Best Amateur

And the Winner Is: Eun Jeong Seong

Both Eun Jeong Seong and Hye Jin Choi are 16-year-old amateurs from Korea who have had impressive seasons in 2016. Seong’s was just a little more impressive, and so she wins this award.

Seong’s season was highlighted by her winning both the US Girls Junior and the US Women’s Amateur. Nobody had ever won both of those prestigious events in the same season before. At the Girls event, Seong was in one bracket and Hye Jin Choi was in the other, and if they had both reached the final, they would have played each other. Alas, Choi lost to Andrea Lee in the semi, and so Seong ended up playing and beating Lee for the title. Later, at the Women’s Amateur, Choi and Seong did play each other, but in the third round. Seong easily won the matchup of titans, and went on to win the Amateur itself a few days later.

Seong also had an impressive result in one of the KLPGA events she played. At the BC Card Hankyung Ladies Cup in June, she was paired with KLPGA superstar Sung Hyun Park in one round, and frequently drove the ball as long as Park, who is the longest-hitting golfer on that tour.

On the final day, she had a three stroke lead with just two holes to play, but made a devastating triple bogey on the final hole to fall into a tie for the lead. She eventually lost in the playoff. Still, for a teenager to play so well on the KLPGA is testament to her great year and her potential in years to come.

Among her other events, she also managed a tie for 18th at the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank.

Other Nominee: Hye Jin Choi

Hye Jin Choi had a raft of impressive achievements in 2016. She was the low amateur at the US Women’s Open. She won the Canadian Women’s Amateur by four shots, and won the first AJGA event she ever played, the Polo Junior Golf Classic.

She also led Korea to the world amateur team championship at the Espirito Santo Cup in Mexico, and won the individual title there for good measure. As mentioned previously, she also was a semifinalist at the US Girls Junior.

Choi played several KLPGA events, managing a t-12 at the Fantom Classic. On the Ladies European Tour, she tied for 2nd at the New Zealand Open behind world #1 Lydia Ko, and tied for 5th at the RACV Ladies Masters behind winner Jiyai Shin. She was also low amateur at the JLPGA’s Salonpas Cup, one of their four Majors.

It’s seems only a matter of time before Choi breaks through with a win in a pro event.

Best Victory Celebration

And the winner is: Ha Na Jang

How do you pick your favorite Ha Na Jang victory celebration? Jang turned it into an art form on the LPGA this season, with three different victory celebrations for her three wins.

At her first win, she punctuated her final putt by whipping her putter around her back in a move she later compared to a samurai sheathing his sword.

A few weeks later at the HSBC, she followed her win with a dance based on a recent video by Beyonce.

Her third win celebration was a little more low-key, perhaps because of the criticism she got after the LuggageGate incident (see Most Controversial Moment). But she still did a little happy dance. Can’t keep Ha Na down!

Other Nominee: In Gee drenched by many top players, not just Koreans, at the Evian

It was nice to see that In Gee Chun’s victory celebration at the Evian included not only Korean friends but also other top players like Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. In Gee has managed to make herself quite popular in just a short time on tour!

Rookie to Watch in 2017

And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park

In 2015, I picked In Gee Chun as the obvious rookie to watch for the 2016 season. I wrote:

To be honest, this is a rather weak rookie crop, especially following this year’s bounty, so it would be very surprising to me if Chun struggles to win the Rookie title.

And indeed, despite an injury that set her back, she destroyed the competition in the Rookie of the Year race this season. In picking a second, more obscure, rookie player to watch, I wrote:

Annie Park seems more likely to struggle next season than excel, but she also has enough obvious talent that she is definitely one to watch.

I was pretty much spot on with this prediction, too. Annie Park did have a few highlights during the season (two top tens), but only finished 82nd on the money list, which is OK (she maintained status) but not really up to the level that we might have expected of her.

In Gee Chun receives her Rookie of the Year award at the end of this season

This year’s rookie batch is much like last year’s. There is one obvious superstar-in-the-making joining the tour, Sung Hyun Park. The 2016 KLPGA money list leader, Park managed three top tens in Majors on the LPGA tour this year, and has spent some time in the top ten in the world rankings. With her booming drives, her game seems tailor-made for the LPGA in much the same way as Sei Young Kim’s and Ha Na Jang’s are. Given how well those two ladies have done on the LPGA (eight wins total), I believe Park will be in the same ballpark, if not next year, then sometime in the near future.

OK, so are there any other Korean rookies joining the tour to watch for? Uh… not that I can think of. So let’s look over to the JLPGA, where Chae Young Yoon and Min Young Lee will be rookies in 2017. Lee has been the superior talent, and I expect her to be a top ten caliber player next season over there. But Yoon may surprise. In her one event played in Japan this season, she nearly won. Her lack of length will not be as much of a liability in Japan as it would be over here. I expect she will at least get a few Japanese magazine articles written about her, and if she gets her ducks in a row,  might just get a win or two to boot.

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Most Controversial Moment

And the Winner Is: “LuggageGate”

Wow, this year there is simply no contest for this award. The controversy that came to be known as “LuggageGate” wins this one in a walk.

The Set-Up: In Gee Chun and Ha Na Jang were among the six or so Korean superstars who were slugging it out for two available spots on the Korean Olympic and International Crown teams. The competition was fierce: Chun had started the year with a third place and a runner-up finish, while Jang had already notched a win.

The Incident: Chun and Jang arrived in Singapore to play the HSBC Women’s Champions, one of the most important LPGA events played in Asia, and an event guaranteed to help a player’s world ranking and thus chances to make the Olympic team. Chun was riding down an escalator at the airport. At the top of the escalator were Ha Na Jang and her father. Apparently her dad got distracted when Jang bent down to tie her shoe, and accidentally released a 15 pound hard-shelled carry-on case he was pushing. It went plummeting down the escalator and struck Chun in the back. Chun’s lower back was injured enough that she was forced to drop out of the HSBC and the next few tournaments.

The First Repercussion: Jang would go on to win the HSBC, moving onto the Olympic team for the moment while knocking Chun off. Jang did one of her patented celebratory dances. This rubbed Chun fans, of whom there are many in Korea, the wrong way. Not only had Jang benefitted by Chun’s absence, she seemed to be rubbing her nose in it. Chun posted on her homepage that she felt the Jangs had not adequately apologized for what had happened, and apparently her dad was even more angry. This inflamed things further.

Little did Ha Na Jang realize how her celebrations in Singapore were being received back home

What Happened Next: While In Gee recuperated, Ha Na Jang was relentlessly attacked online by internet trolls and angry Chun fans. The Korean media also weighed in with some negative comments. This affected Jang to the point where she not only publicly apologized at the next event she attended, but she also began to play worse and worse. She lost her appetite and couldn’t sleep. She finally took a several month break from the tour to get herself together.

