Posted by: happyfan08 | May 4, 2017

2017 KLPGA Primer

Another KLPGA season is underway, so it’s time for our annual preview of what to expect this year on that tour!

Changes

The biggest change from last year is the flight of Sung Hyun Park to the LPGA. Park was the dominant player on the KLPGA last year. She won seven times and set the record for most money ever earned in a single season with over 1.3 billion won (about $1.15 million). Although she was not able to win an LPGA event to earn a tour card, she did manage several great finishes, including a tie for third at the US Women’s Open and a tie for 2nd at the Evian Championship. That enabled her to earn enough money to qualify for the LPGA based on earnings alone.

Besides Park, popular golf beauty Chae Young Yoon and multiple tour winner Min Young Lee left Korea to join the Japan LPGA tour full time. Another golf beauty, Shin Ae Ahn, also earned partial membership on that tour and will play at least part time over there.

Jin Young Ko, the other Billionaire

With Park gone, the biggest remaining star on tour is Jin Young Ko. Ko won three times in 2017 and became just the third player in history to break the billion won in a season mark. She still got convincingly beaten by Sung Hyun Park on the money list, but did beat her by a single point in the Player of the Year race to win that award.

Park’s caddie is Dean Herden, who has made a name for himself by caddying for many high-profile Korean stars. He was on Jiyai Shin’s bag when she won the Women’s British Open in 2008, and caddied for So Yeon Ryu when she won the 2011 US Women’s Open. After carrying Hee Kyung Seo’s bag for a while, he caddied for In Gee Chun when SHE won the 2015 US Women’s Open. Since 2016, he has been looping for Jin Young Ko, which says a lot about the potential this star has.

Ko showed what she could do in 2016, but also in 2015, when she finished 2nd at the Women’s British Open behind only Korean legend Inbee Park. So far in 2017, however, Ko has underperformed. She’s had two top tens in four starts, her best finish a 5th. But the year is still young, and she is still the player to beat on the KLPGA tour.

Other Top Stars

The KLPGA has several players who showed promise in 2016 and might be ready to become the big name on tour in 2017.

Su Yeon Jang

Jang has shown that she can compete with LPGA stars. In 2015, she played the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, and contended for the title, eventually finishing fifth. This year, she again played that event, and did even better. Playing in the final group on Sunday, she at one time had a three shot lead, but eventually stumbled and finished tied for second behind American Cristie Kerr.

Jang was no slouch on the KLPGA, either. She finally broke through with her first two career wins in 2016, and thanks to them and 12 total top tens, finished third on the year ending money list, behind only the two record setters, Jin Young Ko and Sung Hyun Park.

Interestingly, other than her near miss at the LPGA tournament, Jang has not started 2017 so well; she has yet to get a top ten in three starts. But now that she’s back in Korea for a long stretch, she may be able to improve her standings.

Hae Rym Kim

Hae Rym Kim is a veteran who has surged the past couple of seasons. She did well in 2015 but was not able to win. But in 2016, she did break through, winning twice, including the year’s final Major. She finished 6th on the money list for the season with ten top tens.

Kim has had a great 2017 so far. She has finished 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th in her four starts. Her win came at the World Ladies Championship in China, an event jointly sponsored by the KLPGA and the LET. As a result, she is currently second on the KLPGA money list. She also played well at the LPGA’s Lotte Championship, carding a tie for 16th finish there.

Seon Woo Bae

Seon Woo Bae is a young player who broke through in 2015 and followed that up with an even better 2016. In 2015, she finished 6th on the money list, with three second place and three third place finishes. But wins eluded her.

In 2016, she set that right, winning twice, including at the year’s second Major, the KLPGA Championship. She had 13 additional top tens and finished 5th on the money list. She also managed a 7th place finish at the LPGA’s annual event in Korea, the KEB Hana Bank.

Bae has had an interesting 2017. She nearly won the World Ladies Championship in China, but was caught and beaten by Hae Rym Kim at the end. She also had a second place finish at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters. However, she has missed two cuts as well. Presumably she will improve her consistency as the year progresses.

Min Sun Kim

Min Sun Kim is a contemporary of Jin Young Ko who has shown a ton of potential over the years, and seems like she could be on the cusp of greatness.

Kim has steadily notched wins and top tens, but has yet to have the breakout season that would establish her as one of the two or three best in the league. She is gifted with great length off the tee, but struggles at times on the greens.

