GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP) — Jiyai Shin is on the verge of sweeping both the LPGA’s rookie and player of the year awards.
The South Korean has already clinched the rookie award and leads Lorena Ochoa by four points in the player of the year race going into the final two tournaments of the season – this week’s Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico, and the LPGA Tour Championship next week in Houston.
So does that make her the best of the 47 talented South Koreans who play on the LPGA Tour?
“Well, that’s a really hard question,” replied the 21-year-old Shin, hedging with a large grin but hinting she’s getting famous back home.
“I’m not huge yet, but I’m getting a little bit bigger.”
Shin also leads the money list, which would make it a clean sweep and might signal the arrival of the next dominating player in the women’s game.
No South Korean – not even veteran Se Ri Pak – has finished No. 1 on the money list, and no Korean has ever been player of the year. Shin is the sixth Korean to win rookie of the year.
“At the beginning of the season my goal was rookie of the year,” Shin said. “But I’ve already made that and now I have a chance for player of the year, too. … There’s no pressure because I have already made my goal. Player of the year is a bonus thing for me.”
Shin has won three times this season, and she won three times last year on the LPGA Tour before she was even a member, including a victory in the 2008 Women’s British Open. If she wins Ochoa’s tournament on Sunday – and Ochoa finishes eighth or lower – Shin will be the player of the year.
Ochoa, the game’s top-ranked player, has won that award three straight times.
The last player to pull off the double was Nancy Lopez in 1978.
Besides Shin and Ochoa, a few other players have mathematical chances at player of the year, but they are long shots. They include: Cristie Kerr, Ai Miyazato, Yani Tseng, Suzann Pettersen, Na Yeon Choi and Angela Stanford.
Shin grins continually and is mastering English. Barely a year ago she needed an interpreter after winning the Women’s British Open. Now she handles interviews on her own. She also loves to sing and has put out a CD, which she said Ochoa is always begging her to play.
“All the time she says she wants to hear my song – the English version,” Shin said.
Her rapid success belies horrible tragedy.
She was hitting balls in 2003 on a practice range in Korea when her mother and two siblings – a younger brother and sister – were injured in a car crash. Her mother died from the injuries and her two siblings were confined to a hospital for a year. Shin said she spent many nights on a chair or a cot at the hospital.
“I had to care for my brother and sister because my mom was already gone,” she said on the eve of Ochoa’s tournament. “Now my feelings are fine because it was a long time ago. For a couple of years it was really hard because my heart was broken.”
Last Sunday marked the sixth anniversary of her mother’s death. Though her mother followed her career, she never saw her win. Shin won her first tournament four months after her mother’s death in a Korean amateur event.
She turned pro after the 2005 season and hasn’t stopping winning – as a pro in Korea and now with the LPGA.
“My mom always cares for me,” Shin said. “My aunt dreams mom’s really busy in heaven running back and forth.”