Posted by: happyfan08 | September 24, 2012

Jiyai Shin’s Liverpool Oratorio

Jiyai Shin is arguably the greatest Korean golfer of her generation. From 2006 through 2008, she dominated the KLPGA like no golfer before or since. She won three LPGA events before even joining that tour, something no other player has ever done. In just two years on tour, her win total already was eight victories, including a Major. In late 2010, she became the first Korean golfer to ever reach the #1 ranking in the world, and also was the first Korean to ever lead the LPGA money list. Even the legendary Se Ri Pak never managed that feat.

But Jiyai Shin had not won an LPGA event since claiming the Mizuno Classic in November of 2010. Injuries and swing changes hampered her efforts, and though she came close on several occasions, her once vaunted ability to close out a win seemed to have deserted her.

At long last, after 22 months of waiting, Shin’s slump came to an end at last week’s Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia. But she had to work for it: after battling Paula Creamer all day for the title, Creamer three putted on the final hole to send the two stars into a playoff. After playing the 18th hole a staggering 8 times, they were still unable to end the deadlock. It took a Monday morning restart, and a ninth playoff hole, before Shin finally got to hold the trophy. It was the second longest sudden death playoff in LPGA history, and the longest ever between just two players.

Jiyai with her first trophy of 2012

Shin’s back story is well known among LPGA fans. As a teenager working her way up the amateur golf ranks, she was busy practicing one day when her mother and two siblings were involved in a deadly car accident. Her mother was killed, and both her younger brother and sister were seriously injured. Shin wound up moving into the hospital to help take care of the two; it took them nearly a year to get well. Meanwhile, Shin, toughened by the horrible experience and buoyed by her mother’s insurance money, started winning tournament after tournament. She says she had never won before her mother’s death, but after that, dedicated every win to her memory.

While still in high school, Shin won her first KLPGA tournament. The bespectacled, small in stature Shin was no one’s idea of a killer, but she had steel in her spine and was deadly when a win was in sight. Turning pro at the end of 2005, she almost immediately won a professional event, the Hong Kong Open. She joined the KLPGA the following season, and by the end of the year had won three events and claimed the Player and Rookie of the Year awards. Among her wins that season was a victory at the Korean Women’s Open, where she stared down and beat top LPGA star Cristie Kerr in the final round. She broke Se Ri Pak’s decade old record for most money made in a single season.

Jiyai won the 2006 Korean Women’s Open as a rookie

For the next several years, Shin broke record after record on the KLPGA tour.  When she started playing internationally on a regular basis, she had the same stunning success wherever she went.  All of this culminated in her becoming the first Korean golfer to ever ascend to the #1 ranking in women’s golf.

But starting in 2011, a series of injuries and attempts to add more distance to her drives resulted in a massive downturn in her game.  Ya Ni Tseng became the uncontested top player in the world that year, while Shin was not able to win even a single event on any tour.  She continued to struggle with injuries and less than stellar play through the start of 2012. Even when she did play well, Tseng was there to knock her back down. Then she needed to have a hand operation, which caused her to miss several Majors.  She finally returned to action in July, and immediately showed a promising return to form. After a 31st at the Evian Masters, she was tied for the lead going into the final round at her next event, the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. That week, however, So Yeon Ryu, who was also tied for the lead, was unstoppable, firing a 62 in the final round to romp to a seven shot win. At her next event, the Safeway Classic, she was again a non-factor, but the next tournament after that, the CN Canadian Women’s Open , once again saw Shin in the final group on Sunday. This time, though, it was the 15-year-old wunderkind Lydia Ko who could not be beaten, and Shin finished tied for third. Signs were good that Shin would get more chances to earn her first trophy in nearly two years.

Jiyai Shin douses Lydia Ko with water after her win at the CN Canadian Women’s Open

Her next event was a new one on the schedule, the Kingsmill Championship. A new tournament, but not a new location, for Kingsmill was the site of the late lamented Michelob Ultra, which once upon a time was one of the LPGA’s top events. For this week, Shin was working with a new caddie, and was apparently feeling a lot of comfort with her game, for in the very first round, she blistered the course, shooting a 9 under par 62 to take the lead. That definitely gave her a little of her old confidence back, and she shot a 68 on day two to move to 12 under total. She maintained her lead despite a brilliant round from rookie Danielle Kang, who went ultra low to move into second place.

But the biggest threat to Shin’s week would not come from Kang but from another top player who had not won on tour since 2010. American Paula Creamer produced rounds of 65, 67 and 65 to move ahead of Shin in round 3 with a total of 16 under par. Shin shot a third round 69 but now trailed Creamer by two shots. They would be paired in the final round, and sure enough, fireworks ensued. The two battled it out all day, both determined to finally end their multi-year winless droughts. Creamer started well, with two early birdies to hold off Shin, who also had two birdies early. But Creamer made a big mistake on the 6th, hitting her approach into a nasty place and making double bogey, her first serious error in several days.

Jiyai Shin drives during round 4 of the Kingsmill Championship

They were still tied at the turn, but Shin made some serious mistakes after that, resulting in bogies on 10 and 11. Creamer seemed in control, but a Creamer bogey on 12 allowed Shin to hang in there. Creamer managed to make a clutch up and down on 13 to maintain her lead, then followed that with a birdie on 14 to move to 2 up again. But Shin was not going to make it easy on the young American. She made a birdie on 15 to again move to within one, and traded birdies on 16 to maintain that one shot deficit.

And so it stayed until the 18th, when both players reached the green in regulation. It looked like Shin was going to go home disappointed after a valiant effort, but Creamer unexpectedly missed a short par save to fall into a tie with Shin at the end of regulation. It was time for a playoff. And what a playoff it ended up being.

