Posted by: happyfan08 | January 10, 2016

2015 SeoulSisters Awards (4 of 6): Controversy, Biggest Diss, Happy and Touching News

AWARD for Most Controversial Moment

And the Winner is: Alison Lee and the concession that wasn’t at the Solheim Cup

Alison Lee

Alison Lee, a Korean American teenager in her rookie season, had a great year on tour in 2015 and has established herself as a name to watch in years to come. Despite having only one year to accumulate points, she managed to qualify for the Solheim Cup Team, not an easy feat when every else had two years to collect points.

But Lee’s rookie year will forever be marked by what happened in one of her team matches at the Cup. Late in her team match against the European team of Suzann Pettersen and Charley Hull, Lee picked up a ball, thinking she had heard someone concede the short par putt she had yet to make. But no player from Europe had conceded the putt, and Pettersen would not back down, causing America to lose the hole and later the match.

Lee was devastated, repeatedly insisting she had heard the concession, although no audio evidence supported her claim. Pettersen was vilified for bad sportsmanship (Lee almost certainly would have made the putt), Lee was questioned for her veracity, and even the captains of each team were dragged into the raging mess.

In the end, it worked out great for America. Fired up by the incident, the US made a huge comeback against Europe on European soil, winning the Cup for the first time in a while.

Other Nominees:

Sei Young Kim’s caddie Paul Fusco is kicked out of the US Women’s Open

Fusco apparently went into an office at this year’s US Women’s Open and found no one inside. He claims that he saw the pin positions for all four days out in the open in this office, and so took photos of them to help his player plan her strategy. But this is against the rules: unlike at LPGA events, USGA events do not publicize pin positions before the day they are set. Thus, Fusco was kicked out of this year’s Open.

Did Fusco knowingly try to get an unfair advantage? Or did the USGA really mess up by leaving these documents in a public place, and he was an innocent victim? It’s not entirely clear what really happened, but it sure generated some controversy.

So Yeon Ryu calls then world #2 Inbee Park the “true Number one”

So Yeon Ryu

“It was good to play with Inbee, my best friend on the tour. She is not number one right now, but I believe she is the true number one, so it was great to compete with her.” – So Yeon Ryu

So Yeon said the following after she beat her friend in a close battle at the 2015 LET Mission Hills event in China. Park was the defending champion.

The problem was that Lydia Ko had recently become the #1 golfer in the world, and some Ko fans took umbrage at what they perceived as a slight against the teenager.

Given how So Yeon is as a person, it was more likely meant as a genuine appreciation of her friend Inbee than a knock against Ko. Inbee after all was still very close to the #1 spot in Rolex points, and had the more overall impressive record compared to Ko in the previous two years. As well, Ko had only recently become #1 and was fighting to maintain that spot, so it seemed a reasonable opinion to believe she hadn’t truly established herself as the top golfer in the world.

But of course, others felt differently!

AWARD for Biggest Diss

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park Completes Career Grand Slam, but many in the media can’t stop questioning it.

Inbee receives another post-season award in December

When Inbee Park won the Women’s British Open this year, she won her fourth different Major and completed what she considered the career Grand Slam, a feat she had targeted as one of her biggest goals since starting her pro career. The LPGA agreed that she achieved this.

The problem, of course, is that in 2013 the LPGA elevated the Evian Championship to Major status, giving the tour five Majors per year for the first time in its existence. So technically, if a Slam requires winning all the Majors, Inbee had not done so, even though she did win the Evian the year before it became a Major and had won the other four events when they were Majors.

A whole bunch of American media outlets, including Golf Channel, seem to have decided that Inbee has not in fact completed the Slam, and take every chance she is mentioned to bring this up.

Inbee has become a bit irritated at times by this attitude and the general negative tone of coverage the Korean players seem to get in the States. She was asked a few months ago about a quote from American veteran Cristie Kerr. Kerr compared South Koreans golfers to machines because they practice 10 hours a day. Inbee responded tartly, “They (the Americans) should build better machines”.

Does Inbee have the career Grand Slam? Of course it is debatable, and the LPGA sure made a hash of things by creating a fifth Major (it bit Inbee before, in 2013, when she was going for the calendar year Grand Slam and suddenly seemingly had to win five, not four, Majors in a single year). But I believe she has achieved this feat and needs to be celebrated more readily as such. Here are my thoughts on this issue.

