|Volume 5, Number 7, October 3, 2007|
Fairways and Greens
Futures Tour Season over
This year, however, only one Korean finished among the top five, and for the first time since 2003, the top player on tour was not a Korean. In fact, the only Korean who made it through was Seo Jae Lee, who finished fifth, grabbing the final exempt card. Coming into the final event, she was third on the money list, thanks to two consecutive wins she had scored earlier in the season. She faded a bit at the end of the year, but still hung on to score one of the exempt cards. However, since she is non-exempt on the LPGA this year, she will not be a rookie in 2008.
"Everybody at my middle school, high school and my friends from back home have gone on to the LPGA, so I really wanted to get my exempt LPGA card," Lee said. With the success the Koreans have had on tour, she may be only slightly exaggerating.
The only other Korean to win on tour this year was Ji Min Jeong, who
collected her third career Futures Tour win. She finished 13th on the
money list, however. The only other Korean to finish in the top ten was
Ha Na Chae, who will automatically advance to qualifying school finals.
As in the LPGA, it was an unusually weak year for the Korean golfers on
the Futures Tour. But with luck, Seo Jae will represent the Koreans well
on the LPGA tour next year. Congratulations to her!
Although Angela always looked like she would be one of the top rookies on tour this year, it may be a tad surprising just how much she dominated the ROY race in 2007. At the start of the year, the betting money was on Song Hee Kim to win the award. In 2006, both Park and Kim had played on the Futures Tour, and Kim had thoroughly dominated her. Song Hee won 5 events that year, with Angela not winning one; Kim also claimed an LPGA exempt card by finishing first on the Futures Tour money list, while Park had to go to Q-School to claim her card. In-Bee Park also finished ahead of Park in last year's Futures Tour. Then there was In-Kyung Kim, who won both the Futures Tour and LPGA Qualifying Schools in 2006. This year's rookie class also included Jin Joo Hong, who got onto tour by winning the Kolon-Hana Bank Championship in 2006. When the season began, all of those women looked strong to capture or contend for Rookie of the Year.
But although most of those women had good or great seasons (the notable exception being Kim), in the end, Angela Park was just too dominant. She seized control of the race pretty much from the start of the year, and continued to increase her lead all year despite occasional strong showings from others. In the second event of the year, the Fields Open, Angela put herself in contention, eventually finishing third. She really came into her own at the LPGA Championship, where she led the entire field after the first round and wound up finishing fifth. At that event, another Korean rookie, Na On Min, played even better, finishing third. But at the next Major, the US Women's Open, Angela again was in contention while Min was nowhere to be found. That week, In-Bee Park finished tied for fourth, but Park did even better, staying in contention until almost the end and finishing tied for second. Her swing caused even the normally curmudgeonly Johnny Miller to rhapsodize: he called it the best swing on the LPGA tour, period. There was no looking back after the Open, and no one got close to her again. Even with yet another Korean rookie, Eun Hee Ji, capturing a top five at the year's final Major (the only time Park missed the cut in 2007 to date), and In-Kyung Kim nearly winning the Rochester event, Park maintained an enormous lead the rest of the year.
Angela Park becomes the sixth player with Korean blood in the last ten years to win the Rookie of the Year award, joining Se Ri Pak (1998), Mi Hyun Kim (1999), Hee-Won Han (2001), Shi Hyun Ahn (2004), and Seon Hwa Lee (2006).
Included in the Solheim competition is a junior version, which pits a team of top American girls against a European team. This year, Korean Americans played a big part in that competition. Four of the twelve players, in fact, had Korean blood: Kimberly Kim (pictured), Vicky Hurst, Jane Rah and Kristen Park all played for the team.
The event consists of two days of golf: a day of team competition and a day of single matches. The home team has always won this event, and since it was taking place this year in Sweden, the US had their work cut out for them if they wanted the trophy.
In the team matches, the Korean American women did quite well. Jane Rah teamed with Vicky Hurst to easily win their team match against Sarah Monberg of Denmark and Caroline Hedwall of Sweden,4 & 3. But Kim Kim, playing with fellow Hawaiian Stephanie Kono, was surprisingly destroyed by the team of Marta Silva of Spain and Florentyna Parker of England. They were thumped 5 & 4. Something in the water must not have agreed with them, or perhaps they did not adjust to the conditions well, because these two Hawaiians are among the strongest players on Team USA. Kristen Park, the recent winner of the US Girls Junior and one of the youngest girls on her team, paired with another top Californian, Mina Harigae, to squeak out a narrow win over Charlotte Kring Lorentzen of Denmark and Jaqueline Hedwall of Sweden, one up. After the morning session, the match was tied, 3 points apiece.
