So Yeon Ryu, a 21-year-old golfer from South Korea, joined the storied ranks of Korean U.S. Open champions today. She is the fifth Korean woman to win the open, following golf greats such as Eun-Hee Ji, Inbee Park and Se Ri Pak. In addition, she’s the fourth to win in the last seven years, firmly establishing Korea’s significant presence in the sporting world.
One of the major championships in the LPGA, the Open is acknowledged to be among the most important tournaments worldwide. Until today, Ryu had yet to claim an LPGA title: “I won six Korean LPGA tournaments, but no majors, but now I won the U.S. Women’s Open. I can’t believe it,” she told an interviewer.
The win aside, the day was a momentous occasion for Korea. The top two contenders were Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo, another prominent Korean golfer. In the crowd, there were masses of Korean fans, including one with quite a few LPGA titles of her own, Se Ri Pak. After the last stroke, fans rushed out on to the green to celebrate, dousing Ryu with champagne.
“I was walking three holes and looked back and said, ‘All I can say is I’m very proud — proud to be Korean, proud for them to be out there and playing their best.’ They’re the true champions. I’m very happy to see it.”
According to UPI.com’s recently reported list of “10 of the Highest Paid Female Athletes,” pro golfer Michelle Wie earned a sum of $12 million, with Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na trailing close behind, raking in an impressive $9.7 million. Wie and Kim are ranked among other talented female sports stars like Maria Sharapova and Venus and Serena Williams.
Wie—who is playing in her second round of the LPGA State Farm Classic tournament today (fingers crossed!)—has reportedly been shopping around for a new contract, and it’s rumored that she might be signing with IMG Worldwide after her departure from William Morris Agency. However, it’s still too early for any definitive news.
“Queen” Kim Yu-Na has also been keeping busy with her new figure skating variety show, Kiss & Cry, which aired in Korea last month. The show features a line-up of Korean actors and singers who battle it out for the chance to skate in Kim Yu-Na’s Ice Show in August.
[Photo of Michelle Wie: Chris Trotman/Getty; Kim Yu-Na: Heinz Kluetmeier/SI]
LPGA golfer Christina Kim bares a little bit of her soul in her first book, “Swinging from My Heels: Confessions of an LPGA Star.” She gets a little personal and opens up the golf ropes for the world to see what life is like on the LPGA tour. She’s one of the loudest dressers and the more vocal players and among the Korean players, she stands out even more. Heck she was in the ESPN semi-nude athlete’s issue. She bares more in the book and it’s coming out in the next few weeks.
Some of the highlights from Christina Kim’s recently published book, “Swinging from My Heels: Confessions of an LPGA Star”:
• On her close friend and the world’s No. 1 female golfer,Lorena Ochoa: “I have little doubt she’ll retire after the 2012 season. That will give her ten years on tour, the minimum needed to qualify her for the Hall of Fame. She will be thirty-one then and eager to start popping out cute little Mexican babies. Lorena is like a comet passing by — you better enjoy her now, because she will be gone before you know it.”
• On the sexual orientation of players on tour: “Contrary to what many people think, we are not the Lesbians Playing Golf Association. By my count, there are no more than two dozen gay women playing the tour right now. Considering there are 230 active members, you’re only talking about 10 percent of the players … To every player I know the issue is just not that big a deal. There are no superfreaky homophobes out here or militant man haters … At most, a player’s sexuality may be an occasional practice-round conversation piece: ‘Hey did you hear that so and so likes girls?’ ‘Really? Huh. So did you hit an eight-iron or a nine?’ ”
• About the breakup with her longtime boyfriend and caddie: “Having a serious boyfriend gave me a richer, fuller life, but if I’m honest with myself, there were times when golf wasn’t my priority, and over the last few years I had been surpassed by a bunch of broads who don’t have more talent than I do but were definitely a lot more focused.”
• About her on-course temper tantrums: “I was told (by an LPGA official) I needed to improve my attitude and my language and start being a better role model. When the initial shock subsided, I was grateful for the pep talk. I had been oblivious to the fact that everyone on tour thought I was suffering from a case of permanent PMS.”
• On body image: “I’m a professional athlete, but I suffer from all the same insecurities as any other woman, and it’s magnified by having so many eyeballs on me during a tournament. There have been many days when I don’t like my hair or makeup or the way my clothes fit, and it’s hard to play well when you’re unhappy with how you look.”
