Most Controversial/Weirdest Moment
And the Winner Is: the debut of the Evian Championship as the fifth Major
Many flinched when the Evian Masters was elevated to Major status for the 2013 season without removing one of the other Majors. Having five Majors instead of four introduced all sorts of problems and controversy, and the LPGA is still sorting it all out.
Firstly, having five Majors makes declaring a ‘career Grand Slam’ a real headache. Does a player need all five Majors to have one? What about the ladies who already had a four Major slam? Do they now have their slams removed from their achievements? The LPGA apparently even removed the career Grand Slam data from certain places on their website, showing even they had no clue what the new rules were.
Finally, the Commissioner stated that a Grand Slam meant winning four different Majors, meaning that Se Ri Pak could get one winning the Evian or the Nabisco but didn’t need both. Of course, that didn’t please those who believe that a Slam means sweeping the table of all the existing Majors.
Naturally, the first year with this new system would also be the year that Inbee Park had a chance to win a calendar year Grand Slam, a feat no one thought was even remotely possible. Writers spent as much time figuring out if Inbee winning the British (at St. Andrews, the home of golf!!) would give her the coveted Grand Slam, or if she had to win both remaining Majors to get that honor. It was a needless aggravation that detracted from one of the greatest golf feats of modern times.
Then, when they finally played the Major, the bad weather severely impacted the tournament. The officials jumped the gun by quickly deciding they could only play 54 holes. 54 holes – at a Major? I can’t recall the last time that happened. It made the entire event seem, well, not like a Major.
It all goes to show that it takes more than labeling something a Major to make it so.
Honorable Mention: Crow nearly eats Jee Young Lee’s ball at British Open
Nuff Said. One of the weirdest moments of the year no doubt. Jee Young was also involved in another controversy at the North Texas Shootout. She her hit tee shot out-of-bounds, picked up her provisional, and had to return to the tee. Meanwhile, the final group had played through. Inbee and Carlotta Ciganda had to stand in the fairway and wait while Jelly hit a second drive out-of-bounds, then finally hacked her way through the hole, making a ten. Ouch, what a humiliating way to end what had been before that a decent event for her.
And the Winner Is: Inbee Park Shut Out of AP Female Athlete of the Year Award
It’s hard to understand what the AP was thinking when they didn’t give Inbee Park the award for Best Female Athlete of the Year. It’s not like they haven’t rewarded LPGA golfers before. Annika Sorenstam won this award three times in a row, Lorena Ochoa twice. Even Se Ri Pak managed the feat, capturing it in her rookie year of 1998. But the AP gave the award to Serena Williams instead. It was Williams’ third win. You can’t help but think that Inbee would have gotten this if she were American. Williams certainly had a fine season, with two Majors and 11 wins, but that sort of performance, while impressive, is more common in women tennis. Nobody had done what Inbee did this year in 60 years. She was flat-out better and deserved the crown.
Even more outrageous, Inbee was not even in the top three of the AP voting. The two other athletes named instead of Inbee were Missy Franklin, a swimmer who somehow got consideration even though this was not an Olympic year, and a WNBA rookie who was not even voted Rookie of the Year in her league. The mind boggles.
The only assumption I can make is that Inbee didn’t get the award because she isn’t American, and because of that fact, her monumental achievement was not given the attention in this country it deserved. Imagine for a minute Paula Creamer did what Inbee did (or even Brittany Lang). Any chance she doesn’t get the AP Player of the Year? And if the only difference between the two is that one is a popular American and one is a shy Korean, that doesn’t say much for the integrity of the award, does it? Shouldn’t sportswriters, whose job it is to follow sports, know better?
By the way, Inbee was voted the Female Golfer of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America (in a landslide; she received 91% of the vote), so her achievements were not overlooked by all Americans who write about sports for a living!
