To fully appreciate Jiyai Shin’s recent success, you must first understand what the diminutive Korean has been through the last two years.
At 5-foot-1, the 24-year-old may not look tough, but her constitution is seemingly made of granite. After earning 2009 Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors and piling up eight wins and a world No. 1 ranking through 2010, Shin had a tough 2011, at least by her standards.
She went winless, suffered a back injury and had to deal with the death of her mother, but still managed to bank $720,735 to finish 15th on the money list. Shin kept plugging along this season, adding four top-10s to her career total before hitting a snag at the beginning of the summer.
A left wrist injury forced Shin to undergo surgery in June, and she was out until late July. An injury of that type could end a player’s career, but Shin never wavered.
She returned with a vengeance, earning another pair of top-10s before ending her winless drought with back-to-back victories in September. After winning the Kingsmill Championship, Shin claimed her first major championship at the RICOH Women’s British Open the following week.
Shin, ranked sixth in the world, is fifth on the 2012 LPGA Tour money list with $1,179,619 and has eight top-10 finishes. It has been a difficult, but successful season for the former KLPGA star.
“This year has been quite rough for me with many injuries and a surgery on my hand,” Shin said. “With all the hurdles, I have had a couple victories this year, and it means a lot to me. I have waited a long time for my (latest) win on Tour.
“I am really happy and feel very good for my accomplishments. Also, it was great to share the joy with my fans and family.”
One illustration of Shin’s toughness, both mentally and physically, is that, through all of the obstacles she has faced this season and last, she has kept an impressive streak alive. Shin has not missed a cut in 33 events, dating back to the 2010 LPGA Tour Championship, an immensely impressive feat considering all she’s been through.
“I had no idea of the streak,” said Shin, who has earned nearly $5.5 million during her career. “Now that I know, I may be counting the numbers and try to keep going. Honestly, I really don’t think of any records or stats. Rather, I just want to focus each shot that I have to face on the course.
“If I keep focusing and trying hard, I believe that good things will come.”
Good things have come for Shin for quite some time. She was the 2006 Korean LPGA Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year after winning three times, became the first non-LPGA member to win three events in 2008 and played her way to the No. 1 ranking in 2010, holding the top spot for 16 weeks.
The pressure, it seems, of big-time golf on the grandest stages doesn’t affect Shin.
“I enjoy playing under pressure, because expectations and pressure help me better focus on my game,” she said. “For me, it is like a tool for motivation. It brings out the best in me.
“When I deal with pressure, I can hear my heartbeats during the rounds. Hearing my heart pounding makes me feel alive, and I always try to enjoy the moment.”
One of Shin’s victories in 2008 was the Women’s British Open before it became an LPGA major, but this year’s triumph across the pond puts her in a small group of players who have won that tournament more than once. Even she thinks it’s ironic she has played so well in that event.
“I don’t think that my golf style fits on links course, but I won twice,” said Shin, who has 50 career top-10s. “When I play at the British Open, I just try to minimize any mistakes. There are so many factors there, such as weather, time difference and different type of course with different grass. With those variable factors, I always try to focus at all times and not to make any mistakes.”
Shin, who leads the LPGA in scoring average (70.22) and rounds under par percentage (72.7), is third in the Rolex Player of the Year points. In short, her game has remained rock-solid.
But it’s her positive perspective that may be Shin’s greatest asset.
“My biggest strength is to enjoy every moment out on the course,” she said. “I am truly thankful to play golf. Regardless of how well I play, I enjoy playing golf with my passion and I just love the game.”
She also relishes the chance to be a member of the LPGA Tour.
“On the LPGA, we play at very nice golf courses with great conditions,” Shin said. “There are great fans cheering for you and supporting you. Also, there are many great players in the LPGA, and I do enjoy playing with them every week.”
Shin, who has purchased a house for her family in Georgia, says her goals for the rest of the season focus on an award she has yet to win, but not the one you might think.
“Well… honestly I have not thought about Player of the Year this year,” said Shin, who is 56 points behind Stacy Lewis and 16 behind Inbee Park in that category. “I was out of the Tour for a while, and I am just glad that I am healthy enough to compete now.
“I look forward to next year. At this time, I am working my best to win Vare Trophy award.”
But don’t think Player of the Year is off her radar screen for the future.
“There are so many great Korean-born players on the LPGA Tour, but no one have won the LPGA Player of the Year award,” she said. “It would be such an honor if I could become the first Korean to win the Player of the Year.”
Considering the performance she’s put together through adversity the past two seasons, one would be unwise to count her out.