Posted by: happyfan08 | April 19, 2012

New Kim In Town

Last week’s LotteMart Ladies Open was the start of the main part of the KLPGA’s 2012 season, and what a start it was! Among the returning pros and incoming rookies in the field were a few amateurs. One of them was Hyo Joo Kim, who for some time has been among the top rookies in the country. Kim wasted little time making her presence felt: she shot a 6 under par 66 in the first round to take a share of the lead, then followed that up with a 67 to cruise to an enormous 7 shot lead with two rounds to play. In just two holes on Saturday, she increased that lead to 10 shots, but struggled to a 73 to make it seem like there was still a chance one of the pros would catch her. No way: in the final round she again shot a 66 to achieve a massive 9 shot victory over KLPGA star Hyun Hee Moon.

Amateurs have won on the KLPGA many times in the past. In fact, Kim was the 21st different amateur to achieve a victory on that tour, and her win was the 30th win by an amateur in history. But her victory hit like a thunderclap in Korea, where it was big news the next day. Only once before had a Korean amateur managed such a resounding victory over her professional sisters. That event came in 1995, when a teenager named Se Ri Pak achieved a 10 shot win on the KLPGA. Pak, of course, went on to become the biggest star in the history of Korean golf, and perhaps Asian golf. Could it be that in years to come, last week’s KLPGA event will be looked at as the birth of another superstar?

Hyo Joo and her first professional trophy

Pak’s win was impressive, but the KLPGA was a different tour back in the mid-90s. It is true that these days, many of the big stars leave the tour after a few years to try their luck internationally, whereas back in the day, the big stars largely stayed at home. But it is also inarguable that never before have there been more top flight Korean golfers than right now. Kim went toe to toe with Ha Neul Kim, last year’s KLPGA Player of the Year, who recovered from a slow start on the first day to climb into the final group on Sunday. But even with a 3 under par 33 on her front nine, she still lost ground to the 16 year old, who countered with a 31 over that same stretch. On the back nine, it was the pro who struggled, making four bogies in her final six holes to plunge into a tie for third, 13 shots behind the teen. Also in their group that day was multiple winner Hyun Hee Moon, who as mentioned before finished second. Hyo Joo had shown she could play with the best the tour had to offer and not only hold her ground but extend her lead.

Ha Neul played well in round 3 but still couldn't catch the kid

Amateurs have not won all that often in the past few years, but this stat is a bit misleading. For although they have not collected a lot of trophies, they certainly have come close on several occasions. The last amateur to win on the KLPGA was Hee Kyung Bae, who won the LIG Classic in August of 2010. Before her, you have to go all the way back to Jiyai Shin, who won as a teenager in 2005, and Na Yeon Choi, who won the previous season. But there have been a lot of close calls in the meantime. Last season, for instance, In Gee Jeon, a teenage amateur who is now a rookie on tour, had the lead at the year’s third Major, the Hite Cup, going into the final round. She made a few big mistakes late, however, and Ha Neul Kim grabbed the trophy. In 2009, teenager Ha Na Jang had a chance to win not one but two Majors. She finished third at the Hite Cup, won by Hee Kyung Seo. At the next Major, however, she had a share of the lead until Seo made a birdie on the 17th hole to win that Major as well. Jang finished second.

Ha Na Jang (in background) finished just behind KLPGA superstar Hee Kyung Seo at the 2009 KB Star Tour Grand Finale, the year's final Major

In 2010, second year player Soo Jin Yang found herself in a battle with several amateur stars for the title at the Korean Women’s Open, another KLPGA Major. She needed a par on the final hole to grab the title, but made bogey and wound up in a playoff with amateur Eun Joo Lee. Nervous, she nonetheless beat the amateur in three playoff holes for the title. But Lee finished second, while amateurs Soo Yeon Kim finished fourth and Jung Eun Han 8th.

Perhaps the most bizarre close call came at the 2010 Hyundai Engineering Seoul Economic Women’s Open. This event came just one week after Bae had won the LIG Classic, and another amateur, Soo Yeon Jang, was poised to make it two in a row. After a birdie on 14, she moved to a two stroke lead. But after missing the green on 15, her father, who was also her caddie, laid her clubs down pointing in the direction her chip should go. Someone watching on TV called to report this rules violation, and it cost her two strokes. As it turned out, she ended regulation tied for the lead with pro Jung Eun Lee, who won in a playoff. But for that weird rules violation, she would have had the title.