Chun returned at the ANA Inspiration and notched second place finishes in her next two events. She moved ahead of Jang again in the rankings. She also announced that she felt that the Jangs had now adequately apologized and she wanted to put all the drama behind her.

The Pairing: In June, In Gee and Ha Na were paired together for the first two rounds of the KPMG Championship, the first time they had played together since the incident. The Korean press turned it into a huge deal. Having watched them play in person at this event (they wound up playing together in round 3, too), I can say that they were hardly friendly, but there was no overt tension, either. Chun expressed happiness that they had finally gotten this pairing out of the way.

The Fallout: Chun ended up making the Olympic and International Crown teams, while Jang did not. It’s especially puzzling that Jang was not on the Crown team, since she was fifth in the rankings, the top four qualified, and Inbee Park could not play due to injury (sixth place So Yeon Ryu took Park’s place).

Both Chun and Jang recovered and did amazing things late in the season. In Gee won the Evian Championship and the Vare Trophy, while Jang managed one more win in Taiwan and nearly won in Japan as well. They both were top ten on the LPGA money list. But In Gee still suffers from the after effects of the injury, and hopes that offseason rest and treatment will finally get her back to 100%. And Jang still has to deal with trolls and criticism, although to a lesser extent than before.

Other Nominee: Jenny Shin’s Accent

When Jenny Shin won the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout, she surprised everyone by giving her winner’s interview with a thick Australian accent. Which is interesting, since Shin is from South Korea, and grew up in the US. She has never lived in Australia.

She later admitted that she and her friends, for fun, had started imitating Australian accents. Before she knew it, it had become second nature for her to speak that way.

When next she gave an interview, her normal American accent had returned.

Biggest Diss

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun rarely praised as one of the up and coming stars of the game

In Gee Chun with some of her hardware

To hear the American press and the LPGA tell it, the big stars in the women’s game are #1 Lydia Ko (no doubt), #2 Ariya Jutanugarn (Player of the Year, makes sense) and #8 Brooke Henderson. Wait, how’s that? OK, she won a Major, but long before that happened, they had been setting the Canadian teen up as the next big thing.

Which would be OK, except that Henderson’s ascension seems to always come at the expense of In Gee Chun, another young player who has done remarkable things. Chun came into this season a Major winner, yet didn’t get half the attention of much less accomplished players like Megan Khang, let alone Henderson. She never got a Rookie profile on the Golf Channel. She was not getting articles talking about her ability to challenge Ko for top dog status (note that articles like this have constantly been written about Henderson, even before Henderson had won a single event).

And even with a Vare Trophy in her pocket, still Chun gets little play. Here’s hoping In Gee gets a fairer shake from the American press n 2017!

Happiest News

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park in the Hall of Fame!

They handed out Inbee Park masks at the KPMG to celebrate her official qualification for the Hall of Fame

Inbee reached the magical 27 point level by winning last year’s Vare Trophy. This qualified her for the Hall of Fame, which she would be able to enter once she played ten events in her tenth season, 2016.  It turned out that finishing those ten events would be one of the toughest aspects of the whole thing, owing to a troublesome thumb injury that made it painful for her to swing a club.

But she finally did it, completing her tenth (and as it turned out, final) event of 2016 at the KPMG Championship in June. A gaggle of Hall of Famers were there to greet Inbee on the 18th green as she finished her first round. She joins Se Ri Pak (who was also there to greet her) as only the second Korean golfer to enter the Hall. Congratulations to her!!!

Other Nominees: Shi Hyun Ahn Wins Korean Women’s Open, Jin Joo Hong also wins

For all that has been made about youngsters winning events these days, two of the happiest victories of 2016 were achieved by thirty-something moms who had not won tournaments in a decade or more.

In June, Shi Hyun Ahn ended a long winless streak by winning the Korean Women’s Open, the most important event on the KLPGA schedule. It was her first win anywhere in twelve years. She had won an LPGA event as a 19-year-old and joined the tour the following year. She was the 2004 LPGA Rookie of the Year. She played on the LPGA until 2011, when she got married to a TV celebrity named Marco and had a daughter. She retired for a while from golf, but the marriage went south and she returned to golf in 2014, this time on the KLPGA. After two years on tour, she finally got her next win, with her 4-year-old daughter there to see it happen.

Jin Joo Hong has a similar story. She also won the same LPGA event as Ahn did, albeit a few years later, to earn an LPGA card, and played on the LPGA tour for a few years. She returned back to Korea in 2009, got married in 2010, and after a stint in Japan, had a son in 2014. She was injured and had to sit out for a while, but returned to golf in 2015. She won the Fantom Classic in November, her first win since the win that had sent her to the LPGA a decade earlier.

Maybe the players we should be looking out for are not the teenagers but the thirty-something moms?

Most Touching Moment

And the Winner Is: Se Ri Pak retires

After 18 years on tour, Se Ri Pak finally hung up her cleats in 2016. Her final event was the KEB Hana Bank Championship, fittingly in front of her Korean fans. They staged a lavish retirement ceremony after her round, with a children’s choir, an incredible video, and a gaggle of the women she had inspired wearing ‘Thanks Se Ri’ caps in tribute. Just about every Korean golf star you can think of, from Grace Park through Inbee Park to young guns like In Gee Chun and Hyo Joo Kim, were there to say goodbye.

The video was tear jerking and totally appropriate. I include a link to it here. Thanks Se Ri!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJXfJYVs5N4

Most Fashionable

And the Winner Is: So Yeon Ryu

For the most part, there is one golfer whom I could give this award to every year, and that is Soo Jin Yang. Not surprisingly, she has continued to push the envelope in 2016. But for a change, I decided to give the award to another deserving recipient: So Yeon Ryu. So Yeon always manages to look eminently professional, clean and crisp. This year, she came into her own with some especially nice looks. Here are a few of the better ones.

One of Ryu’s best looks of the year came in round 1 of the Evian. The media even realized how nice this outfit looked, as they took several close up studies of the socks and skort, commenting on So Yeon’s style. Here is the same outfit in two shots.

Ryu was on fire at the Evian. Here’s another nice one.  Even the sock stripes match!

Some more great outfits:

Other Nominees

We have to show some Soo Jin Yang. Here are some cool outfits from this season:

Soo Jin does bad weather well:

I love how the visor is patterned like the shirt.

No one pushes the envelope of what constitutes a golf hat like Soo Jin.  Check this one out!

The KLPGA rookies had some cool outfits, too. Here is star rookie So Young Lee:

And another rookie, Won Ju Jang, really stood out in these ensembles:

Rookie Hyo Rin Lee

Rookie of the Year on the KLPGA, Jeong Eun Lee 6

Chae Young Yoon made black beautiful!

Ji Hyun Oh won an event this year and turned heads with some nice outfits, too

She liked this diamond ring top and wore it often. Here, she pairs it with pink rain pants:

KLPGA Player of the Year Jin Young Ko looks really groovy in this throwback to the Swinging Sixties.

