Posted by: happyfan08 | January 11, 2016

2015 SeoulSisters Awards (5 of 6): Rookie of the Year, It’s About Time Award

AWARD for Best Amateur

And the Winner is: Hannah O’Sullivan

A Korean golfer named Hannah O’Sullivan? Not exactly. Hannah is American, but her mother is from Korea.

Hannah is one of the top women’s amateur golfers in the world, and she proved it this year by winning the US Women’s Amateur in Oregon.

Other Nominees:

Eun Jeong Song

Eun Jeong Song won this year’s US Girls Junior Championship.

AWARD for Rookie to Watch in 2016

And the Winner is: In Gee Chun

Each year I pick a Korean rookie to look out for in the coming year. In 2015, like never before, there was a great group of rookies joining the LPGA tour. Last year in this space, I wrote the following:

If I were picking the most talented of them all, I would pick Hyo Joo Kim. Kim has done things on the KLPGA tour (and the LPGA) that we haven’t seen a Korean player do in a long, long time. She is not only consistently excellent, but when she gets on a roll, she can be transcendent, doing things you will tell your grandkids about… , I fully expect her to have a great rookie season.

Hyo Joo Kim

I was right about Kim; she did have a great season. She finished second in the Rookie race, won a tournament, finished 13th on the money list with nearly a million dollars in earnings, and notched 9 top tens. She still did not quite live up to her potential, however, and of course it was another KLPGA star, Sei Young Kim, who won the Rookie of the Year award (last year, I also mentioned Sei Young as a name to watch).

But the gal I picked as my rookie to watch for 2015 was Kyu Jung Baek.

Q Baek in 2013

Baek, who in America was known as Q Baek, won three KLPGA events and the KEB Hana Bank as a KLPGA rookie in 2014. I wrote:

I’m picking Kyu Jung Baek because I think in some ways she is the dark horse in this group and may not get the attention she merits coming into 2015… There are legitimate questions about her, too. Can she handle playing a full schedule out of her homeland, when she will be only 19 years old? How will she stand up to playing top players week after week, when she only has a year of pro experience in Korea?

I strongly suspect we will see Kyu Jung Baek vie for a few titles and make some serious noise in 2015.

I’m going to chalk that prediction up as a miss. My worries that she was a very young, green player proved to be true. She didn’t have a terrible season: she notched one top five, had six other top 20s, made around $325 thousand dollars, and finished 57th on the money list. So, the good news is that she easily maintained her tour card. The bad news is that she had some really terrible weeks in there, including several where she finished at or near the bottom of the leaderboard.

OK, so let’s move on to 2016. Are there any Korean rookies who look likely to become forces on tour next season?

The obvious candidate is In Gee Chun, and she will be my choice. The only Major winner in next year’s LPGA rookie class, Chun won 8 times on three different tours in 2015 and dominated the KLPGA (when she was in the field) in much the same way as Hyo Joo Kim did in 2014.

In Gee Chun greets her fans at the airport after returning from her US Women’s Open win

To be honest, this is a rather weak rookie crop, especially following 2015’s class, so it would be very surprising to me if Chun struggles to win the Rookie title. Her most glaring weakness is that, other than the Open, she did not have another top 30 finish in any LPGA event played outside of Korea in 2015. Most of those results came early in the year, when she was still trying to get used to playing outside the KLPGA. But it still is mild cause for concern.

Still, even if she has trouble getting it going in 2016, there aren’t too many women who look like they will be able to challenge her. And if she can get her feet under her before too much time passes, she should make a pretty strong impact on the tour. Chun’s goal for 2016 is to finish in the top ten on the money list, and I predict she will at least manage that.

I’ll throw one other name out there for consideration. Annie Park is a Korean American player who has had an odd career to date. She looked like a world beater when she arrived in college as a freshman a few years ago. But she struggled quite a bit after that. Then, she played on the Symetra Tour this year, where it took her only nine events to win three times and secure the top spot on the tour money list. I would put her at least in the same category in her college days as Alison Lee, and Lee has already made a good mark on the LPGA.

