Psst! Don't Look Now...
...but Jiyai Shin of South Korea just took a commanding lead in the LPGA Tour's race for 2009 Rolex Player of the Year. If she manages to hold on to that lead until the end of the season, she'll become the first LPGA player to win both Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year honors in the same year since Nancy Lopez did it in 1978.Â Â
At the start of the 2009 LPGA Tour season, many of us in the American media were excited by a possible Wie-Vicky Hurst-Stacy Lewis rookie race to drum up excitement for women's golf in the U.S. But if pressed, none of us would have argued that the Yankee trio was likely to get whipped by the already handsomely decorated Shin.Â
Don't forget, this is a player who won last year's British Open.Â
In fact, considering the number of worldwide wins Shin racked up while a member of the Korean LPGA Tour (26, in three years), including the major and two other U.S. LPGA Tour trophies she took home last year as a visitor, it's very difficult to consider her a rookie. But technically, that's exactly what she is.Â
So why doesn't Shin garner front-page coverage wherever she goes? Her stat sheet is phenomenal. At just 21, she has a resume that would be the envy of many of the world's most heralded players, male and female. Again, she is about to become the first woman in 31 years to be named both LPGA Rookie and Player of the Year. Could we ask for a bigger story? Probably not.
The problem is, Shin is not the LPGA's ideal poster girl. She looks a little frumpy. She doesn't hoot and holler or wear short skirts. When she first came over here, she barely spoke English. And American audiences don't know much about her, other than that she's one of 30-plus Koreans on the LPGA Tour and that she can obviously play.Â
But those who have paid attention have noticed that Shin is an incredibly sweet girl with more talent, grit and determination than most of her fellow-competitors combined. As she adds to her trophy case, she's also getting better at the language, taking frequent English lessons, doing her interviews translator-free and only allowing her caddie to speak to her in English. And with each win, she seems to reveal a more outgoing personality.Â
So while Jiyai Shin might not be at the top of many Americans' wish lists for next LPGA Tour superstar, or even a name many U.S. spectators know, we'd all better start paying attention. Because at the rate she's going, she may very well become the biggest player in the history of women's golf.Â