through a few weeks ago with her first win on that tour, beating fellow Korean and top player on that tour Sun Ju Ahn in a playoff.  Last week, the JLPGA’s T-Point Ladies Event was won by Korean Ji Hee Lee, after another Korean, Eun Bi Jang, had held the 36 hole lead.

Bo Mee Lee won her first JLPGA career event a few weeks ago

But on the LPGA and Ladies European Tours, the Koreans are still nil for 2012.  It was the same last year at this time, but what has changed is that in 2011, the Koreans were not for the most part even close to winning events.  This year, Koreans have had a chance to win every single event going into the final few holes, and in all but two cases, were even leading the event on the final hole and failed to claim the wins.  Results like this go beyond the breaks of the game into the realm of the bizarre.

In February, the Ladies European Tour had back to back events in Australia.  The second of these events, the Handa Australian Women’s Open, was also the opening event of the LPGA season, while the first one, the RACV Ladies Masters, was an LET-ALPG co-sponsored event.

The Masters by and large featured European tour regulars, but a few special guests were present, including 2011 KLPGA Player of the Year Ha Neul Kim and last year’s US Women’s Open winner So Yeon Ryu.  Ryu wasted little time making her presence felt.  She was among the leaders after round one, but in round two shot a blistering course record tying 61 to zoom to a four shot lead.  She struggled a bit more in round three, but still managed to hold on to a three shot cushion going into the final round.  The only player who looked likely to cause problems for Ryu was Cristel Boeljon, a top Euro player who also had finished runner up to Hee Kyung Seo in last year’s LPGA Rookie of the Year race.  In the final round, Ryu tried her best, but Boeljon kept hanging in there, eventually catching Ryu with a few holes to go.  Meanwhile, several other players, including Ha Neul Kim, charged from behind and finished at 20 under par.  When Boeljon and Ryu reached the final hole, they, too, were tied for the lead at 20 under.  It was a par five, and Ryu needed a birdie.  But she only made par.  Meanwhile, Boeljon made birdie and won the event outright.  It was the first time she had led the event by herself all week.  For two and half days, it looked like Ryu had the trophy in her hands, but in the end, she went home with a nice check but no top prize.  Jinx result: two Koreans tied for second, no win.

So Yeon Ryu delights in her *12* birdies in round 2!

Ryu talked to her coach over the next few days, and decided that her problem at the Masters was that she “was thinking about just winning the trophy” and maybe she had “lost concentration” as a result.  She felt much more relaxed entering into the next week’s tournament, the Handa Australian Women’s Open, which was also the opening event of the LPGA season.  And it paid dividends, for just like at the Masters, after two rounds, Ryu once again had the lead.  One shot behind her was her old rival Hee Kyung Seo, who shot a 66, the best score of the week, to zoom into second place.  The two of them struggled a bit in round three, but still stayed just a shot out of the lead going into the final round.  The leader was Jessica Korda, a second year player who had never even managed a top ten in her rookie season.

In that final round, the lead switched back and forth several times.  But when Korda began making big mistakes towards the end of the day, Seo and Ryu zoomed into the lead.  Going into the final hole, the two rivals were tied for first, with a one shot lead over four other players.  Surely at least one of those two Korean stars would post a par on the hole!  But then the jinx struck again.  Both players hit the green and had longish birdies putts to win outright.  And both missed, blowing the putts about three or four feet past the hole.  Then, incredibly, both players missed the par saves as well!  The idea that two superstars like Seo and Ryu could both three putt the final hole of a tournament was almost beyond imagining, yet it happened.  In the end, there was a record tying six way playoff which Korda won.  So not only did the two Koreans fail to win in regulation, they were also not able to get the job done in the playoff, either; and they wound up losing to the least experienced player in the entire playoff.  It’s hard to imagine there will be a more disappointing result for the Korean ladies this year.  Jinx Result: Two Koreans tied for second.

The 72nd green of the Australian Women's Open was tough for Ryu and Seo

Next came the Honda (not to be confused with Handa!) Thailand LPGA tournament.  This one came down to a slugfest between Ya Ni Tseng, Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin.  All three players had chances to win, but in the end Tseng outlasted the other two, with Miyazato finishing second and Shin third.  This was probably the least unlikely Korean loss of the five results we will examine, but even here, a few breaks might have produced a very different result.  For instance, on the final hole, Tseng hit a terrible drive into the trees, but got a lucky bounce back into the fairway.  That easily could have gone the other way, which might have meant a very different result.  But she still grabbed the win, and the Koreans were left in the cold again.  Jinx Result: Korean in solo third.