Park seems more likely to struggle next season than excel, but she also has enough obvious talent that she is definitely one to keep an eye on.

AWARD: the It’s About Time Award

And the Winner is: Chella Choi Wins Marathon Classic

Chella and her dad at the airport after her first career LPGA win

For years, Chella Choi has been the answer to the question: who is the best Korean golfer on the LPGA without a win? The story of her futile quest to get her first win took on a life of its own when Chella revealed in an interview that her dad, who is also her caddie, would remain on her bag until she got that elusive win. Her father made it clear that he really was looking forward to retiring, but he wanted to honor his daughter’s wish of being there for her when that win at last came.

But year after year, close call after close call, Chella could not close the deal.

At this year’s Marathon Classic, it looked like she would come up short again. Ha Na Jang, rookie star, seemed poised to get her own first win after some near misses earlier in the season. Choi seemed to seal her fate when it took her four shots to get to the green on the par-five final hole. But Choi made par, and had to wait to see what Jang would do.

Jang, a long hitter, seemed almost guaranteed to make birdie on 18. And indeed, she set herself up with a short birdie try for the win. But no! She missed it, and there was a playoff.

Jang hashed up her playoff hole, Choi was cool, and one hole later, Chella had her win AT LAST!!!

Chella holds her hard-earned trophy

She was asked later if it was time now for her dad to hang it up. She responded, “Yes! Yes! Bye bye to Dad!”

But it wasn’t to be! After trying a regular tour caddie, Choi, just a few weeks later, asked her dad to return to her bag. The rumor now is that he will retire once they find a good replacement for him in the offseason. Good luck! Perhaps this story isn’t over yet!

Other Nominees:

Sun Ju Ahn wins an LPGA event

Sun Ju Ahn following her win at the Toto Classic in Japan

Sun Ju Ahn has been arguably the best Korean golfer not on the LPGA for most of the past half decade. During that time, she has been the top golfer on the Japanese tour several times. Ahn only ended up in Japan after an injury forced her out of LPGA Q-School way back in 2008. Since then, Ahn has played well from time to time in LPGA events, notably at the 2014 Women’s British Open, where she contended before a two stroke penalty in a bunker in the third round seemed to knock the wind out of her sails.

But Ahn was all business at this year’s Toto Japan Classic. She won the event in her adopted country, showing she was every bit as capable of contending on the LPGA as we had suspected. She won’t be a rookie next year, though; she turned down the LPGA tour card.

AWARD for Rookie of the Year

And the Winner is: Sei Young Kim

Sei Young Kim

Given how deep the rookie class on the LPGA was in 2015, this was a surprisingly easy award to decide. In the end, one rookie truly separated herself from the rest, and that was Sei Young Kim. With no standout rookies on the other tours, Kim gets our Rookie of the Year award.

Sei Young Kim achieved three tour wins in 2015, tying her with such impressive former Rookie stars as Lydia Ko and Jiyai Shin, and behind only Se Ri Pak’s four wins, for best ever by a rookie of Korean extraction. She finished 4th on the tour money list, making over $1.8 million; again, this is one of the best totals ever achieved by a Korean rookie. She had 11 top tens, was top ten in driving distance, and, most impressively, led the league in eagles (14) and was second in birdies made (406).

Interestingly, Sei Young missed the cut at the first event she played, the Coates Championship. But she wasn’t down long; at the very next tour event, the Pure Silk Bahamas, she put herself into contention, made an extraordinary up and down late to keep herself in it, and wound up forcing a playoff with fellow rookie Ariya Jutanugarn and two-time LPGA winner Sun Young Yoo.

It took Kim all of one hole to wrap up the playoff. Winning in just her second start as a member made her one of the quickest to achieve her first win after joining the tour.

Sei Young Kim won her Rolex in just her second LPGA start

She was far from done. She contended again at the Honda Thailand and the Founders Cup, and put herself into the 54 hole lead at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first Major. She wound up struggling in the final round, but still notched another top five.

