Posted by: happyfan08 | January 11, 2019

2018 SeoulSisters Awards (6 of 6): Rookie of the Year, Most Improved, Player of the Year

Rookie of the Year
And the Winner Is: Hye Jin Choi

This year’s Rookie of the Year was probably the toughest choice of all these awards. It came down to Jin Young Ko, who was a rookie on the LPGA, and Hye Jin Choi, a rookie on the KLPGA, and to be honest, I’m still not sure I made the right choice. In the end I decided that Choi just edged out Ko for this honor.

Both players dominated the rookie competition on their respective tours, although Choi was even more dominant than Ko was. Choi managed 16 top tens on the KLPGA in 2018: two wins, three seconds and three thirds among them. However, she did not manage a Major win in that bunch. Ko had one win (the Australian Women’s Open, an LPGA event where Choi finished second; this second place is in addition to the ones listed above) and 13 total top tens, the most of any Korean golfer on the LPGA this year. Beside her win, she had one tie for second and one tie for third. Choi clearly has the advantage here. Like Choi, Ko didn’t win any Majors, but she also didn’t make any top tens (she did have two top 20s in Majors). Choi had three top tens in Majors on the KLPGA, including a second place at the KLPGA Championship.

Below: Jin Young Ko became the fourth straight Korean star to win Rookie of the Year

Choi also managed to win the Player of the Year award, the first rookie to win both Rookie and Player of the Year in the same season since Jiyai Shin did it in 2006. Now, the Player of the Year is an odd award on the KLPGA, in that it rather heavily weights top five finishes compared to wins, but the achievement is still remarkable.

Choi finished 4th on the money list and second in scoring average. Ko finished 10th on the money list and 3rd in scoring average. Both are impressive for rookies, but Choi was just a little bit more amazing.

Without question, it is tougher to be a rookie on the LPGA. Not only is the competition tougher, but the travel, food, and language challenges are much more daunting. For that reason, Jin Young’s achievements compare quite well with what Choi did, even if Choi seemed slightly more impressive statistically. But Choi is a teen who traveled a bit to play in LPGA events herself this year, yet still was able to become one of the biggest stars on the KLPGA at the same time. I found what she did just the least little bit more impressive, and so I give the nod to Hye Jin Choi as our Rookie of the Year.

Other nominee:
Jin Young Ko

Most Improved Player
And the Winner Is: So Young Lee

A few years ago, So Young Lee was one of those amateur stars that just seemed destined to be a star in the pro ranks. She won several notable events as an amateur, with the most important being the gold medal for women’s golf at the 2014 Junior Olympics. She turned pro in 2016 and was poised to dominate the KLPGA Rookie of the Year race.

It didn’t turn out that way. Lee played well, but another rookie named Jeong Eun Lee 6 stunned Lee to take the rookie crown. The next season, Lee 6 won all the big awards, and was on her way to superstardom.

So Young Lee was 18th on the money list in 2016, with one win and a few more top tens. She was 20th in 2017 but managed no wins. So, she was certainly a good player, but not nearly the star Jeong Eun Lee had become.

But 2018 was another story: she had a breakout season, and for a time even challenged for the top ranking in the league. In the end, she won three tournaments, the most of any player in 2018. She wound up 5th on the money list with about 727 million won earned. She had 11 top tens. In addition to the three wins, she had two thirds and a fourth. She had improved so much that she earned more wins and more money in 2018 than she had in her first two seasons combined. With Jeong Eun Lee and Seon Woo Bae leaving the tour in 2019, So Young Lee will have a legitimate chance to challenge for the top spot in the league.

Other Nominees:
Ah Reum Hwang

Hwang has been a decent player on the JLPGA who has won now and then. But nothing prepared fans for her surge of brilliance in 2018. Hwang managed three wins this year, and seemed a fixture on leaderboards most of the season.

Player of the Year
And the Winner Is: Jeong Eun Lee 6

Selecting the Player of the Year in 2018 was a tough business. Keep in mind that this award is given to the player who does the most impressive job on her tour, it is not just for the player who wins the most LPGA events. In my opinion, there were five golfers who could have legitimately earned this award. On the LPGA, Sung Hyun Park had the most wins among the Sisters; in Japan, there were Sun Ju Ahn and Jiyai Shin; while in Korea, all the post season hardware was split between Jeong Eun Lee 6 and Hye Jin Choi. After weighing the facts, I’ve decided to give the trophy to Jeong Eun Lee 6 for her fantastic season in Korea and elsewhere.

