Posted by: happyfan08 | August 25, 2016

Inbee Park: Golden Girl

Last week, Korean women’s golf superstar Inbee Park captured the first gold medal in Olympic golf in over a hundred years.  Park, the only Hall of Famer in the field for either gender, came into the week surrounded by questions.  Was she healthy enough to even contend?  Was she too rusty after having not played LPGA golf for two months?  How would she produce scores necessary to be a factor when most of her rounds the past three months have been over par?  Even the media in her homeland were not so subtly suggesting she should give up her spot to another golfer.  But Inbee didn’t get into the Hall of Fame because she is a quitter, and in the end, she stunned the world by capturing the gold in dominating fashion.  Just like the Inbee Park of old.

Inbee Park with her gold medal

Inbee Park is without question the greatest female golfer of her generation, but in America she rarely gets the acclaim she deserves for her accomplishments.  I think this is because she violates so many of the perceived ideal qualities that golf writers think a superstar should have.  For instance, they often champion players who are long off the tee; Inbee is middle of the pack in driving distance.  Golfers who boast about their talent or are in your face get more attention; Park is as quiet as can be.  Inbee is not glamorous or fashionable.  Many writers are biased towards Americans, and she is from Asia.  Writers love emotional players, and Inbee’s trademark is her poker face.  But regardless of who gets the most ink in the golf world, make no mistake about it: Inbee’s success is for real and without peer in her generation.  Not long ago, she was the top player in the world for more than a year.  She has won 6 Majors in the past four years; the next nearest player in that span has won two.  She is the first player to qualify for the LPGA’s Hall of Fame in nearly ten years.   And now, she is the first Olympic gold medalist of the modern era.

Before Rio, 2016 had been the toughest season of Inbee’s career.  The previous season had been another phenomenal one for her.  She won five times, including two Majors, collected the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, and came within a hair’s width of getting the Player of the Year.  The Vare win also pushed her over the number of points needed for her to qualify for the Hall of Fame.  All she needed to become the second Korean to enter the Hall was to complete ten events in 2016, her tenth season on tour.  The hard requirements seemed to be done; but who could have guessed that getting those ten events would prove to be as challenging as it would turn out to be?

Inbee Park with the 2015 Vare Trophy

Inbee started the year nursing a lower back injury that had hampered her preparation for the season.  In her first competitive round of the year in the Bahamas, she shot an 80, one of the worst scores of her career.  She dropped out after that.  It was an omen of things to come.

Park finally started to get over the back troubles in March and had a few good finishes, including a runner-up at the Kia Classic and a top ten at the ANA Inspiration the following week.  But then a new problem emerged.  She had strained a ligament in her thumb, and this was the kind of injury that could only be healed through several months of time away from golf.  She tried to power her way through it, resulting in a bunch of terrible results.  After finishing 68th in Hawaii in April, she would not finish another four round tournament until the Olympics.  Her next three appearances included an 84, the worst score of her professional career.

Finally she limped into the KPMG, the year’s second Major and her tenth event.  She managed to play one decent round and one terrible round, missing the cut in an event she had won the previous three years.  But the big story was that, at the end of round one, she officially qualified for the Hall of Fame.  She was greeted at the 18th green by a raft of Hall of Famers, including Se Ri Pak and Annika Sorenstam, many holding silly Inbee Park masks in their hands.  Inbee was now officially one of the all time greats.

Inbee at the KPMG Championship in June

After that, she disappeared from the scene.  She skipped the next two Majors, including the Women’s British Open, where she was defending champion.  She also passed on the International Crown, giving up her spot to good friend So Yeon Ryu.  With all her struggles, it seemed unlikely she would even tee it up in Rio for the Olympics.  But she continued to hold onto the hope that it could happen.

A quick word about the qualifying process for the Olympics.  The Korean women’s golf team might have been the hardest to qualify for in all of sports.  Only the top four Koreans as of July 11th would make the team, and there were around ten ladies who had a reasonable chance of being in that top four.  The Korean media relentlessly covered the race to make the team, to the point where the top golfers in the hunt became quite frazzled when they even thought of it.  In the end, the four who qualified were Inbee Park, In Gee Chun, Sei Young Kim and Amy Yang.  Korean golf legend Se Ri Pak was made the coach of the squad.

The Korean Olympic team: Sei Young Kim, Inbee Park, Coach Se Ri Pak, Amy Yang and In Gee Chun

Inbee was the only player whose ranking was so high that she was a lock to make the team, but as her struggles continued, many in the Korean media questioned whether she ought to give up her spot for another golfer who was in better form.  The first alternate was Ha Na Jang, who had won twice in 2016 and finished in the top five just weeks before at the British Open.  The second alternate was So Yeon Ryu, who had not only starred on the recent International Crown team, but had also managed her own top ten at the British.

Inbee was disappointed that she would be questioned like this, but soldiered on, working to insure her trip to Rio would be a fruitful one.  Quietly, she hired a second swing coach to help her to adapt her swing to the injury.  She rested a lot, and the thumb got a little better.  She reappeared just as the Olympics started, playing a Korean LPGA event, where she missed the cut.  But though she didn’t play well there, the experience allowed her to pinpoint the things she needed to work on for Rio.

As the Olympic women’s golf event started on Wednesday, August 17, Inbee got out of the gate fast and didn’t let up.  She shot a 5 under par 66, which put her into a tie for second place with her teammate Sei Young Kim and just one shot out of the lead held by Thai star Ariya Jutanugarn.  That was impressive to say the least.  But could Park follow up that round?  Would her thumb cooperate?

The answer was a resounding yes.  She shot a second straight 66 on day two. Now she was not only the best positioned of the Koreans, she was in the lead.  Trailing right behind her was her old nemesis Stacy Lewis, with whom she had exchanged the top ranking several times a few years ago.  The challenges were just beginning.

Inbee on day two of the Olympic competition

Day three was the hardest round of the tournament.  The weather got tough, especially in the afternoon, with high winds playing havoc with their shots.  Inbee did not buckle.  Although she shot her worst score, a 70, it was still better than many of the others could manage.  Lewis, for instance, produced a 76.  By the end of the day, Inbee had increased her lead to two strokes, but now her nearest follower was world #1 Lydia Ko.  They would play together in the final round.  If Park made even one mistake, Ko might pounce.

Park might never have faced so much pressure in her life.  The Olympic medal was a huge prize to the Korean fans, and she was best positioned to take the gold for her country.  There were two other Koreans, In Gee Chun and Amy Yang, tied for fifth, but they were far enough back that getting any medal might be tricky.  As it turned out, Chun was not a factor on the final day, but Yang made a run and came just one shot short of the bronze.

In Gee Chun on the final day of Olympic competition

The tension was insane: back home, all three Korean networks were televising this final round, and so many people ended up tuning in that, despite the fact the event finished past 2 AM Korean time, the ratings would rank as the all time highest in that country for a golf tournament, even surpassing those for Se Ri Pak’s immortal US Women’s Open win in 1998. Faced with all this enormous pressure, enough to break almost anyone, and despite her lack of tournament readiness and the thumb injury, Inbee responded like the Hall of Famer she is, shooting one of the greatest rounds of her career to cap off her gold medal quest.  The message she sent her doubters was loud and clear: never underestimate the heart of a champion!

She reeled off three straight birdies starting on the third hole, added another a few holes later, and by the turn had increased her lead from 2 to 6 shots.  She made a couple of mistakes after that, and the lead shrunk to as little as three, but every time it looked like she might buckle, she hit another iron close or sank another long birdie to demoralize her opponents.  Nobody could do a thing to stop her: not Ko, not Lewis, not the other Koreans.  Inbee chose Rio and the biggest stage of her career to produce her masterpiece.

Inbee on day four

After the win, Se Ri Pak, who was there to coach the ladies, was beside herself with emotion.  But even on the medal stand, Inbee remained a cool customer, with a slight smile and just the tiniest hint of a tear in her eye.  When she returned home a few days later, she was greeted at the airport by an enormous mob of reporters and fans, even though it was well past midnight when she landed.  She placed her gold medal around the neck of her grandfather, who had come to greet her.  Beaming with pride, he claimed that Inbee was now ‘all of Korea’s daughter’.

The Korean squad congratulates Inbee

If Inbee does not play another round of golf the rest of the year, she showed with her amazing performance in Rio that she is still able to produce magic, even in the depths of the worst sustained slump of her career.  Even at 80% health (by her estimation) she was able to topple a field with 9 of the top 10 women golfers in the world to claim the prize they all wanted.  And like Se Ri inspired a generation, no doubt Inbee Park’s gold medal victory has stirred the hearts of thousands of young girls in her homeland, who will now dream of one day standing on the Olympic platform like Inbee did.

Inbee meets the press after returning to Korea

Inbee hugs her grandfather in front of a sea of cameras

Posted by: happyfan08 | April 6, 2016

2016 KLPGA Primer

The Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association, or KLPGA, is about to start the main part of their 2016 season with their opening event in South Korea. Time once again for our annual primer, where we will preview the season and profile some of the players to watch.

KLPGA Stars of 2015!

The KLPGA is entering a transitional phase this year. For the first time, foreign born players are allowed to maintain membership on tour. At the end of last year, there was a Qualifying School for non-Korean golfers, won by an 18-year-old player from Japan. And this season there have already been two events in China, one in Vietnam, and another 2-day special tournament in Vietnam. But despite all this new international action, the meat of the tour will still be the Korean golfers and the events that take place in South Korea.


The big change this year will be the departure of last year’s dominant Player of the Year, In Gee Chun.

In Gee Chun in December of last year

Chun won 8 total events in 2015, including 5 on the Korean tour, and claimed all the tour’s top prizes: Money list (where she was amassed the second greatest money total in history, roughly 910 million won); Player of the Year; and Scoring Average. She also won two Majors on the Japanese LPGA tour. But her shining moment came not in Asia but in Lancaster, PA, where she won the US Women’s Open, the most important women’s golf event in the world. That win earned her membership on the LPGA, and this year she is playing on the American tour. She has already managed three top three finishes in three starts, and seems well on her way to becoming a big star over here.

In Gee Chun featured in a Korean golf magazine

The Emerging Superstar – Sung Hyun Park

Sung Hyun Park at the 2015 KLPGA Awards Show

With Chun gone, who will be the next big name to emerge from South Korea? The most likely candidate is a 21-year-old powerhouse named Sung Hyun Park. Park will be a third year player in 2016. She didn’t make much noise in her rookie year of 2014, but she made a big splash last year when she won the biggest event on the KLPGA, the Korean Women’s Open, for her first victory (In Gee Chun also made that event her first win, in 2013). A few months later, Park grabbed two more wins, and contended most of the week at the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank before fading to second place (she started the week with a bang by shooting a scintillating 62).

Park wound up finishing second on the KLPGA money list with 736 million won earned. She had three total wins. She led the tour in driving distance, and at the KEB, when paired with Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, managed to hold her own against them with her distance off the tee.

Park wasted little time establishing herself as the player to beat in 2016. At the year’s first event, the Hyundai China Open, she faced down Chun and defending champion Hyo Joo Kim to grab the win. She sits atop the tour money list so far. She has also played three events on the LPGA, and has managed a 13th, a 4th and a 6th. She has moved into the top 25 in the world rankings and is the prohibitive favorite to take the big prizes this year in Korea.

Sung Hyun Park at the 2015 KLPGA Awards Show

Other Rising Stars

Jin Young Ko

Jin Young Ko at the 2015 Ricoh Women’s British Open in Scotland

Jin Young Ko had a wonderful rookie year in 2014. In her second year in 2015, Ko managed three wins and 8 top tens. She finished fifth on the money list. Her biggest highlight also came on the LPGA tour, where she took the final round lead at the Women’s British Open, but in the end made a key mistake and finished second to Korean superstar Inbee Park.

Ko hit the caddie jackpot this year when Dean Herden agreed to be on her bag. Herden has caddied for some of the biggest stars in Korean golf. He has helped So Yeon Ryu, Jiyai Shin and In Gee Chun to Major wins, and also worked with Hee Kyung Seo and Hyo Joo Kim (when she won earlier this year). Ko is clearly preparing for her transition to the LPGA, but first she wants to make a big mark on the KLPGA.

Ko has the talent, but is not to date as consistent as Sung Hyun Park. Can she overcome Park’s power and become the tour’s top gun?

Min Sun Kim

Min Sun Kim at the 2015 KLPGA Awards Show

Min Sun Kim is also a third year player. She has two career wins to date. Kim finished in the top ten on the money list last year and, like Park, is fairly long off the tee. She is one of the big names on tour to be sure, but her short game is much more erratic than Park’s or Ko’s. If she can learn to tame those short putt jitters, she could have what it takes to make it to the top.

Ji Hyun Oh

Ji Hyun Oh

The 2014 class yielded a bounty of young stars. Yet another name to watch from that year is 20-year-old Ji Hyun Oh. Oh broke through for her first career win towards the end of last year, and finished 17th on the money list. Already in 2016 she has contended twice, finishing 5th and 2nd.

Ji Hyun Oh earlier this year

Oh is known as the Yuna Kim of the KLPGA due to her resemblance to the famous Olympic Figure Skating Gold Medalist. She joined the tour a bit younger than some of the other young stars and is only now starting to reach her potential.

Cecilia Cho

Cecilia Jeong Min Cho

Cecilia Jeong Min Cho grew up in New Zealand, where she rose to be the #1 amateur in the world while still in her teens. She set or broke almost every record you could imagine there – and then another, better, younger golfer came along by the name of Lydia Ko. While Ko rose to the world #1 ranking in the professional ranks, Cho languished in the minor leagues of the Korean system. But she made it out onto the big tour, and just a couple of weeks ago, stunned Ji Hyun Oh to claim her first career KLPGA victory.

Could Cho be on her way to becoming a force on tour, or was it just a blip in an otherwise undistinguished career? Given her amateur track record, she does bear watching at least!

Veteran Stars

A couple of veterans on the KLPGA tour had wonderful renaissances in 2015 after several fallow years.

Shin Ae Ahn

Shin Ae Ahn in a golf magazine from last year

Shin Ae “Sharon” Ahn is known as the “Sexy Queen” of the KLPGA. She has spent some time in the tabloids as rumors link her to various pop stars. But Ahn is not just a glamor girl; she was the 2009 KLPGA Rookie of the Year and had multiple wins back in the day. More recently, she seemed to have settled into being a middle of the tour player when, seemingly out of the blue, she won the 2015 KLPGA Championship, one of the tour’s four Majors. Although she did not do much else of note in 2015, this win showed that she has it in her to return to her star form. The cameras will be watching; can she impress again?

