KOBE – South Korean teenage amateur Kim Hyo Joo embarked on a birdie rampage to pull off an astonishing come-from-behind victory at the Suntory Ladies Open on Sunday, becoming the youngest ever title winner on the Japan LPGA Tour in the process.
Mayu Hattori looked poised to restore a little national pride and become the first Japanese winner in over a month after opening up a five-shot lead on Saturday, but 16-year-old Kim stole her thunder and further underlined South Koreans domination of the tour, firing a bogey-free 11-under-par 61 for a four-stroke victory over Miki Saiki on her Japan debut.
“I’m so delighted I don’t know what’s going on,” said second-year high school student Kim, who won the opening event on the South Korean tour this season and has already been dubbed the next Shin Ji Yai in her homeland.
“People were clapping and cheering for me even though I’m just a South Korean amateur so that made me happy.”
Kim, who won the Korean tour’s season opener by nine strokes, drained seven birdies for a front-nine 29 and added four more after the turn at Rokko Kokusai Golf Club to seal victory at 17-under 271. Saiki posted a 65 while Hattori, who has a history of blowing final-day leads, most recently at the Yamaha Ladies, stumbled to a 74 and placed tied for third, two strokes further back alongside Yuki Ichinose (67) and last week’s Resort Trust Ladies champion, Jeon Mi Jeong (69).
Kim rewrote the record for the youngest winner previously held by former world No. 1 Ai Miyazato. Only the third JLPGA amateur winner, she also tied the record for the lowest score over 72 holes.
“To rewrite Miyazato-san’s record is an honor,” said Kim, a fan of Ryo Ishikawa, the face of the Japanese men’s tour. “I like Ryo Ishikawa because he is so cool,” she said, blushing.
Miyazato won the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Ladies Open as an 18-year-old amateur in November 2003. Takako Kiyomoto was the first amateur winner at the Toyotomi Ladies tournament in 1973.
South Koreans have now won five of the last six events since Chie Arimura captured the Cyber Agent Ladies with a five-stroke win over Sakura Yokomine on April 29. China’s Feng Shanshan won the other at the Yonex Ladies.