Welcome back from injury, Yoon Kyung Heo!  Her rain coat looks a little like a dress.

Speaking of turning heads, Hyeonjoo Ryu was a new photographers’ favorite in 2016.

The LPGA’s Hee Young Park showed that the KLPGA did not monopolize style:

Minjee Lee is another gal who really knows how to put a crisp look together.

Lastly, a couple of nice outfits from this season’s LPGA Rookie of the Year, In Gee Chun:

Shot of the Year

And the Winner Is: Ha Na Jang makes an albatross on a par 4.

In the sixty+ year history of the LPGA, no one had ever made an ace on a par 4 hole – until 2016, when, amazingly, two players did it. And they were both Sisters! But since Ha Na Jang’s came first, she gets the award.

Jang’s hole out came on a 212 yard par four in the Bahamas at the Pure Silk Bahamas, the year’s first event. After holing out the unbelievable shot, Jang, in typical style, bowed down and saluted the hole before taking the ball out of the cup. It was a sign of things to come: at the next event, Jang got the first LPGA win of her career.

Other Nominees: Minjee Lee makes another albatross on a par 4

Just a month after Ha Na Jang did it, Minjee Lee made her own hole-in-one on a par 4. Hers came at the Kia Classic in late March, in the third round, on a par 4 275 yard hole. It was not only history for the LPGA, it was the first time Lee had ever made an ace in her life!

In Gee Holes Out, Lotte Championship

In Gee Chun had a few amazing shots this year. She had a great chip-in for eagle during the third round of the Evian Championship that was key to setting herself up for that win. Her final putt to win the Vare trophy was also uber-clutch.

But my own personal favorite shot of hers came at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. During round 2, In Gee holed out on the 11th hole. What makes the shot so great is her sheer happiness after doing it. Check out the video!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hno6iKhE5Wo

Sei Young Kim, approach shot from rough, playoff hole, Meijer Classic

Sei Young Kim made a bogey on the final hole of this tournament to drop into a playoff with Carlotta Ciganda. But Kim had never lost a playoff as a pro, and she kept her perfect record intact here. She hit her drive into thick rough, and it looked like she might have blown her chance for the win. But her approach shot was absolutely brilliant, popping out of the thick stuff, rolling up to the green and stopping about two feet from the hole for an easy birdie and the win.

Su Yeon Jang, Hole 16, second shot, Singles, Kowa Queens

The par 3 16th hole at the team event called the Kowa Queens is pretty interesting. If a player hits the ball straight she has a great birdie chance. But, if she goes left, she is in BIG trouble: the hill slopes severely down, with a lot of trees and other junk in the way. It’s almost certain doom to be down there.

Su Yeon Jang reached the 16th hole of her singles match against Japanese star Ritsuko Ryu all square. She hit her tee shot into the left mass of trees, while Ryu put hers about six feet from the hole. Easy win for Ryu, right?

Not so fast! Jang took out a wood and hit a worm burner that scampered along the ground, under the trees and up the hill, stopping about two feet from the hole. The miraculous shot so shook Ryu that she missed her birdie, and Jang squared the hole. Jang would go on to win the match on the 18th hole when Ryu hit her approach into the water.

Most Dramatic Hole

And the Winner Is: 18th hole ANA Inspiration

The final hole of the ANA Inspiration, a par 5 with a water carry, is often the scene of dramatics, and this year was no exception. As mentioned earlier in Great Performance that Came Up Short, Ariya Jutanugarn reached this hole with the lead and her first Major seemingly in hand. But she dumped her tee shot into the water and that was that. Minutes later, In Gee Chun, now with a chance to win, hit her second shot behind a footbridge. Lydia Ko, with a one shot lead, laid up and hit her third to a foot. In Gee hit a great chip, but it didn’t go in, and Ko tapped in for the Major win.

Round of the Year

And the Winner Is: In Gee Chun and Sung Hyun Park, 63, round 1, Evian

In Gee signs autographs during round one of the Evian Championship

In Gee and Sung Hyun set up their epic battle at the Evian by shooting identical 63s in the first round, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. They wound up the week first and tied for second, so that first round was crucial for their final results.

Other Nominees: Mirim Lee, 62, round 1, US Women’s Open

Mirim Lee had a great year in the Majors in 2016. She seriously contended at the KPMG and the British Women’s Open, notching top tens both times. But perhaps her most impressive moment came in the first round of the US Women’s Open at Cordevalle, where she shot an 8-under-par 64. That round included 10 birdies, the most ever achieved in a single round at the US Women’s Open! Not too shabby!

Minjee Lee, final round 64, Lotte Championship

Minjee Lee’s 64 in the final round of the Lotte Championship allowed her to overtake In Gee Chun for her second career win.

In Gee Chun, 62, Round 3, Kingsmill

In Gee’s third round vaulted her from 52nd into a tie for 2nd and a spot in the final group on Sunday. She struggled that day, but still notched a top ten.

Clutch Performance of the Year

And the Winner Is: Inbee Park at the Olympics

Inbee Park has done many amazing things in her Hall of Fame career, but perhaps the greatest moment of all came this year in Rio at the Olympics, when she defied all the odds to win the Gold Medal.

The Korean Olympic Squad: (L to R): Sei Young Kim, Inbee Park, Amy Yang, In Gee Chun, and Captain Se Ri Pak

Coming into this season, Inbee would have been one of the favorites to win that medal. No woman golfer over the past five years has been better at winning big tournaments than Park. However, she was hit with several nagging injuries in 2016, most worryingly a thumb problem that made it hard for her to grip a club without pain. After a couple of good results early in the season, she started to really struggle. Inbee was determined to play at least ten events so she could officially enter the Hall of Fame, but playing injured as she did, even finishing a tournament became a challenge. In the process, she shot some truly dire rounds, including an 84 at the Volvik Championship in May that was probably the worst round of her career. After shooting a 79 at the KPMG Championship to miss the cut, she would not play another LPGA event the rest of the year.

Inbee at the KPMG

The Korean press began to get nervous. There were a good dozen Korean golfers vying for the four spots on the Olympic team. They openly questioned why Park would take one of those spots instead of giving it up to a healthier golfer with a real chance of winning a medal. Inbee didn’t help her case when she played a KLPGA event a couple of weeks before the Olympics and missed the cut.

But Park was more fired up than she had been in a long time. She hired a second swing coach to help her work around the injury. She skipped two Majors to prepare. When she got to Rio, she immediately established that she was not just there for the experience, she was there to win. She shot back to back 66s to put herself into the lead. She struggled a bit more on day three, but even with the tough weather conditions, she produced a 69 to take a two shot lead into the final round.