Hye Youn Kim

Hye Youn Kim in a traditional Korean dress

Hye Youn Kim is another long time veteran with multiple wins who had not been in the winner’s circle for several years until a resurgence in 2015. Her win came at the Seoul Economy Ladies Classic in late October. She finished 11th on the money list, and given her history, she bears watching in 2016 for sure.

Jung Min Lee

Jung Min Lee in action in 2015

At the start of 2015, it was Jin Young Ko who most pushed In Gee Chun. After Ko started to cool down, the mantle of top challenger was taken up by Jung Min Lee. She had 11 top tens last year and three wins, and finished 4th on the money list. Her first win came in May, followed by a 17th, followed by two more back-to-back wins. She cooled off after that, though, and except for two 2nd place finishes at the Korean Women’s Open and KLPGA Championship (two of the tour’s Majors), wasn’t often in the hunt. Still, she is a veteran who had won multiple times before this season, is fairly consistent, and is still young enough that her best might be yet to come (she is 24).

Lee has started out 2016 well, winning the KLPGA-LET jointly sponsored Mission Hills Women’s World Championship in China last month. She currently sits 2nd on the tour money list behind Sung Hyun Park.

Yoon Kyung Heo

Yoon Kyung Heo in 2015

Yoon Kyung Heo was one of the top players on tour in 2014, but injuries sidelined her much of 2015. She still hasn’t returned to action, although the rumor is that she is healthy and ready to go. If she returns to anything like her top form, she could contend for the #1 spot on tour.

Yoon Ji Cho

Yoon Ji Cho earned a commemorative golf ball after scoring 8 straight birdies at one event in 2015

Yoon Ji Cho has slowly but surely become one of the top players on the KLPGA tour the past couple of seasons. In 2015, she finished 3rd on the money list with over 650 million won earned. However, that number is skewed somewhat by the fact that her only win of the year came at the tour’s most lucrative event, the BMW Championship. That win alone earned her 300 million won. Still, she had other good results, including two runner-up finishes and two third places. It seems unlikely she will be the top player on tour this year, but a top five on the money list is not out of the question.

Glamor Girls

Some of the biggest stars on the KLPGA tour are known more for their looks, fashion or personality than their games, but three of them are noteworthy in that they do win occasionally, even if they are not these days competing for the wins too often.

Char Young Kim and Chae Young Yoon are long term veterans who fit that mold perfectly. Kim won three times in 2012 but has not won since, while Yoon managed her sole win on tour in 2014.

Chae Young Yoon

Chae Young Yoon in 2015

Yoon finished 33rd on the money list in 2015. Her best finishes were a pair of fifth places. Last week, she played in a JLPGA event (perhaps for the first time?) and was the tournament leader after 36 holes. She faded in the final round, but still notched a respectable tie for third.

Char Young Kim

Char Young Kim in 2015

Char Young Kim finished 34th on the money list in 2015. Her best finish was a third, and she made the final four at the Doosan Match Play as well. Like Yoon, she has a fair amount of talent, and she rarely misses cuts, but she also rarely contends.

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin Yang, the KLPGA’s Fashion Queen

Soo Jin Yang is the tour’s top fashionista. There isn’t even a contest in this regard. Yang not only breaks the internet with one daring and different outfit after another, she also designs some of them for her own clothing line made by her sponsor Pearly Gates. Yang also gets more tabloid ink than any of the other KLPGA golfers, including Shin Ae Ahn. Last year she was dating the top player on the KPGA, but it seems that relationship has ended and she is now seeing a top pitcher in the Korean Major Leagues.

Soo Jin Yang, the KLPGA’s Fashion Queen

With all these outside interests, it’s not surprising that Soo Jin has not been up near the top of the golf standings lately. But make no mistake, she’s a big talent. She’s won multiple events in her career, and until a couple of years ago was usually in the top five on the money list. Last year she finished 38th, though, with her best result a third at the Korean Women’s Open. Yang’s strength is that she is surprisingly long off the tee for her size. If she returns to focusing on her game over her extracurricular activities, she could easily become a top five golfer again.

Soo Jin Yang on the course

Second Year Stars

Last year’s Rookie Class was not particularly distinguished, especially when compared to the classes of the two previous years. Only one rookie won a tournament in 2015, and she was a player who had played fairly poorly the rest of the season and had one magic week.

The Rookie of the Year was Ji Young Park, but the two players who continue to look the most promising from last year’s crop are Gyeol Park and Han Sol Ji.

Gyeol Park

Gyeol Park

Park won the 2014 Asian Games Gold Medal in front of her home country fans in Inchon. Her rookie year was not super great, but she did finish 22nd on the money list with over 230 million won earned. She finished second twice in 2015, including at the Hite Cup, the year’s third Major. She was third in the Rookie standings.

Han Sol Ji

Han Sol Ji at the Doosan Match Play

Han Sol Ji had her moments in 2015 as well. She finished 25th on the money list, earning about five million won less than Gyeol Park, and was 4th in the rookie standings. Her best finish came at the Doosan Match Play, where she was the runner-up to In Gee Chun in a close final match (Chun won 1up).

Ji has already had a great start to 2016, collecting a 2nd place finish at the World Ladies Championship and another second behind Cecilia Cho in Vietnam. With her calm demeanor and ready smiles, she looks likely to improve a lot in 2016.


This year’s rookie crop is not full of big names as in recent years. Hyo Rin Lee had a great career in the minor leagues last year and comes in as the rookie most expect to win Rookie of the Year.

Ji Young Kim 2 was the second leading scorer on the Dream Tour in 2015 and finished 5th at Q-School.

So Hye Park made waves by signing a lucrative deal with Nike. The 18-year-old won twice on the Dream Tour last year.

Rookie So Hye Park

2016 will be an interesting transitional year for the KLPGA. Odds are we will see a new star, a dominant player, and some more great guest appearances by KLPGA stars in LPGA tournaments. KLPGA Fighting!

AWARD for Most Improved Player

And the Winner is: Sung Hyun Park

Sung Hyun Park at this year’s KLPGA Awards. She won the ‘Most Popular’ Award!

Sung Hyun Park is a 22-year-old second year player on the KLPGA tour. There hadn’t been much in her rookie year that would lead one to believe she was about to become one of the best players in the league. She did manage two top tens, including a third, in her first season, but that was only good enough for 34th on the money list.

Everything changed for Park in 2015. The newly crowned longest driver on tour, Park started the year much like she ended 2014, but early in the season began to show signs she had more in her. Her first notable achievement was contending at the NH Financial Ladies Championship in May. But it was at the Lotte Cantata in early June that she started to really make noise. She took a three shot lead after two rounds, but felt the heat in the final round, shooting a 74 to fall into a playoff with Jung Min Lee. Lee won, but Park was gaining confidence.

Sung Hyun Park after her playoff loss at the Lotte Cantata

Two weeks later came Park’s breakthrough, at the biggest tournament on the KLPGA schedule: the Korean Women’s Open (see Best Breakthrough). In tough conditions, Park hammered her way to a five shot lead entering the final day, and though Sunday was tough for her, she hung in there and this time beat Jung Min Lee, capturing her first win and first Major.

Sung Hyun Park with her Korean Women’s Open trophy

From there, Park went from strength to strength. For the rest of the season, she only finished outside the top 20 four times. Park proved she was no flash in the pan by taking down the top player in the league, head-to-head, in her next win. That was the KDB Daewoo Securities Classic in mid-September. In Gee Chun, the defending champion, was tied with Park entering the final round. But Chun couldn’t get anything to go her way on Sunday, and Park shot a 69 to capture a two-shot win.

In Gee Chun congratulates Sung Hyun Park on her second tour win

Just two events later, Park captured her third win, at the Pak Se Ri Invitational. Park put herself into the final group on Sunday, and shot a sometimes challenging 68 to claim a one shot victory.

Park had two more good chances to win but came up just short. At the final event of the season, the Chosun Ilbo Posco Championship, Park entered the final day four shots behind the untested rookie HJ Choi 2. Park played well on Sunday, shooting a 67 to finish second, but Choi amazingly held it together to get the surprise win (See Cinderella of the Year award for more details).

Park’s other amazing tournament came at the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship. She opened with a blistering 10 under par 62, giving her a four shot lead over a field of LPGA stars while outplaying Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson in her pairing. Park stayed in it until Sunday, but she just couldn’t get crucial putts to fall, and Thompson took the title, with Park finishing tied for second.

Sung Hyun in action at the Hana Bank Championship

In the end, Park finished second on the KLPGA money list with over 736 million won earned. Quite an improvement over 2014!

Even after the season ended, Park continued to impress. She destroyed Inbee Park in a KLPGA vs. LPGA team competition, played well at the Kowa Queens team event, and won the first tournament of the KLPGA’s 2016 season, the Hyundai China Ladies Masters, taking down In Gee Chun and defending champ Hyo Joo Kim in the process.

Sung Hyun vs. Hyo Joo in China in December

And she was voted the Most Popular Player on the KLPGA tour in 2015 to boot, edging out even uber-popular Chun. All signs point to a sensational career developing for Sung Hyun Park, and it all started with her epic improvement in 2015.

Other Nominees:

Jin Young Ko

Jin Young Ko in Scotland

Ko was the runner-up in the KLPGA Rookie of the Year race in 2014, so she already proved herself a strong player. But she only won once that year. This season, she won three events, and came within a few holes of winning the Ricoh Women’s British Open, one of the LPGA’s five Majors. She was not as consistent as Sung Hyun Park, nor was her improvement as great, but she is still trending upward in a big way.

Sei Young Kim

See Rookie of the Year for more details. Kim was a five-time winner on the KLPGA tour before this year, but in 2015 she managed to win three LPGA events, contend in two Majors, and achieve the Rookie of the Year award against arguably the greatest rookie class in history. That’s a major improvement!

In Gee Chun

Chun won three times in 2014 and was a top five golfer on the KLPGA. But this year she won 8 times on three different tours and dominated the KLPGA to boot.  And, oh yeah, earned her LPGA tour card by winning the biggest event in women’s golf, the US Women’s Open.

AWARD for Player of the Year

And the Winner is: In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun with her US Women’s Open trophy in December

In 2015, there were more great performances by ethnic Korean women golfers than at any other year in history. But four players in particular stood out for their historic achievements last season.   Those outstanding women were Lydia Ko and Inbee Park on the LPGA, In Gee Chun on the KLPGA and other tours, and Bo Mee Lee on the Japanese LPGA. A good case could be made for any of those four being the Player of the Year. It’s interesting that two of these players, Ko and Chun, are ‘young guns’ in their late teens/early twenties (Ko is 18, Chun 21), while the other two, Lee and Park, are from the Se Ri Kids Generation and are in their late twenties.

Keep in mind that this award does not go to the player who is indisputably or even arguably the best in 2015; that is what we have Rolex rankings for. Rather, it goes to the player who dominated the news in her sphere, while simultaneously achieving beyond what we might have thought she was capable of. IE, if a KLPGA golfer does transcendently on her tour, she can win this award over a strong LPGA player, even if the LPGA player had tougher fields to contend with week after week.

My choice for 2015 Player of the Year is In Gee Chun. I’ll give the reasons below, and in sections about the other three players, I will list the achievements that made them special and the reasons I decided to choose Chun over them.

What She Achieved

In Gee Chun meets the press in Korea

In a nutshell, In Gee came into this season as a very strong KLPGA star with four tour wins to her credit. Given that the KLPGA lost five big stars this season, there was reason to expect that Chun, one of their few stars remaining, would have a better year in 2015 than previously.

On the KLPGA in 2015, In Gee won five tournaments, the most on tour (next closest was three wins). She won two of the three Majors she played. She won the Doosan Match Play, one of the toughest events to win on tour because it requires six match play wins (see Most Clutch Performance). She also won her sponsor’s tournament, and successfully defended a title for the first time in her career.

In Gee kisses the Hite Cup trophy

She achieved the second highest money total in tour history, in excess of 913 million won. She also won the Player of the Year award and the title for low scoring average (her average, 70.56, was more than half a stroke better than the number two on the list). She even nearly won the Most Popular Award, just being outvoted by Sung Hyun Park.

It could be expected that Chun would do well due to the exodus of talent this year. But not only did Chun dominate, she did so while playing a LOT of events outside of the KLPGA. She was constantly having to skip important domestic tournaments, or showing up to play after flying in from halfway around the world, or playing a bunch of weeks in a row, or dealing with fatigue. For instance, she missed both of the highest money tournaments on tour this year, and still crushed everyone in the money list race.

In Gee Chun meets the press in Korea

In Gee’s achievements on the KLPGA were great, but what made her season so amazing is that she played so many international events and managed three additional wins. She had essentially played nowhere but the Korean tour her first two years as a pro, so it was all new for her to play elsewhere. And boy, did she expand her horizons. Among the places she teed it up this year were France, Scotland, Singapore, the US, and Japan, all for the first time as a pro.

JLPGA: She played her first three events ever on the Japanese tour. In her first event, she dominated, winning the tour’s first Major of the season, the Salonpas Cup. She also won her second ever Japanese event, also a Major: the Japan Women’s Open, this time triumphing in a four-hole playoff. Even while struggling with an injury at yet another JLPGA Major, her third JLPGA event of the year, she managed a tie for 6th.

In Gee after winning the Japan Women’s Open

As if all that weren’t enough, In Gee also won the US Women’s Open, only the single most important event in all of women’s golf. If that were all she did this year, it would have been an incredible year. And of course, that win earned her an LPGA card for next season as well.

In Gee returns to Korea after winning the US Women’s Open

Eight wins in total, the most of any of the four women under consideration.

The history she made

  • In Gee’s win at the Salonpas made her the youngest woman to win that tournament by almost a year
  • She also became the youngest player to win multiple times in a single season on the JLPGA tour.

