So who among my 15 nominees for the Best 2009 in Women's Golf award were my finalists? It came down to the top players from the KLPGA (Hee Kyung Seo), JLPGA (Sakura Yokomine), and LPGA (Lorena Ochoa and Ji-Yai Shin). Because Seo's and Yokomine's wins and majors came against fields that were neither as strong nor as deep as can be found week in and week out on the LPGA, it came down in the end to Ochoa and Shin.
So why did I pick the latter for this coveted Mostly Harmless award, when I put the former #1 in my year-end Best of the LPGA ranking? Bottom line for me: Shin's win on the 2nd-strongest tour in the world of women's golf, which made her the #5-ranked player in my Best Off the LPGA ranking of the JLPGA's finest. At that event, Shin beat Akiko Fukushima and Yuko Mitsuka in a playoff, beat Shinobu Moromizato, Chie Arimura, and Ji-Hee Lee by 2, and outpaced Yokomine, Mi-Jeong Jeon, Miho Koga, Bo-Bae Song, and Stacy Lewis, all of whom are world-class golfers and many of whom made my list of nominees for this award.
Not only did Shin out-win and out-earn Ochoa in 2009, she did it while travelling around the world and adjusting to life on the LPGA and in the United States. For more on how impressive Shin's 2009 was, check out Happy Fan's reasoning for giving her a Seoulie for Player of the Year over at the Seoul Sisters blog. He makes the point that for all the talk in the American golf media about what an off-year Ochoa had last season, Shin, too, struggled to meet her own standards and expectations. So this season should be seen as a "comeback year" for the top 2 female golfers of 2009. As Tim Maitland has shown, Shin's hardly content to rest on her laurels.
It'll be interesting to see if Shin and Ochoa can continue to outpace their lead chase pack--consisting of at least Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer, Ai Miyazato, Na Yeon Choi, In-Kyung Kim, Angela Stanford, Ya Ni Tseng, Anna Nordqvist, and Michelle Wie from the LPGA, as well as the top players from the JLPGA, KLPGA, and LET in 2009--who are all breathing down their necks. It's going to be a challenge for anyone on the LPGA to win more than once in 2010, so if Yokomine, Seo, and company win a lot on their home tours and play better when they compete off of them, they might well be able to outshine even the top LPGAers this season. We'll see!