Korean stars come home for Hana Bank
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
LPGA Hana Bank Championship
Course: Sky 72 Golf Club, Ocean Course (6,409 yards, par 72), Incheon, South Korea.
Purse: $1.8 million. Winner's share: $270,000.
Last year: South Korea's Na Yeon Choi won the second of her two 2009 titles, birdieing the final hole for a one-stroke victory over Maria Hjorth and Yani Tseng.
These days in women’s golf, it’s no secret that the South Koreans are flourishing.
A week after Korea romped to a record 17-shot victory at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship and South Korean Jimin Kang won the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, the spotlight stays on the country this week at the LPGA Hana Bank Championship in Incheon, South Korea.
Even though American Cristie Kerr enters the 54-hole tournament as the new world No. 1, it’s the four Koreans in the top 10 who will garner much of the attention this week at the Sky 72 Golf Club.
THREE TO WATCH
Julie Inkster: Is playing like she still has something to prove – if only to herself. In two of her last three starts, the 50-year old Hall of Famer had chances to become the oldest winner in LPGA history. A final-hole bogey cost her at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, where she finished second. She also played in the final group at the P&G NW Arkansas but struggled and placed T-9.
Song-Hee Kim: Is the highest-ranked player in the Rolex Rankings without an LPGA victory. The Korean has 14 top-10s in 2010, including two runner-ups. She’s due.
Jennifer Song: The former All-American received a sponsor’s invite this week. She turned pro in June and has already gained a 2011 LPGA card after finishing second on the Futures Tour money list.
Koreans such as world No. 2 Jiyai Shin, Song-Hee Kim (No. 8) and In-Kyung Kim (No. 9) will attempt to replicate compatriot Na Yeon Choi’s triumph here a year ago. Choi (No. 6) birdied the final hole for a one-stroke victory over Maria Hjorth and Yani Tseng, who is absent this week. Choi, arguably, has been the hottest player on the tour since July – in her last nine starts, she has a win, three seconds and two thirds.
“There are a lot of expectations as a defending champion, and I feel pressure about it,” Choi said. “But I don’t think about winning. I’m just going to play my game.”
Choi is among 36 Koreans in the top 100 of the world Rolex Rankings – the most of any nationality. As for Shin, she’s eying to regain the top spot.
“The competition for No. 1 is getting intense, but that motivates me to concentrate on my game, and it makes it even more fun,” Shin said. “It’s really comfortable to play in my home country, but at the same time, there are a lot of expectations from a lot of Korean fans.”
But for all the talk about the revolving No. 1 ranking, the race for the money title is still up for grabs, too.
Six players have earned more than $1 million this year and are separated by a mere $83,340.
After a T-6 finish in Malaysia, Shin extended the lead in her quest for back-to-back LPGA money titles. Last year, she became the first Korean to top the money list. But Choi is just $50,950 behind this season with four events remaining.