03 Feb 2020 | Vic Open |
Beaming Jiyai still has what it takes
by Mark Hayes
It's sometimes easy to forget players when they're not "on Broadway".
But if you're skimming the ISPS Handa Vic Open field and assessing winning chances, overlook Jiyai Shin at your peril.
Shin, still just 31, is a player of the highest calibre - a dual major champion who was the first Asian to top the world rankings, women's or men's.
Many in this neck of the woods recall her twin major championships, her epic duel with Karrie Webb in the 2008 Women's Australian Open, her subsequent win in our national championship in 2013 and other Aussie wins including the Canberra Classic and Ladies Masters.
But they are just a drop in the golfing ocean that has yielded 57 professional victories worldwide, including the Evian Championship before it was a major.
And that number continues to grow, albeit largely out of the spotlight.
In Japan, where the Korean legend has played for six seasons so that she can be nearer her family, Shin has rarely left the world's top 30.
So good is the diminutive right-hander that since winning the 2018 season-ending Japan tour championship, she has a phenomenal 19 top-10 finishes, including three victories.
It's enough to still have her on the fringe of Olympic calculations, despite the small armada of Korean champions plying their trade on the LPGA Tour.
"It's hard to be No.1 because the (world rankings) points are a little bit different in Japan than what's available in the US," Shin said during a break in practice today at 13th Beach Golf Links in Barwon Heads.
"But yes, I hope I'm still competitive when I get the chance.
"If I have a chance (to play the Olympic Games), of course I would love it.
"Especially in Japan. I've played there six years and pretty much know all conditions, grasses and the weather.
"And I have a few months to catch up (fellow Koreans on the Olympic qualification standings - she is, incredibly, 11th looking to climb to at least fourth despite being world No.25).
"This week and next (in Adelaide) are really important to do that because they are with the LPGA (Tour) and have a lot more points."
But as good as Shin is with clubs in hand, she's even better off course and renowned for her enthusiasm, generosity and social nature.
"It's like my second home - it's exciting, it's comfy, I'm really happy to come back every year," Shin said.
"Australian people are so nice and friendly to me, that's one of the things I love about being here."
ALPG chief executive Karen Lunn said Shin's attitude was legendary among the membership.
"She's a legend in the ALPG, she's been coming here for years and, despite having been the No.1 player in the world for quite a while, she never puts her hand to take something, she always gives," Lunn said.
"Many in her position would ask if they could get hotel rooms or airfares or appearance money, but Jiyai just turns up and asks us what she can do to help the tournaments.
"I think sometimes people outside (the immediate golfing community) forget how good a player she still is.
"She was second on the Japan money list last year and she's always had great success here in Australia.
"And she's just so nice (and) really funny. She makes an effort to get to know her fellow ALPG members ... and they all love her back."
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