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Sörenstam, Rankin conference reveals theory on Koreans dominance on LPGA

March 26, 2015
LPGA

Korean golfers have congratulated each other a lot this year.

lpga

Park Inbee, left, and Ryu So-yeon. (Yonhap)

By Brian Han

With the LPGA’s first major of the 2015 season coming up, Hall of Famers Annika Sörenstam and Judy Rankin sat down Thursday with major winner Karen Stupples to discuss the newly dubbed ANA Inspiration (formerly known as the Kraft Nabisco Championship).

There’s been quite a bit of talk regarding the dominance displayed by Korean competitors this year after they’ve claimed victories at the LPGA’s five of six tournaments, six of six if that category is extended to include Lydia Ko who was born in Seoul, South Korea.

“The talent of those [Korean] players that are coming out are technically very sound swing-wise,” Sörenstam said.

It has to do with more than just mechanics though. She went on to say that these same players have been improving steadily in a category that had once been a weakness.

“It’s not the case anymore where they would be slightly shorter than your average American player or player from Europe because that was typically what you used to find a few years ago,” she said. “Se-ri, I think was a bit of an exception to that. Now in this day and age, they come out, they hit the ball a long way. They’re scoring. Their short game is tremendous. They putt without fear, and they’re a force to be reckoned with, week in and week out.”

Rankin and Stupples took slightly different routes and attributed their success more towards the country’s culture and preparation that is built into the career path of native South Korean women golfers.

“I think as golfers, whether that’s true in the general culture in Korea, but as golfers they certainly mature early and they show great, great composure,” Rankin said. “So not only do they have great golf swings, but they have an early maturity, at least on the golf course, and they are very composed.  They seem to handle pressure pretty well.”

She also made a comparison to American golfers.

“Maybe players who come out of college here in the U.S., maybe a very young player who didn’t go to college, even though they’re very talented, you do have to learn how to handle pressure and how to stay composed when you’re looking eye to eye with somebody coming down the last three holes,” she said.

Stupples veered more towards the professional golfing culture that has developed in South Korea.

“There is a whole influx of new Korean players out here now that have a lot of experience playing on the KLPGA, which I believe is absolutely a tremendous grounding for them because they’re used to playing professional events and it’s a highly competitive tour, and it just gets them ready for play,” Stupples said. “Players like Se-ri Pak have paved the way for them to come over here and play. It’s a much more comfortable place to be now than it ever used to be, and I think they’re all just finding their feet.”

In many instances, Stupples is right on point.

Although only 19 years old, last week’s winner of the JTBC Founders Cup Kim Hyo-joo already had eight wins on the LPGA of Korea Tour (KLPGA) before making her debut on the LPGA Tour and winning the 2014 Evian Championship — her first appearance in an LPGA major. 2015 is her first full-time season on the LPGA and she is already ranked fourth in the world.

27-year-old Choi Na-yeon who won the season opener this year at the Coates Golf Championship in Fla. had also secured five victories on the KLPGA before winning her first LPGA event in 2009 at the Samsung World Championship. She has since won seven more events including one major at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.

The same goes for world No. 6 Ryu So-yeon who won seven KLPGA events before earning her first LPGA win at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.

The list goes on and it does very well seem that the KLPGA cultivates some of the best players of the current generation, but it doesn’t include the world’s two best players, Lydia Ko and Park Inbee.

Both were born in South Korea and both have unique backgrounds so it’s not entirely fair to lump them into the same category as the previously mentioned players.

Park moved to the U.S. at the age of ten and as soon as she was 18 and eligible for the LPGA, she came out firing and won her first event — the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. Since then she’s won 12 more events including four more majors.

As for 17-year-old Ko, she never really needed time to develop her chops. Despite being the top-ranked player in the world, she has yet to win a major, but she might change that next week at the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

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