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Published: Wednesday, 7/1/2009

Shin makes run at Lopez record

If the season ended today, Jiyai Shin would be the LPGA's rookie of the year, its leading money winner and its player of the year. If the season ended today, Jiyai Shin would be the LPGA's rookie of the year, its leading money winner and its player of the year.
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History crossed paths with history in the making Tuesday at Highland Meadows Golf Club.

As 52-year-old Nancy Lopez teed off at No. 10 in a pro-celebrity challenge event, 21-year-old Jiyai Shin walked off the course after a practice round and headed for a media session.

Shin is a Korean rookie on the LPGA Tour, albeit one experienced beyond her years, who will be playing in the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic that starts Thursday.

If the season ended at this very moment, Shin would be the tour's rookie of the year, its leading money winner and its player of the year.

The last time the planets and their moons all lined up for such a triple-crown accomplishment was in 1978. The player was Lopez, who also won the Vare Trophy that year for low scoring average.

"I take my hat off to her," Lopez said of Shin. "She is working hard on her English, she works hard on her game, has a good attitude and seems like a nice, well-rounded kid. How old is she? Well, she's a kid to me. I'm happy for her success. Look what she has done against some of our best fields. It's certainly not easy to do that in your rookie year."

That's true. What's also true is that Shin is a rookie only by the tour's definition of a first-year member.

She turned professional at the age of 17 and played in 18 LPGA events prior to the start of this season. A year ago, she won three times, including a major at the British Open, in 10 starts and earned nearly $1.7 million.

As an official LPGA member, Shin has added two wins this year, including last week's event in Rochester, where she passed the $1 million mark in '09 earnings.

She is No. 1 on the tour's money list by some $150,000 over Cristie Kerr, has a slender lead over Kerr in player-of-the-year points and has double the number of points compiled by Michelle Wie and Anna Nordqvist, her closest competitors in the rookie-of-the-year race.

Shin was 10 years old in 1998 when Se Ri Pak, the Pied Piper of Korean women's golf on the LPGA Tour, won two major championships and the first of her five Farr Classic titles.

"Korean players the same age as me, we watched Se Ri Pak and then we started [playing]," Shin said. "Se Ri opened the door, and now we're here. I thank her for that."

There was serious hardship along the way, though.

Shin's mother was killed in an auto accident in 2003. The shock was magnified when injuries suffered by a younger brother and sister caused both to be hospitalized for nearly one year.

"I stayed with them in the hospital," she said. "I would leave to practice golf for five or six hours and then would go back to stay with them at night. It gave to me a strong mind. Before my mom passed away, I had no wins. Four months after, I won my first tournament. People told me my mom was helping me from the sky. I [dedicate] every win to her. My will to win is strong."

Her statistics indicate her game is just as strong. She had 23 victories worldwide, many of them on the Korean women's tour, before joining the LPGA this year. And, in '09, she is tied for first in driving accuracy and third in greens-in-regulation, a volatile daily double that has led to 33 subpar rounds in 45 tries.

"It has been a lot of practice," is Shin's explanation for such success. "There are so many great players on LPGA Tour, so [to have won] five times, I'm very, very surprised.

"My goal for this year is to win only rookie of the year. I've been very lucky so far. I have chance for player of year, too, right now, but we still have a lot of tournaments. I can only try my best."

Shin knows of Nancy

Lopez and seems familiar with her legend, forged in large part by that spectacular rookie season of 1978.

And Lopez knows Shin.

"To tell you the truth, I'd like to hang on to some of my records," Lopez said, laughing.

The young Korean, suddenly as dominant as any player in the women's game, may or may not cooperate.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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