Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu, Na Yeon Choi, and IK Kim are very likely going to be teammates in July at the LPGA International Crown, July 24-27 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mill, Maryland. The new biennial, global match play event will bring together 32 players representing 8 countries who will battle for recognition as the world’s best golf nation But the teams won’t be finalized until the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April and there’s a lot of golf to be played between now and then. Inbee Park’s coming into the 2014 season with a tenuous hold on the No 1 Rolex Rank. Could Ryu, Choi, or Kim eclipse Park over the next 10 weeks, seize the top spot in the Rolex Rankings, and lead the South Korean 2014 International Crown team? Let’s take a closer look.
So Yeon Ryu, Rolex Ranked No. 5
The 2012 Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year is Inbee Park’s closest challenger. Ryu was a 6-time winner on the Korean LPGA before she joined the LPGA Tour in 2012 and she’s built an impressive resume over her past 2 years on the Tour. She won the US Women’s Open in 2011 and the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic in 2012 and although Ryu didn’t have a win in 2013 she had a superb season with 10 top-10 finishes, including 2nd place at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, 3rd place at the US Women’s Open, a tie for 4th at The Evian Championship, and a strong end-of season finish at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational and the CME Group Titleholders.
Ryu played consistent world-class golf in 2013, and in contrast to Park, whose performance declined dramatically in the 2nd half of the 2013 season, Ryu’s game stayed strong and sharp. She’s starting her 3rd year on the LPGA Tour, and I think she’s going to prove Park’s most serious challenger.
Na Yeon Choi, Rolex Ranked No. 7
Choi, who’s been playing on the LPGA Tour since 2008, is coming into the 2014 season holding the 7th spot in the Rolex Rankings. Like Park and Ryu, Na Yeon Choi is a US Women’s Open winner (2012), and she’s a consistent, high-quality player. Since joining the LPGA Tour in 2008, Choi has ranked in the top-10 each season in birdies, scoring average, rounds under par, rounds in the 60s and top-10 finishes.
Choi entered 24 events in 2013 and made 24 cuts. She had 8 top-10 finishes and they were scattered across the season, from a 7th place finish in February at the Honda LPGA Thailand to tie for 9th place at the Wegman’s LPGA Championship in June to a tied 2nd place finish at the RICOH Women’s British Open in August to a 5th place finish at the Reignwood LPGA Classic in October. She’s coming into 2014 with a deeper level of experience than Ryu and a proven ability to maintain a steady, season-long pace. With a strong mental game and a consistent technical game, Choi’s very much in the mix.
IK Kim, Rolex Ranked No. 10
IK Kim, like Inbee Park, joined the LPGA Tour in 2007. She claimed her first LPGA victory in 2008 at the Long’s Drugs Challenge and her second win at the 2009 LPGA State Farm Classic. Kim won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in 2010 and crossed the $5 million mark in earnings in 2011.
Kim’s been winless since 2010, but she’s been playing very fine golf. Her 8 top-10 finishes in 2013 included 2nd place finishes at the Kia Classic and the US Women’s Open and a tie for 5th at the CN Canadian Women’s Open. Although Kim’s a consistent golfer, she’s the least likely of the three to successfully challenge Inbee Park’s hold on the top slot in the Rolex Rankings.
Pure Silk-Bahamas 2014
When the players tee off at the Ocean Club Golf Course on Paradise Island in 10 days we’ll be able to get a closer look at Inbee Park’s competition. Will Park have her putter working? Will So Yeon Ryu outplay the Serene Queen? How will Na Yeon Choi and IK Kim fit into the mix.
As I watch the Pure Silk-Bahamas unfold I’ll be thinking about these 4 players as a potential match play team at the LPGA International Crown in July as well as competitors for a huge purse waiting at the season’s end Race to the CME Globe. I hope Inbee Park’s prediction proves correct: The new, season-long scoring system will fuel everyone’s effort on the course this year.