Now with the medals on the line, Inbee found herself paired with Lydia Ko, the woman (girl?) who had taken her #1 ranking away. Ko had won two of the previous five Majors and finished second in another one; certainly her form in 2016 had been light years above Park’s.

Didn’t matter. Inbee quickly and decisively established that nobody, absolutely nobody, was going to deny her that gold. She whipped off three straight birdies starting from hole 3 to balloon her lead to five shots. A moment later it was 6, and Inbee was never threatened again. A couple of hours after that, she was raising her hands in triumph.

What is the definition of ‘clutch’? If it means rising to the occasion when it counts the most, well, consider this: the final round of the women’s Olympic golf tournament was shown live on all three major Korean TV networks. Nearly a quarter of all Koreans tuned in to watch, despite the fact the tournament ended at 1:30 AM local time. To put this in perspective, that is many times the number of Koreans who watched the Masters, and is believed to be the most watched golf event in Korean history. The pressure was on like it had never been before.

Playing the worst golf of her career, criticized for taking a spot a healthy player could have taken: of all the Koreans on the Rio golf team, Inbee was under the brightest spotlight. And she responded with a five shot victory over the top player in the game, tying the largest margin of victory she had ever achieved.

That, my friends, is clutch.          

Inbee meets the mob of reporters on her return to Korea after the Olympics

Other Nominee: In Gee Chun just manages to win Vare Trophy

The week before the Evian Championship, In Gee Chun was half a stroke behind Lydia Ko in the race for the low scoring title on tour. That is an enormous gap to make up in just a couple of months, particularly against a player who rarely shot a bad round.

Chun cut the gap in half after her record shattering performance at the Evian. She continued to beat Ko in the following events, and cut into the lead until, coming into the final event of the year, she trailed by less than .04 strokes.

The roller coaster continued all week. In Gee actually took the scoring lead after her first round at the CME, but Ko shot a 62 in round two to seize a .07 lead. Chun reduced that lead after round 3 so that she just needed to shoot a 70 and beat Ko by one shot to win the Vare Trophy.

They were paired together on Sunday. Neither golfer played well at first. But on the back nine, Ko made a run and seemed to lock up the Vare Trophy. That’s when In Gee produced some of the most clutch golf of her career. Kicking it into another gear, she birdied 16, then tapped in for birdie on the par 5 17th. Meanwhile Ko made bogey there, and her lead was, insanely, incredibly, .001 strokes with one hole to play!

Chun had a one shot lead in the tournament over Lydia, but a par would give her a 71, and she would need to beat Ko by two shots if she scored that. So it came to this: if In Gee made birdie on the final hole, she would win no matter what Ko did. But if In Gee made par, then Ko could make birdie or par to win the Vare. It was all in In Gee Chun’s hands.

Chun put her approach to 9 feet, then coolly drained the birdie putt to clinch the Vare Trophy. Her final scoring average of 69.583 was .013 strokes better than Ko, the second smallest margin in the history of this award. In Gee became only the second rookie, after Nancy Lopez, to win both the Rookie of the Year and Vare Trophy in the same year. And it all came down to three straight birdies when she absolutely had to make them. Clutch!

In Gee Chun and her Vare Trophy for low scoring average

Biggest Disappointment

And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park, US Women’s Open

Sung Hyun Park had an incredible season going in 2016 when she reached the US Women’s Open in July. Given the way she had been playing to that point and the history of Korean success in this event, it seemed quite likely that she could walk away with the trophy. And indeed, she set herself up nicely, shooting a second round 66 to take over the 36 hole lead.

Even after Lydia Ko shot a 70 in round 3, Park still was just a shot back and well positioned. And when Ko made a big mistake on the ninth hole on the final day, Park, with her booming drives wowing the crowds, looked ready to get the glory.

She reached the 18th hole, a par five, needing a birdie to join a playoff with Brittany Lang and Anna Nordqvist. With her length, reaching the hole in two should have been easy, meaning a birdie was almost a guarantee. But amazingly, she pulled her drive into the water on the left of the fairway, ending her chances there and then.

It was a huge disappointment, but Park still earned enough money to earn her tour card and will have another chance for the title next year.

Other Nominees:

International Crown

The Korean International Crown Team: (L to R): So Yeon Ryu, Sei Young Kim, Amy Yang and In Gee Chun

The Koreans had a fantastic team at this year’s International Crown and were looking for redemption after coming up just short in 2014. In the end, it came down to the singles, where all four Koreans fought the best players from the opposing teams. So Yeon Ryu managed to top Lexi Thompson of the US, and Sei Young Kim trounced Charley Hull of England, but In Gee Chun lost to Taiwan’s Theresa Lu, and Amy Yang was not able to beat Haru Nomura of Japan. If either one of those last two ladies had won, the Crown would have been Korea’s. Better luck in two years, when the Crown will be played in… South Korea!

In Gee Chun Meets the Press at the International Crown

Most Dominating Performance

And the Winner Is: The KLPGA Annihilates the JLPGA at the Kowa Queens to take the title.

The Kowa Queens is a four team competition in its second year. It pits teams from the JLPGA, KLPGA, LET and ALPG against one another. The first two days are team competitions, and the third day is singles competition.

The KLPGA Team from the Kowa Queens

The Korean squad last year was formidable, featuring player like In Gee Chun, Bo Mee Lee and Sei Young Kim. Despite the star power, they lost to Japan. Japan had swept the team events the first two days. Korea managed to win all but one of the singles matches, but that one loss came to a Japanese player, and that’s all it took for the JLPGA to win the Cup.

Cut to this year, and a Korean squad determined to get payback. The KLPGA team was not as tough as 2015’s edition: only one top player from outside the KLPGA, Jiyai Shin, was on the team, and they were missing their best player, Sung Hyun Park.

But this KLPGA group had already nearly shocked the LPGA squad the previous week at the ING Champions Trophy (see Best Korean Confrontation), so they were not to be taken lightly. The Japanese continued their team domination on day one, once again sweeping the matches. But on day two, Korea played the Japanese teams twice, and this time it was Korea who swept all four matches, including their two tilts against Japan. That left the Koreans with a 12-11 lead after two days. On to the singles!

The format changed this year, with the top two teams playing all eight singles matches against each other with the title in the balance. And like last year, once they got to singles, the Koreans were an unstoppable juggernaut. They won 7 of the 8 matches and tied the last one. Even when the Japanese seemed to have an advantage, the Koreans rallied. In the Ritsuko Ryu-Su Yeon Jang match, for instance, they were all square when they reached the 16th hole. Korea’s Jang put herself into a seemingly hopeless situation, down a hill behind trees, while Ryu hit her tee shot to within 6 feet. But then Jang hit an insane up-and-down to square the hole (See Shot of the Year for details). On 18, Ryu hit her approach into the water and lost 1 down. It was that kind of day for the Japanese.

Captain Jiyai Shin celebrates her team’s dominating victory

So the trophy was Korea’s, thanks to one of the most dominating displays of golfing excellence seen in some time!

