Runner-up at this year’s U.S. Women’s Open, third at the AIG Women’s Open, and more
Vertical rise from 69th to 16th in the world rankings
“Olympic talk is premature…I’ll do my best when the opportunity comes”
Shin Ji-ae smiles during the second round of the LPGA Tour’s BMW Ladies Championship on Tuesday.
Shin Ji-ae, 35, has been playing professionally for 18 years, and her record this year is even more remarkable. Not only is she making waves on the Japan Ladies Professional Golf 메이저놀이터(JLPGA) Tour, but also on the U.S. Ladies Professional Golf (LPGA) Tour.
On her home turf, the JLPGA Tour, she has played just 18 tournaments, significantly fewer than the rest of the field, and has two wins to lead the standings (2554.12 points). Second-place finisher Miyu Yamashita has accumulated 2393.30 points in 26 tournaments, while Ji-ae Shin has played eight fewer tournaments to reach the top spot. She is also third on the money list (¥141,188,227), but the gap between her and first-place Yamashita is only ¥14.870 million.
Even more impressive is her performance on the U.S. Women’s Professional Golf (LPGA) Tour. She competed in the U.S. Women’s Open, Evian Championship, and AIG Women’s Open (British Women’s Open), where she finished runner-up in the U.S. Women’s Open and third in the AIG Women’s Open, the best results of any Korean player in the majors. After surrendering her LPGA Tour card in 2014 after 11 career victories, Shin returned to the U.S. scene for the first time in nearly a decade and proved to be a force to be reckoned with.
It’s also been a huge boost to her world ranking. At the beginning of this year, she was ranked 69th in the world, and now she’s up to 16th. This is the third-highest world ranking for a Korean player after Ko Jin-young (3rd) and Kim Hyo-joo (6th). If she can reach the top 15 by June next year, she will qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics. That’s why Shin is looking forward to competing in the Olympics.
“Isn’t it too early to talk about the Olympics?” she asked after the second round of the LPGA Tour’s BMW Ladies Championship ($2.2 million purse) at Seowon Hills Country Club (par 72) in Paju, South Korea, on Tuesday. “My main tour is in Japan, so it’s actually too early to talk about the Olympics,” she said. This is because the JLPGA Tour awards fewer world ranking points than the LPGA Tour. The difference in world ranking points is so significant that even Ibomi, 35, who qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, was unable to climb any higher than No. 16 after winning seven times on the JLPGA Tour in 2015.
“The U.S. Women’s Open is held at Pebble Beach Links and I wanted to go there so badly,” Shin said. “I don’t want to keep talking about my grandmother, but I wanted to show her what it’s like to be a granddaughter playing on the big stage. The JLPGA Tour is not on the 9 o’clock news, but when you win a major on the LPGA Tour, it’s on the 9 o’clock news, so I wanted to show my granddaughter the biggest news story. I decided to play in the U.S. Women’s Open from the beginning of this year.”
Shin’s runner-up finish at the U.S. Women’s Open, the best finish by a South Korean player, was exactly what she had hoped for. Shin’s grandmother passed away in May and didn’t get to see this, but she said in an interview at the time that she would be proud of me in heaven.
“I think the talk (of competing in the Olympics) is coming up because I’m doing well on the LPGA Tour,” Shin said. “I always play with pride as a Korean athlete, but I think it’s a different feeling to actually wear the Korean flag. If I get the chance, I’ll do my best. But I think Korean athletes are doing so well that everyone deserves to play in the Olympics,” she said humbly.
Shin is still going strong in the third round of the BMW Ladies Championship, where she is tied for eighth place at 7-under-par after cutting three strokes off her score on the back nine. “The secret to my ‘long run’ is that I didn’t play every match like I did in my 20s, but I made choices and focused,” Shin said. “If you keep pushing yourself, you can’t focus when you want to focus. It’s important to have good timing to play the real golf I want to play.”
Shin will also compete in next month’s Toto Japan Classic, co-sanctioned by the LPGA Tour and JLPGA Tour, where she will attempt to become the most decorated South Korean player with 65 victories.