In Gee holds the Salonpas Cup trophy, her first JLPGA Major of 2015

  • She almost certainly has to be the only woman to ever make her first two events played on a single tour (the JLPGA again) both Major victories.
  • In Gee managed five Major wins on three different tours in 2015. She is the only woman to ever win Majors on three different tours in a single year.
  • In Gee was the third youngest winner of the US Women’s Open. The youngest are Inbee Park and Se Ri Pak, both Hall of Famers (Inbee a Hall of Famer-to-be)
  • She might be the only golfer who has won the national opens of Korea, Japan and the US; she’s certainly the youngest.

In Gee with the US Women’s Open trophy

Arguments against her

The main argument against In Gee was that, other than the US Women’s Open, she did not finish in the top 30 in any of the other LPGA events she played outside of Korea (she did manage a 15th place finish at the KEB Hana Bank in Korea).

While this is true, most of those events were at the very start of her season, before she caught fire. She played the HSBC Ladies Champions, the Founders Cup, the Kia Classic and the ANA Inspiration before her first event of the KLPGA season (and her first win, which came at the second KLPGA event of the year). After that, she caught fire, winning frequently. Her next LPGA event was the US Women’s Open. The Women’s British Open came the week after she won a Major in Korea, so she had a large jetlag to deal with. Really, the only inexplicable bad performance she had on the LPGA was at the Evian Championship, where she missed her only cut all year. But everyone is entitled to a bad one now and again.

In Gee at the Evian, her only missed cut of 2015

Other Nominees:

Inbee Park

Inbee Park received the Annika Award for best Major season

If I hadn’t given the award to In Gee, I probably would have given it to Inbee Park. The uber-talented star had another monster LPGA season in 2015, but in the end I felt like Chun was just that little bit more impressive.

What She Achieved

Inbee played most of her year on the LPGA, although she did manage a couple of KLPGA events and one LET event. But all her wins were on the LPGA, five in total.

Two of Inbee’s wins were Majors: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open. It was her third win at the former and first at the latter. She also notched a third at the US Women’s Open and a tie for 8th at the Evian. The only time she finished outside a top ten at a Major was at the ANA Inspiration, and she finished 11th there!

Inbee wound up winning the Vare Trophy for low scoring average for the second time (her average was a scintillating 69.41), finishing second on the money list with $2,630,011, and second on the Player of the Year list with 278 points, just 2 behind Lydia Ko. Her achievements allowed her to become the second Korean golfer to qualify on points for the Hall of Fame, although she needs to wait until she plays ten events next year to officially qualify.

She had 15 total top tens in 2015, second only to Lydia Ko.

Inbee in Korea

The History She Made

  • Inbee’s money list total was the highest ever earned by a golfer representing Korea; it’s the third straight year she’s broken $2 million in earnings. No other golfer representing Korea has ever broken $2 million.
  • Inbee became one of the only golfers in history to win a specific Major three times in a row when she won the KPMG. And she did it on three different courses!
  • She is the only Korean to ever win the Vare Trophy twice.
  • Her run of 90+ holes without a bogey across three events was one of the best mistake-free runs in Korean golf history.

Inbee with her HSBC trophy

  • Her 7 Majors makes her the Asian with the most Majors in history, breaking the tie she was in with Se Ri Pak at the start of the year.
  • She is only the second Korean to qualify for the Hall of Fame
  • Her 17 wins is the second most by any Korean golfer (Se Ri has 25)

Arguments Against Her

The main knock against Inbee was that she finished second to Lydia Ko in several categories. She did barely beat Ko in scoring, but barely lost to her in Player of the Year. To be honest, although she did lose to Ko in that race, she won 2 Majors to Ko’s 1, and Ko actually had a missed cut and a 51st place finish in two Majors, while all of Inbee’s Majors were top 11s. This seems to be one case where the point totals don’t tell the whole story, and I think many people, if given the choice, would choose Inbee and her Major track record over Ko in 2015, especially since the actual margin was so small.

Inbee vs. Ko was a great rivalry in 2015

But Inbee still legitimately lost to Ko on the money list; Ko’s total was the highest ever achieved by any ethnic Korean woman. And Inbee’s winning margin for the Vare Trophy was ridiculously small. Ko also won the CME $1 million bonus. So one factor against Inbee vs. Chun is that, unlike Chun, Inbee was not even the best in several categories in her own league.

The other factor is that Inbee did not have to travel around nearly as much from tour to tour as In Gee, and she’s been doing it over a decade, so it was nothing new to her. To me, that was the real factor that edged In Gee over Inbee.

Lydia Ko

Lyida Ko won the Evian to become the youngest Major winner in tour history

What She Achieved

Lydia Ko so regularly breaks records for youngest to do something that it almost seems a weird week when she has not achieved such a mark. Ko had five wins on the LPGA in 2015 and another in New Zealand on the LET for 6 total. One of those was a Major, the Evian Championship, which also was her first Major win. She also had 17 top tens on the year.

Ko won the Player of the Year barely over Inbee Park, and lost the scoring title barely to her. She led the money list and also won the $1 million bonus at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The History She Made

  • Youngest to ever reach the #1 world ranking, and she did it before her 18th birthday.
  • Youngest to win a Major at the Evian Championship.
  • Her $2,800,802 total is the highest money list total ever achieved by any golfer of Korean descent, including Inbee Park.
  • Youngest to win five times in a season

Arguments Against Her

Ko with her last of five trophies in 2015

As I said above, I feel, despite the numbers, that Inbee Park was the true Player of the Year on the LPGA, because she had two Major wins and a far better Major record than Ko did. Inbee beat Ko at four of the five Majors; at the CME, arguably the most important non-Major; and at the HSBC, which is sometimes called “Asia’s Major”.  And the same caveat I had about Park I have with Ko: she did not sweep all her season awards like Chun did.

I’m also not quite as impressed by all her youngest to do things records as some are. Ko started golfing when she was 6 years old. By contrast, In Gee Chun started when she was 11. By the time Ko was that age, she was less than a year away from contending in professional events. Yes, it’s amazing that a kid so young could be so good, but Ko actually has more years of experience under her belt than Chun does. She has also played in world class pro events since she was 12, and LPGA events since she was 14. Chun only started doing that this year (with very few exceptions, such as the KEB Hana Bank).

Bo Mee Lee

What She Achieved

Bo Mee Lee

I believe that what Bo Mee Lee achieved in 2015 on the JLPGA was unprecedented for any non-Japanese golfer on that tour. She actually started the year as an exercise in frustration. At one point she had four straight runner-up finishes, but couldn’t seem to close the deal. But playing with In Gee Chun at the Salonpas Cup (which Chun won) helped her; she claimed she saw the key to winning by watching what In Gee did there.

Whatever happened, it worked. Lee ended up winning seven times on tour in 2015, and finished 2nd an additional seven times. She not only won the money list, she shattered the record for most money earned (see below). She also won the Player of the Year and Scoring title, with her only competition coming from Theresa Lu in the latter. She was first in greens in regulation, second in birdies. She played 32 events and made all the cuts.

She finished near the top of the leaderboard so many times that it was a rare event in Japan when she wasn’t on the leaderboard.

Bo Mee Lee was also first in greens in regulation and putts per green in regulation.

Bo Mee Lee

What’s truly impressive about Bo Mee Lee is that, without question, she is the most popular player on the Japanese tour in addition to being the best. Imagine a Korean golfer achieving that on the LPGA! It’s never been done, although Se Ri Pak did have a brief period where she was close. How do I gauge Lee’s popularity? Usually, it’s fairly remarkable when a Sister appears on the cover of a golf magazine, even in Korea. With Lee, she is on so many covers in Japan that it’s literally impossible to count. And that doesn’t include all the other magazines that she is featured inside without being on the cover. But her appeal has gone beyond that; she appears in mainstream media over there. I’ve seen her in hour-long travel shows where she takes the viewer to Korea; game shows; wacky talk shows; you name it, she’s probably done it. That she balances all this media exposure with her golf and still plays so well is truly special.

Bo Mee featured in yet another Japanese golf magazine

The History She Made

  • Bo Mee’s money list total for 2015 was 230.5 million yen, more than 80 million yen ahead of Lu in second. She shattered the previous record of roughly 175 million yen. That total in dollars is roughly $1.8 million, which would put her in the top six on the LPGA money list.
  • Bo Mee became the first woman to ever break the 200 million yen mark on tour.
  • Her money total even beat the all-time record for the men’s tour in Japan.
  • Her 7 wins in a single year is probably the most a Korean has ever achieved on the JLPGA, although this I’m not sure about.

Bo Mee in action

  • Her scoring average of 70.19 was the third lowest since 1990.
  • Her greens in regulation stat (74.5%) was the best since 1990, perhaps ever.

Arguments Against Her

For all Bo Mee Lee did in 2015, she did not manage to win one of the four JLPGA Majors. This is especially noteworthy, considering Koreans won three of them: In Gee Chun with two and Jiyai Shin with another (and the fourth was also won by a non-Japanese player, Taiwanese star Theresa Lu).

Of course, this is doubly significant considering that we are comparing her to In Gee Chun for this award. Chun came in, having never played in Japan before, and beat Lee on her home ground twice for two Majors crowns.

Bo Mee and In Gee Chun at the Salonpas Cup

The other big knock against her is that, unlike Ko, Park and Chun, Lee did no traveling outside of Japan to play (that I’m aware of). Consider how many different places Chun played, how often she was out of her comfort zone and how it affected playing on her home turf when she returned. Lee, by contrast, was in her perfect bubble all year.

So, as impressive as Lee’s year was (and it was very impressive), Chun seems to me to have topped her in terms of challenge to get to where she wound up.

That concludes this year’s awards.  Hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed compiling them!

AWARD for Best Amateur

And the Winner is: Hannah O’Sullivan

A Korean golfer named Hannah O’Sullivan? Not exactly. Hannah is American, but her mother is from Korea.

Hannah is one of the top women’s amateur golfers in the world, and she proved it this year by winning the US Women’s Amateur in Oregon.

Other Nominees:

Eun Jeong Song

Eun Jeong Song won this year’s US Girls Junior Championship.

AWARD for Rookie to Watch in 2016

And the Winner is: In Gee Chun

Each year I pick a Korean rookie to look out for in the coming year. In 2015, like never before, there was a great group of rookies joining the LPGA tour. Last year in this space, I wrote the following:

If I were picking the most talented of them all, I would pick Hyo Joo Kim. Kim has done things on the KLPGA tour (and the LPGA) that we haven’t seen a Korean player do in a long, long time. She is not only consistently excellent, but when she gets on a roll, she can be transcendent, doing things you will tell your grandkids about… , I fully expect her to have a great rookie season.

Hyo Joo Kim

I was right about Kim; she did have a great season. She finished second in the Rookie race, won a tournament, finished 13th on the money list with nearly a million dollars in earnings, and notched 9 top tens. She still did not quite live up to her potential, however, and of course it was another KLPGA star, Sei Young Kim, who won the Rookie of the Year award (last year, I also mentioned Sei Young as a name to watch).

But the gal I picked as my rookie to watch for 2015 was Kyu Jung Baek.

Q Baek in 2013

Baek, who in America was known as Q Baek, won three KLPGA events and the KEB Hana Bank as a KLPGA rookie in 2014. I wrote:

I’m picking Kyu Jung Baek because I think in some ways she is the dark horse in this group and may not get the attention she merits coming into 2015… There are legitimate questions about her, too. Can she handle playing a full schedule out of her homeland, when she will be only 19 years old? How will she stand up to playing top players week after week, when she only has a year of pro experience in Korea?

I strongly suspect we will see Kyu Jung Baek vie for a few titles and make some serious noise in 2015.

I’m going to chalk that prediction up as a miss. My worries that she was a very young, green player proved to be true. She didn’t have a terrible season: she notched one top five, had six other top 20s, made around $325 thousand dollars, and finished 57th on the money list. So, the good news is that she easily maintained her tour card. The bad news is that she had some really terrible weeks in there, including several where she finished at or near the bottom of the leaderboard.

OK, so let’s move on to 2016. Are there any Korean rookies who look likely to become forces on tour next season?

The obvious candidate is In Gee Chun, and she will be my choice. The only Major winner in next year’s LPGA rookie class, Chun won 8 times on three different tours in 2015 and dominated the KLPGA (when she was in the field) in much the same way as Hyo Joo Kim did in 2014.

In Gee Chun greets her fans at the airport after returning from her US Women’s Open win

To be honest, this is a rather weak rookie crop, especially following 2015’s class, so it would be very surprising to me if Chun struggles to win the Rookie title. Her most glaring weakness is that, other than the Open, she did not have another top 30 finish in any LPGA event played outside of Korea in 2015. Most of those results came early in the year, when she was still trying to get used to playing outside the KLPGA. But it still is mild cause for concern.

Still, even if she has trouble getting it going in 2016, there aren’t too many women who look like they will be able to challenge her. And if she can get her feet under her before too much time passes, she should make a pretty strong impact on the tour. Chun’s goal for 2016 is to finish in the top ten on the money list, and I predict she will at least manage that.

I’ll throw one other name out there for consideration. Annie Park is a Korean American player who has had an odd career to date. She looked like a world beater when she arrived in college as a freshman a few years ago. But she struggled quite a bit after that. Then, she played on the Symetra Tour this year, where it took her only nine events to win three times and secure the top spot on the tour money list. I would put her at least in the same category in her college days as Alison Lee, and Lee has already made a good mark on the LPGA.

Park seems more likely to struggle next season than excel, but she also has enough obvious talent that she is definitely one to keep an eye on.

AWARD: the It’s About Time Award

And the Winner is: Chella Choi Wins Marathon Classic

Chella and her dad at the airport after her first career LPGA win

For years, Chella Choi has been the answer to the question: who is the best Korean golfer on the LPGA without a win? The story of her futile quest to get her first win took on a life of its own when Chella revealed in an interview that her dad, who is also her caddie, would remain on her bag until she got that elusive win. Her father made it clear that he really was looking forward to retiring, but he wanted to honor his daughter’s wish of being there for her when that win at last came.

But year after year, close call after close call, Chella could not close the deal.

At this year’s Marathon Classic, it looked like she would come up short again. Ha Na Jang, rookie star, seemed poised to get her own first win after some near misses earlier in the season. Choi seemed to seal her fate when it took her four shots to get to the green on the par-five final hole. But Choi made par, and had to wait to see what Jang would do.

Jang, a long hitter, seemed almost guaranteed to make birdie on 18. And indeed, she set herself up with a short birdie try for the win. But no! She missed it, and there was a playoff.