Other Nominees:

Inbee Park at the Olympics

See Clutch Performance of the Year for more details!

In Gee Chun at the Evian

See Best Korean Confrontation for more details!

In Gee Chun’s rookie season

We’ll talk more about In Gee during our Rookie of the Year discussion later!

Cinderella of the Year

And the Winner Is: Chae Lin Yang, Mirae Asset Daewoo Classic

The KLPGA is usually good for a Cinderella story or two each season, but the two they had this year were truly special.  In the end, I gave the award to Chae Ling Yang, whose win was even more improbable than the other main contender (whom we’ll talk about below).

Going into the final round of the KLPGA’s Mirae Asset Daewoo Classic in September, one of the two players tied for the lead was Sung Hyun Park, the superstar who would dominate the season on tour. She was looking for her 8th win of the year, and it certainly looked like nothing was going to get in her way: not the rookie she was tied with heading into Sunday (Ji Young Kim), and certainly not a player named Chae Lin Yang, who was tied for third two shots back. Yang was the textbook definition of a journeyman player: before this week, she had missed ten cuts in 2016, and her best previous finish all year had been a tie for 20th.

But Sunday was a classic Cinderella day for Yang. Park, the Terminator of KLPGA golf, had a completely unexpected collapse, shooting a 78, one of the worst rounds of her season. She not only didn’t win, she fell out of the top ten.

LPGA star and Mirae sponsored athlete Sei Young Kim was also in the field, and made a run up the leaderboard at the title. But she stalled at 9 under, which was just one shot worse than she needed.

Meanwhile, Yang played well, making a birdie on the final hole to force a playoff with Hee Won Jung. Jung is no Sung Hyun Park, but she has still won several times on tour and was the prohibitive favorite to beat Yang. Not this day. The Cinderella hung in through three holes to beat Jung and claim easily the most unlikely KLPGA win of 2016.

Other Nominee: Seong Weon Park, Lotte Cantata Ladies Open

Almost as big of a Cinderella was Seong Won Park, who won the Lotte Cantata Ladies Open in early June. Park has been a journeyman player who has bounced back and forth between the KLPGA and minor league Dream Tour the past four years. In 2016, she had played six KLPGA events before the win, making three cuts, with her best finish an 11th.

But for one week in June, she was a superstar, handling both Sung Hyun Park and Jin Young Ko, the number two player on tour, and coming up with a staggering five shot victory over Min Song Ha. It’s unclear if she will ever be heard from again, but she sure got the job done when it counted!

Seong Weon Park was such a Cinderella in her win, she even got to ride in a horse-drawn carriage!

Best Breakthrough

And the Winner Is: Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang had a solid LPGA rookie season in 2015, but her breakthrough year was 2016. Jang won three times during the season and made over $1.3 million dollars, which placed her 8th on the season ending money list.

She got her year off to a bang with tie for 11th at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. The very next week, she carded her first career win at the Coates Golf Championship in Florida. After a few more top tens, she won again in Singapore at the HSBC. See Best Start to the Season for more details!

At this point, Ha Na Jang got embroiled in one of the biggest controversies of the year, involving a suitcase and an injury to fellow player In Gee Chun (more on this later!). The fallout from this incident affected her for months. She skipped nearly two months of action, which probably prevented her from making the International Crown or Olympic teams. Eventually she made her comeback to action, and by early July, she was slowly returning to her early season form. She then made a top five at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

At the Fubon in Taiwan, she shot a third round 62 to rocket to a 6 shot lead, and held on for her third win of the season. She nearly won a fourth time in Japan, settling for second place behind Chinese star Shanshan Feng.

Jang all in all made 8 top tens, a bunch more top twenties, and did not miss a cut despite her struggles mid-season.

Other Nominee: Haru Nomura

Haru Nomura is a Japanese golfer with a Korean mother. Nomura speaks Korean about as well as she speaks Japanese, and spent much of her childhood in South Korea.

2016 was a breakthrough year for her. She made over $1.2 million, 11th on the money list. She made just six top tens during the season, but two of those were wins. Her first victory (also the first win of her LPGA career) came at the Australian Women’s Open, where she stared down Lydia Ko. Her second win came a couple of months later in San Francisco at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic. She also had a second place finish in June at the ShopeRite and represented her country at the International Crown (where she beat Amy Yang in the singles, which was pivotal in preventing Korea from winning) and the Olympics.

She did not miss a cut all year and made ten additional top twenty finishes on top of her 6 top tens.

Great Performance that came up short

And the Winner Is: So Yeon Ryu all season

Usually, this award goes to a player who played extremely well at a tournament but was not able to get the win. But this year, I am going to give it to a player who has played at a super high level not just this season, but her entire career, and yet somehow only rarely finds herself in the winner’s circle. That player is So Yeon Ryu.

So Yeon Ryu joined the LPGA in 2012 after winning the 2011 US Women’s Open to earn her tour card. In her first four seasons, she notched an unbelievable 51 top tens, 38 of which were top fives. But only two wins.

This year, she continued her torrid pace. She has not missed a cut in more than two years; the last time she prematurely left a tournament was the 2014 Evian, where she was disqualified for using a club that had been damaged during the round. Her streak of made cuts is the longest on the LPGA currently.

She ended up earning over $1¼ million dollars in 2016, good for 10th on the money list. She had 11 top tens during the season, meaning she has had double-digit top ten totals in all five of her seasons on tour. Six of those finishes were top fives. But no wins.

Why doesn’t So Yeon Ryu win more often? Most top quality players can be counted on to win at least a fifth of the time they get top fives. By that measure, Ryu should have more like 8 wins by now.

With Ryu, it always seems to be something. Two examples from this season will illustrate. At the Evian, the year’s final Major, Ryu was so consistent that she only made one bogey all week. ONE. No one in the field came close to that. But this was the week In Gee Chun shot the lowest score at a Major in the history of the tour. As great as So Yeon was, she just ran up against someone who was even better.

At the CME Tour Championship, it looked like it might finally be So Yeon’s week. She found herself in a final round battle with Charlie Hull, a promising youngster who had never won on tour before. Hull and Ryu both played well on Sunday, and on the 16th hole, Ryu finally caught Hull. On the next hole, a par 5, So Yeon hit a perfect drive, then an approach that wound up smack against the wall of a five foot tall bunker. Had her shot gone two feet farther, it would have rolled within eagle range. Had it been five feet shorter, she would have had a straightforward up and down for birdie. She ended up, however, in the one place she absolutely could not be, and that was that. She finished second.

Sooner or later, the breaks have to start going So Yeon Ryu’s way. Given her talent and great consistency, don’t be surprised if we see her have a monster season soon, perhaps next year!

