Posted by: happyfan08 | March 19, 2019

2019 KLPGA Primer

It’s time once again for our annual preview of the coming Korean LPGA season, the 2019 KLPGA primer! Let’s get right to it.

Those Who Have Left

Each year, a couple of the big KLPGA stars leave the tour to try their luck elsewhere, and this year is no exception. The two big names who will leave the KLPGA in 2019 are Jeong Eun Lee 6 and Seon Woo Bae.

Jeong Eun Lee 6

Lee had another superlative season in 2018. She led the money list for the second straight year, and also won the title for low scoring average. On top of that, she was picked as the best golfer by the press. Lee won the LPGA’s qualifying school ‘Q-Series’ last fall, and so earned a full tour card for the LPGA this year. She has already played in two events, notching t-10th and t-11th finishes. She seems well on her way to a great year on that tour.

Seon Woo Bae

Bae finished second on the KLPGA money list in 2018 with 884 million won earned. She won the Hite Cup (a Major) and the High One Resorts Open, and also notched five second place finishes. Bae decided to transfer to the Japanese LPGA this season.

The Big Stars

So who is left to contend for the top awards in 2019?  Three names stand out as the big returning stars. Chances are good that these three will win most of the hardware on tour in 2019.

Hye Jin Choi

In 2018, every award that Jeong Eun Lee 6 did not win was claimed by teen superstar Hye Jin Choi. Choi destroyed the competition in the Rookie of the Year race, and she also claimed the Player of the Year, the first person to get both of those awards since former world #1 Jiyai Shin did it in 2006. Choi is perhaps best known in the West for nearly winning the 2017 US Women’s Open (she hit a shot into the drink late to allow Sung Hyun Park to take that title).

In 2018, she had a great year on the KLPGA. She won twice, increasing her career victory total to four. She finished 4th on the money list and second in the scoring average race. She had 16 top tens in total. She was even named the Most Popular player by the fans! If she can continue her explosive growth in the sport, she will be the player to beat on tour in 2019.

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh seemed poised to dominate last year, but a somewhat weak finish to the year dropped her in the standings. By the middle of the summer, she led the tour in all the big categories. She won two events, including her second Major, the Korea Women’s Open, which she won by a staggering 8 shot margin. She ended the year third on the money list, third in scoring average and second in Player of the Year standings. She topped the league in putting average and was 7th in driving distance. Besides her wins, she had 12 other top tens.

Oh is 23 now and seems the perfect age to have her career best year. She also has steadily improved every year since her rookie season of 2014.  She has mentioned that she wants to start playing overseas events this year, so this might be her last chance to grab the glory in Korea.  If anyone can stop Choi, it seems likely to be Oh.

So Young Lee

The third top player of note last season was So Young Lee. Lee had a breakout season in 2018: she won three times, the most of any player on tour. Lee had been considered a top prospect when she joined the tour in 2016, but she was upset in the Rookie Race by little known (at the time) Jeong Eun Lee 6. So Young did manage a win in her first two years, but her fantastic improvement in 2018 made her a player to watch. Her only weakness is that she is not nearly as consistent as Oh or Choi. When she is playing her A Game she is great, but between those events she seems to have her share of weaker events. Still, she finished 5th on the money list in 2018 with 11 top tens.

Other Top Players

A few more players to watch who had strong 2018 seasons.

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang finally came into her own after her shocking return from the LPGA tour. Indeed, early in the season she looked likely to seize control of the entire league. She won the year’s first Major, the KLPGA Championship, as well as a second event. But she cooled off considerably after that. She had six total top tens and finished 8th on the money list.

So, Jang has not been strong most of the time since she’s been back in Korea. But, she has shown flashes of brilliance, and is a 4-time LPGA winner and former Player of the Year on the KLPGA, so you can’t count her out as a possible force on tour in 2019.

A Lim Kim

A Lim Kim also had a breakout year in 2018. She made some noise by getting all the way to the finals of the Doosan Match Play, then battling Hall of Fame superstar Inbee Park to the very end in the finals. She lost that event, but she later won another tournament for her first career win. She notched a total of 8 top tens during the year, including two seconds and a third, and finished 6th on the money list.

Kim was the longest driver on the KLPGA in 2018. That, coupled with her results and explosive improvement, sets her up for a great 2019.

Improved Players to watch

Several players had great advancement in their careers in 2018, even if they did not quite get up to the top ranks like the previously mentioned women did. They still bear watching for 2019.

Ji Young Park

Ji Young Park has shown a lot promise the past several years. She won the Rookie of the Year award in 2015 and won the first event of the 2019 season back in December. She finished 19th on the 2018 money list, with a second and two thirds being her best finishes.

Gyeol Park

Gyeol Park was also a rookie in 2015. She has always attracted a lot of attention, thanks to her gold medal win at the 2014 Asian Games and her striking looks. But Park has been slow to adapt to life on tour. Last year, she took her first big step, grabbing a surprising win at the SK Networks Ladies Classic, coming from well back in the final round to do it. This earned her an invite to the KLPGA Awards Show at the end of the year, where she stunned the paparazzi with a dazzling dress that earned her tons of photographic attention. This in turn led her to a new sponsorship by Footjoy, becoming their top female star in a media blitz that included commercials, interviews, a cover story in Golf Digest Korea, and another story that same month in Golf For Women magazine.

Gyeol is certainly the new It Girl of Korean golf, and it will be fun to see if her game lives up to her new level of fame. In 2018, she finished 14th on the money list, on the cusp of becoming a top player. Will she continue to grow in 2019? Time will tell.

Ju Yeon In

Ju Yeon In also earned her first career victory in 2018. She has been a promising player for several years, known for her length off the tee. Besides her win, she had three other top tens, but two of those were third place results. She was 18th on the money list. In has gotten a lot of attention from the media since her win, although not as much as Gyeol Park. She seems a good bet to keep improving in 2019.

Returning stars

Yoon Kyung Heo

Yoon Kyung Heo was one of the top players on tour a few years ago. Then a series of serious injuries forced her out of the league for several seasons. Now she is finally ready to come back. Will she have the form that saw her win multiple times back in the day, or are her top days behind her? Her return is eagerly anticipated, not just because of her talent, but because she was one of the most popular players in the league back then. It would certainly be a boon to the KLPGA if Heo could again do what she was able to do before.

Rookies

2019 seems to have a bumper crop of promising young players coming into the league. Hee Jung Lim and Hyun Kyung Park are two who have been often mentioned, but the one that stands out above the others is Ayean Cho. All three players are among the first golfers to join the KLPGA who were born in 2000.  The press has dubbed them the ‘Millennium Babies’.

Hyun Kyung Park

Ayean Cho

Cho was a big standout as an amateur. She earned a tour card by winning the KLPGA Qualifying School, and signed several big deals in the off-season. She did not take long to show her talent, notching a top ten in her first event as a KLPGA member in Vietnam a few months ago. She seems likely to contend for or even win the top Rookie award in the league, but it seems quite possible she could also challenge the top gals in the league for the other awards as well.

The KLPGA season starts in earnest in April. Hang on to your hats, it looks like another fantastic season is coming up!

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