Posted by: happyfan08 | January 4, 2015

2014 SeoulSisters Awards (1 of 7): Best Start

It’s the end of the year, and time once again for the SeoulSisters.com Awards, or Seoulies! Read on to see what we believe were the most noteworthy achievements by Korean golfers in 2014!

Best Start to the Season

And the Winner Is: Minjee Lee

Minjee Lee started the year with a bang. The teenage Australian began 2014 ranked as one of the top amateur women golfers in the world, but not the very best. By the time she finished her run in late February, she had taken over the #1 ranking among all amateurs, a spot she would hold until she turned professional in September.

Minjee Lee

Minjee’s great run started at the Australian Women’s Amateur in mid-January. She was defending her title that she had won in 2013, and she blasted through the field in 2014 as well. She won the final match 6 & 5 to repeat as champion.

After that, Lee played several professional events, looking for her first pro win. From the 24th-25th she played the Bing Lee Fujitsu General Women’s NSW Open. She notched a tie for 5th, 5 strokes behind the winner.

From February 6 – 9th, she tried again, this time at the Volvik RACV Ladies Master, one of the most important professional events contested in Australia each season. This time she played brilliantly, and as the event wound on, only one golfer seemed to stand between her and that elusive win: Tiger Woods’ niece, Cheyenne Woods. Alas, Woods had a career best week and captured the win, while Lee had to settle for her own career best finish in a pro event, a second place finish.

Minjee was the low amateur at the Australian Ladies Masters, but just missed winning the tournament itself.

The following week, she played at the Australian Women’s Open, an LPGA event. Once again, she found herself in contention for the title, even getting into the final group on Sunday with another player trying to get her first LPGA win, LPGA tour pro Chella Choi. But this time, it was Australian legend Karrie Webb who denied Lee: she came from behind and posted a score, and Lee collapsed in her final few holes trying to get to that score. She wound up tied for 11th.

Finally, everything came together for Minjee. From the 20th – 23rd, she played the Oates Women’s Victorian Open. This time she left nothing to chance, playing fantastically and eventually notching a 6 stroke win. That win finally moved her to the #1 spot in the amateur rankings. No other female golfer with Korean blood had such a nice start to their season as the teen sensation did!

Minjee with her first professional winner’s plate!

Other Nominees:

Kyu Jung Baek

Baek won her first KLPGA title in just the second KLPGA event of calendar year 2014 (and the fourth event with some KLPGA status, two of which happened at the end of 2013). She would win a second time not long after that. But between those wins came a few shaky tournaments, so her start to the year was not quite as impressive as Lee’s.

Biggest Disappearing Act

And the ‘Winner’ is: IK Kim

In Kyung ‘I.K.’ Kim did not have a good 2014 by her standards

In Kyung Kim has earned the nickname ‘Income’ Kim for her ability to cash in big checks week after week on the LPGA tour. But 2014 was a rare exception to that trend: she only managed two top tens all year, and made the least amount of money in a year since she had joined the tour in 2007. It was an especially big downturn given her great 2013, where she earned over a million bucks and had her lowest career scoring average for a season. What happened?

For starters, Inky did not even start her season until fairly late. She did not play her first event in 2014 until after the tour had finished its first Asian swing. It seems she had taken an extra long holiday before starting her preparations for the year. Her first few events were fairly weak; she did not even make a top 20 until the Swinging Skirts tournament in late April, where she finished tied for 13th.

Kim played in the International Crown for the Korean team, and that seemed to energize her: her results after that were much better. But even making the team, once practically a given for her, proved hard. She started the year well in the top ten in the world rankings, but steadily dropped down the list while several other Koreans, including Chella Choi, Ha Na Jang and Amy Yang, moved up. The week they determined the teams, Inky was only one position above Jang and two above Yang. Had the team been chosen even one week later, she would not have been on it.

South Korea’s 2014 International Crown team. IK Kim is second from right.

She lost most of her matches at the Crown, but her play definitely improved in the weeks that followed. The highlight of her season came at the Portland Classic a few weeks later. She was tied for the lead coming into the final couple of holes after the surprise leader to that point, Austin Ernst, made bogies on her final two holes. Inky managed a nice up and down on the final hole and forced a playoff. But she was not able to make par on the playoff hole, and Ernst grabbed the title. Inky’s winless streak has stretched back to 2010, when she won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and continued through her shocking one-foot par miss at the Nabisco, which robbed her of her first Major title. She would end 2014 still without a recent win.

I.K. Kim in Portland

Inky had a few more top twenties and one more top ten at the year’s final event. In all, she made $349,765, roughly a third of what she had made in 2013, and finished 48th on the money list (compared to 7th in 2013).

Hopefully IK can refocus for 2015 and return to the level she has shown most of her career!

I.K. Kim during a gala party at the year’s final Major

Best Korean Confrontation

And the Winner Is: The KLPGA Tour (all season)

This award could have been given to several memorable Korean clashes last year. Mirim Lee and Inbee Park at the Meier Classic, a battle of the rookie vs. the superstar; So Yeon Ryu vs. Na Yeon Choi at the Canadian Women’s Open, as the two bridesmaids from Inbee Park’s wedding (and International Crown teammates) battled for their first LPGA titles in two years; or even the great rookie clash on the KLPGA tour (but I think we’ll get back to that later!).

Instead, this award goes to the KLPGA tour, which had arguably its best ever season in 2014. One of the things that was so remarkable about the year was how often tournaments came down to a battle between big stars. Several times during the season events came down to a playoff between two or three great players, or else the result would only be settled on the final hole. PGA fans in the States are lucky to see one or two events finishing this way in a year; it’s not an exaggeration to say that at least HALF of the KLPGA events in 2014 came down to a clash of titans to determine the crown.