Dishonorable Mention: Ha Neul Kim forced to defend title and miss LPGA Q-School
Ha Neul Kim has been on the KLPGA since 2007, when she won the tour’s Rookie of the Year. She has been a star attraction all that time. Most great players leave the tour after four years at most, but Kim had been drawing the fans in for 7 years.
So you think the tour would cut this great player a little slack, but that’s not how it worked out. Here’s what happened. She announced that she wanted to go to LPGA Qualifying School. But they changed the way LPGA Q-School sectionals work. It used to be the case they had two different sectionals, and those who qualified from those events went on to the finals. Now, however, there is only one sectional, and if you miss it, you don’t get a chance to compete for a card for the following year.
As it turns out, Ha Neul was also the defending champion at the KLPGA’s Rush & Cash Charity Classic. The KLPGA has a rule that a player MUST defend any title barring injury. That event, however, fell the week before the only LPGA sectional. Kim felt she could not play the sectional if she defended, and so she was forced to drop out of qualifying.
After all the great things she has brought to the KLPGA, you’d think they’d give her a pass this once. It’s a crying shame, but Ha Neul will be back on the KLPGA in 2014, missing out on another year of LPGA play.
Jamie Farr removed from Jamie Farr classic
Jamie Farr supported and hosted the Jamie Farr Classic on the LPGA tour for more than 20 years. This year he retired, and the tour organizers responded by removing all trace of Farr from the event. Not only was his name not in the event title, he was not to my knowledge invited to participate in any way, nor was he acknowledged on TV coverage or by the tournament. What a pity.
Evian final round shown on Network TV but not in all areas
Another sign that the Evian is not considered a true Major is that it was not shown on TV in certain parts of the country. The final hour and a half of the tournament was broadcast on network TV, but in Seattle, for instance, it was replaced by a garden show. Thus, fans from that area were not allowed to watch the final holes of a MAJOR in any way.
Death of Ok Hee Ku
The saddest story of the year was the unexpected death, at age 56, of Ok Hee Ku. Ku was the first Korean to win a tournament on the LPGA tour when she captured the Standard Register Turquoise Classic in 1988. Ku did not have nearly the impact on her sport that Se Ri Pak would a decade later, but her win on the LPGA tour in 1988 was still a very significant one, especially in retrospect, and you could argue she was the most important Korean golfer of the 20th century other than Pak in terms of her legacy.
In a way, if Se Ri was the Korean golf version of Elvis Presley, Ku was Bill Haley. She got there first, had a big impact, then faded from the Western golf scene, but her example set the table for what Se Ri and all the other great golfers who followed her would later accomplish.
Besides her important LPGA career, she also held the record for most career wins on the KLPGA with 20 until Jiyai Shin broke it a couple of years ago. That’s more wins than Kimmie, Se Ri, Na Yeon Choi or Hee Kyung Seo. She also had a great career on the JLPGA tour, where she was a top player as recently as 2005 and won 23 times. She was the first player inducted into the KLPGA Hall of Fame. As far as I know, only she, Pak, Shin and possibly Kimmie are in there now. Talk about an exclusive group! She also was the President of the KLPGA in 2011 and 2012.
Her memorial service attracted many of the top Korean stars who were in Korea at the time, including Jiyai Shin, Mi Hyun Kim, Grace Park and Soo Yun Kang.
Other Nominees: Shi Hyun Ahn/Marco abuse stories
In June, there were allegations that the troubled marriage between TV talk show personality ‘Marco’ (yes, he uses one name) and golfer Shi Hyun Ahn had taken a dark turn. Police were called to their home, and at the time Ahn claimed he had physically abused her (she later dropped charges). Since they have a daughter together, it makes the situation even sadder.
I have since read stories implying they have divorced or at least separated. Whatever the situation, I hope Ms. Ahn and her daughter will come out of it OK .
Jung Yeon ‘Sarah’ Lee arrested, convicted for DUI.