Jang hashed up her playoff hole, Choi was cool, and one hole later, Chella had her win AT LAST!!!

Chella holds her hard-earned trophy

She was asked later if it was time now for her dad to hang it up. She responded, “Yes! Yes! Bye bye to Dad!”

But it wasn’t to be! After trying a regular tour caddie, Choi, just a few weeks later, asked her dad to return to her bag. The rumor now is that he will retire once they find a good replacement for him in the offseason. Good luck! Perhaps this story isn’t over yet!

Other Nominees:

Sun Ju Ahn wins an LPGA event

Sun Ju Ahn following her win at the Toto Classic in Japan

Sun Ju Ahn has been arguably the best Korean golfer not on the LPGA for most of the past half decade. During that time, she has been the top golfer on the Japanese tour several times. Ahn only ended up in Japan after an injury forced her out of LPGA Q-School way back in 2008. Since then, Ahn has played well from time to time in LPGA events, notably at the 2014 Women’s British Open, where she contended before a two stroke penalty in a bunker in the third round seemed to knock the wind out of her sails.

But Ahn was all business at this year’s Toto Japan Classic. She won the event in her adopted country, showing she was every bit as capable of contending on the LPGA as we had suspected. She won’t be a rookie next year, though; she turned down the LPGA tour card.

AWARD for Rookie of the Year

And the Winner is: Sei Young Kim

Sei Young Kim

Given how deep the rookie class on the LPGA was in 2015, this was a surprisingly easy award to decide. In the end, one rookie truly separated herself from the rest, and that was Sei Young Kim. With no standout rookies on the other tours, Kim gets our Rookie of the Year award.

Sei Young Kim achieved three tour wins in 2015, tying her with such impressive former Rookie stars as Lydia Ko and Jiyai Shin, and behind only Se Ri Pak’s four wins, for best ever by a rookie of Korean extraction. She finished 4th on the tour money list, making over $1.8 million; again, this is one of the best totals ever achieved by a Korean rookie. She had 11 top tens, was top ten in driving distance, and, most impressively, led the league in eagles (14) and was second in birdies made (406).

Interestingly, Sei Young missed the cut at the first event she played, the Coates Championship. But she wasn’t down long; at the very next tour event, the Pure Silk Bahamas, she put herself into contention, made an extraordinary up and down late to keep herself in it, and wound up forcing a playoff with fellow rookie Ariya Jutanugarn and two-time LPGA winner Sun Young Yoo.

It took Kim all of one hole to wrap up the playoff. Winning in just her second start as a member made her one of the quickest to achieve her first win after joining the tour.

Sei Young Kim won her Rolex in just her second LPGA start

She was far from done. She contended again at the Honda Thailand and the Founders Cup, and put herself into the 54 hole lead at the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first Major. She wound up struggling in the final round, but still notched another top five.

Fast forward to Hawaii and the Lotte Championship in April. Once again, she was in the final group on Sunday, this time paired with Inbee Park and In Kyung Kim. Sei Young hung tough, making a gritty par save on 17 to stay tied with Park. But when she hit her drive on 18 into the water, it looked like it was all over. But as we talked about in the Shot of the Year award, it was far from done! Kim managed to hole out from the fringe to force a playoff with Park, then holed out again in the playoff to win. Kim was not only contending and winning, she was doing it in spectacular style.

Sei Young Kim can’t stop smiling after her amazing win at the Lotte

At the year’s second Major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, she once again found herself in the final group on Sunday. She would have been tied for the lead with Inbee Park but for some poor putting on the final hole on Saturday. On Sunday, she played well most of the front nine, but a disastrous four putt on the 9th hole gave Inbee an advantage she would not relinquish. Kim had to settle for solo second, her best Major finish to date.

The hits came more sporadically after that, but she still could rise to the occasion. At the US Women’s Open, her caddie was kicked out of the tournament when he was accused of illegally photographing the pin position sheets for the week. Kim finished tied for 42nd without him. She played great at the Canadian Women’s Open in August; she just missed a short birdie putt to join the playoff for the title. In October, she grabbed her third win of the season at the Blue Bay LPGA in China. When Hyo Joo Kim was not able to win the following week, Sei Young Kim clinched the Rookie of the Year title.

Sei Young at the KLPGA Awards Show in December

It was a great season for rookies on the LPGA, and the greatest without any question was Sei Young Kim. She truly deserves our Rookie of the Year trophy.

Other Nominees:

Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim

Hyo Joo Kim managed to win twice on the KLPGA tour and once on the LPGA tour as a rookie in 2015. Beside the win, she finished fifth in scoring average at 70.14, 5th in rounds under par, 2nd in the rookie standings, and notched 9 top tens to finish 13th on the money list at just under a million bucks earned.

It was a great season for Kim, but Sei Young Kim was in contention more often, won more often, and when she did win, often did so in spectacular fashion. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more from Hyo Joo Kim in the future, but her rookie season was not quite the equal of her elder friend Sei Young Kim.

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang started the year well, nearly winning her first event as a member despite having to Monday qualify. And she ended it well, finishing tied for second at the CME Group Tour Championship. She also lost in a playoff to Chella Choi in the summer, and notched a fourth runner-up against Brooke Henderson in Portland. Four total runner-up finishes, but no wins on the LPGA.

In all, Ha Na had eight top tens, finished 11th in scoring average, 4th in the Rookie standings, and made $883,032, which put her 15th on the money list. Throw in two wins and a runner-up finish on the KLPGA as well. Most years, that would have made Jang our top Rookie, but she’ll have to settle for an honorable mention this year.

Minjee Lee                                             

Minjee Lee

Korean Australian golfer Minjee Lee finished third in the LPGA rookie race in 2015, but of the top rookies, it definitely took her the longest to get going, and she was in many ways the most inconsistent of the ladies who were nominated for this award. Indeed, she missed several cuts in a row early on, and seemed on the wrong track when, all of a sudden, she put together a great week at the Kingsmill Championship. She capped it off with an explosive run of holes that gave her such a lead that even a tentative Monday finish was not enough to affect the outcome. She became one of the few women in history to win an LPGA event before her 19th birthday.

In all, Minjee achieved seven top tens in 2015. She was 6th in birdies in the league and 3rd in eagles. She earned $821,121 in 2015, good for 16th on the money list. Again, in most years that would have been an awesome rookie season, but it was only good for an honorable mention in 2015.

AWARD for Most Controversial Moment

And the Winner is: Alison Lee and the concession that wasn’t at the Solheim Cup

Alison Lee

Alison Lee, a Korean American teenager in her rookie season, had a great year on tour in 2015 and has established herself as a name to watch in years to come. Despite having only one year to accumulate points, she managed to qualify for the Solheim Cup Team, not an easy feat when every else had two years to collect points.

But Lee’s rookie year will forever be marked by what happened in one of her team matches at the Cup. Late in her team match against the European team of Suzann Pettersen and Charley Hull, Lee picked up a ball, thinking she had heard someone concede the short par putt she had yet to make. But no player from Europe had conceded the putt, and Pettersen would not back down, causing America to lose the hole and later the match.

Lee was devastated, repeatedly insisting she had heard the concession, although no audio evidence supported her claim. Pettersen was vilified for bad sportsmanship (Lee almost certainly would have made the putt), Lee was questioned for her veracity, and even the captains of each team were dragged into the raging mess.

In the end, it worked out great for America. Fired up by the incident, the US made a huge comeback against Europe on European soil, winning the Cup for the first time in a while.

Other Nominees:

Sei Young Kim’s caddie Paul Fusco is kicked out of the US Women’s Open

Fusco apparently went into an office at this year’s US Women’s Open and found no one inside. He claims that he saw the pin positions for all four days out in the open in this office, and so took photos of them to help his player plan her strategy. But this is against the rules: unlike at LPGA events, USGA events do not publicize pin positions before the day they are set. Thus, Fusco was kicked out of this year’s Open.

Did Fusco knowingly try to get an unfair advantage? Or did the USGA really mess up by leaving these documents in a public place, and he was an innocent victim? It’s not entirely clear what really happened, but it sure generated some controversy.

So Yeon Ryu calls then world #2 Inbee Park the “true Number one”

So Yeon Ryu

“It was good to play with Inbee, my best friend on the tour. She is not number one right now, but I believe she is the true number one, so it was great to compete with her.” – So Yeon Ryu

So Yeon said the following after she beat her friend in a close battle at the 2015 LET Mission Hills event in China. Park was the defending champion.

The problem was that Lydia Ko had recently become the #1 golfer in the world, and some Ko fans took umbrage at what they perceived as a slight against the teenager.

Given how So Yeon is as a person, it was more likely meant as a genuine appreciation of her friend Inbee than a knock against Ko. Inbee after all was still very close to the #1 spot in Rolex points, and had the more overall impressive record compared to Ko in the previous two years. As well, Ko had only recently become #1 and was fighting to maintain that spot, so it seemed a reasonable opinion to believe she hadn’t truly established herself as the top golfer in the world.

But of course, others felt differently!

AWARD for Biggest Diss

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park Completes Career Grand Slam, but many in the media can’t stop questioning it.

Inbee receives another post-season award in December

When Inbee Park won the Women’s British Open this year, she won her fourth different Major and completed what she considered the career Grand Slam, a feat she had targeted as one of her biggest goals since starting her pro career. The LPGA agreed that she achieved this.

The problem, of course, is that in 2013 the LPGA elevated the Evian Championship to Major status, giving the tour five Majors per year for the first time in its existence. So technically, if a Slam requires winning all the Majors, Inbee had not done so, even though she did win the Evian the year before it became a Major and had won the other four events when they were Majors.

A whole bunch of American media outlets, including Golf Channel, seem to have decided that Inbee has not in fact completed the Slam, and take every chance she is mentioned to bring this up.

Inbee has become a bit irritated at times by this attitude and the general negative tone of coverage the Korean players seem to get in the States. She was asked a few months ago about a quote from American veteran Cristie Kerr. Kerr compared South Koreans golfers to machines because they practice 10 hours a day. Inbee responded tartly, “They (the Americans) should build better machines”.

Does Inbee have the career Grand Slam? Of course it is debatable, and the LPGA sure made a hash of things by creating a fifth Major (it bit Inbee before, in 2013, when she was going for the calendar year Grand Slam and suddenly seemingly had to win five, not four, Majors in a single year). But I believe she has achieved this feat and needs to be celebrated more readily as such. Here are my thoughts on this issue.

  1. Inbee is being criticized by a bunch of American press (especially the Golf Channel) who seem gung ho on denigrating her Grand Slam. I feel that if it had been Paula Creamer who had done this, they would not be making such a big deal about this nitpicky point.  I don’t find the same doubt in the Korean press.
  2. The LPGA says she has it, which trumps the press opinions. The press should, you know, report the news, not try to make it.  If the official body who decides such things says it’s true, why are the news people/commentators so often openly doubting it (some of them literally always question it every time they mention she has the Slam).
  3. If you look at the list of players who have slams, every one of them has at least four. Now, some of them must have played at times in the LPGA history when there were three or even two Majors, yet we don’t see anyone given credit for a Slam for winning the two Majors from those days. I think this indicates that what Slam really means is winning four different Majors. If you want to make meaningful historical comparisons, it’s unfair to hold Inbee to a higher standard than the others. Imagine Se Ri Pak had retired in 2013, and after a decade of trying to complete the Slam, she finally won the Nabisco that year. Nope, sorry, no Grand Slam for you, we have a new one now. Tough luck? No, that’s totally lame! Se Ri would have one IMO.
  4. Inbee questions the doubters by asking if someone like Annika no longer has a Grand Slam now that there are five.  I don’t think this is a valid argument because the way it works is, once you get the Slam, you have it even if the Majors change. But as my Se Ri example shows, it would be lame to penalize someone who has spent most of her career operating under one system if it suddenly changes. Since she was a little girl, Inbee dreamed of winning four Majors, and through no choice of her own, that’s suddenly not enough? But it was for all those other golfers? Weak sauce.

One little aside about Kerr’s ‘machine’ comment (some sources claim she said ‘robot’, which is even worse). Machine/Robot has been used as shorthand to dehumanize the accomplishments of the Asians in much the same way as ‘natural athlete’ was used once upon a time to imply that African American athletes had an unfair biological advantage over whites. The Koreans are most clearly not machines. They work hard and have to deal with far more flack from American press, fans and culture than entitled Americans like Kerr could even imagine. They learn a new language, adopt to new foods, and learn to interact with people very different than they are. And by and large do it joyfully, with a smile and with great class. Way to go, Inbee, for telling it like it is and flinging the robot comment back in Kerr’s face. Quote of the year!

AWARD for the Happiest News

And the Winner is: Inbee Park Qualifies for the Hall of Fame

Inbee Park holds her second career Vare Trophy

Do you get the feeling that Inbee had a great year? At the start of the season, Inbee had accumulated 19 of the 27 points necessary for her to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Points are earned thusly: 1 point for each tournament won; two points per Major won; and one point each for a Vare Trophy (for low scoring average) or Player of the Year award. This system has made the LPGA Hall of Fame one of the hardest in the world to enter. Indeed, since the start of this century, only three golfers have managed it: Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Korean golf legend Se Ri Pak (Lorena Ochoa also earned enough points but did not meet the requirement that she play ten full seasons on tour).

8 points shy of the total needed might not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that even a great golfer like Grace Park only earned 8 HOF points in her entire career. There was no telling how much longer it would take Inbee to earn those points.

By late summer, however, Inbee had won four tournaments, including two Majors, to earn six more points, moving her to within 2 points of the needed total. And at that point, she was ahead in both the race to win the Player of the Year and Vare Trophy, and those two awards would be enough to get her to the Hall.

Inbee Park returns to Korea a national hero (again!)

However, shortly after that, Lydia Ko went on a tear, winning several events, including a Major. Just like that, Park no longer was in the lead in either category. But Inbee rallied, winning the second-to-last event of the season to move to within one point. Her win in Mexico also moved her ahead in the scoring race. In order to enter the Hall, she had to finish ahead of Lydia Ko in the year’s final event, which would win her the Vare Trophy. Of course, if she were to win the event or finish ahead of Ko by a big enough margin, she could also win additional Hall points, but the scoring average trophy was all she needed.