In the afternoon, there were more team matches. Vicky Hurst teamed this time with Kristen Park, and the twosome thumped their opponents Audrey Goumard of France and Henrietta Brockway of England, 5 & 4. But the two Hawaiian girls once again fell victim in their matches. Kim Kim was this time paired with Brianna Do, but still lost 3 & 2 to their opponents, the Hedwall sisters of Sweden, 3 & 2. And Stephanie Kono, now paired with Jane Rah, lost 4 & 2 to a pair of golfers from Spain. This was probably the pivotal part of the competition. The Europeans won 4 points in this session to only two for the Americans, and took a two point lead into the singles part of the event.
Day two consisted of singles matches. The Korean Americans did fairly decently. But once again, their seemingly best player, Kim Kim, struggled. At least this time it was a close match, but the budding superstar in the end fell to Parker 1 up in her singles match. Vicky Hurst also lost her match narrowly, 2 & 1, to Nicola Rossler of Germany. But Kristen Park (pictured) again collected a scalp, winning 2 & 1 over Lorentzen, while Jane Rah thumped her opponent Sara Monberg 4 & 3. In the end it was not enough; the European side won the singles day 7 points to five and collected the Junior Solheim Cup victory 14 points to 10.
The four Seoul Sisters on the team played very well in defeat. The youngster Kristen Park, who surprised everyone by winning her first major match play event at the US Girls Junior in Tacoma in August, showed she was far from a one hit wonder. She led the American team with an undefeated 3-0 record. Jane Rah went 2-1 in her matches, and Vicky Hurst was also 2-1. Only Kim Kim, who amazingly lost all three of her matches, detracted from the phenomenal performance of these girls. Still, they all did a great job, and it would surprise no one if we see these girls playing for the senior Solheim team in the coming years.
all the Junior Solheim Photos of the Korean American ladies here
For many local fans, the cancellation really hurt, as Stacy Lewis, a star player from an Arkansas University, had managed to climb into the lead by the end of Saturday. Doubtless many fans would have loved to see her contend for a real title. But as it turned out, no fans were allowed to witness the remainder of the tournament. The rains had turned the local fields which were doubling as parking lots into swamps; it took hours to extract all the cars from that mess. Therefore, the LPGA decreed that, when the 32 remaining players returned to finish their first round on Sunday, the action would be closed to fans.
It was an eerie sight: on Sunday morning. Only a few players showed up to play just a few remaining holes, with no fans there to witness the action. Lewis' score of 65 gave her such a lead that only one of the remaining players, Jin Young Pak (pictured above), had a shot at overtaking her for the 'win'. Pak had four holes to play on the final day. On the first hole, she made birdie and climbed within one shot of Lewis, but she made bogey shortly thereafter, ending her chances at the unofficial victory. Though her finish would not count, it was the first time she had finished an event in the top five, and perhaps would lead to better things for the talented non-exempt rookie in the few remaining events she still had to play in 2007.
Alas, it seems as though the LPGA jumped the gun. The weather report
indicated that the rains would be so heavy on Sunday that they would be
lucky to finish the first round. But as it turned out, the weather was
fine on that day, and it is likely they would have been able to finish
36 holes, which would have made the event official. Hopefully they will
learn from that mistake to not so quickly deem conditions unplayable in
It didn't help the Korean cause that many of the top Korean players were either slowed by injury or missed the event entirely. Among the missing were Mi Hyun Kim, who was recovering from several injuries; Jeong Jang, who was not only injured but in Japan defending her title at the Japan Women's Open; and Se Ri Pak, who was off celebrating her thirtieth birthday the Friday of the event. Jee Young Lee, another top player, has been MIA for several weeks while she has recovered from a shoulder problem.
Eventually, a couple of Korean golfers picked up the pace, with rookie Angela Park, a Korean Brazilian, making a little history of her own. After three decent but unspectacular rounds, she shot a blistering 9 under par 63 which included 10 birdies to vault into a tie for third place with Ochoa. Although she finished two shots out of the lead, she insured that there would be at least one Korean heritage player in the top ten this week. She also clinched the Rookie of the Year award with her finish, the sixth player with Korean blood to win that award in the past ten years.
Also finishing in the top ten was Hye Jung Choi, who wound up tied for
7th after a 4 under par final round.
