Jiyai Shin further cements Asian dominance on tour
If parity were considered the most valuable virtue of a pro golf tour, the LPGA would look at this season and think things couldn't get any better. The LPGA has had 21 tournaments in 2012 -- and 16 different winners.
Yet it's sustained dominance by one player that tends to catch the interest of the sports world, more so than the seeming randomness of the tour's trophy hoisters this year.
The LPGA had a name and face to watch week after week in 2011 in Yani Tseng, who won seven titles and clearly staked her claim to No. 1.
It's been much more a case of "guess who'll win this week?" for most of 2012 on the LPGA circuit. Only twice have players won back-to-back events: Taiwan's Tseng did it in March before her game drifted off into space, and South Korea's Jiyai Shin did it these past two weeks.
At the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Va., Shin needed an opening at the end of regulation and got it when American Paula Creamer missed a makeable winning putt on the 18th hole. Shin prevailed when the duo went a comically absurd nine playoff holes, finishing the final one Monday morning to decide the title.
That extra work at Kingsmill didn't hurt Shin, who dominated the Women's British Open this weekend despite weather better suited for staying inside by the fireplace and talking about golf, not playing it.
Shin handled soggy Royal Liverpool as if carrying around her own pocket full of sunshine, leaving the rest of the field in her shadow. Her fellow countrywoman Inbee Park finished nine strokes behind at even par to finish second. Sunday's 36 holes -- Friday's play was canceled by inclement conditions -- was a coronation, not a contest.
Shin's story is an inspiring one. At 16, she lost her mother in an automobile accident that also injured her two siblings. In recent years, Shin -- who first won the Women's British title in 2008 -- had battled injuries and a loss of confidence.
Now 24, Shin is back on top of women's golf after these two weeks. And there's no doubt what part of the world is at the summit of the women's game. For the first time in LPGA history, the winners of all four major championships are Asian: China's Shanshan Feng (LPGA Championship) and South Korea's Sun Young Yoo (Kraft Nabisco Championship), Na Yeon Choi (U.S. Women's Open) and Shin.
That also goes for the past seven majors: Tseng won the LPGA Championship and Women's British crowns last year, and South Korea's So Yeon Ryu won the Women's Open. American Stacy Lewis took the first major of 2011, the Kraft Nabisco.
It's been a steady trend for five years. Of the past 20 majors, since 2008, Asian players have won 13, Americans four and Europeans two. The other was won by Mexico's Lorena Ochoa, who retired at age 28 in 2010.
The LPGA has changed its major schedule over the years, using its current format since 2001. And it will change again next year, when The Evian becomes the tour's fifth major. That tournament also was won by an Asian player this year: Park.
After the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama this week, in which American teenager Lexi Thompson will attempt to defend her title, the tour has an Asian swing in October and November, with events in Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. That will be followed Nov. 8-11 by the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico and a return to the United States for the CME Group Titleholders in Naples, Fla.
It seems fitting that this season, when Se Ri Pak's breakthrough year of 1998 was frequently referenced, there would be so many of the so-called Se Ri Kids succeeding on the tour. The memories of Pak's playoff win at the Women's Open 14 years ago were revisited because that event returned to the same site -- Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis. -- where Pak had won in '98.
Players such as Shin, who was 10 when Pak became a national legend in South Korea, credit Pak's influence. Now they are influencing today's young hopefuls in South Korea.
Feng is doing the same in China, while the likes of Ai Miyazato and Mika Miyazato inspire young Japanese golfers. Players of Asian descent -- including teen amateur Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who was born in South Korea -- have won the past eight events this season. The upcoming tournaments are closer to home and should have enthusiastic galleries.
Perhaps it's just as well that the Solheim Cup is contested next year. That at least gives the Americans and Europeans some time to get back into more of a winning mode to build enthusiasm for the team event in Denver in August 2013. Meanwhile, a long-discussed team event that includes Asian players seems increasingly imperative.
Lewis is still the top U.S. player on the money list in 2012; she finished tied for eighth Sunday at Royal Liverpool. And Creamer is one of the other Americans who seems nearest to making a big statement in the next year, even if she hasn't won this season. She has seven top-10 finishes in 2012, including at three of the majors and The Evian. She finished third Sunday, 10 strokes behind Shin, but was relatively satisfied with her game.
"I feel very close," Creamer said Sunday. "I hit the ball great. That was definitely not the issue. It was my putting for sure.
"I'm going to take a couple weeks off and try to refresh, but I have to continue moving forward with everything that I'm doing because, like I said, I feel really good about where I'm at. It's just a couple things here and there."
As all golfers know, "just a couple of things" can make a big difference when it comes to getting the winner's check.