Posted by: happyfan08 | May 29, 2012

Glamour Girl Makes Good

Every year on the Korean LPGA tour, there is only one match play tournament: the Doosan Match Play Championship.  It might be the hardest event on tour to win: the champion has to prevail in six often grueling head-to-head matches to claim the trophy.  Even great players can struggle when put in that crucible.

Last week, the winner of that tournament was 21 year old Char Young Kim.  Kim was coming off a victory in the previous tournament, the Woori Investment and Securities Ladies Championship.  She had won that tournament in a playoff, perhaps a good indication what she was capable of in head-to-head matchups like the ones she would face at the Doosan event.  Her win at Woori was also her first career win, and after her back to back titles, Char Young Kim sits atop the year’s money list.

Char Young Kim with the Match Play trophy

Before her recent burst of success, Kim was better known for her looks and style than her golf game, although her golf game was certainly nothing to sneeze at.  Golf Digest’s Korean edition often profiles top KLPGA stars in their magazine.  In the past year or so, they have featured articles on player like Sun Ju Ahn, Ha Neul Kim, So Yeon Ryu, Hyun Hwa Shim and Soo Jin Yang, as well as Char Young Kim.  What’s interesting is that, all of the aforementioned players other than Kim had already won events, sometimes multiple events, before they received the star treatment by the magazine.  Ryu had won the US Women’s Open; Yang the Korean Women’s Open.  Ha Neul Kim was the top player on the KLPGA last year, Shim the second best, and Ahn the top player in Japan.

Char Young Kim in a film noir pose from a Korean golf magazine

Char Young Kim had no such success on her resume back then, but nonetheless, she could often be found in the pages of golf and fashion magazines in Korea.  In the States, that sort of thing happens more often: attractive players like Natalie Gulbis or Anna Rawson, for instance, get attention entirely out of proportion to their actual achievements.  But because there are plenty of attractive Korean players who also star on the fairway, there never seemed to be much of that thing happening in the Korean press.  And when it does happen, the player often shows herself worthy of that attention sooner or later.  And so it has been with Kim.

To be fair, Kim’s level of success in her rookie year of 2010 was commensurate with other top rookies of recent vintage.  She did not win an event, but did manage a second place finish, 7 top tens and a 14th place on the money list.  Pretty solid numbers for a lady not even 20, although not good enough to capture the Rookie of the Year title from Yoon Ji Cho.  People took notice.  By the start of the 2011 season, she had quickly become one of the It Girls of the tour.  Nefs signed her to a lucrative sponsorship deal, and she was featured in an unusual pictorial in January of 2011.  As the year progressed, she appeared in several other magazine features as well.  Without winning a tournament, Char Young Kim had become one of the more well known players on tour.

Char Young signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nefs last year

She had another decent golf year in 2011, finishing 19th on the money list with six top tens, but still was not generating the results that would justify all the attention.

Char Young posed for an interesting series of pix at the start of 2011

She didn’t start the 2012 season in a way that suggested things had changed much.  In her first three events, she missed a cut, finished 46th, and had a single top ten, a 9th, at the year’s first tournament in China.  But like a lightning strike, when Kim caught fire, she did it suddenly and explosively.  Her success started two weeks ago, at the Woori event.  The first round saw perennial star Ran Hong shoot a blistering 63 to take a four shot first round lead.  Kim started slowly with a 70.  But in round two, she made her move, producing a 65 to vault into a share of the lead.  Round three, the final round, saw a bunch of players jockeying at the top of the leaderboard before young star Mi Rim Lee took over.  She climbed to 12 under, a three shot lead, and it looked like she had the trophy in her pocket.  But Char Young Kim showed reserves of brilliance she had not before hinted she had in her.  She made birdies on three of the final four holes to catch Lee and force a playoff.  The head to head tiff lasted only a single hole, and Kim stayed cool, making a par while Lee blinked and made bogey.  Just like that, Char Young Kim had her first tournament victory.  The Glamour Girl had made good on her promise.

Char Young celebrated her first career win two weeks ago at the Woori event

And she wasn’t done yet!  The next week came the Doosan Match Play Championship.  The top stars dropped like flies through the first two rounds.  Defending Champ Soo Jin Yang lost in the opening round, while Ha Neul Kim lost in the quarterfinals.

Char Young, meanwhile, kept chugging along.  In the round of 16, she had her first big test, facing multiple winner Ran Hong.  But what should have been a challenge turned out to be pretty easy.  She won 5 & 4, her biggest win of the week to that point.  Kim next beat another tour winner, Yu Na Park, by a 3 & 2 score to advance to the semifinals.

Char Young during round 2 of the Doosan Match Play

Sunday would require all four of the remaining ladies to play two matches: first two semifinals in the morning, after which the two winners would meet in the championship match, while the losers would meet in a consolation match in the afternoon.  Char Young faced another tour winner in Ji Na Lim, while, at the other side of the bracket, 2011 Rookie of the Year Yeon Ju Jung squared off against Chae Yoon Yang, who had beaten Ha Neul Kim in the quarters.

Jung’s match was a close affair, but she managed to eke out the 1up win over Yang.  In fact, Jung was 1 down on 16, but birdied 17 to tie the match, then won the whole thing when Yang bogied 18.  Meanwhile, Char Young’s match was close on the front nine, but Lim fell apart on the back nine, making bogey on almost every hole.  Kim cruised to an easy 4 & 3 win to set up the final match between her and Jung.

Char Young beat Ji Na Lim in the semifinals of the Match Play

In the finals, if Kim was nervous, she didn’t show it.  She steadily made par after par, while her opponent was shakier.  Jung tied Kim on the fifth hole, but after that she got into a habit of making a bogey to fall a hole back, then a birdie to catch back up again.  Finally on the 16th hole, Jung made a bogey, but was not able to make another birdie and lost the match 1 up on the final hole.  By playing steadily, Kim had allowed her opponent to make the mistakes that cost her the match.

Char Young wins for the second straight week

Char Young Kim thus became the first player to win multiple tournaments in 2012.  Last year, the only player who managed that feat, Ha Neul Kim, also won the Player of the Year award.  To be honest, only one multiple winner in a season was a bit of an anomaly, and it is likely one or two other players will achieve multiple wins this season.  But Kim has a nice head start on the field: her win gave her 208 million won earned in 2012, more than 80 million won ahead of the #2 player on the money list.

Even before her two wins, Kim had many endorsements, like this deal with Fila Korea

She should still get plenty of publicity for her looks and style, but from here on in, she will also have to deal with scrutiny of her game like never before.  It’s possible that this past two weeks is a blip and she will fall back to the pack, but it’s also quite possible that we have been witness to the birth of a new star.  Kim will certainly have her steadiness and nerves tested the rest of the season like they were at the Match Play, and it will be fun to see if she can beat back the big names on tour and become the top gun on the KLPGA this year!

Char Young Kim posed for some interesting KLPGA promotional photos in April, 2011


Responses

  1. […] The rest is here: Glamour Girl Makes Good « SeoulSisters […]


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