Q-School: California sectional
Among the most heralded of the players in the field was Amy Yang (pictured), the 17 year old superstar who burst onto the golf scene with her historic win at the ANZ Ladies Masters at the start of 2006 (see also the next story for some more news about Amy!). She was joined by several more Koreans who had made their name playing amateur golf in Australia: Sarah Oh, Helen Oh and Mi Sun Cho among them. Esther Choe was one of the top amateur golfers in the country (some say the very best) when she turned pro earlier this year. Now she is aiming to join her fellow young stars on the world's best women's golf tour. College stars Hannah Jun (of UCLA) and Jenny Suh (of Alabama) were also in the field, as was former US Girls Junior champ Sukjin Lee Wuesthoff (she beat In-Bee Park, a star rookie this year on the LPGA, to win that title). Mi Jung Hur is one of the top amateurs playing in Korea; she tied for 6th at the 2006 edition of the LPGA's Kolon-Hana Bank Championship. And though she is not Korean, Taiwanese golfer Ya Ni Tseng looks to be a very strong candidate for Rookie of the Year in 2008 provided she makes it through Q-School this year.
After two rounds, the field was cut, with some surprising results. Esther Choe had opened her week with a 6 over par 78, and required a solid second round 71 to even sneak inside the cut line. But Sarah Oh, a top amateur golfer in Australia, was not so lucky. Mi Jung Hur struggled mightily, shooting back to back 78s to miss the cut by a mile. Quite a surprise considering how impressive she has been in other instances. Eom Ji Park, a talented Canadian Korean, also missed the cut by a wide margin.
Meanwhile, tied for the lead at 4 under was Ya Ni Tseng. Song Yi Choi was the top Korean on the leaderboard at 2 under. Amy Yang shot 73-72 and sat at one over total, tied for 14th. Helen Oh, Jin Hyun Kim and amateur Da Na Je were also within the top 30 after two rounds, but Jenny Suh and Mi Sun Cho were still outside that group.
In the end, after four rounds were complete, 31 golfers advanced to Q-School finals from this sectional. Tseng continued her great play the final two days, finishing the week at 3 under par, two shots ahead of anyone else in the field. Amy Yang had a good third round 70, but struggled on the final day, shooting a 74. Still, she finished tied for 8th and easily advanced to the finals. She was tied with Da Na Je and Jin Hyun Kim for low Korean. UCLA player and Tiffany Joh teammate Hannah Jun finished tied for 17th, and Song Yi Choi and Hwan Hee Lee were among the other golfers to advance.
The most surprising Korean or Korean American who failed to advance was former junior superstar Esther Choe. Choe surprised everyone by turning pro earlier in the year; some pundits thought she had perhaps jumped the gun a bit and should have waited another year or so before making that move. She finished the week at +6, just one shot out of the top 30. That's not terrible, but a player of her caliber should definitely finish in the top 30 in this field. Also missing out were Helen Oh and Mi Sun Cho, Alabama's Jenny Suh and Sukjin Lee-Wuesthoff.
The second LPGA Q-School sectional takes place in Florida the week of
October first. The players who missed out the first time, like Choe, will
have one more chance to advance to the finals.
Yang finishes tied for 4th in Wales
She started out the latest push at the Evian Masters in late July. For the first time, the event had a cut. She made that easily but finished well back in the field, tied for 63rd. The next event she played was the Scandinavian Masters in Sweden, two weeks later (she was rumored to be in the field for the British Women's Open at St. Andrews, but for some reason she did not play there). Her results in Sweden were much improved, as she notched her first top ten since the Spanish Open in May. She finished tenth.
Her third and final event before returning home came the following week: the Wales Open. After an OK first round 73, she exploded in round two, carding a blistering 7 under par 65 that could have been even better had she not stumbled towards the end. She finished the week tied for 4th at 4 under total, earning nearly 25,000 euros for her efforts. As mentioned, this was her best finish of the year and her best since turning pro. It was also the first consecutive top tens in her career.
Now that Amy has made it through the LPGA sectional qualifier, look for
her to be a great prospect to make the tour itself when Q-School finals
take place in late November!
|Short Bits: Lexus Cup team and new player
Se Ri Pak will be the Captain of the Asian Lexus Cup team in December. She replaces Grace Park, who was the captain the first two years of the event's existence. Annika Sorenstam returns as the Captain of the International team. Seven of the eight Asian qualifiers for the event as of right now, plus the Captain, are all Korean! My guess is the four remaining picks are going to be heavy on non-Sisters if this keeps up!
Top-4 Rolex Rankings
Top-4 Money List
Thanks to two second place finishes, Christina Kim was the biggest mover this period. She earned over $200,000 and jumped ten spots into the top thirty. Shi Hyun Ahn also has played well of late and showed a nice 8 position improvement. In-Bee's second place finish in Portland helped her to leap into the top 40. She is creeping up on In-Kyung Kim, trying to become the second best rookie this year.
Among rookies, Jin Joo Hong and especially Ji Young Oh had great results in this time frame; both look assured of maintaining their tour cards for 2008.