Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sun-Ju Ahn's Amazing Year

One year ago today, Sun-Ju Ahn was hanging out at #71 in the Rolex Rankings, averaging a mere 1.70 points per start. Unlike her former KLPGA rival Ji-Yai Shin, who was closing fast on then-world #1 Lorena Ochoa, Ahn's career seemed to be going nowhere fast. Even after earning her JLPGA card for the 2010 season by finishing 2nd at their Q-School in early December, she was still at #71 but down to 1.67 points. She had lost a spot and dwindled to 1.45 points by early March of this year, right before the start of the JLPGA season. At that point, Sakura Yokomine was the top-ranked JLPGA regular, at #15 with 4.56 points.

Flash forward to yesterday, and you'll see that Yokomine moved up to #13 with 5.73 points--and that Ahn blasted past her to #11 with 7.27 points. That's what 4 golds, a silver, 2 bronzes, and 14 total top 5s in 26 starts on the 2nd-toughest women's tour on the planet will do for you. 3 of her wins came during a 10-event run late in the season where she never finished outside the top 5. I don't know if she'll be able to become the 5th player in JLPGA history to crack the 150-million-yen barrier in season winnings this week at the Ricoh Cup, but I do know that her chances of winning went up when Ji-Yai Shin, Ai Miyazato, and Morgan Pressel turned down their invitations into the tour's season-ending major (although she will have to outdo the visiting Mika Miyazato). Whatever happens, though, Ahn has the satisfaction of becoming the 2nd-ever non-Japanese winner of the JLPGA's money-list title to last her for the rest of her career.

What'll Ahn do for an encore? From what I've been able to gather with my limited Japanese, it looks like she's seeking to become the 1st repeat money-list title-holder on the JLPGA since Yuri Fudoh. After that? It'll be interesting to see if she decides to follow in the footsteps of Ai Miyazato, Momoko Ueda, and Shiho Oyama and seek dual LPGA-JLPGA membership, or whether she'll take her cue from Fudoh and other top Koreans on the JLPGA like Mi-Jeong Jeon, Ji-Hee Lee, and Hyun-Ju Shin, who have never sought LPGA membership--or Bo-Bae Song, who turned it down even after winning the 2009 Mizuno Classic. Where Ahn and fellow JLPGA rookies who had outstanding 2010s like Inbee Park, Young Kim, and Na-Ri Kim decide to focus their energies the rest of the decade will say a lot about what direction of the globalization of women's golf is headed. Will the LPGA remain the top tour on the planet, or will we start to see more parity between the LPGA and JLPGA--kind of like what we're starting to see happen with the PGA and European tours in the men's game?

[Update 1 (11/30/10, 4:20 am): Ahn just jumped to #9 in this week's Rolex Rankings!]

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