First, why not give it to Sung Hyun Park? She was the only Sister who managed multiple wins on the LPGA in 2018. The main arguments in her favor: she had three wins on the LPGA, including the only Major won by a Korean on that tour this year. She reached #1, one of two Koreans to do that in 2018. She was part of the winning International Crown team. And she was the highest ranked Korean on the money list at third.

But Park also had a LOT of struggles in 2018. She had only 7 top tens. There were several tournaments where she put herself into contention only to fall apart, including the ANA Inspiration and the British Women’s Open. She also missed 7 cuts, which is a ton compared to anyone else on my list. In fact, it might be as much as the other four put together. That resulted in a very low 23rd place ranking in scoring average. Add on to that the fact that two of her wins had a large luck factor: one came courtesy of a missed iron shot into the water by So Yeon Ryu to let Park back into the match, while the Volunteers of America win was a two-round event that she won by chipping in on the final hole. So, it was a great season with a lot of highlights, but not the best among all the Koreans.

The two Japanese tour stars, Jiyai Shin and Sun Ju Ahn, both had fantastic years. Shin won the Player of the Year and was second on the money list, while Ahn won the money list and was second in Player of the Year points. Shin finished second in scoring average, Ahn third. Shin had four wins, Ahn five. Shin had 17 top tens, Ahn 16. They were pretty much neck and neck in all those statistics.

Ahn did better more often. On top of her 5 wins, she had 6 second place finishes compared to just 2 runner-up finishes for Shin. But Shin did far better at the Majors. In fact, Shin won three of the four Majors on that tour in 2018 (the fourth, the Japan Women’s Open, was won by invited guest So Yeon Ryu, meaning that all four Japanese tour Majors in 2018 were won by Koreans). Ahn obviously won no Majors. In addition, Shin played two LPGA events, achieving a 7th place finish at the Australian Women’s Open and an 11th at the Toto Classic, and won an LET tournament in Australia, the Canberra Classic. Ahn finished outside the top 30 in her two LPGA events.

It was a razor-thin margin, but based on Shin’s Major record and achievements outside of Japan, I give her the edge over Ahn.

In Korea, the KLPGA honors were evenly split between Jeong Eun Lee 6 and Hye Jin Choi. Choi won Player and Rookie of the Year, while Lee won the money list and scoring title. Both had two wins on tour. But Lee had an edge, in that her two wins both came in Majors, while Choi did not win a Major (she did manage a second place, however). In addition, Lee managed to win the money list despite playing just 17 events on tour; she spent a lot of time playing overseas, and did quite well in those tournaments as well. For instance, she nearly won the JLPGA’s Salonpas Cup, one of their Majors, but wound up third; it was her first ever time playing in Japan. On the LPGA, she played four Majors, and missed only one cut, while notching a tie for 6th at the Evian, a t-16 at the ANA Inspiration, and a t-17th at the US Women’s Open. As if that weren’t enough, she also found time to win the LPGA’s Q Series to earn a tour card. Choi was impressive in 2018, but Lee was better.

So, what was the decisive advantage Lee had over Shin? To be honest, it was extremely close. Lee not only won the scoring average, she did so with one of the lowest scoring averages ever achieved in KLGA history, a 69.87. She played overseas much more than Shin did, although she did not win, unlike Shin (but Shin’s win came in an LET event with a far weaker field than an LPGA tournament; Lee did not play any LET events). Lee had a bunch of good international finishes, including the only top ten in a Major between the two. Shin had far more top tens and more Major wins on her tour, with one of her Major wins coming when Lee collapsed at the end of the Salonpas, allowing Shin to swoop in and get the trophy (Lee had had the lead most of the week until the final day). Shin won one post season award and was second in the other two, while Lee won two post season awards and was just 6th in Player of the Year (but a lot of that came from playing fewer events than her rivals).

And of course, Lee also found the time to earn an LPGA card at Q Series.
So, in the end, the crucial advantage Lee had was that she managed to win two award categories on the KLPGA while at the same time nearly winning a Japanese Major in her first try, earning a tour card at Q Series, AND notching several top 20s in LPGA Majors. Winning the money list when she played 6 – 8 fewer events than her world-class rivals is utterly impressive. And her scoring average made her the ONLY player in KLPGA history to break 70 for a season twice. Even Shin never did that.

For all these reasons, congratulations to Jeong Eun Lee 6 on her Seoulie for Player of the Year, and good luck in the US in 2019!

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Responses

  1. Always love your posts, and these recent ones are no exception. Wish you would post more often during the season – admiration from an LPGA fan rooting mostly for Koreans (I like the Thais too)…American expat living in Singapore.


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