Plenty of Upside


2007 Kraft Nabisco ChampionshipRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. ' This was Lorena Ochoas first close-up inspection of the greatest threat to her No. 1 world ranking.
Thursdays first round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship marked the first time Ochoa got to play with South Koreas Jiyai Shin.
Apologies to world No. 2 Yani Tseng, but Shin, whos No. 3, appears most equipped to make a serious run at Ochoa.
With 27 professional titles around the world at the age of 20, four of them LPGA events, one of them a major championship, Shin has already fashioned a reputation as a fierce closer. Shes known in Asia as Final Round Queen.
Shin outplayed the Kraft Nabiscos defending champion on Day 1, shooting an even-par 72 to Ochoas 73.
What did Ochoa think of her?
She liked her, of course.
The two of them looked like dear old friends walking side by side up the 18th fairway, engrossed in a conversation that made you think it was a practice round instead of the start of the years first major.
Yes, Ochoa may be the most cordial star in sports today, but Shins a special personality, too.
Thats what tour pros and fans are quickly discovering about this unusual LPGA rookie.
At 5-foot-1, with her powerful, compact build, Shin may not be cut in the statuesque mold that Madison Avenue craves, but she is packed full of promise that goes beyond shot-making skills.
Shin just might be the kind of player the tours been waiting for, a player who can connect American fans in meaningful ways with Asias growing influence on the tour.
Though Shins English is a work in progress, her command grows by the day. She and Ochoa conversed in English.
Jiyais very charismatic, a very happy person, Ochoa said. I think shes going to be very good for the tour.
With so many South Koreans flooding LPGA Tour leaderboards, with the language barrier a sensitive issue that caused such a furor last year when the tour briefly proposed enforcing English speaking requirements, the tour faces a fundamental challenge.
How do you market South Koreas growing dominance to American fans?
Among players tied for sixth or better after Thursdays first round, five are Asian.
Dean Herden, Shins caddie, believes Shin could be an important personality who helps bridge the gap on tour. Shes always working on her English, engaging even strangers in banter to improve her command.
When people get to know her, theyre going to love her, Herden said.
Shin gained her first meaningful worldwide fame when she won the Ricoh Womens British Open last summer as a non-member of the LPGA. She also won the Mizuno Classic and the ADT Championship, which boasted the richest first-place check in womens golf ($1 million). She became the first non-member to win three LPGA events. Shin took up LPGA membership this season and won the HSBC Womens Championship in her third start. She finished second to Karrie Webb in last weeks J Golf Phoenix LPGA International.
Fans are coming to appreciate Shins expressive demeanor as much as her shot making. Shes able to communicate charm without words.
When she won the Womens British Open, commentators noted how her mannerisms won over even the crustiest British golf fans.
At the finishing hole Thursday, Shin showed how she did that.
After hitting her approach to 10 feet at the final hole, the gallery let loose a whoop. She smiled and bowed and the gallery cheered again.
People like her mannerisms, the way she looks them in the eye and connects, Herden said. After a bad shot, she giggles and moves on. I think you see a lot of Koreans under enormous pressure to perform when they come over here, and you see the effect that can have, but Jiyais very open, very relaxed. I think it has a lot to do with what shes gone through in life.
When Shin was 14, her mother, Song Suk Na, was killed in South Korea when a garbage truck broadsided her car. Her mother was on her way to a birthday party with Jiyais younger brother and sister. Her brother, Ji Hon Hon, 7 at the time, fractured his neck. Her sister, Ji Won, 13 at the time, suffered fractures of her left shoulder and right leg.
Jiyai got the bad news while working on her game at a driving range. Her father, Je Seop, was working.
Shin moved into the hospital, staying almost a year while her brother and sister recuperated.
I think about my mother a lot, Shin said. I believe she looks after me. I look after my brother and sister now.
Herden says the accident shaped Shins outlook on life.
Im sure she hit rock bottom when all that happened, Herden said. Today, shes so grateful for everything life brings her. I think its because of that experience. Even on the golf course, she never gets flustered.
Ochoa saw it first hand Thursday, and she thinks American galleries will warm to what she saw.

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