Kim had a win in her rookie year of 2014 and another in 2015. In 2016, she finished 8th on the money list, again with one win and a lot of top tens. She also showed her potential as an LPGA player by contending at the KEB Hana Bank that year before fading to third.

Kim continued to shine when she played at the Kowa Queens, a year ending team event. Representing the KLPGA, she won all three of her matches and was named the MVP.

So far in 2017, Kim has notched her mandatory win, at the Nexen Saint Nine Ladies Masters. She also has a third at the Women’s World Championship in China. Could this be the year Kim finally takes over?

Other potential stars

Jeong Eun Lee 6

Jeong Eun Lee 6 is the sixth player in KLPGA history with the name Jeong Eun Lee, and she is trying to establish herself as the best. Lee won last year’s Rookie of the Year title on the KLPGA. This was a bit of a surprise; coming into the season, most experts expected So Young Lee to win that award, given her superior amateur record. But Jeong Eun Lee caught and passed her at the end of the year, finishing 24th on the money list with 257 million won earned. She had seven top tens, including a third.

In 2017, Lee has been dynamite. She captured her first career win at the Lotte Rent-a-Car Ladies Open. She also had a runner-up finish and three other top tens. Her only finish outside the top ten was an 18th. As a result, she surprisingly leads the money list, player of the year race and scoring average. Whether she will come back to Earth or not is unknown, but for now the 20-year-old is making a big statement!

Gyeol Park

Gyeol Park is now in her third season on the KLPGA. She had an impressive amateur career, which included a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2014. In two seasons on the KLPGA, she has yet to win. She only finished 31st on the 2016 KLPGA money list.

So why do we include Park here? Because she is a player who has shown a lot of promise in the amateur ranks, and in 2017 is starting to excel in the pro ranks. She still hasn’t won yet, but she has managed a second place (lost in a playoff) and fourth place, which has lifted her to 10th on the money list. She has the potential to have a breakout year in 2017.

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh is another young player who has been on tour a few years. She is slowly becoming more of a force out there. She finished in the top ten at the Korean Women’s Open in 2013, before she even turned pro. Her first pro year, 2014, was nothing special, but she improved in 2015, gaining her first win near the end of the season. In 2016, she played better still, climbing to 12th on the money list with a second win to her credit.

Oh has the looks and talent to become one of the big stars of the league, but her game is still not quite there yet. In 2017, she has gotten out to a slow start, with no finish higher than 14th in her first five starts.

Old Timers who still could make noise

Yoon Kyung Heo

Yoon Kyung Heo was one of the top players on the KLPGA a few years ago, but major injuries kept her out of action for nearly a year. In 2016, she finished 39th on the money list in her return from injury. So far she has not done much better in 2017. However, this is a multiple tour winner who may be capable of getting there again, so she cannot be counted out.

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin Yang is the fashion star of the KLPGA. The last couple of years, however, off course distractions have impacted her results. After a very public series of relationships with notable Korean sports stars, she got married to a soccer star in March of 2017. Will Yang rededicate herself to the game now? Time will tell, but there is no doubt that the talent is there.

Shi Hyun Ahn

Shi Hyun Ahn has managed quite a comeback from hard times. The Rookie of the Year on the LPGA back in 2004, Ahn returned to the KLPGA in 2012 after she met and wed a celebrity named ‘Marco’ (he has one name). They had a daughter together, but the marriage broke up, and Ahn found herself a single mother with a child to support. She returned to the KLPGA and had a triumphant comeback, winning the 2016 Korean Women’s Open, the tour’s most important event.

She has already shown signs that she is continuing her form in 2017. Playing on a sponsor’s invite at the LPGA’s Kia Classic, Ahn shot a final round 63 to finish tied for 31st.

Rookies to watch

Min Ji Park made a statement by capturing a win early in the 2017 season. She becomes automatically the rookie to beat now.

Woo Ri Chun is a 5’10” powerhouse with an incredible pedigree: her dad is a former KPGA player, her mom a former KLPGA player.

Also look out for Da Bin Heo, Nike star So Hye Park and Eun Soo Jang, who was one of the top players on the Dream Tour (the developmental tour for the KLPGA) in 2016.

The season continues until November. It will be fun to see if anyone can wrest control of the league from Jin Young Ko, or if Ko will become the next player to dominate the tour.

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