Sarah Lee was a longtime LPGA player who returned to play full-time in Korea a few years ago. Back on March 29th she was stopped for DUI. Apparently she refused to give a breathalyzer test (she was asked four times), and acted belligerently towards the officer, swearing and even hitting him on the chest.
Lee was arrested and later released. She went to court, where the verdict came down last week: two years probation and 120 hours of community service.
And the Winner Is: Hee Kyung Seo gets hitched
Hee Kyung Seo married her sweetheart Jung Hoon Kook, 34, on November 30th. They planned to honeymoon in Maui. Congratulations to the Fashion Model of the Fairways!
Among those who came to the ceremony were good friends Ha Neul Kim and Inbee Park.
Another Winner: Kyeong Bae gets hitched!
Longtime KLPGA and LPGA mainstay Kyeong Bae also tied the knot in 2013. Her marriage was December 7th. Congratulations to her!
Most Touching Moment
And the Winner Is: Grace returns for one last tournament at Hana Bank
When Grace Park retired from the game in 2012, it all happened so quickly that her longtime fans had little time to say goodbye. So, Hana Bank gave her one more chance to play at this year’s Hana Bank. She was paired with Se Ri Pak and longtime friend Cristie Kerr. It was great to see Grace in action one final time!
It’s About Time Award
And the Winner is: Amy Yang wins on the LPGA tour
In 2006, Amy Yang won the ANZ Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour (yes, I know Australia is not in Europe; work with me!). She thus became the youngest woman to ever win a professional event (a record since smashed by Lydia Ko). Not long thereafter, Yang turned pro and joined the European tour, where she won several more times. When she joined the LPGA full-time in 2009, many expected her to quickly establish herself as a top player on tour.
That she did. With her length and talent, she was particularly adept at Majors. But there was one problem: Yang was not winning. Even when she played brilliantly, like at the 2012 US Women’s Open, where she was four shots better than the next player on the leaderboard, she still didn’t get the trophy – at that event, Na Yeon Choi was even better, and Yang finished second.
For years, she has been known as the best Korean on tour never to win, but that came to an end in Korea at the 2013 Hana Bank championship. When she dropped her birdie putt in the playoff to beat Hee Kyung Seo and claim her first title, Yang ended nearly five years of futility. Here’s hoping the next win comes a lot quicker!
Honorable Mention: Lydia Ko turns pro
Boy, talk about a long overdue move! Lydia Ko had won four professional events as an amateur before she finally turned pro in October of 2013. Had she been a pro, she would have pocketed well over a million dollars for her efforts. She’s already starting to make up for lost time; just in winnings since turning pro, she has earned over $100,000, and that’s not including endorsements. It would have not been too absurd for Ko to have turned pro at the start of last year when she won the NSW Open, but certainly by the time she collected the CN Canadian Women’s Open later that year, there was no doubt she could make a living swinging a stick. Anyways, at least she’ll never have to answer the question about when she is turning pro again!
Korean wins Player of the Year on LPGA
The single most overdue achievement for the Koreans has at last been done! When Inbee Park secured the Player of the Year award, it ended 15 years of trying since Se Ri Pak’s Rookie year breakthrough started the Korean Boom.
Pak probably should have won the thing in 1998, her rookie year, but the weight of expectations ground her down, allowing Annika Sorenstam to sneak in at the end of the year and win it, despite having 0 Majors to Pak’s 2. The biggest missed chance, though, came in 2009. Jiyai Shin had the lead in the race much of the year, but Lorena Ochoa came on strong at the end. It literally came down to the final shot of the year. Shin needed a birdie on her final hole to move high enough in the standings to close out Ochoa, but she missed by inches and Ochoa beat her by a single point.
It wasn’t easy for Inbee in 2013, either. After establishing a seemingly insurmountable lead by July, Park slumped, and Suzann Pettersen began chipping away at the advantage. Park finally stood up to her, finishing fourth at Lorena’s event to finally secure the long desired title.