Other Nominees: In Gee Chun at the ANA Inspiration

The year’s first Major came down to a battle between world #1 Lydia Ko, soon-to-be superstar Ariya Jutanugarn, and Korean superstar In Gee Chun. Ariya took a lead into the final few holes, and seemed poised to run away with her first win on tour. Meanwhile, both Ko and Chun struggled, but managed to make one miraculous up and down after another to stay in the hunt.

Chun didn’t pay for her mistakes until she duffed a chip on the 16th hole. At that point, she dropped one behind Ko.

Then Ariya dumped her drive on 18 into the water, and suddenly Ko had the lead and Chun was just one back. Chun decided to go for the par 5 18th in two, but wound up in perhaps the one spot near the green where eagle was impossible: just behind the bridge one crosses to get to the green. Ko laid up and hit her third to inches for a sure birdie. So Chun needed the eagle from behind the bridge to fall. Amazingly, she gave it a good run and made a tap-in birdie, but moments later Ko tapped in for the win. In Gee was so close to getting that second Major! Fortunately for her, she would get her next Major trophy later in the year at the Evian.

Posted by: happyfan08 | December 18, 2016

2016 SeoulSisters Awards (1 of 7): Best Start, Best Korean Finish

As we do every year, it is time for the SeoulSisters.com season-ending awards, where we talk about the best (and some of the worst) performances by Korean golfers in the year gone by. Let’s Go!

Best Start to the Season

And the Winner Is: Sung Hyun Park

Sung Hyun Park could not have started the 2016 KLPGA season any better. She is the first player in my memory to win the first three tournaments for the year, making a bold statement that she would be the player to beat for all the season-ending honors on that tour.

Her year started in December of 2015, when she went toe to toe with the two previous KLPGA Players of the Year, In Gee Chun and Hyo Joo Kim, at the Hyundai China Ladies Open. Hyo Joo was not only the defending champ, she had won the past three times she had played in China. And Chun was coming off her 8-win season as the top player on the KLPGA. Park shot a 64 to take the lead right out of the gate. Chun and Kim made a game of it, with Kim catching Park in round 2 only to have Park retake the lead in the afternoon. Kim climbed to a three shot lead on Sunday, but a double bogey allowed Park back into the match. In the end, they both shot a final round 67, which gave Park the two shot win. Chun finished fourth.

Hyo Joo Kim and In Gee Chun at the Hyundai Ladies China Open in December, 2015

Park next played on tour in April at the Samchully Together Ladies Open. The event was plagued by bad weather, mostly fog, but Sung Hyun Park started with a 65 and hung in over the next two rounds, eventually taking the tournament in a one-hole playoff with Ji Hyun Kim 2.

The following week, Park played the Nexen Saint Nine Masters. By round 2, she had again climbed to the top of the leaderboard. Her third win was not an easy one, though. She struggled much of Sunday and was involved in a battle with Min Sun Kim, who luckily for Park also struggled. In the end, Park made a testy 6-foot par save to claim the one shot win. In three events, she had three wins!

Other Nominees:
Ha Na Jang

Ha Na Jang started the 2016 season just missing a top ten in the Bahamas. But at her very next start, at the Coates Championship in Florida, she made up for that, scoring her first career LPGA win thanks in part to a first round 65.

Jang followed that with a tie for 4th in Australia and a tie for 8th in Thailand. She then wrapped up her second career win at the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. In her first five events she had four top tens including two wins.

In Gee Chun

In Gee started her rookie year on the LPGA in style, coming from a ways back on Sunday to notch a tie for third at the Coates Championship. A few weeks later in Thailand, she bettered that: she managed to catch up with and nearly tie Lexi Thompson in the final round before Thompson reasserted herself on the back nine. Still, In Gee managed a runner-up finish.

Chun then suffered a lower back injury that kept her out of action for several weeks. But when she returned, she picked up right where she left off. At the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first Major, Chun was right in the hunt until the final hole, when Lydia Ko made a birdie to take the title. In Gee wound up second. She had yet another tie for second at her next event, the Lotte Championship. In her first four events as an LPGA member, she had four top threes.

Biggest Disappearing Act

And the “Winner” is: Na Yeon Choi

Just a few years ago, Na Yeon Choi was the second ranked player in the world and the top ranked Korean. Last year she managed two wins on tour. She didn’t have a great start to the 2016 season, but she did achieve a tie for 4th in Singapore and a tie for third in early April. And she contended with a great chance to win at the Swinging Skirts. She followed that up with a near win in China at the Buick Championship on the LET; indeed, this one was hers to lose, and somehow she made just enough mistakes to lose to Shanshan Feng in a playoff. But though she wasn’t winning, there was no reason to expect she would not contend again and maybe even earn a trophy or two.

But after a tie for 11th at the ShopRite Classic in early June, Na Yeon’s game took a complete nosedive. She missed 7 of the next 8 cuts, including at the tournament in Arkansas where she was the defending champion. Her best finish since then has been a tie for 50th.

There is a rumor that she is dealing with back issues that have hampered her game. But she took almost no time off, playing event after event even as her results continued to be dire. Whether an injury or something more insidious is plaguing her, here’s hoping Na Yeon soon recovers from this slump and returns to her winning ways.

Other Nominees:
Inbee Park

Inbee in Thailand at the start of the year

It’s a little unfair to include Inbee Park in this category, since, unlike Na Yeon Choi, it’s public knowledge that Inbee struggled with some severe injuries in 2016. And she did manage one spectacular result at the Olympics (which we will get to later!).

But it’s also true that 2016 was one of the worst seasons of Inbee’s LPGA career. She played more events than she probably should have, largely because she needed to play ten events to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame this year, and because she was still hoping to stay tuned up for the upcoming Olympics.  And in those events she did play, she only managed 2 top tens and a whole lot of missed cuts and drop outs after a round.

She has been resting since Rio, and hopefully she will return to the tour fresh in 2017 and ready to return to the top.

Best Korean Confrontation

And the Winner Is: KLGA vs. LPGA, ING Champions Trophy Inbee Park

The ING Champions is a relatively new team event that pits a team of LPGA golfers of Korean nationality against a team of KLPGA golfers. On paper, this should be a rout. Only a small handful of KLPGA golfers are in the top 50 in the world rankings, while many of the LPGA golfers are.

This year, Inbee Park, still recovering from injuries, captained the LPGA team but did not play. Still, even without the resurgent IK Kim, the LPGA Rookie of the Year In Gee Chun, or three-time winner Ha Na Jang, the LPGA had a formidable team that was heavily favored. Among the stars teeing it up for Inbee’s side were So Yeon Ryu, Sei Young Kim, Amy Yang, Hyo Joo Kim, Hee Young Park, MJ Hur, Mirim Lee, and Chella Choi. Every player on the LPGA squad had won at least one LPGA tournament.

The KLPGA Squad (top) and LPGA Squad (bottom)

The KLPGA, meanwhile, had most of their tour’s top players, with the notable exception of their best, Sung Hyun Park.

