|Madrid Ladies Masters champion Azahara Muñoz |
The Ryder Cup Wales Rookie of the Year Award can boast many luminaries of women’s golf as former winners and gives an accurate indication of whom to look out for in future years. Past recipients include Annika Sörenstam, Helen Alfredsson, Laura Davies, Trish Johnson, Karrie Webb, Laura Diaz, Suzann Pettersen, Minea Blomqvist, Melissa Reid and of course last year’s winner, Anna Nordqvist from Sweden who shot to stardom in 2009 with two victories and a Solheim Cup appearance.
This year there is a diverse class of first year competitors on the LET who between them represent 14 countries and speak a number of different languages. The USA leads the way with eight rookies, while there are six representatives from England, five from Korea and three from each of Spain and Sweden. There are two each from Australia, Japan and Scotland, with one from each of Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Wales.
With the start of the 2010 Ladies European Tour season at the Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open, hosted by Christchurch, just weeks away, here are pen-portraits of the 37 players to watch out for and why as they play their first full season as a member of the LET, starting with those players who joined as event champions in 2009…
Azahara Muñoz, 22, SpainBrought up in Malaga, southern Spain, Azahara Muñoz, known as “Aza” to her friends, is a real contender for the Ryder Cup Wales Rookie of the Year Award. A member of the Spanish National Team, Muñoz enjoyed a successful amateur career, winning the 2002 Spanish Amateur Championship and finishing runner-up at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. She won the British Women’s Amateur championship at Royal St. David’s in June 2009, defeating fellow Spaniard Carlota Ciganda in the final. At Arizona State University, Muñoz was the 2009 NCAA Individual National Champion, as she led the Sun Devils to the team National Championship as well. As a junior, Muñoz represented Europe on the Junior Solheim Cup Team in 2002, 2003 and 2005. She turned professional in September 2009 and shot to prominence by winning the Madrid Ladies Masters on her professional debut on the Ladies European Tour (LET) in early October. She defeated LPGA Major Champion and former Sun Devil Anna Nordqvist with an eagle three at the par five18th in a play-off after both players had tied. Muñoz is also a first year member of the LPGA Tour. Outside of golf, Muñoz enjoys playing tennis, shopping and spending time with her friends.
Odds to be rookie of the year – 7/2 (Skybet)Odds to win on the LPGA Tour – 4/1 (Skybet)Odds to win a Major – 25/1 (Skybet)
Ai Miyazato, 24, JapanMiyazato, from Okinawa, is a millionaire rookie on the LET! She turned professional in October 2003 and competed on the JLPGA in 2004 and 2005, during which time she collected 11 events and also won the 2005 Women’s World Cup of Golf at Fancourt in South Africa with with Rui Kitada, representing Japan. She really came of age in 2009, which was the sixth year of her pro career. In July 2009, she won the Evian Masters presented by Societe Generale in France, which was a co-sanctioned event between the LPGA and the LET. She defeated Sophie Gustafson of Sweden with a birdie on the first play-off hole. She also finished second at the Samsung World Championship and tied for second at the CN Canadian Women’s Open; as well as tying for third at the RICOH Women’s British Open; her career-best finish at a major championship. She crossed the US$3 million mark in career earnings with her tie for 10th at the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship Presented by John Q. Hammons. Miyazato is incredibly popular in Japan and signs her name “Ai 54”.
|Evian Masters winner Ai Miyazato ||
Bo Mi Suh, 28, South KoreaBo Mi Suh, from Seoul, joined the LET after winning the 2009 Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open in China, which was a co-sanctioned event between the Ladies European Tour and Ladies Asian Golf Tour. The little known 28-year-old, who was also member of the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA), earned her first title in five years as a professional with a one stroke victory over Gwladys Nocera. She held a two stroke lead going into the final round and maintained her advantage over a cool and windy final day at Suzhou Taihu International Golf Club in Suzhou, 160 kilometres north of Shanghai. She sealed the win with a clutch birdie putt at the final hole to earn the €30,000 first prize. Suh added a final round of 72 to her opening rounds of 69 and 69 for a 54-hole total of 210, six under par.
|Bo Mi Suh |
Hyun-Ji Kim, 21, South KoreaKorean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) member Hyun-Ji Kim won three times on the Dream Tour, which is the feeder tour to the KLPGA, before finally breaking her duck at the 2009 Daishin Securities Korean Ladies Masters. The tournament, played at Cypress Golf & Resort in Jeju, was co-sanctioned between the KLPGA and the Ladies European Tour. Prior to this, taekwondo black belt Kim’s best finish on the KLPGA was second at the BC Card Classic, where she lost to Jiyai Shin in a play-off. Kim defeated compatriots So-Yeon Ryu and Sarah Lee in a play-off for her first KLPGA title, eventually sealing the win on Monday morning after darkness fell.
|Hyun-Ji Kim, who won in Korea||
In-Kyung Kim, 21, South KoreaIn-Kyung Kim is another millionaire rookie on the LET, having already played three seasons on the LPGA! She earned co-medalist honours at the LPGA Final Qualifying tournament in 2006 as an amateur to earn fully exempt status for the 2007 season. In her rookie year she recorded four top-10 finishes on the LPGA, including 5 top 5s. In 2008, she had seven top-10 finishes and earned her first win at the Longs Drugs Challenge. In June 2009 she claimed her second career title with a one shot win over compatriot Se Ri Park to take the State Farm Classic. In December 2009, she won her third professional title: the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour by three strokes from Michelle Wie. Away from golf, Kim enjoys playing the guitar.
|Omega Dubai Ladies Masterschampion In-Kyung Kim|