Seo displaced another young, attractive golfer as
second best on tour, Ha Neul Kim. The press started a friendly rivalry
between the two stylish young women that added a lot of fire to
the KLPGA the rest of the season. Kim spiced things up by winning
a third event in 2008 to retake the second place spot on the money
list. The two were even involved in a charity Skins Game, where
Kim was paired with PGA star Anthony Kim and Seo teamed with a top
KPGA player. Kim won that Skins game, but Seo got revenge by winning
the KLPGA event later that week, the Interburgos Masters, for her
fourth win of 2008.
After finished tied for 17th at the Hana Bank Championship,
the lone LPGA event she played in 2008, Seo notched a third place
at the S-OIL, then won her amazing fifth KLPGA event of the year.
The tournament was the Saint Four Ladies Masters, the first KLPGA
event co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour. Seo was two shots
down to KLPGA star Sun Ju Ahn with four holes to play, but finished
her round with four straight birdies to win by two strokes. This
victory gained her membership on the European tour, and entry into
their elite field events like the Evian Masters. It also made her
only the third golfer in KLPGA history to win five times in a single
season on tour. And Seo still wasn't done:
she finished the season by winning her sixth title of 2008 at the
ADT-CAPS, the year's final tournament.
At the KLPGA Awards Show in December, she appeared
on stage with four other young KLPGA stars in a dance number (!),
proving she was indeed a multi-talented individual.
Seo started the 2009 season with a second place
finish at the year's first event, the China Ladies Open. She also
had a 20th place finish at the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia and
a 15th place finish in the SBS Open in Hawaii. However, she missed
the cut at the Nabisco after that.
But when the 2009 KLPGA season started in earnest
in April, it didn't take her long to get back to her dominating
ways. Now that Jiyai Shin was off the tour, it was Seo's chance
to take over as the top player on tour, and she didn't disappoint.
She won the Lotte Women's Open in April, and followed that up with
a brilliant come from behind win at the Korean Women's Open in May.
It was her first Major triumph, but it would not be her last. She
also finished second at the next Major on tour, the KLPGA Championship.
In the middle of the year she hit a minor slump.
At the same time, teen sensation So Yeon Ryu went on a tear, winning
four of five events at one point to take over the lead on the money
list. Suddenly, Seo was in a real battle for supremacy.
It did not take her long to get back on track. She
won the Hite Cup Championship, the year's third Major, then won
an epic battle with amateur Hana Jang to grab the year's fourth
Major as well. In four Majors in 2009, Seo had three wins and a
second, a truly fantastic achievement. For good measure, she also
won the year's final tournament, the ADT-CAPS. Thus, she had five
wins in 2009, 13 top tens, and won the money list (with 663 million
won earned), Player of the Year and scoring titles as well. Despite
a great year from Ryu, Seo had done what she set out to do at the
start of the year: establish herself as the KLPGA's best player.
Seo continued to shine as 2009 closed. She won both
her matches at the Kyoraku Cup to help Korea win that competition
(in one of her matches, she bested the JLPGA's top gun Sakura Yokomine).
She performed in a dance number with other top players at the KLPGA
Awards show. Then, in the first KLPGA event of 2010, the Orient
Ladies China Open, she led much of the week before falling to Ryu
in a playoff.
2010 was a season of transition for Seo. On the
Korean tour, she played very well, collecting 12 top tens. But after
huge seasons the previous two years, she was unable to win so much
as a single event in Korea in 2010. She wound up 6th on the year
ending money list.
But Seo didn't have much to worry about, for she
played brilliantly outside of Korea. After a top five finish at
the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia, Seo was given a sponsor's invite
to play a new LPGA event, the Kia Classic. She did not disappoint:
she ended up winning the tournament despite the presence of almost
all the top women golfers in the world. And she did it easily, claiming
a six shot margin over the field. Seo was the first sponsor's exemption
to win on tour since Jin Joo Hong won in Korea back in 2006. But
though she earned a tour card for 2011, Seo was reluctant at first
to commit to playing in America. She had always planned to play
in Japan for a few years before trying the LPGA. In the end, the
card proved too much to refuse, and she accepted membership on the
But she wasn't done with great golf in 2010. The
next week she finished tied for 21st at the Kraft Nabisco, her best
ever Major performance. Later in the season she trumped that by
grabbing a top five at the Ricoh Women's British Open, the year's
Seo came to America in 2011 as a rookie on the LPGA
tour, and achieved her goal of winning Rookie of the Year. She did
this thanks to a consistency that saw her notch 11 top 25 finishes
during the season. She had an early highlight in April when she
shot a third round 65 en route to a tie for 6th at the Avnet Classic.