On paper, this one shouldn’t be close, but the KLPGA surprised everyone by leading 4-2 after the first day. And even when the LPGA won, they had to fight: one of their two wins came on the final hole, while the other came on hole 17.

Amazingly, the KLPGA kept it up on day two. This time, the teams’ records were identical, but it was the KLPGA who won several close ones. Two of their wins came down to the final hole, while another went to 17.

The LPGA finally woke up on day three, the singles competition. The KLPGA won 2 of the first three matches, but the LPGA claimed the next three and went on to win 8 of the 12 matches to achieve a 13 to 11 victory. Chella Choi was the MVP, but it was a hard-fought match for all concerned.

The victorious LPGA Team

Other Nominees:
Minjee Lee vs. In Gee Chun, Hawaii

In Gee had a poor start at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, but she slowly crept up the leaderboard until she was right in the hunt. In the final round, she managed to track down the leader, American Katie Burnett, and seemed ready to get her first win as an LPGA member when…

Out of nowhere, Minjee Lee shot a scintillating 64 to take the title by a shot. It was a great effort by Chun, but she would have to wait a few more months before claiming her first win of the year.

Minjee Lee does a victory hula at the Lotte Championship

Sung Hyun Park vs. In Gee Chun, at the Evian and for history

In Gee Chun was the dominant player on the KLPGA in 2015; Sung Hyun Park dominated in 2016. Although by 2016 Chun had moved on to the LPGA, there’s no doubt that these two young golfers have risen to become the two most popular golfers of their generation in Korea. And not surprisingly, their success makes them rivals of sorts, even as they have remained good friends.

For the most part, they did not clash this year at LPGA tournaments where both were playing well. In Gee outplayed Park at the ANA Inspiration, though both made top tens. At the US Women’s Open, In Gee missed the cut, and Park came close to winning. But it was at the Evian Championship, the year’s final Major, where the two really went toe to toe.

They both started out strong, shooting 63s to take a share of the lead into round 2. Chun continued her sterling golf, producing a 66, while Park stumbled just a tad with a 68. Park countered in round 3 with a blistering 67, temporarily catching In Gee, but Chun responded with a late chip in eagle and carded a 65. By this point, she had amassed an insane 19-under-par total for three rounds, but even so, because of how well Park was playing, she would still have to reach deep to make the title happen.

In the end, Chun was too much, setting the all-time record for score in relation to par at a Major (men or women!), but the intense battle over four days, which culminated in a head-to-head Sunday tiff, was one of the best Korean confrontations of 2016.

Best Korean Finish

And the Winner Is: Evian Championship

As mentioned before, we had In Gee Chun as the winner in record fashion. Sung Hyun Park tied with So Yeon Ryu for second, four shots back. Sei Young Kim was fifth, edging out In Kyung Kim, who finished 6th. Five of the top six on the leaderboard were from Korea!

Other Nominees:
Coates Golf Championship

Ha Na Jang won; In Gee Chun, Lydia Ko and Sei Young Kim all tied for third; and Julie Yang tied for 6th.

Honda LPGA Thailand

Hee Young Park in Thailand

American Lexi Thompson won, but In Gee finished solo 2nd, Amy Yang tied for 3rd, Haru Nomura/Chella Choi/Hee Young Park all tied for 5th, and Minjee Lee and Ha Na Jang tied 8th. That means women with Korean ethnic backgrounds comprised seven of the top nine spots!

HSBC Women’s Champions

Even with In Gee Chun missing the tournament due to injury, Sisters dominated here. Ha Na Jang won, Amy Yang was 3rd, and Chella Choi/Na Yeon Choi/Mirim Lee were all tied for 4th. That’s five of the top eight.

Posted by: happyfan08 | September 24, 2016

Chun Magnifique!

In Gee Chun is known as the “Major Queen” in South Korea. Looking at her record, it’s easy to see why:

On the Korean LPGA, her first career win came at the 2013 Korean Women’s Open, the most important Major on that tour. In 2015, she made her first two wins on the Japanese tour Majors: the Salonpas Cup, followed by the Japan Women’s Open. Then, in July of that year, she made her first win on the LPGA another Major, the US Women’s Open. She is the only player in history to have made her first wins on three different tours Majors.

In Gee Chun with her first Japanese tour Major trophy in 2015

Chun made a little more Major history last week when she won the LPGA’s Evian Championship. Like in Japan, she has now made her first two wins on the LPGA Majors victories, becoming only the second player in history to achieve that. The first? Korean legend and Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak.

In Gee Chun returns to Korea a few days ago after winning the Evian Championship

Chun’s win puts her in elite company among the Koreans. Only three other Korean golfers (four if you count Lydia Ko, who was born in Korea but plays for New Zealand) have won multiple Majors in their careers. Se Ri Pak, the Hall of Fame legend, has won five. Inbee Park, the Hall of Famer and Olympic Gold Medalist and former world #1, has won seven. And Jiyai Shin, another former world #1, has won two. Now add In Gee Chun to that august group. With her win in France last week, she has now risen to #3 in the world, becoming the highest ranked Korean in the world. It’s the first time Inbee Park has not been the top Korean in nearly four years.

In Gee Chun’s LPGA rookie season has been remarkable, but the only thing she had not been able to do up to now is win. She has dominated the Rookie of the Year standings and will almost 100% certainly win the Rookie of the Year award this season. She started the year with a third, followed by two second place finishes. But every time she got close to winning, someone was playing just a little bit better. Still, it looked like just a matter of time until a win would be hers.

In Gee tips her cap during this year’s Honda Classic in Thailand. She finished second.

Then the Incident happened. The place was Singapore’s airport, as she was arriving to participate in that week’s LPGA tournament, the HSBC Champions. As she rode down the escalator, from above, the father of another Korean golfer, Ha Na Jang, lost control of a piece of luggage. It tumbled down the escalator, striking Chun in the lower back. The resulting injuries sidelined In Gee for nearly a month and three straight events. To complicate things further, who should happen to win that week but Jang! And this came at a time when both golfers were intensely trying to qualify for the Olympics; in fact, Jang’s win put her on the team for the moment, knocking Chun off of it.

The Korean internet went into a tizzy. Chun’s fans were up in arms about what they perceived as insufficient apologies on the part of the Jang family, and when Ha Na did one of her victory dances at the end of the HSBC, that was seen by many as insensitive to Chun.

In Gee eventually recovered enough to play, and in her first tournament back, the year’s first Major, the ANA Inspiration, finished second. But the media craziness began to take a toll on both players, driving Ha Na Jang into virtual seclusion for several months as she dealt with sleeplessness and anxiety. In Gee, meanwhile, did not seem to be quite the same player she had been before. Although she notched a few more good finishes here and there, her momentum has stalled. And she still struggled, even up to the Evian, with soreness from the injury.

