Ushering in New Era
By Jonathan Sanfilippo
Competing in the Women's British Open made Shin Ji-yai nervous. Really nervous.
She had trouble sleeping. She felt aches in her stomach. She even had to take bathroom breaks during the tournament.
``Yeah, I'm just nervous,'' she said on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA)'s Web site.
But even as the tournament came down to the final holes and more and more pressure mounted, Shin never let her anxiety hinder her performance. The up-and-coming star from South Korea overcame her jitters and shot a 6-under-par 66 in Sunday's final round in Sunningdale, England, to win the first major championship of her career.
"My whole life, I've been waiting for this time and my dream comes true now," Shin said after becoming the youngest Women's British Open winner in history at the age of 20 years, 3 months, 6 days.
Shin finished the tournament with a four-day score of 18-under 270. She earned $314,464 (320 million won) in prize money and captured her first professional victory outside of Asia, after compiling 21 wins in Korea and Japan earlier in her career.
Shin, who was one shot off the lead heading into the final round, tallied six birdies and had no bogeys on Sunday. After birdying four of the first 10 holes, she sunk a 40-foot putt to birdie the par-3 13th and added another birdie on the par-5 14th, before shooting par the rest of the round to maintain the lead.
``My driver and my iron, putting, everything was very well, very good,'' Shin said.
Shin's performance highlighted a tournament in which the top five players where all from Asia.
Taiwan's Yani Tseng shot a 66 in the final found to finish in second place with a total of 15-under 273. South Korea's Ji Eun-hee (67) and Japan's Yuri Fudoh (71), the leader after three rounds, tied for third at 274, while Japan's Ai Miyazato (70) finished fifth at 275.
``I feel a lot of confidence,'' Tseng said. ``I know that I can do it and just every week, I know what I'm going to do, and I know I can be at the top of the leaderboard.''
The British Open, which began with 31 South Korean players in the field, was the third consecutive major tournament won by an Asian player, after Tseng captured the title at the LPGA Championship and South Korea's Park In-bee won the Women's U.S. Open earlier this year.
``I think we all knew that there are so many and they are playing so good, so consistent, and they work so hard,'' Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa said of Asian players' increasing dominance in women's golf. ``I think it's something that so many of them had a good week again for a few of them. I'm going to really think on that. I think about my game, and I need to improve, and I learned a lot this week, and I'm going to prepare for the next part of the season.''
Ochoa, the No. 1-ranked women's player in the world and 2007 British Open champion, shot a 69 on Sunday and finished tied for seventh at 277.
Another golf icon, Annika Sorenstam of Sweden, was playing the final major of her career after announcing earlier in the year that she would retire at the end of the season. She shot a 68 and finished tied for 24th at 282, but birdied the 18th hole and drew a loud ovation from the crowd.
``Well, it's amazing, when I made the corner from the leaderboard, it says, 'Annika, you'll be missed,''' Sorenstam said. ``And I thought that was very special, and I waved at the guys, and they clapped, and I came up 18 and everybody was cheering. You know, it just makes you feel good when you get that type of applause.
``You know, I've been out here for 15 years, and I've experienced a lot of joy, a few setbacks, but overall, it's been great. All of a sudden, everything just reflects on your mind and you're just grateful.''
While the Women's British Open signaled that Sorenstam's career is coming to a close, it also proved that Shin could compete with the best golfers on the planet.
``She's very good,'' Ochoa said. ``I actually played with her, and she pretty much dominates.''
With the win, Shin, who is ranked 10th in the world and No. 1 in the Korean LPGA, became eligible to compete in the British Open for the next 10 years in addition to qualifying for this year's 32-player ADT Championship.
She also became the sixth South Korean to win a major title, following her childhood hero, Pak Se-ri (LPGA Championship in 1998, 2002 and 2006; 1998 Women's U.S. Open; 2001 Women's British Open), along with Grace Park (2004 Kraft Nabisco), Jang Jeong (2005 Women's British Open), Birdie Kim (2005 Women's U.S. Open), Park In-bee (2008 Women's U.S. Open)
``I'm watching her and still she's my hero,'' Shin said of Pak.
After dominating events in Asia the past few years and winning the latest British Open, Shin said next year she would join the U.S. LPGA Tour, which is considered the top women's golf tour in the world.
``I want to play here, because very big tournaments, many big tournaments and great players,'' she said. ``Yeah, I want to play here.''
But on Monday, Shin planned on returning home to Korea. She might need rest after a nervous weekend.