2009 was not as good a season for Ha Neul. She struggled
with her swing plane, and as a result was far more inconsistent
off the tee. She did not win in 2009, but still collected 7 top
tens and finished 7th on the money list. She also played a couple
of LPGA events, but did not make the cut at the SBS Open or Kraft
Nabisco, and finished in the top 30 at the Hana Bank Championship.
Ha Neul struggled far more in the 2010 season, although
there was light towards the end. She only finished 21st on the money
list, despite three top four finishes. But she played well in one
of the latter events of the year, and at the first event of the
2011 season, she contended all week and finished second.
Signs were good that Ha Neul was about to have a
comeback season, and in 2011, she more than delivered on that promise.
At the next event in April, Kim finished 8th. One week later, she
returned to the winner's circle for the first time in more than
two years. Kim continued to play well by and large after that, notching
a few top tens here and there, but also missing a few cuts. She
also claimed a 13th place finish at the Hana Bank, her best ever
LPGA result, in that stretch. Through it all, she stayed near the
top of the KLPGA money list, and when she caught fire again towards
the end of the year, it was with an inferno-like intensity.
Her first big salvo came at the Hite Cup, the year's
third Major. So Yeon Ryu was the current money list leader, and
also the US Women's Open winner from a few months earlier. She took
a share of the lead for the first two days. But a rules infraction
in round 3 knocked her down, and an unknown amateur rose up. By
the middle of round four, the amateur, In Ji Jeon, climbed to a
three shot lead and looked poised for the win. But then the wheels
came off for her, and after a late triple bogey, Ha Neul Kim, who
had lingered all day, suddenly found herself near the lead. Soon
thereafter, Kim had her first Major victory!
From that point on, Kim went from triumph to triumph
the rest of the season. She finished second at the year's final
Major, the KB Financial Star Championship; then won her third title
of the year at the EDaily KYJ Golf Women's Open; then lost a grueling
7 hole playoff to Young Ran Jo at the final event of the year. To
cap everything off, she won an unofficial all-star event a few weeks
Three wins, an unofficial win, over 500 million
won earned: Kim's 2011 season had been a smashing success. She claimed
her first money list title, won Player of the Year, and was even
voted Most Popular player by the fans. She dominated the awards
at the KLPGA Award Show, the KLPGA's new Queen.
Kim started 2012 almost as hot as she had finished
2011. At her first tournament of the year, the RACV Australian Ladies
Masters, she shot three closing rounds of 65-64-67 to very nearly
capture the trophy, finishing tied for second. It was her best ever
finish outside of the KLPGA tour. She managed a 24th and 20th in
her next two LPGA events, then just missed her first career LPGA
top ten when she finished tied for 11th at the year's first Major,
the Kraft Nabisco. So far so good.
Ha Neul played well during the first half of the
KLPGA season, notching four top fives among her finishes, but no
wins. Meanwhile, she was overshadowed by the emergence of Char Young
Kim, who won twice, and 16 year old amateur sensation Hyo Joo Kim,
who absolutely smoked the field at the Lotte Mart Women's Open.
But in the second half of the year, Kim's relentless consistency
moved her towards the top in all the tour standings. By the time
she won her only victory of the season, at the Rush & Cash Charity
Classic, she was tops on the money list, Player of the Year standings
and scoring average.
Kim only had three KLPGA events outside of the top
20 all season, while notching 10 top tens (one win, two seconds,
three thirds among them). She wound up winning the money list for
the second straight year, with nearly 459 million won earned, and
also captured her first scoring average title, with a 71.55 stroke
average. But she just missed out on the Player of the Year; she
held a slim lead over Je Yoon Yang much of the final few events,
but at the year's final tournament, Yang won the trophy, and with
it the Player of the Year.
Besides her KLPGA success, Kim also notched her
best Major finish at the Nabisco and best LPGA finish, a tie for
7th, at the KEB Hana Bank Championship. She played in the Korea-Japan
Team Competition, where she had one win and one loss.
As 2013 starts, she has already played two events,
making a 9th at the Swinging Skirts and a 10th at the Hyundai China
Ladies Open. Will she be able to win the money list three straight
years, and take back the Player of the Year mantle? These are among
her biggest goals for 2013.