In Gee at the 2016 ANA Inspiration, another runner up finish.

Though you wouldn’t know it given her ebullient exterior, Chun became depressed. “It was an inner struggle,” Chun said after winning the Evian. “I just had to keep it quiet inside, but I had to go through all those hard times, not being able to mention anything about my injury and my hurt and pain.”

She struggled in the summer to an unimpressive finish at the year’s second Major, the KPMG. But she really hit the wall when she missed the cut at the US Women’s Open in July. She had been looking forward to defending this title all year, and finishing as she did was a crushing disappointment to her. Fortunately she still managed to hang on to the final spot on the Olympic team, which was decided at the conclusion of the Open.

It was in Rio that things finally started to turn around for Chun. She found herself tied for fifth after three rounds with a legitimate chance for a medal. Alas, she did not have a good final round and finished tied for 13th. But her teammate Inbee Park won the gold, and watching a woman with whom she had spent a lot of time in Rio win the top prize galvanized her and inspired her anew.

In Gee at the Olympics in Rio

Her very next tournament, the Canadian Women’s Open, proved a good one. In Gee played great, shooting 68-67-66 in the first three rounds to put herself into the final group on Sunday. Alas, Thai star Ariya Jutanugarn was playing even better, and won rather handily, but In Gee produced a third place finish, her sixth top three of the year.

Her next event, the Manulife, marked her third top ten in a row, an 8th. She had three more rounds in the 60s there.

And so In Gee came into the final Major of the year on a bit of a roll. She would be tested right away: in the first two rounds, she would be paired with Ariya Jutanugarn, who had beaten her just a few weeks earlier in Canada. The weather was another test: rainy and at times cold, the kind of conditions that would exacerbate her back issues.

But right out of the gate, Chun played magnificently. While Ariya struggled in an up and down performance, Chun started with two birdies in her first four holes. She stayed at that level for a while, but when she made the turn and played the front nine (she had started on ten), she caught fire. She made birdies on 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7, then wrapped it up with yet another birdie on 9. A six under par back nine, and an 8 under par 63. She hit every single green on the day, and made no mistakes. After the morning was done, she held a three shot lead.

In Gee during round 2 at the Evian

In the afternoon, a player who looked to be one of In Gee’s biggest threats started her week. Sung Hyun Park had already won 7 times on the Korean tour in 2016, had managed two top tens in previous LPGA Majors, and had just set the all time record for most money earned in a single season in Korea. She was on an epic roll, and she continued it by shooting a 63 of her own to match In Gee.

Park played in the morning on Friday and continued her torrid pace. She shot a 3 under par 68 to move to 11 under and set a target for Chun. In Gee had a few problems early, including her first bogey of the week, and she actually missed a few greens. But she soon righted the ship, ripped off a bunch of birdies, and produced a 5 under par 66 to move to 13 under and a two shot lead. That set up the clash all of Korea was waiting for: the 2015 KLPGA Player of the Year vs. the almost certain 2016 Player of the Year, mano-a-mano in the final group on Saturday.

In Gee during round 2 at the Evian

They did not disappoint: on Saturday, in soggy conditions, the two stars played great. In Gee held onto the lead tenaciously, but faced her biggest test of the week on the 9th hole when her second shot flew into an unplayable lie in the woods. She decided to hit her next shot from the same spot, and somehow managed to eke out a double bogey. But now the gap had closed, and Park was in good position to take over the lead.

Sung Hyun Park in round 3

It was not to be. Like the champion she is, In Gee made a birdie on 11, another on 13, then chipped in for eagle on the par 5 15th hole. After another birdie on 16, In Gee had produced a 65, an even better round than on Friday. Park had played well and still lost two shots to Chun.

In Gee in round 3

In Gee sat at 19 under par, the all time lowest third round score in a Major in LPGA history. In fact, 19 under would tie the all time 72 hole record, so if Chun just broke par on Sunday, she would break that record. And the men’s record of 20 under par sat ready for the taking as well.

In Gee chills during round 3

But In Gee’s main concern was to win, and with a four shot cushion over her rival Park, she was certainly in a great place to do just that. Sunday, however, started with absolutely miserable weather. The rain was pouring down, and the second green got so bad that the grounds crew had to squeegee the greens before every putt to remove some of the water. In those conditions, it became more imperative than ever to hit fairways and greens.

Alas, In Gee started out by putting her first drive in the rough, while Sung Hyun Park hit a perfect drive down the middle. In Gee rose to this first challenge, first by punching her ball out into the fairway, then by hitting her third shot to within a few feet for a par save. Meanwhile, Park overshot the green and wound up with bogey. What could have been a disaster for In Gee was anything but.

In Gee in the rain in round 4

The final group waited nearly a half an hour on the second tee for their chance to go. Again, patience was tested, but In Gee responded with an easy par. Park, however, made a birdie to climb back within four. Her tee shot landed next to the flag, where it embedded nearly entirely into the soaking wet green. No bouncing tee shots on that wet day!

In Gee in round 4

In Gee continued to be solid on the front nine, making no bogies and two birdies to move to 21 under par. Park was far shakier, missing some birdie tries while making one more birdie and one more bogey. By the turn she was six shots back.

The tournament was all but completely in In Gee’s hands, and to make matters easier, the rain stopped and the wet weather jackets came off. So Yeon Ryu played really well, eventually shooting a 66, but even though she wound up tied for second, she still was too far back to really challenge. The only player who could take the tournament from In Gee now was Sung Hyun Park. In Gee hit some nice approaches on the back but just missed birdies, then made a bogey on 14. When Park hit her approach on the par 5 15th to eight feet and dunked the eagle, she moved to within three shots. For the briefest of moments, it seemed like In Gee might have some trouble.

In Gee waits to play

But no sweat. In Gee made birdie on the same hole to move back to 21 under par and would eventually win by 4 shots. Now the only challenge remaining to her was historical: could she finish at 21 under and set the all time record?

It wasn’t easy. She hit her drive on the final hole into the rough, then briefly considered going for the green before her caddie talked her out of it. She hit her third shot to ten feet, and fought nerves on the walk to the green. She had to make the putt to set the record. Her caddie told her he would pay for dinner if she made it and, determined to get that free meal, she stepped up to the ball and drilled the final par to set the record.

In Gee wears her country’s flag in victory

In four days in France, In Gee Chun set all sorts of records. Not only was her 21 under par the lowest score against par ever achieved in a Major for either men or women, but her total number of strokes was also the lowest ever achieved in any women’s Major. And as mentioned before, she became only the second women in LPGA history, after Se Ri Pak, to make her first two wins at Majors.

In Gee and the trophy

The future looks bright for In Gee Chun, Korea’s Major Queen. Tres Magnifique!

In Gee Chun Celebrates

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.

Changes

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.

Rookies

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!

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