|Volume 5, Number 9, December 19, 2007|
2007 Kyoraku Cup
|Pages 1, 2,
Gallery2 , Results
|The Annual Japan-Korea team event turned into an incredible nail biting battle|
Every year, the top women golfers from Japan and the top golfers from Korea get together for a two day team event. The first few years the event was pretty much dominated by the Japanese golfers, who had the deeper field of golfers from which to choose. The Koreans had a few stars on their teams, notably Se Ri Pak and Mi Hyun Kim, and those golfers both did a good job, but they alone were not able to overcome the Japanese team's depth. Starting in 2002, however, the tide began to turn. The Korean golf wave had begun in earnest, and now there were multiple superstars available to represent the Korean squad. As a result, the Koreans won the event that year, and continued to win most years thereafter. The only year they were not able to outright capture the crown was in 2005, and that year they still achieved a tie. There were also extenuating circumstances: the second day of the event was snowed out, and the two teams, captained by Japanese star Yuri Fudoh and Korean star Soo-Yun Kang, agreed to a draw. The next year, however, the Korean squad got revenge and easily won the cup.
There are a few limitations to the make up of the teams, and these limitations
tend to affect the Koreans more than the Japanese. The Japanese team is
generally taken entirely from the JLPGA, but the Korean squad is required
to take a certain number of players from the JLPGA, KLPGA and LPGA. The
breakdown is: six from the LPGA, three from the KLPGA and three from the
JLPGA, with the captain allowed to pick one more wild card from any of
those tours. The Korean squad would doubtless most years be stronger if
they could draw more players from the LPGA. On the other hand, this year,
more than most, there were some very strong Korean golfers on other tours.
On the KLPGA, three players had dominated the tour most of the year. Sun
Ju Ahn won three tournaments, including the Korean Women's Open, while
Eun Hee Ji won twice and also managed some great finishes on the LPGA
tour. Then there was Ji Yai Shin, who, despite the success of those two
players, so dominated the KLPGA that she managed to become the highest
ranking Korean golfer of all in the Rolex World Rankings, the first time
ever that a Korean golfer not playing on the LPGA had managed to top all
her sisters on that tour. The JLPGA was also sending a strong squad, led
by Mi Jeong Jeon, one of the top players on the Japanese tour; Hyun Ju
Shin, a golfer who had had a lot of success at the Kyoraku Cup in the
past; and Bo Bae Song, a former two time top player on the KLPGA who now
made her money playing in Japan. As if those six were not enough, there
was the LPGA contingent, full of the some of the biggest names in the
game. Included in that group were top ten golfers Mi Hyun Kim, Seon Hwa
Lee, Jee Young Lee, and Jeong Jang, as well as Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak
and Sarah Lee, who had had a great 2007 season. The captains added Shi
Hyun Ahn (pictured below with Bo Bae Song), another top 25 golfer on the
LPGA tour, to complete the group. Top to bottom, the Korean Squad was
a veritable Murderer's Row of talented stars.
The event was being played in Japan this year, giving them a home course advantage, and lately a number of strong Japanese golfers have appeared on the scene. But interestingly, many of those players chose to skip the event, giving Korea even more of an edge than they already had. Among the players not on the Japanese squad this time out were superstar Yuri Fudoh, struggling young star Ai Miyazato, top star Shiho Ohyama, and this year's top player on their money list, Momoko Ueda, who had become the first Japanese golfer to win an LPGA event since the 1990s when she captured the Mizuno Classic a few weeks earlier. There were still some strong players on the team, notably Shinobu Moromizato and Sakura Yokomine, as well as Midori Yoneyama, known as the 'Korean Killer' for her tendency to take down top Korean stars in this event. But even with these players on their team, the Japanese ladies were looking at a very tough battle if they wanted to take the cup back.
