Korea’s Best in Australia: Relentless Meets Relentless
It seems like yesterday when Ji Yai Shin of Korea came out of nowhere and started winning right and left on the tour. A fatal automobile accident had taken her mother and severely injured her siblings before Ji Yaiâ€™s first shocking year of success. Ever since, she has dedicated all of her victories on tour to her mother who, lamentably, was never able to watch her daughter win a tournament.
Ji Yai wasted no time in rushing to the top. The â€™06 Rookie of the Year has gathered ten tour wins, including two British Opens. Itâ€™s got to be extra scary to see a newcomer win a major like the British just in order to get her card. She was top money winner by the â€™09 season, shot a 62 at Kingsmill and finished twelve times in the top 5 in that first magical year. And from there, it got better.
We shouldnâ€™t have needed to hear Shinâ€™s bio again, but there are so many great players coming out of Asia now that sometimes we need reminding that this golfer has been perennially among the very best, all the time. What scares the competition most about Ji Yai is that she is â€œrelentless,â€ the kind of person who makes you want to say â€œOh, no, sheâ€™s here again?â€ The consistency with which she plays is legendary, and she stays far under par in average scoring for long stretches of time without coming up for air.
Shin was born in â€™88, which makes her around 24. By middle-age standards, that makes her a kid. By the standard of my age, that makes her a child. Yet, this week, sheâ€™s in the fight of her life, tied for the lead going into the last day of the Australian Open in Canberra with someone much, much younger. She was able to shake off everyone else but Lydia Ko, although a six-shot lead isnâ€™t as large as one thinks, and one shouldnâ€™t go into a last round ignoring the likes of Beatriz Recari and Yani Tseng. Stranger things have happened.
No, for this round, Ji Yai Shin will be the grand old lady, but donâ€™t harbor any visions of canes, film over the eyes or some krone doddering through the rough. Itâ€™s just that her rival for the last round is Lydia Ko, fifteen year-old Lydia Ko, of Korean descent and New Zealand citizenship. Some have used the term, the Seoul Sisters, but thatâ€™s a little kitchy to me, and suggests a sameness between them. These young women are powerfully individualistic, alike only in terms of talent and will.
Regarding that, though, the problem for Shin is that Lydia Ko is developing into a star very much in the same mold. It feels like Ko has been fourteen or fifteen forever. How old was she when she won the Canadian Open last year, after a brilliant stint as an amateur? I canâ€™t remember. Regardless, barring some charge from behind, thatâ€™s what weâ€™re looking at Sunday â€“ two relentless, absurdly talented young people who love playing this game.
Neither one is shying away from the head-to-head nature of the fourth round. In fact, they both bring it up as a preference. They will, of course, be paired together, and again, barring some great surprise such as one of Daniela Homqvistâ€™s black widows, neither will have to pay attention to anyone else on the course. They will go mano a mano, as in match play, and both of them like it. So, while weâ€™re being kitchy, letâ€™s call it â€œThe Duel Down Under.â€ Good? Oh, well.