Three stars have sights set on countdown for Olympic gold

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Three stars have sights set on countdown for Olympic gold

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While the stars of 2015 KLPGA are now challenging the U.S. stage as second year LPGA pros, their ultimate goal is universal - a ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The fierce competition for the 2015 LPGA Rookie-of-the-year was eventually won by Kim Sei-young.

However, the competition was only a prequel before the actual showdown. At this point, Kim Sei-young, Kim Hyo-joo and Jang Ha-na are in a final countdown for the 2016 Rio Olympics. And 21-year-old Kim Hyo-joo and 24-year-old Jang, who each collected wins in their opening matches of 2016, have added more heat to the race.

Although it is still unknown which players will get a ticket to Rio, 23-year-old Kim Sei-young leads the group as world No.5. Kim Hyo-joo, who is ranked No.7 in the world, is not far behind, followed by Jang who is ranked at No.9.

The trio is ranked the top three in the Top 100 Money List for this season, according to the LPGA website. Jang and Kim Hyo-joo each collected over $200,000, while Kim Sei-young is closely behind at $170,000. In terms of Olympic qualifications ranking, Kim Sei-young is ranked second, Kim Hyo-joo fourth and Jang fifth.

Although Kim Sei-young is without a LPGA win so far this season, she was placed 2nd and 3rd in the two opening events. She also holds the best record among the three since her debut in the LPGA in 2015. Competing in 29 LPGA tours, Kim Sei-young holds three wins. She was also listed among the Top 10 players 13 times since 2015 while missing the cut only twice.

Kim Hyo-joo, in comparison, holds two wins and was named among the Top 10 players 10 times in the last 27 matches. Meanwhile, Jang records one win and was named among Top 10 players 9 times.

Aside from their report cards in golf, Kim Sei-young shows the most accomplishment in adapting to the language and the general vibe of the LPGA. Her language has improved to the point where she no longer requires an interpreter during interviews. Local media commended her for being able to present her speech in English so eloquently in such a short period of time. Jang is also able to conduct an interview without a translator comfortably. Kim Hyo-joo, however, still needs an interpreter.

The trio has a good chance of achieving a medal in Rio. The long drive and delicate iron shots are the strengths of Kim Sei-young and Jang. Kim Sei-young has a tremendous level of concentration and often pulls off miraculous clutch shots.

Dubbed ‘albatross girl’ owing to her historical albatross in the Pure Silk Bahamas Open on Jan. 31st, Jang currently ranks first for shot accuracy rate at 86.1 percent. For Kim Hyo-joo, her computer-like tee shots and stable swings are her forte. Her putting is also the strongest of the three.

When comparing the record as second year pros in the KLPGA, Kim Hyo-joo stands out, sweeping the most wins and prizes. For Jang, she saw her first KLPGA win during the second year in 2012 and claimed the championship of KLPGA tour in 2013. Kim Sei-young, however, had a bumpy ride in the first two years of her professional career at KLPGA. Regardless, she clinched three wins in 2013 as a third year KLPGA pro.

“My record in the second year at KLPGA is not outstanding,” said Kim Sei-young. “But the LPGA tour will be a different story.”

BY KIM DOO-YOUNG, CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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