  1. Inbee is being criticized by a bunch of American press (especially the Golf Channel) who seem gung ho on denigrating her Grand Slam. I feel that if it had been Paula Creamer who had done this, they would not be making such a big deal about this nitpicky point.  I don’t find the same doubt in the Korean press.
  2. The LPGA says she has it, which trumps the press opinions. The press should, you know, report the news, not try to make it.  If the official body who decides such things says it’s true, why are the news people/commentators so often openly doubting it (some of them literally always question it every time they mention she has the Slam).
  3. If you look at the list of players who have slams, every one of them has at least four. Now, some of them must have played at times in the LPGA history when there were three or even two Majors, yet we don’t see anyone given credit for a Slam for winning the two Majors from those days. I think this indicates that what Slam really means is winning four different Majors. If you want to make meaningful historical comparisons, it’s unfair to hold Inbee to a higher standard than the others. Imagine Se Ri Pak had retired in 2013, and after a decade of trying to complete the Slam, she finally won the Nabisco that year. Nope, sorry, no Grand Slam for you, we have a new one now. Tough luck? No, that’s totally lame! Se Ri would have one IMO.
  4. Inbee questions the doubters by asking if someone like Annika no longer has a Grand Slam now that there are five.  I don’t think this is a valid argument because the way it works is, once you get the Slam, you have it even if the Majors change. But as my Se Ri example shows, it would be lame to penalize someone who has spent most of her career operating under one system if it suddenly changes. Since she was a little girl, Inbee dreamed of winning four Majors, and through no choice of her own, that’s suddenly not enough? But it was for all those other golfers? Weak sauce.

One little aside about Kerr’s ‘machine’ comment (some sources claim she said ‘robot’, which is even worse). Machine/Robot has been used as shorthand to dehumanize the accomplishments of the Asians in much the same way as ‘natural athlete’ was used once upon a time to imply that African American athletes had an unfair biological advantage over whites. The Koreans are most clearly not machines. They work hard and have to deal with far more flack from American press, fans and culture than entitled Americans like Kerr could even imagine. They learn a new language, adopt to new foods, and learn to interact with people very different than they are. And by and large do it joyfully, with a smile and with great class. Way to go, Inbee, for telling it like it is and flinging the robot comment back in Kerr’s face. Quote of the year!

AWARD for the Happiest News

And the Winner is: Inbee Park Qualifies for the Hall of Fame

Inbee Park holds her second career Vare Trophy

Do you get the feeling that Inbee had a great year? At the start of the season, Inbee had accumulated 19 of the 27 points necessary for her to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Points are earned thusly: 1 point for each tournament won; two points per Major won; and one point each for a Vare Trophy (for low scoring average) or Player of the Year award. This system has made the LPGA Hall of Fame one of the hardest in the world to enter. Indeed, since the start of this century, only three golfers have managed it: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Korean golf legend Se Ri Pak (Lorena Ochoa also earned enough points but did not meet the requirement that she play ten full seasons on tour).

8 points shy of the total needed might not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that even a great golfer like Grace Park only earned 8 HOF points in her entire career. There was no telling how much longer it would take Inbee to earn those points.

By late summer, however, Inbee had won four tournaments, including two Majors, to earn six more points, moving her to within 2 points of the needed total. And at that point, she was ahead in both the race to win the Player of the Year and Vare Trophy, and those two awards would be enough to get her to the Hall.

Inbee Park returns to Korea a national hero (again!)

However, shortly after that, Lydia Ko went on a tear, winning several events, including a Major. Just like that, Park no longer was in the lead in either category. But Inbee rallied, winning the second-to-last event of the season to move to within one point. Her win in Mexico also moved her ahead in the scoring race. In order to enter the Hall, she had to finish ahead of Lydia Ko in the year’s final event, which would win her the Vare Trophy. Of course, if she were to win the event or finish ahead of Ko by a big enough margin, she could also win additional Hall points, but the scoring average trophy was all she needed.

As it turned out, she did finish ahead of Ko and won the scoring average award, earning the 27th point. She has still only completed nine seasons on tour, though, and will need to finish ten events next year to officially qualify. Still, she got the hard part done. Congratulations to Inbee Park on becoming only the second Korean player to ever qualify for the Hall!

Other Nominees:

Jiyai Shin might come back to LPGA!

Jiyai Shin

Jiyai Shin is an eleven-time winner on the LPGA tour, including two Majors, making her the third most successful Korean golfer in history. But two years ago, she suddenly resigned from the LPGA to play full time in Japan. She claimed at the time she wanted to be closer to her family.

Shin played in the LPGA’s Japanese tour event this year, the Toto Japan Classic. During her interviews before the tournament, she said that she had changed her mind and was now ready to return full time to the LPGA again. She was even hoping she might win the Toto to earn her LPGA card anew.

Alas, she didn’t win, though she did well and finished tied for 6th. Interestingly, a former KLPGA rival of hers, Sun Ju Ahn, did win, but decided not to take the card.