• On South Korea’s influence on the tour: “There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings, and it’s been that way for far too long. By the time I reached the LPGA Tour, the stereotype of the emotionless Korean golfer with an overbearing father was already an enduring cliché. … The fans and reporters who grouse, ‘Oh, those Koreans are all the same’ are just too lazy or narrow-minded to make the effort to get to know the individuals. … The LPGA’s biggest revenue stream is from Korean TV networks paying for the rights to broadcast our tournaments in Korea. So the next time a fan grouses that the Koreans are killing the LPGA, I hope someone will point out that, in this economy, it is Korean money that is keeping the tour afloat.”
• On cutting back on her shopping sprees: “Traditionally, I have celebrated every top-ten tournament finish with a little splurging, but this year I’ve stopped treating Saks Fifth Avenue like it was Costco.”
The AAU Sullivan Award honors the outstanding amateur athlete in the USA and Jennifer Song, a college golfer from USC was nominated for this prestigious student athlete award because of her incredible success in 2009. Presented annually since 1930, the Sullivan is based on leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism.
Jennifer Song became the first woman in 21 years to win two U.S. Golf Association Championships in the same season. Song, who plays for Southern California, won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
You can cast your vote so let’s give Jennifer Song a chance to become the first Korean-American to win this prestigious athletic award. CLICK HEREfor the ballot.
LPGA golfer Christina Kim showed up on The Golf Channel’s the Golf Fix with Michael Breed last week to share a few of her swing tips. She’s gearing up for the new golf season and it starts this week in Thailand as the LPGA kicks off its 2010 season. Before Christina hit a golf ball in Thailand, she IM’d an interview with Golf.com to talk about the off season and the future.
What have you been up to in the offseason?
Everything from working hard on my short game, trying new clubs, partying with friends, traveling to places, and playing around with social media.
You partied a lot. Clubs? House parties?
I didn’t go mad crazy partying all the time. Hahaha!!! Clubs, house parties, a lot of just chillin’ at friends’ places — that’s more accurate.
Let’s talk about the LPGA Tour. What do you see happening this year out there for yourself and the tour?
I see both myself and the LPGA Tour taking over by storm. I’m so stoked for the new season. The LPGA is rising again after a brief lull, and the world is ready for something new to stumble upon.
It’s been a long time coming for Michelle Wie but she finally did it. She won for the first time in a professional tournament. Michelle Wie competed at the LPGA’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico and she walked away with the trophy with a two stroke victory. She finished off in style with a birdie on her final hole. The question is will this win propel her to new heights? She had been criticized by many for competing in men’s tournaments and for not doing enough on the women’s tour. Well, she’s got her first win and perhaps this will lift a weight off of Michelle’s shoulders.
Having spent her teens bouncing between tours and continents, Wie, 20, had finally found some stability this season as a full-fledged LPGA rookie. Even before her victory at the penultimate tournament of the year it had been a successful campaign defined by solid results, new friendships and a starring role at the Solheim Cup, during which Wie was overcome by a fist-pumping passion that was utterly foreign for a player who has always worn an icy gameface. The only thing missing was an individual victory, a familiar story for a player, who until Sunday had not won a tournament of any kind since the 2003 U.S. Publinks Amatuer, when she was a 13 year-old with a impossibly perfect swing and endless future. Back then no one could have imaged another victory would be such a long time coming. But Wie used the many blown chances and missed opportunities as a journey of self-discovery, and along the way the giggly, goofy tween phenom grew into a self-possessed young woman.
Susan Choi was first seen on The Golf Channel’s “Big Break Ka’anapali,” and since then she’s been pursuing the unexpected dream of playing golf on the LPGA Tour. Now a Korean woman playing golf is nothing out of the ordinary because there are many of them playing on the LPGA tour, but what we found unique about Susan Choi was that her journey was a somewhat circuitous route to golf. If you follow ladies golf, you’ll know that many of the Korean women out there pounded their way to the tour through practice, practice and more practice. Susan on the other hand found herself at Wellesley, studying hard and playing college golf at the all-women’s college. Wellesley is not known for producing professional golfers, but rather doctors, lawyers, politicians (Hillary Clinton is a graduate) and educated leaders of tomorrow. When Susan played her Freshman year at Wellesley, she was having fun and scoring in the 90s. However, in a couple of years, her game progressed quickly to shooting in the 70s. You would be hard pressed to find a guy who could improve his scores from the 90s to the 70s in such short a time.