Here are five events that especially stood out (and I had to eliminate at least three other great events to narrow the list down this much!):

The E1 Charity Open (May, 2014): Ha Neul Kim, Yoon Kyung Heo and Ha Na Jang were all in the mix. Rookie star Jin Young Ko had a shot, too, but missed a crucial par save on the 17th hole. Fellow rookie star Kyu Jung Baek rallied with a 66 and tied for third with Ko and Jang. And they weren’t even the top contenders!

Kim led a lot of the way, but was struggling to hold onto the lead at 12 under. Heo, playing a group ahead of Kim, made a birdie on the 16th to move into a tie with her. But on the 18th, she was in trouble, leaving herself a lengthy par saving putt after a poor chip. Remarkably, she made it, getting into the house at 12 under!

Kim, meanwhile, missed a shortish birdie try on 16, then missed a long par save on 17 to drop back to 11 under, one back of Heo. She had to make a birdie on 18 to force a playoff, but left her birdie putt five feet short. An agonizing way for the popular Kim to lose after leading so much of the day!

Ha Neul Kim at the E1 Charity Women’s Open

KDB Daewoo Financial Classic (Sep, 2014): This one turned into a classic back-and-forth battle between Ha Neul Kim and In Gee Chun, two of the league’s most popular players. By the 15th, Chun, who was playing one hole behind Kim, had a two shot lead. Chun hit a terrible bunker shot on that hole, but made a long par save to maintain her lead.

Then Kim made her move, making a long birdie putt on 16, and another slightly shorter one on 17. Tie game! Chun missed two short birdie tries on the final two holes, and it was time for a playoff!

Chun hit a lackluster approach onto the hill near the green, and Kim, in the middle of the fairway, had a golden chance to finally get her first win of 2014. But alas, her approach was a bit short, and she watched in horror as the ball rolled backwards into the water. Chun went on to win with a par, and later Kim collapsed in tears into the arms of her good friend Na Yeon Choi, who was making a guest appearance in the event. This was truly a dramatic ending to a fantastic battle.

Ha Neul after losing the playoff

Ha Neul with Na Yeon Choi

Ha Neul breaks down in tears

The Hite Cup (Oct, 2014): The year’s third Major started its final day with Ha Neul Kim in great position to at last get her first win of the year, but she collapsed. Hyo Joo Kim, Ha Na Jang and Jung Min Lee, three of the tour’s top players, were all in the mix late. Jang got close but came up short, not able to make a birdie she needed to catch the other two. Kim, meanwhile, made two late bogies and seemed finished, but made birdies on the final two holes to catch Lee, a truly clutch performance that showed what a superstar she is becoming. Thus she forced a playoff, which she won when Lee hit her second shot into the drink. Kim’s second KLPGA Major of the year, and not her last (see below)!

Hyo Joo Kim wins her second KLPGA Major of 2014

KB Financial Star Championship (Oct, 2014)

Another awesome battle for a KLPGA Major title at the year’s final Major, featuring Inbee Park, Hyo Joo Kim and rookie sensation Kyu Jung Baek; between them, those three had the other three KLPGA Major titles and two LPGA Major titles in 2014. Now, with just five holes to play, those same three stars were tied for the lead. Things couldn’t have been more dramatic!

Kim made two late birdies to take a two shot lead. Baek had two makeable short birdie tries late, but seemed a bit intimidated by her arch-rival Kim and missed both. Inbee made one birdie, but could not make another to catch Kim, and so Kim won the trophy, her third KLPGA Major of the year. Wow!

Here we go again! Major #3 for Hyo Joo Kim

Chosun Ilbo-Posco Championship (Nov, 2014)

Yoon Kyung Heo and In Gee Chun battled down to the wire for the year’s final title.
Like in the event the previous week, Heo started the day with a three shot lead. But on the back nine, Chun made her move. She hit one of the shots of the year by dunking an eagle on the tenth, and after another birdie on 11, she had completely caught up to Heo. Heo made birdie on 14 to take a one shot lead, but Chun followed with a birdie on 15 to tie her at 11 under.

Chun then made a crucial birdie on 17 to move one ahead. Heo needed a birdie on 18, but instead hit her approach into the water, and Chun got her third win of 2014. A fitting way for the KLPGA’s great season to end.

In Gee Chun wins her third event of 2014

Yoon Kyung Heo loses a heartbreaker

Other Nominees:

Rookie battle on KLPGA (all season)

Inbee Park vs. Mirim Lee, Meijer Classic

A playoff between the top Korean golfer in the world and a rookie looking for her first win? Should have been a lock for the top player, right? Nope, the rookie won! How about that?

So Yeon Ryu vs. Na Yeon Choi, Canadian Pacific Women’s Open (Inbee third)

This one should have been an easy win for Ryu. She led for three and a half rounds, and going into the back nine still had a five shot cushion. But then Ryu started making mistakes, NYC capitalized, and So Yeon only barely held off her International Crown teammate.

Kyu Jung Baek vs. Min Sun Kim, round 1, Doosan Match Play

This was a corker. The match play event on the KLPGA is seeded based on the previous year’s money list; as a result, rookies are thrown randomly into the seeding brackets. As it happened, two top players in 2014 were also rookie rivals, and they ended up facing each other in the first round! In the end, Min Sun Kim outlasted Kyu Jung Baek for the win. Baek was clearly upset afterward, but her good friend Kim stuck around to cheer her up.

Kyu Jung Baek and Min Sun Kim following their match at the Doosan Match Play

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