Soo Yeon Jang's bag position on this hole led to a two stroke penalty and eventual loss

At the start of the last week, Hyo Joo Kim was ranked 25th in the world in women’s amateur golf. That is almost certainly too low, but it points to how difficult it can be to rank amateur golfers. Unlike in the pro ranks, there are few events where a large number of top amateurs congregate, and many amateurs end up playing primarily in their backyard rather than traveling all over the globe to face top challengers. Currently the top ranked amateur in the world is also a Korean. She is Lydia Ko, a 15 year old who has lived in New Zealand for the past 8 years and plays for that country internationally. Ko has certainly had an amazing career to date, becoming the first woman to ever simultaneously hold the Australian Stroke and Match Play titles AND the New Zealand Stroke and Match play titles. As if that weren’t enough, she became the youngest person to ever win a professional event when she captured the New South Wales Open in January at the age of 14 years. An amazing achievement made more incredible by the fact she nearly had won that same event the previous year as a 13 year old, losing thanks to a three putt on the final hole.

Lydia Ko has gotten used to hoisting trophies lately

My information on Hyo Joo Kim has her being 16 years old right now. The Korean press says she is 17, but Korean tradition considers one to become a new age on the first day of the year, not on one’s birthday, so she is called 17 as of January 1st even if her birthday is in July. So she was 2 years older than Ko when she achieved her win last week. But she did it against a field much more impressive, in my opinion, than the one Ko faced. Ko’s win was an Australian Ladies Professional event, not exactly a tour that is as packed with top players as the KLPGA. And Kim’s win was far more dominating than the one Ko achieved. I believe that a fair ranking of the top amateurs in the world would put Kim far closer to the top ranking than she is now.

Kim’s record to this point has been fairly impressive. In 2009, as a 14 year old, she contended at the KLPGA’s Hite Cup, sitting fifth late in the fourth round before stumbling. She also managed a top five start at the year’s final Major, but wound up 34th there in the end. In 2010, she tied for third at the Rush & Cash Charity Classic, and among her amateur achievements that year was a dominant win in singles at the Queen Sirikit Cup, an important Asian golf tournament. She finished 8 shots ahead of second place there, and led the Korean team to a huge win as well. In July of that year, Kim won the R & A Junior Open Girls title, beating New Zealand Korean Cecilia Cho among others (at the time, Cho was ranked in the top five in the world).

Hyo Joo putts at the 2009 Hite Cup

Kim continued to excel in 2011. She won the Callaway World Junior Championship 15-17 year old division by five shots, and managed a fifth place finish at another KLPGA event. She also led the Korean Women’s Open for the first two rounds, but a poor weekend sunk her chances for the win. She had an additional KLPGA top ten later in the year. Kim finished her year with another auspicious international amateur win, capturing the Junior Orange Bowl in Florida. She led the entire week, but had to make a clutch birdie on the final hole to secure the title.

Has Kim’s win opened up the floodgates for another Korean phenom? The press over there are already labeling her the next Jiyai Shin, and have heartily embraced the latest schoolgirl star to emerge there, much as they did Shin and Na Yeon Choi half a decade ago. An interesting test will come this week: Kim will play in the LPGA’s Lotte Championship in Florida on a sponsor’s exemption. Will she have anything left in the tank after her incredible victory in Korea? The Hyo Joo Kim story is just beginning!

Watch out for Hyo Joo Kim!!

Addendum:

Kim has had a very successful few weeks since her KLPGA triumph!  The week afterwards she played in her first LPGA event, the Lotte Championship in Hawaii.  She finished just outside of the top ten, tied for 12th.  The week after that, she led South Korea to an overwhelming victory at the women’s team golf event called the Queen Sirikit Cup.  Korea beat the second place team, New Zealand, by a whopping 25 strokes, with Kim claiming the gold medal in the individual standings by six shots over world’s #1 amateur Lydia Ko.  Kim’s ranking has moved from 25th to 13th as a result of her great few weeks.


Responses

  1. Hi there,

    I hope you can help me to learn about one korean golf player in particular. You-Na Park is at 102 in the world rankings, but I can’t find any information about her anywhere, only her performance in a couple of tournaments. Does she go by a different name sometimes? I guess when the names are spelt in English there can be variations.

    Many thanks

    John

  2. Yu Na/You Na Park is a full time player on the KLPGA tour. She was born June 6th, 1987, and joined the tour in 2009. She had her only tour win to date in 2011 at the Golden Age Cup sponsored by Daewoo.


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