Notes: Seo back in spotlight at Grand Cypress

Hee Kyung Seo stands with caddie Dean Herden.

Hee Kyung Seo stands with caddie Dean Herden.

ORLANDO, Fla. – After Hee Kyung Seo dumped her second shot in the water at No. 9, took her drop and left her pitch short of the green, she trudged toward the putting surface and let out a series of frustrated grunts. It’s uncharacteristic of the generally affable South Korean, and caddie Dean Herden attributes that to fatigue.

It’s been a long season, but it’s been a good one.

At the Titleholders, every caddie’s vest bears the logo of the tournament from which his or her player earned her spot in the field. Herden’s is the only one that features the crest of the U.S. Women’s Open. Champion So Yeon Ryu is absent from this field, and so is Inbee Park, the third and final qualifier from The Broadmoor.

It almost seems like Seo’s name got lost in the shuffle July 11, the day Ryu swept in for the tie at a rare Women’s Open Monday finish, then beat Seo in a three-hole aggregate playoff. As patrons and media deserted the mountainside course that day to return to their respective jobs and deadlines, Seo walked away with pride at her finish, despite falling barely short.

“I feel like could do everything on the course. Obviously the U.S. Open course is really hard and difficult,” she said of that day.

The memory that still sticks? A missed putt at the 17th green late Sunday evening. As thunderclouds and darkness rolled in, Seo barely was able to finish regulation before play was called before the evening. One more putt could have kept her out of the playoff, but at 25 and with the level of talent Seo possesses, one can only imagine there will be more opportunities for her to find glory at the marquee event on the women’s schedule. Seo missed the cut at the Evian Masters, two weeks after the Women’s Open, but resumed bringing in top 25s after that. She finished T-4 at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational before the Titleholders, where she is T-37 through two rounds.

Worth a double-take this week is Seo’s caddie. If Herden, who has been on Seo’s bag since the Sunrise LPGA Championship in Taiwan, looks strangely familiar it’s because he was also a part of that playoff at The Broadmoor. Except he was on Ryu’s bag. Seo and Ryu have been friends since their early days on the Korean LPGA, and Herden has been friends with both. It was a difficult morning for the burly Aussie, but Seo is happy to have added him to her camp.

“He makes me really comfortable and gave me lots of confidence,” she said. “He helps a lot.”

Score aside, Seo returned to the spotlight at Grand Cypress as she accepted the Rookie of the Year award at a banquet following Thursday’s first round. Looking stunning in a sparkling jade dress, Seo, dubbed the supermodel of the fairways by Korean media, couldn’t help but notice the namesake of the award.

“I was very honored that I got an award which has Louise Suggs’ name on it,” she said. “I had a really great time over there, and lots of people came over and congratulated me.”

Seo is not an easy one to miss.

• • •

photo

Hee Young Park (left) chats with Yani Tseng during while waiting to tee off on No. 12 at Grand Cypress.

Looking for length: Reigning Women’s Open champion Ryu may not be in the field, but 2010 champion Paula Creamer is. The Orlando resident shot 1-under 71 and is tied for third at 4 under.

Creamer is looking for her first win since the Open, and expressed satisfaction with her progress off the course. She said she’s focusing on changing her swing in an attempt to get more length off the tee.

“I mean, I’m 5-foot-9, I should hit it a lot farther than what I do,” she said. “I’m pretty athletic. I’m not a skinny bean out there.”

Now in her seventh year on tour, Creamer knows what it takes to win. She did it four times during her rookie season, but maintains she’s a better player now than she was then. And a different person, having weathered a lot in this profession, “physically, emotionally, just overall in general.”

“Mentally I’m stronger than ever, but it’s all about confidence and believing in yourself, and I have that now,” she said.

• • •

photo

Yani Tseng and her caddie Jason Hamilton chat at No. 18 on Friday at the CME Group Titleholders at Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla.

Surprise entertainer: The crowds that pressed against the ropes Friday to watch top-ranked Yani Tseng were not disappointed. But it wasn’t Tseng who delivered the best show.

No, that honor belonged to the other player in her group, Hee Young Park. The two grew up playing on their respective national teams as amateurs – Tseng for Taiwan, Park for Korea.

“We practiced a lot, and I even visited her house when I visited Taiwan,” Park said. “We share a long friendship, so it was fun.”

Park turned in 4 under after birdies at Nos. 2, 4, 6, 7. She had two more on the back, but added three bogyes for a 68. She provided the rare spectacle of beating Tseng at her own game – draining 6-footers with authority, striping fairways and nestling her approaches beside the hole. She made up 17 spots on the leaderboard, climbing to a tie for third at 4-under 140.

Park demonstrated considerable touch around the greens, but she thanks Friday’s blustery conditions for the opportunity to gain so much ground. She’s used to that sort of weather after logging considerable playing hours on South Korea’s Jeju Island.

“I played a lot in the island, like since amateur and then pro, a lot of like under-the-wind shots, so I’m very confident,” she explained. “And then my ball trajectory actually is a little lower than other players. Everything is good.”

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