This week is the qualifying tournament for the Duramed Futures Tour, the developmental golf tour for the ladies. Susan is playing in the tournament down in Florida with the hopes of getting status on the tour. We chatted with Susan earlier this fall and what we found was someone who isn’t shy like her Korean golfing counterparts, but someone who is really driven and happy to have found herself playing a sport she really loves. She also gives back and everyone loves this gal! It’s hard not to root for Susan Choi.
When did you start playing golf?
When I was younger my dad would take me to the driving range. He would try to bribe me and say he’d buy me McDonald’s if I would go to the range with him. So my dad bribed me with food. My parents really wanted me to get some exercise and go to the range.
I went to the Spring Rock Golf center in New Hyde Park; it has two levels. I went there real late at night after dinner. We would play Bethpage at Twilight for 9 holes.
My sister played for fun. I honestly think she could have been a real good player. We were really into music and she took that route. We were both into music and golf. I think music helped my golf. In a way I’m glad that I took up golf because it kept me focused during high school. I had a lot of fun practicing with my dad and challenging myself.
So you played golf at Wellesley?
I played golf all 4 years.
When did you think you could become good at golf?
I probably realized it by my junior year – probably end of sophomore year. This is so much fun and I’d rather be out here than in lab. My coach guided me my junior year and I told him that I wanted to go on tour. He gave me an honest talk about how hard it would be. I improved so much from first year to my junior year. If you look at my scoring average, I improved dramatically each year: 90s to 80s to 70s. I just remember having so much fun and also improving so much and believing that I could do this.
I told him that I wouldn’t miss practice and I’d put in extra practice. During senior year I really showed a lot by knocking down my scoring average to 75, compared to 90 something my freshman year. I won 8 tournaments in a row my senior year.
What was the key to improving?
Having a plan: practice with a purpose. I needed a little guidance with course management: knowing what kind of shot I was going to hit. I made it a more perfect practice. I always had fun practicing because I made it a game. I became focused with practice: working on my weaknesses and turning them into strengths.
I actually turned professional in 2008 because of the show I was on: The Big Break. I was actually going to stay amateur one more year. I haven’t had that much experience in tournament golf. The only way to get better is to play tournaments. It is very different because it’s a different setting, atmosphere, player, and the pressure. You learn a lot from these players. It’s at first intimidating but I learned a lot by watching other people during my first year. I also played on the Canadian tour and other mini-tours.
What was most surprising when you started playing professionally?
How expensive everything was. I don’t come from a lot of money. I would stay at the most ghetto motels and it was kind of scary. Knowing how to travel and knowing your stuff like setting up practice rounds, renting car, hotels, etc — it can be hectic and chaotic. That was one of my goals – to be very organized.
When you first arrived on the Duramed Futures Tour, what were the players like?
Everyone is nice to each other. I noticed there are lot of cliques out there. There are many Division I players out there and I came from a Division III school. These girls are very focused on getting to the tour. You sense that competitiveness they got from Division I schools. They’re all super sweet but they’re very competitive and really good.
I feel like I have the skills but I need the experience. If I continue to workout hard and keep practicing, I’ll develop faster. If you have a good support team, it helps out a lot. My coach has been so good to me. He really believes in me. He’ll get mad if I don’t do a workout. He doesn’t get mad at a bad score.
What motivates you?
I’m very family oriented and my family motivates me. I keep pictures of them. I see them when I first wake up and therefore I get up quicker.
Does it get lonely out there?
Honestly, it does. You just keep focused and you keep yourself busy.
It’s hard to have balance. It’s tiring after the end of a round, and sometimes you can’t go out because you have to get up early for a round. I do feel very blessed!
What do you do for fun?
I do a lot. This past year, I needed something to rejuvenate me so I did a bunch of charity stuff and corporate outings. I’m one of the founders of the golfprogirls.com website. It’s a website with interviews of notable golf people and has other things like golf destinations and things about rules, etiquette and where to get the best gear.
So what is your goal now?
My main goal is to play tournament golf and make it on tour.
What do you need to do to make the LPGA Tour?
When I play at a course, I need to be good at course management. I need to make more birdies; what are the best spots for birdies. Everything is fine with the swing – just need to believe in yourself. It’s more attitude than skill.
I’ve been working on my attitude, even talking about it after a round. If you talk to yourself in a positive way, it changes everything.
Last question and it’s off topic but what is your favorite Korean food?
I love kogi (Korean BBQ)!
