Normally, a 2nd place finish by Sakura Yokomine in an LPGA of Japan event is not a cause for me to celebrate. After all, Sakura is my favorite JLPGA player. To have her come so close, yet be so far from victory can be vexing. However, on this day, with Yokomine coming up tied for 2nd at the 2013 Stanley Ladies Golf Tournemant, I am positively giddy. A former favorite of mine from the U.S. LPGA, Soo-Yun Kang, emerged from years of frustration to finally bask in the warm glow of victory once again. My women’s golf fandom is rooted in being a Seoul Sister fan; that is, being a fan of the Korean players on the LPGA Tour. One of my earliest favorites was Soo-Yun, whom we affectionately referred to as Kangsy in the Seoul Sister Forum. After great success on the LPGA of Korea (KLPGA), Soo-Yun came to America in 2001. From 2001 through 2004, Kangsy showed flashes of brilliance, but not consistency. She finally put things together in August of 2005, winning her first (and to date, only) LPGA event, the 2005 Safeway Classic in Portland, Oregon. She finished that year strongly, culminating with being named Captain of the 2005 Pinx Cup, an end of year competition between women golfers from South Korea and Japan, now called the Kyoraku Cup.
Then, when things were looking sweet for Kangsy’s LPGA career, it began to sour. Injuries and inconsistency conspired to make the following years far less than what her talent had promised. With a remarkably sub-par 2010 LPGA season unfolding, Soo-Yun went to JLPGA Q-school. She earned status for 2011, and has largely forsaken the LPGA ever since, save for co-sponsored events. I can speak to the disappointment of her American fans, like myself, who would miss her presence on the LPGA. At the same time, we were happy she was still playing competitive golf on a major tour, even if it was on the other side of the world. We also recognized that Kangsy was entering her mid 30s. Perhaps she wouldn’t have that many years of top level golf in her. Maybe it would be a positive that she was closer to her home in South Korea playing in Japan. She played reasonably well in 2011 and 2012 on the JLPGA, yet victory still eluded her. Until now.
Tied for third at 6-under after the 2nd round, Soo-Yun entered the final round chasing overnight leader Mayu Hattori by 2 shots and 2nd place Sakura Yokomine by 1 shot. Hattori struggled with 3 bogeys canceling her 3 birdies, with an even par final round sending her in reverse, falling from 1st to tied for 4th. Sakura played well with a 2-under par 3rd round, leaving her at 9-under overall. That would only be good enough for a 2nd place tie with Harukyo Nomura. That’s because Soo-Yun put in a sensational 6-under par 66 to leap-frog to victory. She had matching 4 birdie, 1 bogey performances on both the front 9 and back 9, starting and ending her round with birdies. At 37 years old (or young, depending on your perspective), I wasn’t sure if Kangsy would again visit the winner’s circle on a major golf tour. Maybe she would play out the rest of her career as a journeywoman. I am so glad to be wrong. Congratulations to Kangsy on her perseverance and on what I hope is the first of multiple JLPGA victories.
2013 JLPGA WINNERS (numbers in parentheses are career JLPGA victory totals)