As it turned out, she did finish ahead of Ko and won the scoring average award, earning the 27th point. She has still only completed nine seasons on tour, though, and will need to finish ten events next year to officially qualify. Still, she got the hard part done. Congratulations to Inbee Park on becoming only the second Korean player to ever qualify for the Hall!

Other Nominees:

Jiyai Shin might come back to LPGA!

Jiyai Shin

Jiyai Shin is an eleven-time winner on the LPGA tour, including two Majors, making her the third most successful Korean golfer in history. But two years ago, she suddenly resigned from the LPGA to play full time in Japan. She claimed at the time she wanted to be closer to her family.

Shin played in the LPGA’s Japanese tour event this year, the Toto Japan Classic. During her interviews before the tournament, she said that she had changed her mind and was now ready to return full time to the LPGA again. She was even hoping she might win the Toto to earn her LPGA card anew.

Alas, she didn’t win, though she did well and finished tied for 6th. Interestingly, a former KLPGA rival of hers, Sun Ju Ahn, did win, but decided not to take the card.

But hopefully Jiyai will continue in her efforts to return to the LPGA; she is a great player who should be playing on the best women’s golf tour in the world!

Jiyai Shin is playing well in Japan, but she wants to come back to the LPGA

Jimin Kang back from the abyss

Jimin Kang is a two-time LPGA winner who, at one point, was the second-longest playing Korean golfer on the LPGA tour behind Se Ri Pak. But unknown to many, in the past few years, Kang has suffered from a host of medical issues. In 2010, her allergies became worse, forcing her at times to wear a mask while playing. She had to take a dozen pills a day, use an inhaler, and even carried an epiPen just in case.

By early 2013, things got so bad that she checked herself into the Mayo Clinic for testing. Their diagnosis: she was suffering from overmedication for her allergies. They completely purged the medicine from her system, and told her it might take her years to get back to full strength.

She took a prolonged medical leave from the LPGA, not even swinging a golf club until late 2013. When she finally tried to play a round of golf casually, she did not have the energy to finish, even though she was riding in a cart.

She tried to push through it, but overexerted herself. By September of 2014, she was ready to quit golf entirely.

But by the end of that year, she started to feel better, and so refocused her efforts on the Symetra Tour in 2015. Amazingly, despite being rusty, she tied for 4th in her first Symetra start, and won her fourth tournament played.

It’s been a tough road back, and she still has a long way to go, but what an amazing turnaround for Jimin Kang!

Grace Park gives birth to daughter

Grace Park, one of the original Korean golf greats, is retired now and married, and earlier this year she gave birth to her first child, a daughter. She named her Hayden. Congratulations to her!

AWARD for Most Touching Moment

And the Winner is: Hee Kyung Seo & Jee Young Lee Retire

Hee Kyung Seo and family

Every once in a while, a longtime Korean star hangs up her cleats and calls it a day. In 2015, two Seoul Sisters retired.

Hee Kyung Seo was the original “Fashion Model of the Fairway”. In 2008, she burst onto the KLPGA scene with 6 wins, and followed that with a five win season in 2009 that also saw her win all the post-season awards, including Player of the Year, and sweep three of the four Majors to boot (she finished second in the fourth Major!).

In 2010, Seo won the Kia Classic to earn her LPGA tour card. She would go on to win the 2011 LPGA Rookie of the Year award. Her biggest moment that year was nearly winning the US Women’s Open. She would lose in a playoff to her old KLPGA rival So Yeon Ryu.

For as much as she achieved on the KLPGA, Seo never quite got to the top ranks on the LPGA tour. She did contend several other times, including losing two other playoffs, but never won another LPGA event. She eventually got married and had a child, taking much of last year off to do so.

She attempted a comeback to the tour in 2015, but the results just weren’t there. And so, she has decided to retire.

Hee Kyung Seo appeared at this year’s ADT-CAPS tournament after her retirement. Could she be considering a career in broadcasting?

Jee Young Lee burst onto the scene as a teenager in her first season on the KLPGA. That year, 2005, she not only won the Korean Women’s Open, she also won the CJ 9 Bridges tournament to earn an LPGA tour card. Lee, whose nickname is Jelly, became famous for her incredible power. Even with the recent surge of long hitting Koreans, Lee might still be the longest Korean women’s golfer of them all.

Jee Young Lee with her only career LPGA trophy, at the 2005 CJ 9 Bridges Classic

Lee had a good career, notching several runner-up finishes, but was never able to win again. Over time, she stopped contending, and the last few years she has only rarely shown up on leaderboards. She finally decided to quit, making the 2015 Yokohama Tire tournament in Alabama her final event.

So long to Jee Young Lee and Hee Kyung Seo, and good luck to them in their future endeavors!

Other Nominees:

Min Young Lee returns from cancer

Min Young Lee is a multiple winner on the KLPGA tour. Last March, she was playing in China at the LET’s Mission Hills event when she was suddenly struck with severe abdominal pains. She went to a doctor and discovered she had kidney cancer! They operated on her and successfully removed the cancerous tissue. After taking a few months off, she returned to action on the KLPGA, and has been healthy since then.

In Gee Chun donates 10K to Lancaster

In Gee Chun made a lasting impression on Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when she won the US Women’s Open there in her first ever playing of that event. But it wouldn’t be the last time she had an effect on that community.

A local Lancaster charity organizer wrote to Chun, asking her to send an autographed flag in support of a fundraiser they were holding. Chun wrote back. Not only did she send them THREE signed flags and an autographed photo, she also contributed $10,000 to the cause. The organizers were gobsmacked; it was by far the largest contribution that they had gotten for their fund drive, and she did it without even being asked.

AWARD for Most Fashionable

I feel as though I should name this the “Soo Jin Yang Most Fashionable Award”. Yang might not always hit it out of the ballpark, but there is no Korean golfer who more often takes risks, and scores with them, than she.

This year, instead of picking a winner, I will provide a few of the more eye-catching outfits the Sisters sported in 2015, including a collection of Soo Jin Yang’s latest looks. Decide for yourself who is the queen!

Some of Soo Jin’s Greatest Hits of the Year

Soo Jin Yang

One internet wag in Korea likened this outfit to “Super Mario”

Soo Jin Yang

Soo Jin

No joke: this is probably my favorite outfit Soo Jin wore all year. It’s just a really happy look! Maybe it’s the smiley faces hidden among the polka dots?

Soo Jin

Soo Jin

Soo Jin

Soo Jin

Soo Jin

Q Baek with an interesting design

Q Baek

Hye Jin Jung sports a nifty striped top and short shorts combo

Hye Jin Jung

Hye Jin Jung

Hee Young Park aka The Rocket

Hee Young Park

So Yeon Ryu represents for the LPGA with this killer star top

So Yeon Ryu

Ha Neul Kim played in Japan this year and was a bit off the radar, but here’s a nice look from this always fashionable star

Ha Neul Kim

The KLPGA’s Song Yi Ahn

Song Yi Ahn

The KLPGA’s biggest star, In Gee Chun, also had some interesting outfits in 2015

In Gee Chun’s pants look a little like denim

In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun liked this type of skirt in 2015; she wore ones like it several times

In Gee Chun

In Gee Chun in black

In Gee Chun at the HSBC in Singapore

Miss Bo Mee Lee

Bo Mee Lee

Ji Hee Kim sports a desert look

Ji Hee Kim

MJ Hur and Minjee Lee both liked this (subtly different) look!

MJ Hur

Minjee Lee

Is the hat part of the outfit or just a fun accessory for the pro-am?

Yoon Kyung Heo

Yoon Kyung Heo

Char Young Kim sports a bit of lace

Char Young Kim

Char Young Kim with a Juicy Fruit top

Da Na Kang’s unique look often includes a skort with an interesting cut: the front is noticeably shorter than the sides and back.

Da Na Kang

Da Na Kang has some especially groovy pants here!

AWARD for Shot of the Year

And the winner is: Sei Young holes out to win playoff, Lotte Championship

This year, there was quite a wealth of great shots to choose from for this award, but even so, one shot stands out as not only the best of the year, but one that will go down as among the best of all time.

Sei Young Kim should not have won the Lotte Championship. She struggled to make par on the 17th hole, then hit her drive on 18 into the water. She missed the green on her third shot, and needed a chip-in to force a playoff. Yet, somehow, she made it into that playoff, and found herself going head to head with the best player in the league, Inbee Park.

Sei Young Kim celebrates her chip-in to force a playoff

So what does she do? Aims straight for the flag in the first playoff hole. Her 150+ yard approach bounced in the fringe, bounced a second time on the green, then landed in the hole for eagle. The crowd went absolutely CRAZY. Kim herself wasn’t sure what had happened, but when she discovered she had jarred it, she had to laugh. A few moments later, the trophy was hers. INSANE! One of the most amazing finishes to a tournament of all time.

Sei Young and her Lotte trophy

Other nominees:        

Sei Young up and down from patch of vines near green, Pure Silk Bahamas, rd 4

Sei Young Kim had another amazing shot en route to her first win on tour. She missed the green with an approach and wound up in a thick, gnarly bunch of grass that looked like a briar patch. The ball was all but invisible. Yet somehow, she punched out of there, got close to the hole, and saved par. It’s amazing she was even able to hit the ball, let alone get it close enough for a par.

In Gee Chun, 17th hole tee shot, round 4, US Women’s Open

In Gee Chun hit many fabulous shots during round 4 of the US Women’s Open, but this one was the best. Having just climbed into a two shot lead, she could have played conservatively. Instead, she hit her tee shot on the par 3 17th hole right at the flag, somehow landing left of a pin position that sat just a few yards from the left side of the green. It was incredibly gutsy, and the birdie gave her a three shot advantage.

Amy Yang drives 16th green, round 4, US Women’s Open

In Gee Chun was racing away from Yang, who had led the tournament most of the past two days. Amy stepped up to the challenge. On the drivable par 4 16th, she laced her tee shot to about fifteen feet, then drained the eagle to close the gap to a shot.

Na Yeon Choi holeout eagle, 16th hole, 4th round, Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

If Sei Young Kim hadn’t won this award, this shot would have. Right after Stacy Lewis made a great tee shot a hole ahead of Choi to the delight of the partisan crowd, Choi jarred this eagle to move into the lead. Then Na Yeon nearly made ace on the next hole, tapping in to cement the win! All day it had looked like Lewis would at last get her first win of the season, and in front of the crowd from where she went to college, but Choi’s fantastic two shots put an end to that one!

Na Yeon Choi with her second trophy of 2015

Inbee Park, bunker shot, hole 10, day 4, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

Sei Young Kim had been challenging Park all day, but had just messed up on the 9th hole to allow Park to get a lead. But then Inbee hit her approach on hole 10 into a bunker about 50 yards from the green. Long bunker shots like that are among the hardest in golf, and it looked like she might cough up her advantage. So she stepped up and hit a masterpiece shot that landed three feet from the hole and stopped dead. Birdie, and she would go on to play bogey-free golf on the day and win her third straight time at this event.

Inbee Park, approach on 16, round 4, Women’s British Open

Jin Young Ko had been leading the tournament for several days. Inbee made an eagle to close the gap. Then, on one of the hardest holes on the course, the 16th, Inbee hit a superlative approach to a few feet for an easy birdie. A few minutes later, Ko hit her approach on the same hole into the water. Game over.

Inbee Park completed the career Grand Slam with this win

AWARD for Best Stretch of Holes

And the Winner is: Inbee Park, 94 straight bogey-free holes

Inbee Park was unstoppable in Singapore

Inbee Park has managed many impressive feats during her career, especially during the past three seasons. Certainly one of her more amazing runs came earlier this year, where she went 94 straight holes on the LPGA tour without a single bogey.

She started her streak at the Honda LPGA Thailand event, playing her last 20 holes bogey-free, continued it through all 72 holes at the HSBC, before it came to an end early in her next start.

Inbee had extra-motivation to play mistake-free golf at the HSBC: she had made a bet early in the week with her father that she would pay him $1000 for each bogey made, and he would pay her $500 for each birdie. She pocketed a cool $7500 from him without having to give him a cent!

Amazingly, Inbee had another great bogey-free run later in the season, playing her final three rounds at the year’s second Major, the KPMG Ladies PGA Championship, without a single blemish.

AWARD for Round of the Year

And the Winner Is: Amy Yang, KEB Hana Bank final round, 9 straight birdies to finish

Amy Yang made history in Korea

With all the success the Korean women had this year in golf, there naturally were many great rounds played. But one round stood out as historic in a unique way.

Amy Yang, who had won the lone LPGA event in Korea two years earlier, was well back entering the final round at this year’s edition. She had a decent opening nine, going one under by the turn.

But starting on hole 10 all the way until the end of her round, she made birdie on every single hole. Nine birdies in a row, a birdie on every hole on the back nine. In the entire history of the LPGA, that had never been done before.

Only one player had ever made nine birdies in a row before, Beth Daniel; but hers did not all come one one side of a golf course. Amy also set the lowest score for 9 holes in LPGA history, a 27.

Amy later remarked, “I made a couple of birdies to start the day but after a bogey [on the sixth hole], I figured this would be just another ordinary day. Then I started hitting the ball much better on the back nine and making every putt. I don’t think there was any one particular turning point. I just kept on hitting the ball and making putts. This is absolutely incredible.”

Amy’s 62 was still not enough to get the win, but it did elevate her into the top five.

Other Nominees:

In Gee Chun, final round, US Women’s Open

In Gee Chun on the final day at the US Women’s Open

In Gee Chun started the fourth round of the US Women’s Open in the penultimate group, several strokes behind Amy Yang. But brilliant play on the front nine enabled her to move closer to Yang. Yang fought back to re-establish a three shot lead over the field, and seemed ready to at last win her first Major.

But on the back nine, Chun turned on the jets, making birdie on 4 of her final 7 holes. After a great tee shot on the par 3 12th, she drained the birdie to move to within a shot of Yang, who was starting to struggle. Chun took the lead by making a birdie on the difficult 15th hole. A few moments later, Yang made bogey on the same hole to drop two back. Chun then drove the green on the par 4 16th, winding up in a greenside bunker. She made a clutch up-and down for another birdie, then increased her lead to three by striping an iron to within four feet on the par 3 17th for yet another birdie.

Yang fought back, making eagle on 16 and birdie on 17 to move to within one. Chun had trouble on the final hole, just missing a par save to fall into a tie for the lead. But Yang also made bogey there. And so, in her first ever US Women’s Open, In Gee Chun shot a 4 under par 66 on Sunday to claim the win. It was one of the most unforgettable rounds of golf in Korean golf history.