Fast forward to Hawaii and the Lotte Championship in April. Once again, she was in the final group on Sunday, this time paired with Inbee Park and In Kyung Kim. Sei Young hung tough, making a gritty par save on 17 to stay tied with Park. But when she hit her drive on 18 into the water, it looked like it was all over. But as we talked about in the Shot of the Year award, it was far from done! Kim managed to hole out from the fringe to force a playoff with Park, then holed out again in the playoff to win. Kim was not only contending and winning, she was doing it in spectacular style.

Sei Young Kim can’t stop smiling after her amazing win at the Lotte

At the year’s second Major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she once again found herself in the final group on Sunday. She would have been tied for the lead with Inbee Park but for some poor putting on the final hole on Saturday. On Sunday, she played well most of the front nine, but a disastrous four putt on the 9th hole gave Inbee an advantage she would not relinquish. Kim had to settle for solo second, her best Major finish to date.

The hits came more sporadically after that, but she still could rise to the occasion. At the US Women’s Open, her caddie was kicked out of the tournament when he was accused of illegally photographing the pin position sheets for the week. Kim finished tied for 42nd without him. She played great at the Canadian Women’s Open in August; she just missed a short birdie putt to join the playoff for the title. In October, she grabbed her third win of the season at the Blue Bay LPGA in China. When Hyo Joo Kim was not able to win the following week, Sei Young Kim clinched the Rookie of the Year title.

Sei Young at the KLPGA Awards Show in December

It was a great season for rookies on the LPGA, and the greatest without any question was Sei Young Kim. She truly deserves our Rookie of the Year trophy.

Other Nominees:

Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim managed to win twice on the KLPGA tour and once on the LPGA tour as a rookie in 2015. Beside the win, she finished fifth in scoring average at 70.14, 5th in rounds under par, 2nd in the rookie standings, and notched 9 top tens to finish 13th on the money list at just under a million bucks earned.

It was a great season for Kim, but Sei Young Kim was in contention more often, won more often, and when she did win, often did so in spectacular fashion. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more from Hyo Joo Kim in the future, but her rookie season was not quite the equal of her elder friend Sei Young Kim.

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang started the year well, nearly winning her first event as a member despite having to Monday qualify. And she ended it well, finishing tied for second at the CME Group Tour Championship. She also lost in a playoff to Chella Choi in the summer, and notched a fourth runner-up against Brooke Henderson in Portland. Four total runner-up finishes, but no wins on the LPGA.

In all, Ha Na had eight top tens, finished 11th in scoring average, 4th in the Rookie standings, and made $883,032, which put her 15th on the money list. Throw in two wins and a runner-up finish on the KLPGA as well. Most years, that would have made Jang our top Rookie, but she’ll have to settle for an honorable mention this year.

Minjee Lee                                             

Minjee Lee

Korean Australian golfer Minjee Lee finished third in the LPGA rookie race in 2015, but of the top rookies, it definitely took her the longest to get going, and she was in many ways the most inconsistent of the ladies who were nominated for this award. Indeed, she missed several cuts in a row early on, and seemed on the wrong track when, all of a sudden, she put together a great week at the Kingsmill Championship. She capped it off with an explosive run of holes that gave her such a lead that even a tentative Monday finish was not enough to affect the outcome. She became one of the few women in history to win an LPGA event before her 19th birthday.

In all, Minjee achieved seven top tens in 2015. She was 6th in birdies in the league and 3rd in eagles. She earned $821,121 in 2015, good for 16th on the money list. Again, in most years that would have been an awesome rookie season, but it was only good for an honorable mention in 2015.

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Responses

  1. You set the standard last year when you denied LK your ROY award because somehow she wasn’t a ‘true’ rookie then, without even a hint of apology, you give this years award to a player who turned Pro 6 years ago and has multiple wins prior to joining the LPGA. How exactly do you justify that?

    By your own definitions Minjee should have been the only eligible candidate this year but no, you even put two more seasoned Pro’s ahead of her.

    A truly farcical award..

  2. lydia ko very smart I like it


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