And the Winner Is: Eun Jeong Seong
Both Eun Jeong Seong and Hye Jin Choi are 16-year-old amateurs from Korea who have had impressive seasons in 2016. Seong’s was just a little more impressive, and so she wins this award.
Seong’s season was highlighted by her winning both the US Girls Junior and the US Women’s Amateur. Nobody had ever won both of those prestigious events in the same season before. At the Girls event, Seong was in one bracket and Hye Jin Choi was in the other, and if they had both reached the final, they would have played each other. Alas, Choi lost to Andrea Lee in the semi, and so Seong ended up playing and beating Lee for the title. Later, at the Women’s Amateur, Choi and Seong did play each other, but in the third round. Seong easily won the matchup of titans, and went on to win the Amateur itself a few days later.
Seong also had an impressive result in one of the KLPGA events she played. At the BC Card Hankyung Ladies Cup in June, she was paired with KLPGA superstar Sung Hyun Park in one round, and frequently drove the ball as long as Park, who is the longest-hitting golfer on that tour.
On the final day, she had a three stroke lead with just two holes to play, but made a devastating triple bogey on the final hole to fall into a tie for the lead. She eventually lost in the playoff. Still, for a teenager to play so well on the KLPGA is testament to her great year and her potential in years to come.
Among her other events, she also managed a tie for 18th at the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank.
Other Nominee: Hye Jin Choi
Hye Jin Choi had a raft of impressive achievements in 2016. She was the low amateur at the US Women’s Open. She won the Canadian Women’s Amateur by four shots, and won the first AJGA event she ever played, the Polo Junior Golf Classic.
She also led Korea to the world amateur team championship at the Espirito Santo Cup in Mexico, and won the individual title there for good measure. As mentioned previously, she also was a semifinalist at the US Girls Junior.
Choi played several KLPGA events, managing a t-12 at the Fantom Classic. On the Ladies European Tour, she tied for 2nd at the New Zealand Open behind world #1 Lydia Ko, and tied for 5th at the RACV Ladies Masters behind winner Jiyai Shin. She was also low amateur at the JLPGA’s Salonpas Cup, one of their four Majors.
It’s seems only a matter of time before Choi breaks through with a win in a pro event.
Best Victory Celebration
And the winner is: Ha Na Jang
How do you pick your favorite Ha Na Jang victory celebration? Jang turned it into an art form on the LPGA this season, with three different victory celebrations for her three wins.
At her first win, she punctuated her final putt by whipping her putter around her back in a move she later compared to a samurai sheathing his sword.
A few weeks later at the HSBC, she followed her win with a dance based on a recent video by Beyonce.
Her third win celebration was a little more low-key, perhaps because of the criticism she got after the LuggageGate incident (see Most Controversial Moment). But she still did a little happy dance. Can’t keep Ha Na down!
Other Nominee: In Gee drenched by many top players, not just Koreans, at the Evian
It was nice to see that In Gee Chun’s victory celebration at the Evian included not only Korean friends but also other top players like Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. In Gee has managed to make herself quite popular in just a short time on tour!
Rookie to Watch in 2017
And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park
In 2015, I picked In Gee Chun as the obvious rookie to watch for the 2016 season. I wrote:
To be honest, this is a rather weak rookie crop, especially following this year’s bounty, so it would be very surprising to me if Chun struggles to win the Rookie title.
And indeed, despite an injury that set her back, she destroyed the competition in the Rookie of the Year race this season. In picking a second, more obscure, rookie player to watch, I wrote:
Annie Park seems more likely to struggle next season than excel, but she also has enough obvious talent that she is definitely one to watch.
I was pretty much spot on with this prediction, too. Annie Park did have a few highlights during the season (two top tens), but only finished 82nd on the money list, which is OK (she maintained status) but not really up to the level that we might have expected of her.
In Gee Chun receives her Rookie of the Year award at the end of this season
This year’s rookie batch is much like last year’s. There is one obvious superstar-in-the-making joining the tour, Sung Hyun Park. The 2016 KLPGA money list leader, Park managed three top tens in Majors on the LPGA tour this year, and has spent some time in the top ten in the world rankings. With her booming drives, her game seems tailor-made for the LPGA in much the same way as Sei Young Kim’s and Ha Na Jang’s are. Given how well those two ladies have done on the LPGA (eight wins total), I believe Park will be in the same ballpark, if not next year, then sometime in the near future.
OK, so are there any other Korean rookies joining the tour to watch for? Uh… not that I can think of. So let’s look over to the JLPGA, where Chae Young Yoon and Min Young Lee will be rookies in 2017. Lee has been the superior talent, and I expect her to be a top ten caliber player next season over there. But Yoon may surprise. In her one event played in Japan this season, she nearly won. Her lack of length will not be as much of a liability in Japan as it would be over here. I expect she will at least get a few Japanese magazine articles written about her, and if she gets her ducks in a row, might just get a win or two to boot.