Inbee Park, final round, Lorena Ochoa Invitational

Inbee Park had the lead going into the final round, but playing partner Carlotta Ciganda was absolutely on fire, catching Park in just a few holes. Park remained cool under pressure, eventually shooting a 64 to hold off the Spaniard for her fifth win of the season.

Inbee Park, final round, Women’s British Open

Inbee’s final round at the year’s fourth Major was another of her all-time classic performances. In this one, KLPGA star Jin Young Ko started with the lead, made an eagle early on the back nine, and seemed in complete control. But Park made her own eagle on the 14th to move to within a shot, then hit a jaw dropping approach on the difficult 16th to set up a birdie and move into the lead. When Ko made a double on the same hole shortly thereafter, Inbee locked up her 7th career Major.

Inbee Park, final round, North Texas Shootout

With Inbee Park, you get used to utter brilliance in the final round of a tournament. She did it again at the North Texas Shootout. She shot a bogey-free 65 and won despite making a few mistakes that would have allowed her round to be even lower, including a 360 degree lipout on one hole.

Lydia Ko, Final round, Evian Championship

Lydia Ko seems to win everything, all the time, and without seemingly much fuss or bother. But the one thing that had eluded her was a Major title. So, when she found herself in the hunt against Lexi Thompson at the year’s final Major, she would have been forgiven if she had struggled with nerves or made crucial mistakes as she tried to end her (by her standards) long Major drought.

Nope. She shot a 63, and absolutely crushed the field on the back nine, winning by six shots. And so, she became the youngest woman in history to win a Major, in her final chance to claim that record before she got too old.

Inbee Park, final round, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

Inbee again. Another final round in a Major, another brilliant, near flawless display. No bogies, 5-under par 69, 5 shot victory. It made her one of the few women in LPGA history to win the same Major three straight years, and she did it on three different courses to boot. It also got her back to the #1 ranking in women’s golf.

Yoon Ji Cho, 8 straight birdies to start final round, E1 Charity Open

Yoon Ji Cho points to the incredible run of birdies she produced at the E1 Charity Open

Yoon Ji Cho almost matched Amy Yang’s performance, but on the KLPGA. At the E1 Charity Open, she started her round with eight straight birdies, an all-time KLPGA record. Like Yang, it was not good enough to get her the win (she finished tied for third). But it did get her a special signature ball, released by her ball sponsor Srixon to commemorate her achievement.

Sung Hyun Park, round 1, KEB Hana Bank Championship

Entering the KEB Hana Bank Championship, this KLPGA star had been on a big hot streak. So many people thought she might be able to make a run at the title. She did more than that. In the first round, she shot a 10 under par 62 to tie the tournament record and give herself the lead by four shots. She played with Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson in the first round, and frequently outdrove them both.

In the end, she would finish second to Thompson.

AWARD for Cinderella of the Year

And the Winner is: Hye Jung Choi 2, KLPGA’s Chosun Ilbo Bosco Championship

HJ Choi on the red carpet at the KLPGA Awards Show in December

On the Korean tour, it is sometimes the case that multiple ladies have the exact same name. To avoid confusion, the tour affixes a number after each player. So Jung Eun Lee, who recently earned an LPGA tour card, is known as “Jung Eun Lee 5” on the KLPGA, because she is the fifth player to join that tour with that name (in fact, next year’s rookie class will have a Jung Eun Lee 6!).

Hye Jung Choi (1) is a veteran golfer with several KLPGA wins to her name. She even had a stint on the LPGA tour a few years ago. Now a mom, Choi still plays and contends on the KLPGA tour.

But this award goes to the second woman to join the tour with the name Hye Jung Choi, and her road to her unlikely win makes her a textbook example of what we call a Cinderella.

The rookie class on the KLPGA this year was a solid bunch. The names who got most of the early attention were Gyeol Park, who won last year’s Asian Games Gold Medal, and Han Sol Ji, who was a top player on the developmental tour in 2014. Both of those players did well in 2015, each contending for titles on a few occasions. But they didn’t win in 2015, nor were they the top rookies on tour.

Gyeol Park, one of the top rookies on the KLPGA in 2015

The Rookie of the Year was Ji Young Park, with second place going to Ye Jin Kim. Both of these players notched numerous top tens, but they, too, were not able to manage wins in 2015.

Indeed, only one rookie won on tour all year: Hye Jung Choi 2. And her win came at the last event of the season, the Chosun Ilbo Posco Championship.

Choi may have been a KLPGA rookie in 2015, but she has toiled in the minor leagues of the Korean system since 2009 without ever particularly distinguishing herself. She did finally make it to the Big Show in 2015, but spent the Spring, Summer and most of the Fall in the doldrums, struggling to just make cuts and earn enough money to keep her tour card for 2016.

The first time she made any kind of impact was in September, when she took the surprise first round lead at the KLPGA Championship, a tour Major. But she soon faded after that and wound up 45th.

A few weeks later, she got herself into the hunt at the Pak Se Ri Invitational. This time she managed to play well the entire week, finishing 5th, her first ever top ten. She followed that with a 17, a 26th, and then her best finish to date, a 4th, at the second to last event of the year, the ADT-CAPS.

Suddenly, the journeyman player was making a little bit of noise. So it wasn’t surprising when she shot a 67 in the first round of the Posco to put herself one shot out of the lead. When she followed that with a second round 64, however, more than a few jaws dropped. Now the rookie found herself in uncharted territory: a one shot lead over Cecilia Cho, the final group on Sunday, and a possible win in sight.

HJ Choi during the Posco Championship

This sort of thing happens a few times per year on the KLPGA, and usually the neophyte ends up shooting a terrible final round and collapsing, or making a crucial mistake at the wrong time, allowing someone else to grab the trophy. On the front nine, Choi was only even par for the day, and the outcome of the tournament was still in doubt. But she caught fire just in time on the back nine, going four under to move to 17 under total and a three shot win over the super-hot rising star Sung Hyun Park. After six years of professional disappointments, HJ Choi 2 at last was wearing the glass slipper of a Cinderella winner!

HJ Choi kisses her trophy after her unlikely win

AWARD for Best Breakthrough

And the Winner is: Sung Hyun Park, Korean Women’s Open

Sung Hyun Park is a 22-year-old second year pro on the KLPGA. She was part of one of the most impressive classes of golfers in recent years, the class of 2014. She was not one of the top rookies in 2014, however. That class was dominated by a Big Three: Kyu Jung ‘Q’ Baek, who won three events, including a Major, and earned her LPGA tour card by winning the KEB Hana Bank; Jin Young Ko, who won once last year and three times in 2015; and Min Sun Kim, who has two career wins thus far. Add onto them two other 2015 tour winners from the same class, Ji Hyun Oh and Min Song Ha, both of whom are not yet 20, and you have one heck of a class of golfers.

Park was comparatively dormant in 2014. She finished 34th on the money list, with only a couple of top tens and far more missed cuts. But when she caught fire in 2015, she launched herself onto a superstar trajectory that sets her up to be possibly the player to beat on the KLPGA tour in 2016. She may very well end up being the best golfer of all from the 2014 class.

Park had a few good finishes in 2015 early in the season, including a playoff loss to Jung Min Lee at the Lotte Cantata Women’s Open. But her breakthrough moment came a few weeks later at the year’s first and most important Major, the Kia Korean Women’s Open. Her win there changed her from another promising young player into a beast that rampaged through the latter half of the KLPGA season, winning twice more, contending at the KEB Hana Bank, and claiming the first trophy of the 2016 season to boot.

By the second round of the Open, Park had moved herself into a tie for the lead with rookie Ye Jin Kim. But it was on Saturday that Park made her big move, shooting a 70 in tricky conditions to establish a dominating five shot margin over the player who had previously beaten her in the aforementioned playoff, Jung Min Lee.

Jung Min Lee vs. Sung Hyun Park on the final day of the Kia Korean Women’s Open

Park seemed to handle the Sunday pressure well at first, but hit a major snag on holes 13 and 14, where she made bogey and triple bogey to fall back to the field. The rest of the round was a dogfight, with Lee hanging in there trying to steal the win from Park. Park bogied on 17, and her lead over Lee was now just a single shot. But Lee could not get it up and down on the final hole, and that was all Park needed: she cozied her birdie putt up next to the hole, tapped in for par, and her first KLPGA win was hers.

Sung Hyun enjoying her final round at the Open

Just like In Gee Chun, Sung Hyun Park made her first win on tour a Major. And like Chun, Park has so far used that win as a launching pad to the top reaches of the league. She truly deserves this award for having the Biggest Breakthrough of any Korean golfer in 2015.

Sung Hyun with her trophy

AWARD for Great Performance that came up short

And the Winner is: Korea losing to Japan at Kowa Queens

The Pinx Cup (also known as the Kyoraku Cup) was a team competition that pitted the best of the women Korean golfers against the best women Japanese golfers. It took place every year in December. In the early years, it could be quite a battle, but in the last few years, it had increasingly become a rout, with the Koreans sending a murderers row of superstars from the LPGA, KLPGA and JLPGA to beat up the hapless JLPGA all-stars.

Finally, someone decided to shake things up a bit. This year, the format of the tournament, and the name, completely changed. It is now known as the Kowa Queens, and features four teams: the JLPGA, the KLPGA, the Ladies European Tour (LET) and the Australian tour (ALPG).

In the past, the Korean team consisted of about half players from the LPGA and half Korean players from the KLPGA and JLPGA. But this year, they seem to have required that most of the team members be full time KLPGA golfers. One LPGA star, Sei Young Kim, and one JLPGA member, Bo Mee Lee, joined a raft of KLPGA talent, including superstar In Gee Chun and budding stars like Jin Young Ko, Sung Hyun Park and Min Sun Kim. So the Koreans were going in with a strong team, but not as prohibitively overpowering as in the past.

The KLPGA’s Kowa team before the competition began

This year, the event took place in Japan from December 4 – 6, and the Japanese team was on a mission right from the start. The first two days were team matches. On Friday, the Korean squad did well, winning two matches, halving one, and losing one. But the Japanese squad was unstoppable: they won all four of their matches, so right out of the gate, they had a 5 point lead over Korea, who was second.

Yoon Ji Cho and In Gee Chun played as a team (and won) on day one

Day two was much of the same. Once again, the Koreans won two, lost one and tied one. And once again, the Japanese were undefeated, although this time they had one tie along with three wins. Being at home seemed to have made them unbeatable: they now had an 8 point lead heading into the final day, which consisted of singles matches. It seemed like an almost insurmountable lead for Korea to overcome.

Min Sun Kim and Sung Hyun Park on day two

On Sunday, the Koreans decided to send their three best golfers against the LET, while sending their second best group against the Japanese. The strategy paid dividends: the Koreans made a huge run at the Japanese. There were eight total singles matches, and the Koreans swept all their matches against Europe and Australia. In Gee Chun, Bo Mee Lee and Sei Young Kim all had massive wins against European stars, some of whom were Solheim Cup veterans. So in the end, it all came down to the Korean matches against the Japanese. Sung Hyun Park thoroughly dominated against the Japanese captain Momoko Ueda, while Min Sun Kim edged out Japanese star Shiho Oyama.

Korean team captain Bo Mee Lee on day three

Thus, the pivotal match was the one between Yoon Ji Cho and Japan’s Ayaka Watanabe. Cho actually carved out a 2 up lead heading into the back nine; had she held on, Korea would have completed their improbable comeback. But Cho started missing short putts, and Watanabe surged to the lead. Cho came back and tied it up. On 17, they both hit great tee shots, but Cho missed her birdie while the Japanese player made hers. On 18, Watanabe had the harder putt, but she made the birdie to seal the deal for Japan.

Yoon Ji Cho and Bo Mee Lee after the narrow loss

Korea had almost managed a phenomenal comeback, but even though they lost by three points in the end, they had still won 7 of 8 singles matches on Sunday and were competitive in the 8th until the end. As a consolation, they win the Seoulie for Best Effort that Came Up Short!

Other Nominees:
So Yeon Ryu, Kingsmill Championship

So Yeon Ryu was one of the players involved in a Monday finish at this tournament. Minjee Lee had finished Sunday with a great run that put her five shots up on Ryu going into Monday. But So Yeon made three straight birdies to start Monday, and came close to stealing the tournament from Lee. In the end, despite some mistakes, Lee held on for the win.

Ha Na Jang, four runner-ups

Ha Na Jang had a great rookie season on the LPGA, but though she finished second four times, she never won. She came agonizingly close on three occasions: at the Coates Championship, she barely got outplayed by Na Yeon Choi. She lost a playoff to Chella Choi at the Marathon, which was especially tough for Jang considering the playoff hole was a par 5 and she is a long hitter, and Choi had never won an event before and so had a lot of pressure on her.

But perhaps the toughest loss came to Cristie Kerr in the final event of the year, the CME Group Tour Championship. Jang and Kerr battled head to head on the back nine, but Kerr made a late and unlikely eagle to establish the lead and soon after take the title.

Inbee Park misses out on Player of the Year

Inbee Park won two Majors this year to Lydia Ko’s one, and by August she seemed to have the Player of the Year locked up. But Ko went on a tear, winning several events, including the Evian Championship, and suddenly Park was behind. She made a great run at year’s end: she won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational to move to within three Player of the Year points, then outplayed Ko at the year’s final event. But though she finished 6th, she needed to finish a couple of shots better than she did to make up the remaining points to catch Ko.

Another way to look at it: if Sei Young Kim had not holed out twice in Hawaii to beat her at the Lotte Championship, Park would have been Player of the Year. It was an agonizingly small margin in the end!

Amy Yang losing at US Women’s Open after great comeback

Amy Yang with her runner-up medal at the US Women’s Open

Amy Yang has been a perennial contender at the US Women’s Open without ever winning. This year, she was the leader for nearly three days. But she lost the lead to a surging In Gee Chun on the 15th hole on Sunday. Chun climbed to a three shot lead just a few holes later. But Amy dug deep, made an eagle on 16 and a birdie on 17, and when Chun bogied the final hole, Yang had a chance to force a playoff. Alas, she missed a 9 foot par save and lost by a shot, but she has never come so close to capturing that elusive first Major as this year.