But hopefully Jiyai will continue in her efforts to return to the LPGA; she is a great player who should be playing on the best women’s golf tour in the world!

Jiyai Shin is playing well in Japan, but she wants to come back to the LPGA

Jimin Kang back from the abyss

Jimin Kang is a two-time LPGA winner who, at one point, was the second-longest playing Korean golfer on the LPGA tour behind Se Ri Pak. But unknown to many, in the past few years, Kang has suffered from a host of medical issues. In 2010, her allergies became worse, forcing her at times to wear a mask while playing. She had to take a dozen pills a day, use an inhaler, and even carried an epiPen just in case.

By early 2013, things got so bad that she checked herself into the Mayo Clinic for testing. Their diagnosis: she was suffering from overmedication for her allergies. They completely purged the medicine from her system, and told her it might take her years to get back to full strength.

She took a prolonged medical leave from the LPGA, not even swinging a golf club until late 2013. When she finally tried to play a round of golf casually, she did not have the energy to finish, even though she was riding in a cart.

She tried to push through it, but overexerted herself. By September of 2014, she was ready to quit golf entirely.

But by the end of that year, she started to feel better, and so refocused her efforts on the Symetra Tour in 2015. Amazingly, despite being rusty, she tied for 4th in her first Symetra start, and won her fourth tournament played.

It’s been a tough road back, and she still has a long way to go, but what an amazing turnaround for Jimin Kang!

Grace Park gives birth to daughter

Grace Park, one of the original Korean golf greats, is retired now and married, and earlier this year she gave birth to her first child, a daughter. She named her Hayden. Congratulations to her!

AWARD for Most Touching Moment

And the Winner is: Hee Kyung Seo & Jee Young Lee Retire

Hee Kyung Seo and family

Every once in a while, a longtime Korean star hangs up her cleats and calls it a day. In 2015, two Seoul Sisters retired.

Hee Kyung Seo was the original “Fashion Model of the Fairway”. In 2008, she burst onto the KLPGA scene with 6 wins, and followed that with a five win season in 2009 that also saw her win all the post-season awards, including Player of the Year, and sweep three of the four Majors to boot (she finished second in the fourth Major!).

In 2010, Seo won the Kia Classic to earn her LPGA tour card. She would go on to win the 2011 LPGA Rookie of the Year award. Her biggest moment that year was nearly winning the US Women’s Open. She would lose in a playoff to her old KLPGA rival So Yeon Ryu.

For as much as she achieved on the KLPGA, Seo never quite got to the top ranks on the LPGA tour. She did contend several other times, including losing two other playoffs, but never won another LPGA event. She eventually got married and had a child, taking much of last year off to do so.

She attempted a comeback to the tour in 2015, but the results just weren’t there. And so, she has decided to retire.

Hee Kyung Seo appeared at this year’s ADT-CAPS tournament after her retirement. Could she be considering a career in broadcasting?

Jee Young Lee burst onto the scene as a teenager in her first season on the KLPGA. That year, 2005, she not only won the Korean Women’s Open, she also won the CJ 9 Bridges tournament to earn an LPGA tour card. Lee, whose nickname is Jelly, became famous for her incredible power. Even with the recent surge of long hitting Koreans, Lee might still be the longest Korean women’s golfer of them all.

Jee Young Lee with her only career LPGA trophy, at the 2005 CJ 9 Bridges Classic

Lee had a good career, notching several runner-up finishes, but was never able to win again. Over time, she stopped contending, and the last few years she has only rarely shown up on leaderboards. She finally decided to quit, making the 2015 Yokohama Tire tournament in Alabama her final event.

So long to Jee Young Lee and Hee Kyung Seo, and good luck to them in their future endeavors!

Other Nominees:

Min Young Lee returns from cancer

Min Young Lee is a multiple winner on the KLPGA tour. Last March, she was playing in China at the LET’s Mission Hills event when she was suddenly struck with severe abdominal pains. She went to a doctor and discovered she had kidney cancer! They operated on her and successfully removed the cancerous tissue. After taking a few months off, she returned to action on the KLPGA, and has been healthy since then.

In Gee Chun donates 10K to Lancaster

In Gee Chun made a lasting impression on Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when she won the US Women’s Open there in her first ever playing of that event. But it wouldn’t be the last time she had an effect on that community.

A local Lancaster charity organizer wrote to Chun, asking her to send an autographed flag in support of a fundraiser they were holding. Chun wrote back. Not only did she send them THREE signed flags and an autographed photo, she also contributed $10,000 to the cause. The organizers were gobsmacked; it was by far the largest contribution that they had gotten for their fund drive, and she did it without even being asked.

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