Former No. 1 Shin eyes return after LPGA exodus

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Jiyai Shin says she is rekindling some of the passion she lost as the Rolex world No. 1, and it might lead her back to the LPGA.

Shin, who reigned atop the world rankings for 25 weeks in 2010 and early in 2011, is teeing it up at the Toto Japan Classic this week as a member of the Japan LPGA Tour, which has been her home since she gave up LPGA membership at the end of the 2013 season. She won four JLPGA titles last year and has won two there this year.

Shin, 27, left the LPGA saying she wanted to play full time in Asia again to be closer to family in South Korea. Shin has a residence in Japan now but says she travels to South Korea at least once a month to see her father and sister there. Her brother and stepmom are in Atlanta, where her brother is in school. Shin’s family suffered through heartache when Jiyai’s mother was killed in a car accident when Jiyai was 16. Jiyai’s brother and sister recovered from serious injuries in the same accident.

Shin says the fact that the JLPGA plays a lot of three-day tournaments also makes it easier for her to fly home.

“The U.S. LPGA flies all over the world,” Shin said. “That’s a good thing, but it’s a tough thing. Here in Japan, there’s much less travel.”

Shin is an 11-time LPGA winner with two major championships among those titles. She won three LPGA titles as a 20-year-old before she was even an LPGA member. She ascended to Rolex No. 1 at 22, but she was never comfortable there. 

“It was so exciting, and I was so happy, but I think that time came to me a little bit early,” Shin said. “It felt like I lost my passion, because I already made all my goals and I didn’t make another target or goal. I was enjoying it, but I lost the hunger.”

Shin proved herself on the Korean LPGA Tour a long time ago. She has won 21 KLPGA titles, and so she sought a new challenge in Japan. The Japan LPGA Tour has a full schedule with 37 events and healthy purses.

“I’m really enjoying Japan,” Shin said. “It’s a very different culture, with different players, so when I first came here I was a little bit lonely, but I have made a lot of friends in Japan now.”

Shin, who has recovered from the back and hand injuries that once plagued her, said her goal is to win the JLPGA Player of the Year Award, and then . . .

“After making that, I’m really thinking about going back to the U.S.,” she said.