But without any question, the biggest moment in
her career to date came in July at the US Women's Open in Colorado
Springs, Colorado. She only was in the field because she had earlier
won a sectional qualifier in New Jersey, the first time she had
ever played 36 holes in one day. The Open was plagued with weather
delays, and when she started her play on Sunday morning, she had
only completed two rounds of golf all week. When the day began,
she was tied for 21st and did not seem like she was going to be
much of a factor for the title. But in that one day, she played
two complete rounds, shooting back to back 68s to soar to 3 under
total and the outright lead. Among the highlights of the long day
were a run of four straight birdies early in her fourth round. By
the time she reached the 17th hole of her final round, it was getting
dark, and she and her group jogged down the fairway, trying to get
their rounds finished before darkness fell. On the green however,
the wind caused Seo to back off her birdie putt several times. She
finally hit the putt, believing it had gone in, only to see it just
miss. She lined up the short par save, but missed that putt, too,
to fall to 3 under. Despite being shaken up, she still managed to
make par on the final hole, finishing her week minutes before play
ended for the day.
On Monday morning, only three golfers had a mathematical
chance of catching her. The player with the best chance was none
other than So Yeon Ryu, her old rival from the KLPGA days. Ryu was
in the field thanks to her finish on the KLPGA tour in 2010, and
needed one birdie to catch Seo. She did this on the final hole of
the day, making a clutch birdie on the tough 18th hole to force
the playoff. It would be the first time Koreans would meet in a
playoff for a Major title.
The playoff was to be the best total score over
the final three holes on the course, ironically the same three holes
Ryu had just finished playing. Alas, Seo, who had not struck a shot
in competition all day, quickly fell behind Ryu when, on the 17th
hole, she made bogey and Ryu made birdie. Ryu added another birdie
on 18 to win by three shots. But Seo's second place finish was still
her best by far in a Major, and gave her a lead in the Rookie of
the Year race she never relinquished.
Seo would go on to have one more top ten at the
Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and made over $600,000 on the year, just
finishing outside the top 20 on the money list. At the ceremony
where she was awarded her Rookie of the Year trophy, she gave a
great speech in English to the assembled players and media. The
highlight was when she told world #1 Ya Ni Tseng that she intended
to take over as number one, and joked to her that she thought about
Tseng when she saw a sticker on her car's rearview mirror: 'objects
in mirror are closer than they appear'. She hoped to get closer
to that top spot in the world in 2012!
Seo started 2012 with a bang. She was in or near
the lead much of the Australian Women's Open, and even had a putt
on the final green to win outright. Alas, she missed, and lost in
the ensuing playoff. 2012 wound up being very similar to 2011 in
a lot of ways. She made almost the exact same amount of money, and
finished just one spot behind where she had finished in 2011. And
she was not able to win. But she was also much more consistent,
notching 8 top tens, a career high. And she gave herself several
great chances for victories.
Her next close call came at the year's first Major,
the Kraft Nabisco. On the back nine, Seo played great, and suddenly
found herself with a three shot lead with four holes to play. But
she bogied her final four holes to fall to 4th place. It was the
second time in the previous three Majors that Seo had a great chance
to win but could not pull it off.
Seo played great a couple of months later at the
Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. She got into a playoff with Inbee
Park, Chella Choi and Brittany Lang. Seo outlasted Park and Choi,
but still lost to Lang. In August, she was tied for the lead at
the Jamie Farr with one round to go, but So Yeon Ryu blew the field
away and Seo faded to 9th.
Seo had another up and down season in 2013. She
finished 33rd on the money list, a little worse than her first two
years, and again did not collect a win. But she did have several
strong moments, culminating in the happiest moment, when she married
her fiance Phil Kook at the end of November.
Her best moment on course came at the Hana Bank.
She made a clutch birdie on the final hole to take the solo lead,
but wound up in a playoff with fellow Korean star Amy Yang. It was
Yang who won, but the solo second was Hee Kyung's best finish of
the year. She also played well at the Kraft (tie for 13th), in Taiwan
(just missed a top ten), Hawaii (9th, but in contention on Sunday),
and had tie for 25th finishes at the British and US Women's Opens.