Jiyai Shin and Paula Creamer battled all day Sunday for the Kingsmill title

They would play the 18th hole again and again until a winner emerged. But time after time, they matched pars, and the playoff went on and on and on. Shin very nearly ended it on the first playoff hole, but she left a five foot birdie putt two rolls short of the cup. They both had chances to win on the second try but missed. On the third go round, both players wound up in bunkers and made great up and downs to maintain the tie. They continued to match pars with two putts a fourth, fifth, and sixth time.

By now the playoff itself had stretched to over two hours, and it was looking like they might not be able to finish before light ran out. There was something about the hole that made it really tough to birdie. Neither player was long enough to get a short iron approach that would have made a birdie a strong possibility. And so, it looked like the event would end when one of them made a mistake. But Shin, in full terminator mode, was determined that she would not be the one to do that.

Jiyai Shin after one of her misses during the Sunday playoff

On the 7th playoff hole, Creamer had to scramble but made a five footer to tie yet again. They both two putted the 8th, although Creamer’s birdie attempt almost made it that time.  By now it was simply too dark to continue, although they both went back to the tee and thought about it. And so, what had become the longest two player sudden death playoff in LPGA history would resume on Monday morning. Thankfully, this time they decided to play hole 16, then 17, then 18 if necessary. It would prove a wise decision. Both players hit the fairway on the 9th playoff hole, but Shin got her approach much closer, and Creamer’s putt went well by the hole. Shin had yet another chance to win, but missed her birdie. But she had left it close, and this time, finally, Creamer was not able to save par. Shin tapped in, and at long last, she had another trophy to add to her collection.

On Monday morning, Jiyai finally won the endless playoff

One of the real oddities about the event was how many times the number nine reappeared for Jiyai Shin. She went 9 under in the first round. The win was her 9th career LPGA win, beating a player who also had nine career wins. She won the event on the 9th playoff hole after the two players made nine total shots. The playoff had started on September 9th, or 9/9. Shin would not have much time to celebrate, as she and Creamer immediately hopped on a plane to journey to Liverpool, site of the year’s final Major, the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Liverpool, of course, is the birthplace of the Beatles. John Lennon of the Fab Four considered nine his lucky number (he was born October 9th, as was his son), and he infamously wrote a song called Revolution #9. But how would Shin do on this course she had never before seen, when she would get less chance to play the course than almost anyone else in the field? In fact, thanks to her late arrival and poor weather, she would only get a chance to play practice rounds on – the front nine holes. Maybe the fact that she played only that particular number of holes was an omen!

Weather is usually a big factor at the Women’s British Open, and this year, with the event taking place more than a month later than usual to avoid conflicting with the Olympics, it was a dominating factor. Indeed, it made the seaside links course play at times like one of the toughest tests the women had ever faced. On the first day, only a few players were able to finish under par, including Koreans So Yeon Ryu and Haeji Kang, who were tied for the lead at 2 under. Shin shot a 71, a great place to be after all her travels. Shin then got the break of the week. On day two, the weather was so atrocious that they finally decided to postpone the round entirely. Shin got a much-needed day of rest, and was raring to go Saturday morning.

Shin not only took advantage of her rejuvenated condition, she wound up shooting one of the best rounds of her entire life: an immaculate 8 under par 64, the lowest competitive round ever shot at the course, male or female. She hit all but one fairway and all 18 greens. She started her round on the 10th hole by sinking an eagle from 30 yards, and followed that with birdies on 11, 12 and 13. In just four holes she was five under for the day. By the end of the day she had a five shot lead over Inbee Park and was well on her way to earning her second career Major. But as brilliant as her Saturday was, the hard part was yet to come. Shin had to play 36 holes on Sunday, and the weather was bound to be treacherous at times. This was a course where one or two holes could change everything if she was not careful. No lead was safe.

Jiyai was electric during a brilliant Saturday 64 at the British Open

Shin made mistakes during her first 18 holes of the day, but managed to shoot a 71. That allowed her to maintain a three shot lead over the surging Hall of Famer Karrie Webb. By the time Shin started her fourth round, just a few minutes after ending her third, the weather had changed drastically. Suddenly the wind and rain was whipping, and Shin paid the price on the first hole, one of the toughest of the week. By the time she was done, she had made a triple bogey and fallen to 7 under total. Fortunately for her, Webb made double bogey herself on that hole, and soon fell off the pace. Only Park looked like she might threaten Shin if Shin could keep it together.

And Jiyai did just that, making clutch pars to calm her nerves, then two birdies on 6 and 7 to move back to 9 under total. From there, she managed to maintain a big lead through the rest of her round. The weather did not make it easy. It calmed down for a while, but at one point on the back nine it got so bad that her umbrella was shredded by the wind and they had to halt play for a few minutes. Still, she continued to play steady golf, making three more birdies and two bogies while almost everyone else struggled to make par. When she reached the 18th hole with a 10 shot cushion, suddenly the sun came out, bathing the entire course in an eerie orange light (the commentators resisted the obvious Here-Comes-the-Sun Beatles reference). Moments later, she wrapped up the win, her two-year drought a distant memory. Her final total score was – yup – number 9 number 9 number 9 under par, a 9 shot margin over Park. It was the biggest margin of victory (by four shots) in the event’s history as a Major tournament. John Lennon would have been proud.

The sun finally came out as Jiyai walked up the final fairway

Jiyai Shin skipped the next LPGA event to travel back to Korea, where she received a heroine’s welcome at the airport. We can only wait with bated breath to see if she can continue the hot streak at her next event! But every indication is that the greatest player of her generation is back on track, so the rest of the world better watch its step!

In semi-darkness, Jiyai Shin holds her second career Major trophy

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Responses

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