You can find out more on Susan Choi at her website Susan Choi Golf. Susan recently won the J&J New England Women’s Open Championship and placed second at the Sun Coast Series event.
Golf season is unofficially over as in all the important tournaments are done but golf is still in the news.
Korean Amateur Golfer Qualifies for the Masters Tournament
Han Chang-Won of Korea earned a spot in the 2010 Masters Tournament with a victory in the inaugural Asian Amateur Championship in China.
“I knew I was leading by five or six after the first nine holes, but I was trying not to think about the result,” Han said. “Anything can happen in a round of golf and I was very nervous towards the end. I have to admit that it was the thought of playing in the Masters that made me nervous. I had never even thought it would be possible for me to be playing in the Masters as an amateur.”
Han Chang-Won becomes the second Korean amateur that will be playing at the 2010 Masters tournament because An Byeong-Hun also qualified by winning the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. And oh yeah, Danny Lee of New Zealand was at this year’s Masters as the winner of the U.S. Amateur the previous year. What’s with all those young Korean golfers?
Anthony Kim Loses in the Finals of the World Match Play Championship
AK lost to Ross Fisher at the World Match Play Championship in Spain. He had dominated Robert Allenby the previous day to make the finals. At least AK can say he’s getting closer.
Na Yeon Choi Goes to Korea and Wins The Hana Bank KOLON Championship
Ladies golf is still in play and the professionals traveled across the Pacific to South Korea. Na Yeon Choi made birdie at the last hole for a 5-under 67 on Sunday, giving her a one-shot victory over Maria Hjorth and Yani Tseng at the Hana Bank KOLON Championships. Choi won the Samsung World Championships in September with an eagle at the par-5 last hole.
ESPN finally published their “Body Issue” which shows athletes in their birthday suits. And yes there’s a Korean-American woman who bares it all. She is LPGA golfer Christina Kim, and she’s joined by other fellow golfers Anna Grzebien and Sandra Gal. The “Body Issue” is getting some great reviews because it’s done very artistically and it actually reveals not simply a nude body, but it shows some of the pain and hurt that these athletes have endured. The body is a beautiful thing. If you don’t know Christina Kim, she’s a Korean-American golfer who’s had great success on the LPGA tour. She’s one of the more personable and animated golfers on tour, and she’s willing to share her thoughts. She’s one of the most followed LPGA tour players on Twitter. For a little more on Christina Kim, check out our interview below when we met up with her at a LPGA tour event earlier this summer.
After losing a seven-stroke lead Sunday, Na Yeon Choi rallied to shoot 1-under 71 Sunday to win the Samsung World Championship on the 18th hole.
“I can’t believe that I won,” Choi said. “Throughout the second half I thought I was going to lose it again.”
Choi finished at 16-under 272 and held off runner-up Ai Miyazato of Japan, who shot a 69, the low round of the day at Torrey Pines.
Choi began the final round with a two-stroke lead, got birdies on two of her first four holes and made a 10-foot eagle putt on the sixth hole to extend her lead to seven strokes.
It looked then as if Choi, who has won four times on the Korean LPGA Tour, would cruise to her first LPGA Tour victory.
But Miyazato, playing in the group in front of Choi and Jiyai Shin of South Korea, made two quick birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 to cut Choi’s lead to five.
“I played really good,” Miyazato said. “I was very patient.”
Choi missed a 2-foot putt on the ninth hole for a bogey, cutting the lead to four heading into the back nine.
She continued to struggle with two consecutive bogeys, and Miyazato tied Choi at 16-under with a 4-foot birdie putt on No. 16. Miyazato took the lead shortly after, when Choi three-putted for bogey on No. 14.
Choi has been working with a sports psychologist on her mental game and was repeating some of the lessons she has recently learned.
“Mentally I felt I was very weak,” Choi said. “I kept telling myself to be positive. I wanted to be positive about everything.”
On the 18th hole, it was Miyazato’s turn to make a mistake. With 203 yards remaining for her second shot, Miyazato’s 5-wood approach hit the bank in front of the 18th green and rolled into the water. She dropped in front of the pond but could not get up and down for par.
“Mentally I felt I was very weak,” Choi said. “I kept telling myself to be positive. I wanted to be positive about everything.”
Choi’s second shot on the 18th reached the front left of the green and her third shot came to rest 5 feet below the pin. Choi, who had missed several putts of equal or less distance, converted the birdie for the victory – no easy task.
“I felt like I had just turned professional today,” Choi said when facing the putt for victory. “I was so nervous