How do S. Korea’s women golfers keep rising to the top?

November 16, 2015
Clockwise from top left, World No.1 Lydia Ko, No. 2 Inbee Park, Rookie of the Year runner-up Hyo Joo Kim, the Rooke of the Year Sei-young Kim.

Clockwise from top left, the current World No.1 Lydia Ko, No. 2 Inbee Park, 2015 LPGA Tour Rookie of the Year runner-up Hyo Joo Kim, the Rooke of the Year Sei-young Kim.

By Brian Han

There’s a pattern forming in women’s professional golf. Anyone who follows the sport knows it.

Each week on the LPGA Tour, Korean golfers fill the top of the leaderboard. It’s a trend that keeps getting stronger as time goes on and there’s plenty of data to back it up.

Of the 31 LPGA events so far this year, 15 were won by South Korean players. No other country even comes close.

The number rises to 21 of 31 if you count New Zealand’s Lydia Ko and Australia’s Minjee Lee who were both born in South Korea.

Six of the 10 top-ranked players are South Korean and that’s excluding Ko. At this same time last year, that number was three.

No other global sport sees a single country produce such a dominant group of athletes. It’s concentrated in women’s golf, and now it’s becoming a question begging to be answered.

Back in April during the first LPGA major of the season, the ANA Inspiration out in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the Korea Times looked into what players had to say about the growing South Korean presence on tour.

“In my opinion Korean players practice a lot more,” said world No. 2 Park Inbee, the highest ranked South Korean player on tour. “We’re the first out there and the last to leave.”

Other players cited strong work ethic, the competitiveness of the Korean LPGA Tour, strong parental support among several other reasons.

But many of the world’s top players also put in painstaking amounts of preparation regardless of nationality.

Agence France Presse (AFP) delved even further and took a peak into the golfing culture in South Korea. Their reporters didn’t find any secret formula to success, but instead found examples that supported what players and observers have been saying all along.

“Their work ethic, fundamentals, techniques are amazing,” Hall of Famer Juli Inkster told reporters during the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship. ““What I love about Korea is the way the people, the players, they have so much respect for women’s golf.”

AFP looked into golf academies that aim at one goal, which is to produce the best golfer possible. It found that practicing eight hours a day is the norm, echoing the sentiments of Park Inbee’s comments from earlier this year.

Furthermore, more and more money is being pumped into KLPGA events, providing a greater incentive for players to compete and win.

Part of the boom dates back to Pak Se Ri’s victory at the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open. That opened the flood gates and proved that South Koreans had what it took to be the best at the sport.

“It was my mom who got me into it. At that time Pak Se-Ri was on TV a lot. So I really started out as one of the ‘Se-Ri kids’,” the 22-year-old winner of the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship Park Sung-Hyun told AFP.

Now youngsters like 13-year-old Sophia Lee dedicate much of their lives to following in the same footsteps.

She had enrolled in an after school golf academy and attended daily from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. according to AFP.

Parents need to spend large amounts of money to pay for tuition. It can be a risky investment especially when breaking into professional golf can be somewhat of a gamble in and of itself no matter how much work you put into it.

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