Sports Outside the Beltway

In-Kyung Kim wins the Longs Drugs Challenge

Prior to yesterday no South Korean golfer had won an LPGA event since early August.

In-Kyung Kim couldn’t help but cry after holing a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole to wrap up her first LPGA Tour victory.

“I was overwhelmed,” Kim said. “It was a happy cry.”

The 20-year-old South Korean player birdied the final two holes in windy conditions Sunday for a 1-over 73 and a three-stroke victory over Angela Stanford in the Longs Drugs Challenge.

Kim, the 2005 U.S. Girls’ Junior winner, had a 10-under 278 total on the Blackhawk Country Club course. The second-year player earned $180,000.

“I’m on process, getting better,” Kim said. “This is just the start in my career. I’m really honored to win this tournament on this golf course.”

Stanford, the Bell Micro LPGA Classic winner last month, finished with a 75.

“When you have weather like that and wind like that, you always have a chance,” Stanford said. “I knew she wasn’t going to back up very far, just because she’s very consistent. She’s a good putter.”

LPGA Championship winner Yani Tseng (72) was third at 6 under, and top-ranked Lorena Ochoa (72) finished fourth at 4 under.

Kim struggled down the stretch, missing a short birdie putt on No. 13 and bogeying the 14th and 16th holes. She nearly drove into a creek on the par-4 17th, but caught a fairway bunker, hit her approach to 8 feet and made her birdie putt.

“At 17, I had a bad (drive). Awful to the left,” Kim said. “I thought I was dead. I was fortunately in the bunker. … That’s kind of my favorite shot. I remember I had that shot before. I just had a vision of how I was going to hit it.”- USA Today

The two month victory drought is much shorter than the recent ten month one suffered by the South Korean ladies. It beginning in July 2007 after Seon Hwa Lee won the HSBC Matchplay and not ending till Lee won again at the Ginn Tribute last June. When they’re winning, you sometimes hear complaints from fans and media alike about the South Korean dominance of the LPGA. However when I was covering a tournament in Florida last April, two members of the media were surprised when I told them of the victory drought.

Park, who was a LPGA rookie in 2007, is a good golfer. How much further success she will have on tour, I’d only be guessing at. The only young South Korean player I expect to be a star for certain, is defending Women’s British Open Champ Ji-Yai Shin. Ji-Yai took a wrecking ball to Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak’s KLPGA records. The only question about Shin is when will she come to play the LPGA full-time? She has an exemption because of her British Open triumph but hasn’t made it clear if she plans on playing the tour in 2009.

If Shin does, she would be my hands down choice for LPGA rookie of the year. If not, Vicki Hurst who was number one on the Duramed Futures Tour money list in 2008 and is half Korean, would be my next choice.

The South Korean invasion is here to stay. I suspect a good amount of players will begin coming from India and mainland China also within the next ten years. Pro golf is global today, and US dominance of the sport isn’t guaranteed any more.

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