The next tournament, the HSBC Ladies Champions in Singapore, produced another heartbreaking finish.  The Korean who rose to the top that week was Jenny Shin, a teen in her second year on the LPGA tour.  Unlike Korda, Shin had had a pretty decent rookie season on tour, although she had never come very close to winning an event before.  She had already managed two top tens in the year’s first two events, but after the third round, she was tied for the lead with Americans Angela Stanford and Katie Futcher, thanks to a clutch 18th hole birdie.  In the fourth round, Shin played some truly amazing golf.  Every time it looked like she would crumble, she would come up with a clutch birdie or par save to keep the momentum going.  She had a great birdie on the final par five to maintain a one shot lead over Angela Stanford, and made another lengthy par save on 17 to hold onto a one shot lead with one hole to play.  Yep, that’s right: once again, a Korean had the lead going into the final hole.

Unbelievably, at that moment, the weather took a major turn for the worse, and they had to suspend play for 90 minutes.  Imagine being in the position to win for the first time; you are playing well, and need to just complete one more hole to get the trophy.  Then, suddenly, you have to stop for an hour and a half and think about what’s happening.  It’s hard to imagine a worse break than that!  When they finally returned to action, Shin immediately put her drive into the trees and had to take an unplayable lie.  Na Yeon Choi and Shanshan Feng had earlier finished at 10 under par, and Stanford was at 11 under in the same group as Shin, who was at 12 under.  All Shin needed was a bogey and she would probably do no worse than a playoff.  But she struggled to a double bogey, and had to watch while Stanford had a chance to win it all.  Amazingly, Stanford missed the short putt and made bogey herself, causing a four person playoff.  Feng made bogey on the first playoff hole, and then there were three left, two of whom were Korean.  But it was the one non-Korean, Stanford, who wound up winning.  Jinx result: Choi and (Jenny) Shin finished second.

Young Jenny Shin made double bogey on her final hole to fall into a four way tie for the lead

The most recent LPGA tournament was also the first one in America this season, the RR Donnelly Founders Cup in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Koreans had a fabulous week.  After three rounds, Na Yeon Choi was a shot behind the leaders, Miyazato and Tseng.  But So Yeon Ryu, In Kyung Kim, Inbee Park, Hee Kyung Seo, Hee Won Han, Jennifer Song and Se Ri Pak were all within six shots of the leader and had a theoretical chance of taking the crown.  In the final round, most of the golfers were not able to make a significant move, and some, like Inky and Inbee, struggled.  But Ryu played great and hung close to the leaders before a spate of pars knocked her out; she finished fourth.  Hee Young Park finished fifth, Seo sixth.  Choi, meanwhile, hung in with the other two leaders in a spectacular battle that seesawed all day.

The weather gods threw everything imaginable at them.  Hail, rain, fierce winds, you name it.  Yep, you read that correctly: hail in Arizona.  Choi took the lead, then hit an approach into the water and made double to fall behind Miyazato.  She clawed her way back. The weather stopped play three times.  Finally, with darkness descending, Tseng made birdie on the par 5 15th to take a two shot lead.  On the next hole, both Choi and Miyazato striped their irons to a few feet and made birdie, and the gap was one stroke.  But Choi, who was struggling against a back that was seizing up due to the cold, was not able to make birdie on the final two holes, and she wound up… tied for second with Miyazato behind Tseng.  Jinx result: for the second straight week, Choi finished second.

The weather outside was frightful, but the golf was still delightful! Na Yeon Choi in round 4.

How much longer will the jinx last?  Hopefully Korean golf fans will see it end in the next two weeks, either at the Kia Classic or the year’s first Major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship.  Choi, Ryu, Seo, Jiyai Shin and Jenny Shin have all come agonizingly close to collecting a trophy already.  With luck, one of them, or another of the Sisters, will be putting the jinx to rest soon, and for a long time to come!

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Responses

  1. […] View original post here: The Runner-Up Jinx? « SeoulSisters […]

  2. jinx broken! Sun Young Yoo, after a 2nd place finish the week before at the Kia Classic, becomes just the second Korean — and first in 8 years — to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Congratulations to Sun Young on her big win.

  3. The jinx was broken. Hooray! But it also continued in a way: for the third time this year, a Korean got to the 72nd hole of the tournament with a one stroke lead and lost. That Korean was In Kyung Kim, who three putted the final hole to fall into a tie with Yoo. Ya Ni Tseng had a chance to join the playoff, but just missed her birdie try on the final hole. So Kim almost continued the jinx at the same time as Yoo finally broke it!


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