AWARD for Clutch Performance of the Year

And the winner Is: In Gee Chun, Doosan Match Play and US Women’s Open

In Gee Chun had a fantastic season in 2015, garnering eight trophies overall. It’s hard to say what was her most clutch performance, but I’m going to go with an early win that she managed to achieve entirely by repeatedly gutting it out over six tough rounds: the Doosan Match Play on the KLPGA tour. I’ll call this win a tie with her clutch final round at the US Women’s Open.

Match play tournaments are a weird beast. You can be playing terrific golf and run into someone who is playing even better and lose. Or you can play terribly, but still just better than your opponent and win.

In Gee Chun, despite being one of the top seeds at the KLPGA’s lone match play tournament, did not have many moments to relax. She seemed to be in for a tough battle almost every single round.
Even the opening round was a challenge. She did not get off to a good start, and found herself two down at the turn to virtually unknown So Yeon Nam. Fortunately, she turned on the jets at the right time, winning three of four holes late to claim the victory 2 & 1.

In Gee smiles during her first round match

The second round was even tougher: Chun was amazingly three down by the 10th hole to Yeon Jung Seo. Chun rallied, caught her, then missed a short putt on 17 to square the match again. On 18, Chun had a 20 foot birdie try to win, and the ball went in… and came back out. Chun did finally prevail in the playoff.

Still smiling during the tougher second round

Chun finally had an easy round next, creaming Bo Kyung Kim 6 & 5. But in the quarterfinals, Chun ended up in another playoff against another relative unknown, Cho Hee Kim. In Gee actually had the lead going into 18, but botched the hole, allowing Kim to win. Once again, she dug deep when she had to. On the playoff hole, Kim hit her approach to 3 feet, In Gee to 8 feet. Chun knew she had to make the birdie, and like a champion, she did. Kim then missed! Another win.

In Gee hung in there through two matches on day three

In Gee beat Song Yi Ahn in the semifinals in yet another match that went the distance. She claimed the one up win to advance. In the finals, she duked it out with top rookie star Han Sol Ji. It was close most of the way, but on 14 In Gee made a birdie to move to 3 up. Game over? No! Ji rallied, and the match got once again to the final hole before Chun managed the win.

In Gee made an ace early in the final, which never hurts your chances in match play!

In six matches, In Gee won two playoffs, two matches on the final hole, and one other on the 17th. Time and again, when she needed to pull a rabbit out of her hat, she did it. And thus, she won her first career professional match play championship.

In Gee with her hard earned Match Play trophy

In Gee Chun’s greatest career round came in the final round of the US Women’s Open. It was an incredibly clutch performance, but we’ll talk about it a little more later on. Consider it the co-winner of this award.

Other Nominees:

Inbee Park, Lorena Ochoa Invitational

Inbee not only held off Carlotta Ciganda when she was having the round of her life, and her perennial nemesis Sei Young Kim, but she notched a win she had to have to make it possible for her to contend against Lydia Ko for all post-season prizes

Inbee Park, HSBC Ladies Champions

Matched against the other top two women in the world on Sunday, Inbee didn’t make a single bogey and cruised to victory. In fact, she didn’t make a single bogey all week!

Hyo Joo Kim, Founders Cup

Stacy Lewis had trouble closing tournaments in 2015, but at the Founders Cup, she was playing quite well. Didn’t matter. Hyo Joo Kim was absolutely brilliant, even nearly making an albatross on one late par 5. And thus, she collected her first win as an LPGA member!

Posted by: happyfan08 | January 5, 2016

2015 SeoulSisters Awards (1 of 6): Best Start, Rivalry

Welcome to the 2015 edition of the Seoul Sisters awards, or ‘Seoulies’. 2015 was possibly the greatest season in history for Korean golf. In Gee Chun dominated the KLPGA and established herself as a world superstar. Lydia Ko continued to break records for youngest this and that all year, and Inbee Park cemented her place in history by qualifying for the Hall of Fame. The LPGA rookie race was littered with Koreans and ladies of Korean ethnicity. And Bo Mee Lee established new standards for excellence on the Japanese tour. Then there was Annie Park on the Symetra Tour, and Hannah O’Sullivan, a half-Korean American, winning the US Women’s Amateur.


The top LPGA Korean Rookies of 2015: Q Baek, Ha Na Jang, Hyo Joo Kim and Sei Young Kim

But most impressive of all: the Korean ladies won 15 times on the LPGA tour, an all-time record, and that does not even include the 6 events won by Korean Kyopos Lydia Ko and Minjee Lee. Korean born players won four of the five LPGA Majors, too. It was an astonishing year, and now it’s time to celebrate the top achievements!

The Young Guns Have arrived! Cool Abbey Road parody featuring some of the top young golfers of Korean ethnicity

AWARD for the Best Start to the Season

And the Winner Is: Korean-born golfers win first six events of LPGA season

This greatest of all seasons for the Koreans began with a bang, with six straight victories for women born in the Land of the Morning Calm. The year’s first event, the Coates Championship, almost saw a win by new LPGA rookie Ha Na Jang. But she, and Korean New Zealand prodigy Lydia Ko, were both trumped by longtime LPGA star Na Yeon Choi, who won her first event since 2012.

Ha Na Jang at the Coates Championship

Next came the Pure Silk Bahamas, which ended up in a playoff between another Korean rookie, Sei Young Kim, and Korean Sun Young Yoo and Thai player Ariya Jutanugarn. Kim got the win, her first of three in 2015.

Sei Young Kim Wins in the Bahamas

Next was the Australian Women’s Open. New Zealand’s Lydia Ko got that one, her first of five 2015 triumphs.

The tour moved next to Thailand, where Amy Yang topped Stacy Lewis for her second career win.

Then the tour moved to Singapore. The final round featured a battle between the top three women in the world. But Inbee Park, who made not so much as a single bogey all week, proved the best on this day.

Lastly, the tour finally arrived in America, where another Korean rookie, Hyo Joo Kim, played a brilliant final round to once again vex Stacy Lewis. Six events, six wins by ladies born in Korea. Simply incredible!

Hyo Joo Kim meets some of the LPGA Founders in Phoenix

Other nominees:

Ha Na Jang, Coates Championship

Playing in her first event as an LPGA member, and forced to Monday qualify to even get into the field, Ha Na Jang was in the mix right until the end, just narrowly missing the win.

Amy Yang

Amy got the win in Thailand, but in addition she also came close several more times, notching top fives in three other early events.

AWARD for the Best Korean Confrontation

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park vs. Sei Young Kim, Lotte Championship/KPMG/Ochoa Invitational/Bahamas

The best Korean rivalry this year was between Inbee Park and Sei Young Kim. It seemed like Sei Young was often popping up to challenge in the same events where Inbee was also doing well. Kim got the best of Inbee early, but the legend had the last laugh later in the year.

Their first big clash came at the Pure Silk Bahamas tournament in February. They were both in the hunt for the title on Sunday. Inbee made an early run, even getting into a tie for the lead, but she faded towards the end. Sei Young Kim next rallied, getting into a tight battle with Thai rookie Ariya Jutanugarn among others. It looked like it would be curtains for Kim when she put her approach on a late hole into what looked like a thicket of vines near the green, but somehow she made an unbelievable up and down from that mess. Later, she hit a superlative pitch on the final hole and made a birdie she had to make. She would go on to get her first LPGA win in a playoff, while Inbee finished a couple of shots back.

Sei Young and Inbee’s next battle saw the rookie score one of the most unlikely victories of recent years. Inbee seemed to be in control as the Lotte Championship’s final round wound down. Sei Young Kim somehow made a clutch par save on 17, but on 18, she hit her drive into the water, and missed the green on her third shot. Inbee had a long and extremely tricky birdie try that would have sealed the win, but her ball stopped one roll short. Sei Young Kim, still tied for the lead, HAD to sink the chip for par or it was all over. And she did it, throwing her club in triumph! Playoff time.

We will be getting back to that playoff later in these awards, but if you didn’t know, Sei Young Kim holed a 150 yard+ approach shot for eagle to win it! She played the 18th hole twice on Sunday, and hit no putts! Once again, she had gotten the better of her more famous opponent Inbee Park.

Inbee, In Kyung Kim and Sei Young Kim played together on Sunday in Hawaii

Not long after that, Inbee and Sei Young found themselves matched on Sunday in the final group yet again! This time it was for a Major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Sei Young would have been tied for the lead entering Sunday had she not made a big mistake on the final hole on Saturday. But she made it up with a clutch birdie run on the front nine on Sunday. Alas, she FOUR PUTT the 9th hole, giving Park back the advantage. Inbee took the ball and ran with it, accumulating such a lead that no holeouts were going to allow Sei Young to steal this win. At last, Inbee came out on top!

Inbee with the KPMG Championship Trophy

There was more to come. At Lorena Ochoa’s Invitational in November, the two friendly competitors were once again in the final group on Sunday. Kim played well, too, shooting a 66. But Park was absolutely unstoppable, shooting a 64 to claim her fifth win of the year.

It was a great mano-a-mano between these two stars in 2015, with each claiming two wins over the other. 2016 ought to be a real blast!

Other Nominees:

Chella Choi vs. Ha Na Jang, Marathon Classic

Chella finally got her first LPGA win by defeating frequent rookie runner-up Ha Na Jang in a playoff in Toledo.

Inbee Park vs. Jin Young Ko, Ricoh Women’s British Open

KLPGA star Jin Young Ko dominated most of the week, but LPGA legend Inbee Park was on a mission at Turnberry, and she hunted down and caught Ko on the back nine Sunday to collect her 7th Major win and complete the career Grand Slam.

In Gee Chun vs. Amy Yang, US Women’s Open

Amy Yang, like Ko above, led the US Women’s Open for several days, but KLPGA superstar In Gee Chun stayed hot on her heels on Sunday, finally taking the lead for good on the 15th hole. Yang rallied, caught her, then made a pivotal mistake on the 18th hole to give Chun the win.

Ryu vs. Hana Jang, High-1 Resort Women’s Open, KLPGA

One of the best battles on the KLPGA in 2015 was between two former KLPGA stars who had returned to Korea to play. In the final group together on Sunday, Ryu struck first, climbing to a two shot lead on the back of some mistakes by Jang. But Ryu then made back to back bogies on holes 9 and 10, and the two were again tied.

The shot of the tournament came at the 12th hole. Ryu left herself about fifty feet for birdie, and on the wrong level of a multi-tiered green to boot. Yet somehow she dunked the putt, moving back into the lead.

So Yeon Ryu in Korea

The incredible birdie rattled Jang, who proceeded to make bogies on the next two holes. Ryu hung on for the win, with Jang finishing second.

AWARD for the Best Korean Finish

And the Winner is: the US Women’s Open

In Gee Chun and Amy Yang duked it out for the title, with Chun winning and Amy finishing second. Inbee Park couldn’t buy a putt, but still finished tied for third with Stacy Lewis.

Other Nominees:

Coates Championship

Na Yeon Choi won, Lydia Ko and Ha Na Jang finished tied for second, and Amy Yang managed a 5th.

Na Yeon Choi won the year’s first event

Kia Classic

American Cristie Kerr won, but most of the rest of the top of the leaderboard was dominated by Koreans and women of Korean ethnicity. Mirim Lee finished 2nd, Lydia Ko 3rd, Korean American Alison Lee 4th, Inbee Park 5th, Hyo Joo Kim and Ha Na Jang t-6th, and Se Ri Pak and Il Hee Lee t-10th.

Lotte Championship

The top five players on the leaderboard were all Korean: Sei Young Kim beat Inbee Park in a playoff; IK Kim was third, and Hyo Joo Kim and Chella Choi tied for 4th.

Posted by: happyfan08 | October 5, 2015

InGeeCredible In Gee Chun Wins Another Major!

In Gee Chun has had one of the most impressive seasons a Korean golfer has had in recent memory. It seems she is not yet done with collecting trophies, either. This past weekend, she added the Japan Women’s Open title to her collection. It was her seventh win of 2015 on three different tours, and her fourth Major.

In Gee with the 2015 Japan Women’s Open trophy

It was not an easy week for her. Since the Women’s British Open in August, she has been playing a bit worse than her 2015 standard. When she won her first Japanese tour Major back in May, she had taken control of the tournament by the third round and had a relatively easy walk to the title on Sunday. This time, she had to fight every step of the way, finally triumphing in a hard fought four-hole playoff against two other players.

In Gee’s win can teach us a lot about what makes a great golfer successful. Here are some of the lessons from the past week:

Never Give Up

Amazingly, for her entire 72 holes of regulation, In Gee never once led or even shared the lead. Most of the time she was two to four shots behind the leaders. It looked like she would end up with a solid top five, but the win seemed ever out of reach. But In Gee never once folded. She kept herself close to the leaders through four days. While pretty much everyone else had highs and lows, Chun shot 71-73-71-71, a model of consistency on the tough track.

In Gee after her win

In Gee made par on the final hole to finish one shot behind Japanese player Erika Kikuchi. But Kikuchi still had one more hole to play, one of the toughest on the course, and when she made bogey, Chun for the first time all week found herself with a share of the lead. Four holes later, she had the trophy.

The greatest Korean golfer of her generation, Inbee Park, has used this same attitude to win several of her Majors. Just this year, Park found herself behind Jin Young Ko entering the final round of the British Women’s Open. Ko was on a roll, making an eagle and birdie to increase her lead. Park stayed calm, kept in touch with Ko, and when Ko started to struggle, Park stuck the dagger in: a perfect approach shot on the tough 16th hole for a rare birdie. Moments later, Ko double bogied that hole, and Inbee went on to capture her 7th career Major.

You Can Make Mistakes, but When It Counts, Close the Deal

So many golfers believe that, in order to win the big tournaments, you have to be flawless. In Gee knows better. She did not have her best game much of the week in Japan, but when she started to struggle, she doubled her concentration to make sure her mistakes were not large ones. Thus she stayed close, which was the key.

As her week wound down, she remained two shots behind the Japanese leaders most of the back nine. She didn’t panic. Ahead of her, Korean starlet Mi Hyang Lee completed a 2 under par 70 and posted a clubhouse score of 2 under total. That was the goal. Chun made birdie to get to that level, and it then became imperative that she not make another mistake.

