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Golf - 26. June 2007.

Seo-Jae Lee Becomes First Korean Winner This Season


 

BATAVIA, Ohio, June 24, 2007

 

Lee took the lead with a birdie on the second hole and never looked back, rolling in a six-footer on the 13th and three-foot birdie on the last hole to card a three-under-par round of 69. That gave her a winning three-day total of 201 (-15) at The Golf Club at Stonelick Hills – and the best winning score in 11 tournaments this season. Lee became only the second international player to win this season, following Sofie Andersson of Sweden.

 

Lee edged runners-up Eunjung Yi (69) of Murrieta, Calif., and Violeta Retamoza (72) of Aguascalientes, Mexico, who tied for second at 204 (-12). Mollie Fankhauser of Columbus, Ohio blistered the course in today’s final round with a nine-under-par round of 63 to cruise into fourth place at 206 (-10).

 

“I’m really excited to win because my daddy caddied for me,” said Lee, 18, of Seoul, Korea. “He drives the car, carries the bag and cooks for me. This is a thank-you for my daddy.”

 

But while Young Ho Lee certainly seemed like the proud papa, if he had known a little more about one of the more intriguing statistics on the Duramed FUTURES Tour this season, he might have smiled even more. With her win, Lee ended the season mystery of why Korean members had not yet won in 2007.

 

While that might seem to be an odd concern outside the Tour’s circle of members and close followers, consider that South Koreans comprise the largest group of non-U.S. citizens, with 35 players who are members of the Duramed FUTURES Tour.  Including Lee’s win today, Koreans have collected 35 wins on the Tour since 1999, with 18 different players earning victories.

 

South Korean players have averaged winning just over four tournaments each year since 1999, with only one year – 2000 – in which no Koreans emerged as victors. By June 25th last year, for example, Koreans had won five tournaments on the Duramed FUTURES Tour. That fact and the lack of 2007 Korean winners before today begged the question: Why have no Koreans won in 2007?

 

“I don’t know why, but I’m happy to win,” said Lee, who is still learning English. “Maybe players the same age as me [have gone] up and play on the LPGA Tour now.”

 

That point is true. Many of Lee’s friends from Korea played on the Duramed FUTURES Tour last year. Teenagers Song-Hee Kim, Angela Park and In-Bee Park all played on the 2006 Tour and moved on to the LPGA Tour this year. In-Kyung Kim came to the Tour’s Qualifying Tournament last year, but earned exempt 2007 LPGA status.

 

“I would have [played on the Duramed FUTURES Tour] last year, but I came to America too late,” said Lee. “I think it is better to start here to improve my golf and improve myself.”

 

But with her win, Lee joins an impressive group of South Korean alums who have passed through here on their way to the LPGA Tour. Grace Park became the first Korean winner on the Duramed FUTURES Tour with five wins in 1999. Koreans won five times in 2001, twice in 2002, three times in 2003, five times in both 2004 and 2005, and a record nine times in 2006, paced by five-time winner Song-Hee Kim. In addition to Grace Park and last year’s Player of the Year Song-Hee Kim, alums include Ju “Birdie” Kim (three wins), Jung Yeon “Sarah” Lee (2), Jimin Kang (3), Kyeong Bae (2), Naree Song (1) and last year’s LPGA rookie of the year, Seon-Hwa Lee (1).

 

In addition to Song-Hee Kim’s five wins in 2006, Hye Jung Choi won once and is now on the LPGA Tour. Players Ji Min Jeong won twice and Ha-Na Chae won once in 2006. Both Jeong and Chae currently are on the Duramed FUTURES Tour.

 

And while Lee has non-exempt LPGA Tour status this year, she has only played in two LPGA tournaments – missing the cut at the Corona Championship in Mexico and finishing tied for 35th at the LPGA Corning Classic. But with her win today on the Duramed FUTURES Tour, Lee’s $14,000 winner’s check moved her to the top of the 2007 rookie rankings by $1,238 over Sweden’s Caroline Larsson.

 

“She made three birdies and all pars, but she’s a good putter,” said Mexico’s Retamoza, who shared the lead with Lee after two rounds. “The one who sinks the most putts wins and this was her week.”

 

While Lorena Ochoa, her good friend from Mexican junior golf, was winning on the LPGA Tour today, Retamoza was hoping for a double-win weekend for her country. But with three birdies and three bogeys in today’s final round, Retamoza settled for her second runner-up tournament this season.

 

Yi also made a charge, hoping to become the first Korean winner this season, but she struggled all day with her putting, needing 30 putts after hitting 14 greens in regulation.

 

“I felt more pressure today,” said Yi, a former U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion. “I just couldn’t do it.”

 

Fankhauser admitted to being inspired by the round of 63 that Scotland’s Vikki Laing posted in Saturday’s second round. But she had no inkling that her final round would equal the Scot’s when she carded pars on her first three holes today.

 

When Fankhauser birdied holes 4, 6, 7 and 8, and then rolled in birdie putts on holes 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18, the former Ohio State University All-American finished with her career-low round that included 17 greens in regulation, 27 putts and no bogeys.

 

“I’m very pleased and I even left a couple of putts out there,” said Fankhauser, who is the defending champion at next week’s tournament in Saint Anne, Ill. “I hit the ball well and I was putting the way I should putt. And I love playing at home in Ohio.”

 

Of course, Seo-Jae Lee will always remember Ohio, too. She’s not a native of the Buckeye State, but she earned her first professional win here, giving her compatriots a gentle little wake-up call.

 

***

Presented by the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network, this was the Tour’s inaugural event in this Cincinnati suburb.

 

For scores and more information, visit www.duramedfuturestour.com.

 

Weather: Mostly cloudy with intermittent light rain and a high temperature of 78 degrees with winds at 6 mph.

 

Contact: Lisa D. Mickey, Duramed FUTURES Tour at (863) 709-9100 and at lisa@duramedfuturestour.com.

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