Kelly Shon made a strong start in her LPGA rookie debut at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic last week, but she is up against some of the stiffest competition a player has ever faced in the Rolex Rookie of the Year race.
In fact, it almost doesn’t seem fair.
With perhaps the strongest rookie class in the history of the LPGA quickly making its presence felt, first-year tour members are already a large storyline.
How good is this class? Four LPGA “rookies” are ranked higher than major champions Paula Creamer and Mo Martin in this week’s Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Two of them won LPGA titles last year, before they actually took up LPGA rookie membership. One of them is already a major championship winner. Two of them are Korean LPGA Player of the Year Award winners.
“We can almost not call them rookies,” five-time major championship winner Inbee Park said. “I think this is probably one of the strongest rookie years that the LPGA is going to have.”
Rookie Sei Young Kim of South Korea won the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic Sunday with fellow rookie Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand tying for second after losing in a playoff. Rookie Ha Na Jang of South Korea was right there battling for a trophy at the season-opening Coates Golf Championship before tying for second.
We could easily have been witness to back-to-back victories by rookies to start this year with Jang coming so close.
Shon was on the leaderboard all week at Pure Silk and eventually tied for 11th in her first start as an LPGA rookie. She’s the first player from Princeton to earn a PGA Tour or LPGA card. She earned her tour membership at Q-School last December after turning pro and playing the Symetra Tour in 2014.
While Shon, 22, fits the profile that the word “rookie” conjures as a fledgling pro, she’s facing some formidable fellow rookies who are already proven world-class players.
Four players in this LPGA rookie class are among the top 23 in this week’s Rolex Women’s World Rankings:
Hyo-Joo Kim – Ranked No. 7 in the world, Kim won the Evian Championship last year as a KLPGA player. She deferred claiming the LPGA membership that came with the title until this year. Kim, 19, won six KLPGA titles last year while claiming that tour’s Player of the Year Award and money-winning title.
Q Baek – Ranked No. 11 in the world, Baek, 19, won an LPGA event last year, the HanaBank Championship. It was the first LPGA event she ever played. She played as Kyu-Jung Baek last year, just recently changing her name upon claiming 2015 LPGA rookie membership off her HanaBank title. She won four KLPGA titles last year while taking that tour’s Rookie of the Year award.
Ha Na Jang – Ranked No. 19 in the world, Jang, 22, was the KLPGA Player of the Year and leading money winner in 2013. She’s a six-time KLPGA winner.
Sei Young Kim – Ranked No. 23 in the world, Kim’s a power player, showing her strength hitting driver hard around the Ocean Club while winning the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic last week. Kim, 22, has won five KLPGA titles.
This year’s LPGA rookie class also includes Australia’s Minjee Lee, 18, the top amateur in the world before turning pro last year, and Jutanugarn, 19, who won a Ladies European Tour title when she was 17 and was ranked No. 15 in the world before injuring her shoulder. Plus, this class includes LET star Charley Hull, 18, and Americans Alison Lee, 19, and Cheyenne Woods, 24.
With a strong field playing the Pure Silk Bahamas, Shon fared well, setting herself up with Alison Lee as top American contenders for LPGA Rookie of the Year.
“I took a lot of positives out of it,” Shon said of her rookie debut. “I played a lot better than anyone expected, but I’m a little bummed, very bummed, actually. I feel like I left a lot of shots out there. I wish I had been able to make more putts.
“The more I was in it, the larger the possibilities I saw for myself, and that was awesome. I felt like I belong out here, and I’m really excited about my future.”
LPGA Rolex Rookie of the Year point standings
|1. Sei Young Kim||South Korea||150|
|2. Ariya Jutanugarn||Thailand||128|
|3. Ha Na Jang||South Korea||95|
|4. Minjee Lee||Australia||69|
|5. Kelly Shon||United States||48|
|6. Alison Lee||United States||44|
* An LPGA victory is worth 150 points, second place worth 80, third worth 75 with points awarded down to 40th place. Points are double in majors.