In Gee after another birdie

However, the 18th hole loomed. Chun had bogied this monster all three previous days. She was at 2 under. Another bogey, and that’s it for the week. She HAD to make par. And she did. When it counted the most, she raised her game. She was still a shot back, but moments later, it was Kikuchi’s turn to miss the crucial putt on that hole.

Putting for Dough. In Gee has been the top putter on the KLPGA this season

Enjoy Yourself

There may be no golfer on any tour who enjoys being on a golf course more than In Gee Chun. One who may be her equal in that department is fellow Korean star So Yeon Ryu. But for some reason, So Yeon, who contends often, rarely closes the deal and gets the trophy. Why?

I think the difference is that Ryu forgets what gets her there in the first place. She feels the pressure, and that affects her performance. At the Japanese Women’s Open, Ryu led the first two days, and came into the fourth round just two shots back (and one shot ahead of Chun). But almost immediately on Sunday, things got away from her. She made bogey after bogey right out of the gate, and in the space of half an hour had knocked herself right out of the tournament.

So Yeon Ryu putting in round 3

In Gee has had moments like that, too, but generally she finds a way to stay centered when she is out there. That was how she won the US Women’s Open in July: while her nearest competitors made big mistakes, In Gee was giving high fives to the fans along the ropes. Her goal was to “enjoy every moment”, and that’s exactly what she did. To a large degree, that is why she won the big prize.

In Gee usually has a smile on her face when playing

In Gee the Record Setter

Think about some of the things In Gee has accomplished this year.

In Gee earlier this year

She has risen to 8th in the Rolex Rankings; she would currently be on the Korean Olympic team if that decision were made today (but there is still a lot of time to go!).

She has won seven events on three different tours, and has somehow managed to remain the top player in Korea despite all the traveling she does so she can play in Europe, Asia and America.

In Gee gets flowers at the airport after returning from Japan

She won the first two events she ever played on the Japanese tour, both Majors. In the history of golf, I’m not sure if anyone, male or female, has ever made their first two events played on a tour wins at Majors.

She is the first Korean golfer to win Majors in Korea, Japan and America in the same season.

She has won the national championship in Korea, Japan and the US in the past three years.

In Gee greets her fans at the airport

She is the youngest golfer to win two events on the JLPGA in a single season, breaking the record held by Ai Miyazato. She was the youngest to win the Salonpas Cup, the year’s first Major, by about a year.

After her near miss at the KEB Hana Bank last year, one of her main goals this year was to win an LPGA event to earn a tour card for 2016. Mission accomplished at the US Women’s Open.

The KLPGA’s loss in 2016 will be the LPGA’s gain. In Gee Chun is coming, and it will be fantastic watching her compete against the ladies over here on a regular basis!

In Gee meets the press at the airport

Posted by: happyfan08 | July 20, 2015

In Gee Chun: Major Momentum

After two rounds at this year’s US Women’s Open, there were several names on the leaderboard familiar to LPGA fans. The most notable might have been Korean Amy Yang. Yang has contended at the event before without ever winning it; last year, she held a share of the lead heading into the final day but was not able to hold on, finishing in fourth place. in 2015, Yang held a three shot lead entering day three. Stacy Lewis sat in second position, with world #1 Inbee Park and Karrie Webb also lurking.

But five shots behind Yang was another player whose name was not so familiar to Western fans: In Gee Chun. In fact, many of the western golf writers, if they noticed her at all, expressed confusion as to who she even was. Korean fans, of course, were well familiar with the 20-year-old whose nickname is Dumbo: Chun was no less than the 2015 KLPGA money list leader, with three wins already on tour this year. Her great play had allowed her to rise all the way to 20th in the world rankings without playing much on the LPGA tour.

In Gee smiles after making a hole-in-one during the Doosan Match Play this year

On Saturday, Chun shot a 2 under par 68, moving into solo third place and earning herself a spot in the penultimate group on Sunday. Again the golf writers scratched their collective heads. “Maybe she’s decent; after all, she is 20th in the world?” they mused. But still, she got relatively little attention, as almost all of them expected the winner would be either the perennial bridesmaid Yang, who had maintained her three shot lead entering Sunday, or world #2 Lewis.

On the final day, however, it was Chun who made the headlines. She charged early, stayed in contention through a rough patch, suddenly found herself tied for the lead when Yang made a few mistakes, then blistered her final few holes to grab the outright lead by several shots. Yang, however, rallied, making a late eagle and another birdie to move to within one shot of Chun.  A final hole bogey left In Gee tied with Yang, But moments later, Yang also bogied the final hole, and the win belonged to Chun, the third youngest to capture this august title behind only the legendary Se Ri Pak and the almost-as-famous Inbee Park.

In Gee Chun with her US Women’s Open trophy

In a way, Chun’s treatment by the media is symptomatic of a myopic world view held by these sports writers, who often seem to think that women’s golf starts and ends with a subset of players on the LPGA tour. But especially in the past decade, the KLPGA has increasingly fielded more and more players who have gone on to superstar careers. Since 2008, on three different occasions, KLPGA stars have won Majors to earn LPGA tour cards. In two cases – Jiyai Shin in 2008 at the Women’s British Open and Hyo Joo Kim last year at the Evian Championship – the player in question was not only the top player on the KLPGA at the time but also among the top players in the world to boot. In the remaining instance – So Yeon Ryu at the 2011 US Women’s Open – the player was not the very best on the KLPGA, but was still a multiple winner who had finished in the top five on that tour’s money list several times. You’d think the writers would get a clue – KLPGA stars tend to do well at LPGA Majors, so educate yourself about who they are at the start of the week, it might come in handy! And certainly, it should not be the least bit surprising when one gets into the hunt at a Major.

But yet they still drew a blank about Chun, a player with 7 career wins on the KLPGA tour already in just two and a half years. Their comments that Chun had ‘come out of nowhere’ are particularly insulting, given her pedigree and world ranking.

Another trophy shot

Though Chun is for the moment at the top of the KLPGA like Shin and HJ Kim were, it is So Yeon Ryu with whom she has the most in common. Back in 2011, Ryu was a 21-year-old who was in her fourth year on the KLPGA tour. Chun is in her third year and just a few months shy of her 21st birthday. Ryu had won 7 times in her career to that point – the same number of wins as Chun. Both players were pro golfers also attending college at the same time, Ryu at Yonsei University, Chun at Korea University. Ryu had not been able to win the KLPGA Rookie of the Year award despite a brilliant rookie season which included a win. Chun, too, wound up second in the rookie standings (to Hyo Joo Kim), despite winning the Korean Women’s Open as a rookie. And weirdly, both players used the same caddie – Dean Herden – in their US Women’s Open winning efforts.

These two are also the only Korean stars to ever make the US Women’s Open their first career LPGA wins. Both players had also made an early choice to pursue golf instead of another passion at which they excelled. For Ryu it was violin that lost out, while Chun was a math prodigy who fell in love with golf and focused on that until she became a star.  And lastly, both have bubbly, personable styles that makes them very popular with fans.

So Yeon Ryu hoists the 2011 US Women’s Open trophy

In Gee Chun’s golf career started in the fourth grade, when she was ten years old. She was taken to a golf range by her father and a friend, where she hit a few balls for laughs. She wasn’t very good, and her dad teased her about it. Chun bridled, determined to show that she could do a better job. Taking up the game, she grew to love the sport, while discovering a talent that she soon groomed into national stardom at the amateur level in her homeland.

But as In Gee blossomed as a golfer, her family struggled. Both her parents lost their jobs, and money was tight. Her parents continued to provide for Chun and her career, sinking every last bit of money they could into golf. Chun did not even realize how bad their situation had been until years later; her family did a good job allowing her to focus on golf and not to worry about anything else. And so, Chun became a star on the Korean national team, where she helped Korea win several important international competitions and frequently clashed with (and sometimes teamed with) top players like Hyo Joo Kim.

Hyo Joo Kim and In Gee Chun back in their amateur days on the Korean National Team

Chun turned pro in 2012 and joined the KLPGA the following year. Within a few months, she found herself in contention at the Korean Women’s Open, the most important event on that tour. She was in the final group on Sunday with Kim and another young star, Kyu Jung Baek. Amazingly, Chun was the oldest of the three, though still just 18. She won the tournament after ripping off birdies on her final four holes. Thus, her first KLPGA win was a major. She would go on to push Kim hard for the rookie of the year, eventually finishing second to her friend and rival.

In Gee Chun with her first career pro win, a Major!

Chun’s second year on tour, 2014, was more consistent. She managed three wins that season, but perhaps the two most pivotal moments of the year were tangential to her KLPGA career. The first was this: she had earned the right to attend the 2014 US Women’s Open thanks to her money list finish in 2013, but that event took place the same week as her title defense at the Korean Women’s Open (an unlucky scheduling issue that had never happened before).    She chose to play the Korean event, and thus missed out on a chance to hone her skills overseas.

The second important moment came at the Hana Bank, the LPGA’s lone Korean stop. She played brilliantly, putting herself one short putt away from earning a tour card. Alas, she missed, and eventually lost in a playoff to rival Baek. Baek earned the card, while Chun remained in Korea another season.

In Gee soaks Kyu Jung Baek after Baek beat her in the Hana Bank playoff in 2014

But Chun’s fourth place finish on last year’s money list earned her more chances to try her luck on the LPGA tour in 2015, and she took them. She played four LPGA events early in 2015, including the year’s first Major, the ANA Inspiration. She did not manage a top twenty in any of them, but the experience was essential. It gave her the confidence that she could play against the best in the world, and this confidence immediately paid dividends. When she returned to Korea, it took her just two events to grab her first win of 2015.

In mid-May, she sat atop the KLPGA money list, and took another gamble. She accepted an invitation to play the Salonpas Cup, the Japanese LPGA’s first Major of the season. She dominated, winning by four shots, but that margin does not even do justice to how completely she controlled the final two days of the event. It was her first event in Japan, and once again, like she had on the KLPGA, she made her first win on a tour a Major.

In Gee with her first JLPGA Major trophy at the Salonpas Cup

What resonated with In Gee was just how well she was able to play against top players on a tour she had no experience with. More than any other single event, this win propelled Chun onto a superstar trajectory. The JLPGA, according to her father, made it known that they wanted her to join the tour full time, and were impressed not only with her play and how quickly she established herself as a fan favorite, but also with how she donated a car she won that week to charity to help earthquake relief efforts. She was now making money enough to help her struggling family, but still made it a priority to help others as well when good fortune came her way.

Chun returned to Korea the following week and went on a winning tear. She outlasted all her opponents at the Doosan Match Play, notching six wins during the week in the process. These were not easy wins, either: several were either playoffs or came down to the final hole. But In Gee’s confidence had improved to the point where draining must-make putts was becoming second nature to her.

In Gee’s fans soak her after her match play victory

In Gee wins the Match Play trophy

She won again at the S-OIL Champions a few weeks later, claiming her first ever successful title defense in the process. Not long after that, she journeyed to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, more than a week before the US Women’s Open, to play the course and get herself used to her new caddie and being in the States. Dean Herden came to her courtesy of Hee Kyung Seo, an 11-time KLPGA winner who had become a mentor to Chun. Seo had not been able to qualify for the Open, so she lent Chun her caddie for the week, and they got on like a house on fire (Herden had caddied not only for Ryu in her Open win, but also for Shin in her first British win as well). Chun spent July 4th in the States, absorbing the culture while playing multiple rounds of golf at Lancaster Country Club.

Chun’s nickname in Korea is Dumbo. This is not because she is slow witted; in fact, In Gee, a math prodigy, has an IQ rumored to be 138. It was her coach who gave her the Disneyfied nickname; he claimed it was because she seems to have almost superhuman hearing, which allows her to hear everything that goes on around her. As well, this hearing comes with a curiosity in learning and meeting new challenges.

In Gee Hears All, unless she tries really hard not to!

Chun went into her first Open experience with one goal: enjoy every moment. Stay positive, have fun, that was her mantra. And so, as the pressure mounted on Sunday and Yang and Lewis looked increasingly like they were walking to the gallows, Chun kept smiling. She missed a putt for par? Big smile. She made a clutch birdie to move into the lead by herself for the first time? Big smile and a fist pump. After a brilliant birdie on the diabolical 15th hole, she walked to the next tee grinning ear-to-ear, giving dozens of high fives and fist bumps to fans along the way. While Yang and Lewis both made over par scores on 15 behind her, Chun kept her attack going, getting up and down for birdie on the drivable par 4 16th, then striping a gutsy iron on the par 3 17th to a few feet for yet another birdie. The crowd was loving the smiling assassin and her sheer joy of playing.

In Gee waves to the crowd at the Open on Sunday

The 18th hole had been treacherous on this day, and Chun made the mistake of hitting her drive into the rough there. She left herself with a length par attempt which she barely missed. Her three shot lead was decreasing as Amy Yang rallied, making an eagle on the short 16th and a birdie on 17. Chun’s bogey left them tied for the lead. In Gee looked momentarily crushed, but as she walked off the green, her smile returned. ‘Have fun’ was her mantra, and even when it looked like she might have cost herself the title, she was going to stick with the attitude that had gotten her there.

ARGH! She just missed the par save on 18, but in the end she still won

As it turned out, the miss didn’t matter, for Amy Yang made the same driving error as Chun and was not able to save par. In Gee wound up winning the title by a single shot. For the third time, she made a Major her first win on a tour, just like she had done in Korea and Japan. Overnight, In Gee Chun’s already burgeoning popularity took a quantum leap forward, especially in her homeland.

What will happen to In Gee Chun now? She will complete her year on the KLPGA, playing a few LPGA events here and there like the two remaining Majors, possibly the CME at the end of the year, and the Hana Bank.

For next year, she will play in America, although Japan tried hard to get her to consider playing there. Chun made the announcement on her return home, where she was given a hero’s welcome at the airport.

In Gee was showered with flowers when she returned to Korea following her Major win

Whatever happens next, she does seem to have taken a huge step forward. She is now 10th in the world, just one spot out of an Olympic berth (ironically behind Amy Yang). She has a JLPGA and LPGA card for the taking. She just made over $800K and inscribed her name on the greatest trophy in women’s golf. But most importantly, through it all, she has remained the kid who loves golf, the happy fighter with the computer mind and iron determination, and has remembered to always have fun and keep smiling. She seems very likely to keep her ever growing fan base smiling as well!

High Fives from her fans at the airport

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