Korean golf finally has its Edmund Hillary moment.
On Monday, Shin Jiyai, 22, ascended to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, becoming the first Korean golfer – man or woman – to be officially ranked No. 1 in the world. Shin won the Japan LPGA CyberAgent Ladies tournament on Sunday by two strokes to supplant the formerly top-ranked Lorena Ochoa, who had held the spot for the previous 158 weeks. Like Sir Hillary, who in 1953 became the first man to climb Mt. Everest, Shin is a groundbreaker in her sport.
In fairness, Se Ri Pak was unquestionably the top female golfer in 1998 (when she won two majors as an LPGA rookie), and she certainly would have been No. 1 that year had the women’s Rankings existed then. But since the Rolex Rankings were introduced in February 2006, only two women – Annika Sorenstam and Ochoa – had ever occupied the top spot before Shin reached that rarefied air with her victory on Sunday. The 2009 LPGA Rookie of the Year has followed up her sensational freshman campaign, when she won three times, with three LPGA top-10 finishes already in 2010.
With Ochoa having announced her impending retirement, the competition for the top spot in the Rolex Rankings this season should be fierce the rest of the way: Shin has just a 0.04-point lead over second-ranked Tseng Ya-ni of Taiwan. But the new World Number 1 appears poised to meet the challenge. “I hope to learn to roll with the pressure to make new momentum to get me going.”