Olympic competition fierce for S. Korea’s women golfers

March 6, 2015
Clockwise from top left are Korean golfers Park In-bee, Kim Hyo-joo, Amy Yang and Ryu So-yeon. The four players are currently included within top 15 of International Golf Federation's (IGF) Olympic Rankings. (Korea Times file)

Clockwise from top left are Korean golfers Park Inbee, Kim Hyo-joo, Amy Yang and Ryu So-yeon. The four players are currently included within top 15 of International Golf Federation’s (IGF) Olympic Rankings. (Korea Times file)

By Baek Byung-yeul

Korean golfers, who have dominated the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour, are highly motivated to represent their country in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 as their sport makes a historic return to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years.

In this year LPGA tournaments, Korean golfers have won three titles out of four competitions so far. New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, a Korean-born teenage sensation, won the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open last month.

Korean golf legend Pak Se-ri has expressed wishes to manage the national women’s golf team at the upcoming Olympics.

“As golf in general is an individual sport, it is hard to manage players as a single team. But the experience from when I led an Asian team in the Lexus Cup a few years ago made me interested in the position,” the World Golf Hall of Fame member told reporters ahead of the beginning of Honda LPGA Thailand, last month.

The Lexus Cup, which lasted four years from 2005 to 2008, was a golf match in which women golfers representing Asia and the rest of the world competed. Pak took the position of Asia team’s captain in 2007 and 2008.

“Based on my experiences, coaching the Korean Olympic team in golf would be another starting point to me,” she said.

The 38-year-old golfer is expected to retire after the 2016 season. She is eager to serve on the LPGA board of directors after the following season.

Korean golfers who have won titles this season have been showing strong determination to make the Olympic team.

Choi Na-yeon, 27, who won the 2015 LPGA Tour’s opener, said to local press that she is looking forward to landing a spot in next year’s Olympics, saying “I will try my best to make the Olympics next year.”

Kim Sei-young, 22, who won her first LPGA win at Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classics on Feb. 9 (KST), said she decided to join the LPGA Tour just because she wanted to “to raise the possibility of being included in Olympic squad.”

“My goal this season is to win two more titles so that I can compete at next year’s Olympics,” Kim said to reporters upon arriving in Seoul on Feb. 12.

Amy Yang, 25, who became the latest Korean to capture a LPGA Tour win at Honda LPGA Thailand on Sunday, said she is also gunning for a spot at Rio.

According to the International Golf Federation’s (IGF) qualification system for the Olympics, Korea may send at the most four golfers to the 2016 Olympics.

The 2016 Olympics will feature men’s and women’s competitions — each competition will feature 60 players competing in a 72-hole stroke play format for medals.

According to the rule, the participating players will be determined by the IGF’s world rankings, and the top 15 as of July 11, 2016, will be eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from the same country.

Considering that four Korean golfers — Park Inbee in second, Kim Hyo-joo in seventh, Ryu So-yeon in eighth and Amy Yang in 10th in the IGF’s Olympic Rankings as of March 2 — are included within top 15, it is expected that Korea is likely to send four players to the Olympics.

Michelle Wie, the Hawaiian-born golfer and daughter of immigrant parents from Korea, is also looking forward to what may be her first Olympic experience. She is aiming to represent the U.S. at Rio.

“I’ve been working really hard and it is definitely a big goal of mine to make the U.S. team,” Wie said to reporters in Singapore, Tuesday, where she competes at this week’s HSBC Women’s Champions.

New Zealand’s Ko, 17, will be another opponent to Korean players competing in 2016 Olympics if she decides to represent her country.

Ko, who became the youngest rookie of the year last season, has been in top form this season. On Feb. 2, Ko also became the youngest golfer of all the players of either gender to be ranked No.1 at 17 years 9 months 8 days of age.

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