KLPGA golfers look to end big season on a high note
The 2021 KLPGA Tour will end this weekend with the SK Shieldus-SK Telecom Championship 2021 at Lavie Est Belle Golf & Resort in Chuncheon, Gangwon.
Choi Hye-jin won the last edition of the 54-hole, three-day stroke play event on the same course, when it was called the SK Telecom - ADT CAPS Championship 2020, carding a total of 12-under-par, 204. Choi was coming from a relatively quiet 2020 season after winning five titles in the previous 2019 season.
Just a week ahead of winning the SK Telecom Championship, she missed out on winning her first title of the 2020 season at the S-Oil Championship because the tournament was canceled after the first day due to bad weather. She had carded an eight-under-par to top the scoreboard after the first round, but lost the chance to continue her clutch performance all the way to the trophy. After finally winning her first title of the season at the very last event, Choi was in tears.
Choi will be looking to repeat that last-minute success this week, as she finds herself in the same situation with no wins yet this season. Choi has had seven top-10 finishes, two of which were runner-up finishes at the Hanwha Classic in August and Elcru-TV Chosun Pro Celebrity in September.
The 2021 season was an exceptionally successful season for the KLPGA, as the sport enjoyed an enormous boom in popularity. As well as the KLPGA Tour regaining most of the tournaments that were canceled last season due to Covid-19, golf has become much more popular during the pandemic, especially with younger Koreans, as other leisure activities were unavailable under social distancing regulations.
Golf courses enjoyed a record number of golfers on the course. A total of 1.66 million visited Jeju’s golf courses in the first seven months of this year, a 37.3 percent increase from the same period last year, according to government data. In addition, sales of golf-related products in department stores jumped up 7.8 percent.
Most KLPGA tournament broadcasts recorded the highest viewing rate ever since their inaugural events. For example, Kim Hyo-joo’s first KLPGA win of the season at the OKSavingsBank Se Ri Pak Invitational reached a record-high viewing rate of 1.418 percent. Kim Su-ji’s victory at the Hite Jinro Championship, the last major of the season, also reached the highest-ever viewing rate of 1.755 percent.
The KLPGA favorites that enjoyed the heightened popularity of golf this season the most are Park Min-ji and Lim Hee-jeong.
Park, who has been been on spectacular form this year, will be on the hunt for her seventh win of the season. After a blistering first half, she just narrowly missing out on her seventh trophy at the 21st Hite Jinro Championship in October and finishing tied for third at the Dongbu Construction Championship.
Her last three events were not as spectacular, finishing 70th at the BMW Ladies Championship and 32nd at the SK Networks Seokyung Ladies, but her eighth-place finish at the S-Oil Championship last week may be a sign that Park is getting back on her feet.
Park tops the KLPGA points table with 680 points, with Lim not far behind with 618 points, meaning that if Lim wins the SK Shieldus-SK Telecom Championship title she will add another 70 points. If that happens and Park does not finish in the top 10, Lim would win the points prize.
Despite having won just one title this season at the HighOne Resort Ladies Open 2021 in August, Lim has the third most top-10 finishes. Her last six events were all top-10 finishes, two of them as runner-up.
In the last week of October, Lim narrowly missed out on her first ever LPGA title at the BMW Championship after a sudden-death playoff against world No. 2 Ko Jin-young. Lim may have not won the event, but she still showed off her skills with an impeccable four bogeyless rounds.
Judging from her third place finish at the S-Oil Championship last week, Lim will have her eyes fixed on the last trophy of the season alongside the 78 other Korean golfers on the course this week.
The SK Shieldus-SK Telecom Championship starts Friday and ends on Sunday.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [firstname.lastname@example.org]