OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – Jiyai Shin arrived in Chicago on Monday and felt her nerves start to churn as she stood in line for immigration. She’d have to start speaking English again.
“My Japanese is pushing out my English,” Shin said, laughing. “A little bit confused but enjoy.”
Shin, 29, played five years on the LPGA from 2009 to 2013. She became the first South Korean to rise to No. 1 in the world and won 11 tournaments, including two majors. But the South Korean superstar got homesick and moved to Tokyo in 2014 to play on the Japan LPGA, which is only a two-hour flight from home.
She’s back on American soil competing in an LPGA major for the first time since 2014 and finds herself with the clubhouse lead at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at 8-under 205. Shin, currently ranked 28th in the world, carded a third-round 64 on Olympia Field’s North Course.
When asked on Thursday if she still dreamed of winning majors, Shin smiled as she held out her hands: “Oh, why not? That’s why I’m here.”
Shin won 21 times on the Korean LPGA, where she earned the nickname “Final Round Queen.” In 2007, she rewrote the record books in Korea by winning in 10 of 19 starts.
When Shin won the 2008 Ricoh Women’s British Open, she wasn’t yet a member of the LPGA. She followed that with victories at the Mizuno Classic and ADT Championship, becoming the first non-member to win three LPGA titles.
A slimmed-down Shin looks decidedly different than those early days, when glasses made her easy to spot. She seems extremely happy in her in new life in Japan, where players mostly travel by train and have their clubs shipped separately from one event to the next. It’s a far easier road than the global trek of the LPGA.
Shin admits that she misses the crowds on the LPGA. The players too. She enjoyed playing alongside another former World No. 1, Stacy Lewis, on Saturday.
Shin’s brother, John, is with her this week outside Chicago. He’s a student at UC Santa Barbara. She plans to go back with him to California after this week to prepare for the U.S. Women’s Open at Bedminster. Shin hasn’t competed in a U.S. Women’s Open since 2013.
In her four full seasons in Japan, Shin has won 10 times. She has 13 total victories on that tour. This season she has gained 15 to 20 yards off the tee, a development that has come in handy on the North Course.
The two-time British Open winner hopes the wind plays a factor on Sunday.
Remember the nickname.