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A Magic Formula

When Sung-hyun Park came from four shots back to win the 2019 or the most recent of the HSBC Women’s World Championship, it created enough of a stir to detonate two year’s worth of chatter.  “Spellbinding,” was how a visiting scribe summed it up.

“Every now and then,” said Park’s Irish caddie, David Jones, “an enigma comes along and that’s what we have in Sung-hyun.”

Colin Cann, the Englishman who had caddied for Park before Jones, talked about her amazing expertise with the long irons before saying how difficult it was to read her mind. “It’s pretty rare, this, but you cannot begin to read it. You never know what’s going on in her head.”

The Seoul sylph is indeed an enigma, and my how she adds to the rich cast on the LPGA Tour.  Players like her do not come along too often, though there was one Gloria Minoprio who was seen as a similarly mysterious figure when, in the 1940s, she competed in English championships  with but a single club. What is more Minoprio, like Sung-hyun, gave nothing away with her on-course reactions.

All of which, of course, is a million miles removed from, for example, a Paula Creamer who, in 2014 when she won the Championship, danced the length of the green after holing from 75 feet.

Again, who is ever going to forget Lorena Ochoa, who won the first of the events in 2008? She smiled full-time and, as the legendary Annika Sorenstam has often said of her since, “How can you not love a girl like that?”  The photographers, for their part, used to call her, “A smiling Tiger”. If they missed one smile, they were never in any danger of having missed the boat. The next was never far away.

This year, as much or more than any other, there is an amazing crop of characters in the mix, starting with the 25-year-old Jin Young Ko who so far has two majors among her six LPGA victories. Ko, the No 1 on the Rolex World Rankings at the time of writing and a player who took the tough decision to stick to the KLPGA tour last year because of Covid-19, does not always do the conventional. When, for example, she appeared in the UK for a first time in 2015, she decided against a “When in Rome” approach and proceeded to play a wind-torn Turnberry with the same high-hitting game which had made her a regular winner in Korea. It made sense to her.

Jin Young finished second that week to Inbee Park who is lying directly behind her on the ’21 Rolex World Rankings. Inbee’s nickname, “Winbee” should serve her well on a course nowadays famed for its bee colonies — 10 at the last time of asking. Mind you, since there is only one queen bee per colony, who is to say whether ‘Winbee’ ranks above or below that cherished dozen.

Sei Young Kim, who is ranked three, just happens to be a third degree black belt in the art of Taekwondo, while the next on the list is Nelly Korda who, like her golfing sister, Jessica, and her tennis-playing brother, Sebastian, is out to become the first in the family to match their father, Petr, in winning a major. (Petr captured tennis’s 1998 Australian Open.)

Meanwhile, all of the above will be keeping a wary eye open for Patty Tavatanakit and Lydia Ko who, respectively, finished first and second in the recent ANA Inspiration.

Whatever the golfing tensions, Singapore makes everyone comfortable. Though this year is a little different, with the pandemic having called for a restricted crowd, the women can usually expect to find themselves playing in front of a cluster of friendly spectators from their homelands.

Indeed, you have come to suspect that if, say, a player were to enter from Mars, a crowd of aliens and astronauts would soon be cheering her on.