The Korean women's luck started to turn bad even before they arrived in Korea. Se Ri Pak, one of the top players on their squad, injured her shoulder coming down the stairs at her house the week before the event; by the time she got to Japan, it was painful for her to even swing a club. She then caught a bad case of conjunctivitis in one of her eyes; it was so severe that her eye was almost swollen shut at one point. Meanwhile, another top player, Mi Hyun Kim, was also battling numerous injuries. As if that weren't enough, Pak, who was the captain of the Lexus Cup the following week, had to leave the Kyoraku Cup on Sunday in order to get to Perth, Australia, for that event. So the winningest Korean player in Cup history would only be available for one day. As well, several other top players would not be available for the tournament. Meena Lee had been a top 20 golfer on the LPGA tour the past two years, but a slump had dropped her down the money list in 2007. Hee-Won Han is an even more accomplished golfer who took much of the year off to have her baby, and was not available to play. Then there were the sad cases of Grace Park and Soo-Yun Kang, both mired in long slumps, but once upon a time mainstays on the Korean squad. Despite all these issues, however, there was still no reason to believe that the Koreans were going to lose; their team was still a very strong one.
The event this year consisted of 12 matches each day, pitting one Korean and one Japanese golfer in each stroke play match. The 13th player would sit out. On day one, Kimmie sat out for the Koreans, owing to her injuries.
The event took place on the weekend of December 1st. On the first day, the Koreans looked like they were going to cruise to a solid lead. But then the wheels came off in a massive way. Shi Hyun Ahn was destroyed in her first match, losing to the Japanese player Yuko Mitsuka 67-74, and JLPGA player Mi Jeong Jeon followed that by losing to Erina Hara 75-72. But the next few Korean golfers on the course all played decently.
Playing third, injured, suffering Se Ri Pak (pictured clutching her injured shoulder) still handled one of the JLPGA's top guns, Shinobu Morimizato, 70-73. Sarah Lee eked out a tie with Miho Koga at 71, but JJ, Hyun Ju Shin, Seon Hwa Lee and Jee Young Lee all won their matches handily. At that point, the lead was 11-5 with four matches to finish. Seon Hwa Lee in particular has proved to be a monster at these team events, winning match after match in the few years she has played. But what was nice to see, as far as the Koreans were concerned, is that, for the most part, the Korean golfers that should have been getting the job done were doing it.
Still on the course were four strong Korean players: Bo Bae Song, and the three KLPGA stars. All the Sisters needed was solid stuff and the Koreans would be fine. However, Bo Bae was totally destroyed in her match with Chie Arimura. Arimura could do no wrong, and Bo Bae had the worst score among the Koreans by five shots. It turned into one of the most lopsided match up in the history of the event, with Song losing 82-64. But the other three matches were all tight, and the Koreans needed just one of them.
But amazingly, they didn't get it. That's right, all three of these strong KLPGA players lost their matches, and Japan took an improbable 13-11 lead after day one. For fans of the Seoul Sisters, it was agonizing to witness. Eun Hee Ji and her opponent, Ayako Uehara, were both playing poorly. Ji was one shot down when Uehara bogied the par 3 17th to tie things up. But Ji was only able to make par on the final par 5, while her opponent sank a heartbreaking ten foot birdie putt to win the match. Her team members cheered wildly as it happened. It seemed like the television coverage featured nothing but shots of happy Japanese players the last half an hour of the broadcast. With Song's loss, that reduced the Korean advantage to 11-9.
Shin, meanwhile, had fallen to a ghastly four shot deficit by the turn, but came roaring back on the back nine. She made par on 14 when her opponent bogied, birdied the next hole to cut the lead to two, then birdied the next hole as well when her opponent did the same. Now two shots down, her opponent made bogey on 17, giving Shin a one shot deficit. On the final par 5, Shin made birdie, but once again the Japanese player rose to the occasion, making birdie as well, and clung on for a one shot win. Midori Yoneyama, the JLPGA player who beat Shin, is the aforementioned 'Korean killer' because she always seems to win her matches at this event. By taking down Shin she claimed another Korean scalp.
Sun Ju Ahn (pictured above) was tied going into the final hole. She put
her second into the bunker near the green. But this is misleading. This
hole has a bunker near the hole (not next to it, though) surrounded by
thin trees. Getting anywhere near the flag from there is tough. Ahn had
already blown two good birdie chances on the two previous holes (including
one from three feet on 17). Her Japanese opponent Sakura Yokomine made
birdie on 18, and Ahn could only make par, so she became the third straight
Japanese player to win her match on the final hole.