Posted by: happyfan08 | January 9, 2018

2017 SeoulSisters Awards (6 of 7): Rookie to Watch, Rookie of the Year

Rookie to Watch in 2018

And the Winner Is: Hye Jin Choi

There are two players who will be rookies in 2018 who both have the chance to shine. On the LPGA, Jin Young Ko, who earned her tour card by winning the Hana Bank; and teenage sensation Hye Jin Choi, who will play her first full season as a pro on the KLPGA. As exciting a prospect as Jin Young Ko is, we nonetheless have to give this award to Choi, who has the potential to be one of the all time greats, and who could certainly challenge for all the top awards on the KLPGA next year, not just Rookie of the Year.

Last year, the player I chose for this honor was Sung Hyun Park. I wrote:

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.

Nailed that (admittedly pretty easy) prediction. Sung Hyun Park destroyed a decent Rookie class with the easy of a giant flicking a few bugs off her arm. In fact, she wound up winning both the LPGA Rookie and Player of the Year (tying with So Yeon Ryu), the first rookie to win both awards since Nancy Lopez in 1978.

Hye Jin Choi has world beater potential. The aforementioned Park got to see that first hand at this year’s US Women’s Open. Indeed, Choi seized the lead going into the final few holes, and only an ill-timed botched tee shot on the 16th hole prevented her from becoming the youngest player in history to hoist that trophy. She finished second.

But over on the KLPGA, she already has more than made her mark. She won her first KLPGA event while still an amateur, claiming the Chojung Sparkling Water Resort Open in late June after a final round 63 that include not one but two hole-outs for eagle. She would win again, still an amateur, at the Bogner MBN Women’s Open in August. If you’re keeping track, she managed two wins on the KLPGA and a second at the most lucrative event on the LPGA, and earned not a nickel for her efforts.

Choi was not done. After the KLPGA season ended, she was invited to play at the limited field LF Point Championship, where she again won, beating the elite golfers present in the two-day event. Then, she started her 2018 KLPGA season in Vietnam a few weeks later, and pocketed 140 million won by winning the Hyo Song Championship. She will go into her rookie year atop the money list with a win already in her pocket for the 2018 season.

What is it about Choi that makes her one to watch? In a word, everything. She is fairly long off the tee and very accurate. She has an incredible head on her shoulders and doesn’t get flustered. She has a great iron game and great short game. In short, she is solid in every conceivable way.

She has the occasional bad event or two, but never stays off her game for long. She may very well be the most promising young star to come along since Hyo Joo Kim, who won a Major while still a teenager. It would not surprise me in the least to see Choi contend and perhaps even win an LPGA event next season. She could be looking at not just Rookie of the Year on the KLPGA next year, but all the top prizes. It could be incredibly thrilling to watch this prodigy, still wearing braces on her teeth, get into gear in 2018.

Other Nominees:

Jin Young Ko

With two KLPGA wins and the LPGA win at Hana Bank this year, Ko will definitely be the odds-on favorite to win the LPGA’s Rookie of the Year award in 2018, continuing the streak of the past three seasons, when the winners were all former KLPGA stars: Sei Young Kim, In Gee Chun and Sung Hyun Park. Like those three, Ko has been a force on the KLPGA for the past several seasons. She is ready to make this move, and even more seasoned in some ways than Chun and Park were when they went over (and both of them won Majors in their rookie years). Her specialty is her iron play. She was like a laser at the Hana Bank, nailing some incredibly accurate irons just when she needed to both Saturday and Sunday. But her short game and demeanor are also A+. It’s been a long time coming, but at last Jin Young is about to arrive!

Rookie of the Year

And the winner is: Sung Hyun Park

This was probably the easiest award choice in years. Simply put, Sung Hyun Park dominated the LPGA rookie class of 2017 more impressively than almost any other Korean in tour history. On the KLPGA, there was an impressive group of teenagers who joined the tour, including Rookie of the Year winner Eun Soo Jang, So Hye Park and Da Bin Heo. But none of those three won a tournament, and though they all easily maintained tour cards, their achievements cannot begin to compare to Park’s.

On the JLPGA you had Min Young Lee, who won that tour’s Rookie of the Year. She had a very good year, finishing in the top ten on the money list. But that’s still not in the same ballpark as Sung Hyun’s season.

So what did Sung Hyun Park do? She came over from South Korea, barely able to speak English, and with perhaps a larger assimilation task ahead of her than most Sisters face. She took a little time to find her feet on tour, but she still never missed a cut, and once she got going, she did some amazing things.

By the end of the season, Park was not only the Rookie of the Year, she also was in the running for Player of the Year, Vare Trophy, Money List title, CME million dollar bonus and #1 world ranking. Had she pulled all of those things off, it would have been one of the most amazing feats ever accomplished by anyone. She didn’t quite make it. She did finish first on the money list, the only player to break 2 million dollars in 2017. She also tied for Player of the Year with So Yeon Ryu and of course won the Rookie of the Year. But she just missed out the scoring average title, finishing second, and though she briefly ascended to #1, she could not hold onto that ranking.

But grabbing the Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year makes her only the second player after Nancy Lopez to manage that feat.

Park finished the year with 1,620 Rookie of the Year points, more than double Angel Yin, her nearest competitor. And Yin had a good year. She earned $2,335,883; only Inbee Park has ever earned more in a season among the Koreans. That gave her roughly a $350,000 edge over #2 So Yeon Ryu. Her scoring average of 69.25 was among the lowest ever achieved by a Sister.

Below: Sung Hyun faces the press on her return from the US after winning the Rookie and Player of the Year awards

She compiled 11 top tens and did not miss a cut. She had two wins, including a dramatic victory over teen sensation Hye Jin Choi at the US Women’s Open. Last year, Park had narrowly missed grabbing that title, but she made up for it this year. It was her first Major win (and first LPGA win, period). She won again a month later at the Canadian Women’s Open. She almost had a third victory, but was narrowly beaten by Jin Young Ko at the KEB Hana Bank. She also climbed to #1 in the world, only the fourth Korean (fifth if you count Lydia Ko) to ever reach that ranking. Alas, she was only up there one week, but it’s still an incredible achievement for a rookie.

For all these reasons, Sung Hyun Park is hands down the 2017 Rookie of the Year.

Other Nominees:

Min Young Lee, JLPGA Tour


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