Veteran golfer’s secret to longevity: knowing limits and sharing wisdom

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PAJU, South Korea, Shin Ji-yai has been playing golf for so long that when she first became the world No. 1 in women's golf in 2010, many of the top South Korean players today were still in school and years away from turning professional.

Ranked 16th in the world while playing full time in Japan instead of the LPGA Tour, Shin, 35, is the oldest player inside the top 20. As she prepares to tee off at the BMW Ladies Championship this week, the lone South Korean LPGA stop each year, Shin said her understanding of her physical limits has allowed her to keep playing as long as she has.

"I try to study and analyze my body closely, and acknowledge my shortcomings quickly," Shin said at a press conference at Seowon Valley Country Club in Paju, northwest of Seoul. "As an athlete, sometimes you may try to push yourself too hard. But I've stopped doing that and I've been able to pace myself better. I think that's allowed me to come this far."

Shin, who has 11 career LPGA wins, including two majors, said she enjoys spending time with younger players on the few occasions when she play in the United States or, in this week's case, in her native country.

Shin said she has only recently come to a realization that she can now inspire a younger generation of golfers. It's a role she embraces wholeheartedly.

"I feel like I've reached a point in my career where I can have a positive influence on a lot of people, and I figured young players could use some veteran presence, too," Shin said. "Girls have been reaching out and talking to me, and I've been thinking about ways to help them grow. And I also try to grow with them at the same time. Sharing my experience and wisdom with them has given me the energy to keep going."

One of those younger players constantly on the lookout for Shin's advice is Ko Jin-young, a former world No. 1 herself.

Ko, 28, couldn't have chosen a better set of ears.

Shin decided to leave the LPGA Tour for Japan in 2014 so that she could be closer to her family and she wouldn't have to travel as much. Ko has often talked about how she doesn't want golf to define the person that she is.

Ko is returning from a two-month hiatus this week, and she said she used that downtime pursuing happiness.

"I didn't really work on my game. I just tried to find what makes me happy in life," Ko said. "Obviously, I am happy when I play well on the course, but I took some time off because I didn't want golf to influence my happiness too much."

Ko said she has sat down with Shin for some deep, philosophical conversations whenever they played at same tournament over the past several months.

"I get along great with Ji-yai, and I ask her a lot of personal questions. Whenever she comes to play in the U.S., I am so happy to see her and talk with her," Ko said. "Since she's gone through some of the same things before I did, she always offers me advice with great insight and covers areas that I didn't think of in the past."

Ko added she wants to be as good a person as Shin is, on top of being the golfer that Shin has been throughout her career.

"Spending time with Ji-yai has allowed me to start thinking about ways to set a good example for younger players," Ko added. "I learn so much from her and I admire her a great deal. I cherish every moment I spend with her."

Shin said the feeling is mutual.

"I just try to be as supportive of these girls as I can be," Shin said. "We all have our worries and concerns as golfers. And I tell them sometimes, it's important to turn the switch off and keep it off when they're not playing. You can't be wound up all the time."

Shin said she has been playing in more LPGA events this year than in seasons past because she wanted to keep challenging herself.

"I've been playing in Japan for a long time now, and I could always use some new inspiration," Shin said. "And I also enjoy seeing some familiar faces out here. I've been doing this for about 18 years and I don't know how much longer I can do this. So I am trying to play while I can so that I won't have regrets later."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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