Ask a Legend, Korean Golf at a Crossroads

August 15, 2023 | by pondokslot.com

Korean golf is at an inflection point. The once dominant Korean women’s game is under threat from a plethora of global rivals, while the men’s game is gaining traction in the United States. What’s next for Korean golf?

As of July 18, there are only two South Koreans in the top 20 of the women’s golf world rankings, Ko Jin-young and Kim Hyo-joo. Jeon In-ji, who won last year’s major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, has fallen out of the top 20. There was a time when the top 10 was half Korean. Ko Jin-young, Kim Hyo-joo, Park In-bee, and Kim Se-young were among the top-ranked players in the world. Korean golf fans focused on the weekly rankings. Recently, however, the focus has been on Ko Jin-young, who broke the record for the longest reign as world No. 1.

The United States has the most representation in the top 20 of women”s golf with three players. After South Korea, Australia, Japan, China, and Great Britain each have two players in the top 20. Players from the United States, Japan, Thailand, and China are making their mark on the world stage. Gone are the days when South Korea dominated women’s golf.

The women’s golf crisis has been talked about before. It’s no longer the case that South Korean players are dominating the sport. As of 2022, South Korean players have combined for just four wins on the U.S. Women’s Professional Golf (LPGA) Tour. It’s not all about the drought. The streak of five consecutive Rookie of the Year titles, which began with Kim Se-young in 2015 and ended with Lee Jeong in 2019, has already been handed to Thailand for the second straight year.

If Ko hadn’t stayed on top, if “golf prodigy” Kim Hyo-ju hadn’t regained her form in 2020 and won every year on the LPGA Tour since 2021, there might not have been a South Korean player in the top 10. The “women’s golf crisis” narrative grew louder after South Korea suffered a bitter qualifying defeat at the national event, the Hanwha LifePlus International Crown, in May.

The United States, Thailand, and China are the opposite of Korea. The U.S. has a rosy future, with favorites like Nelly Coda and Lexi Thompson and a host of talented young players like Allison Ko, Lilia Boo, and Rose Chang emerging to take the game to the next level. Thailand and China are empowering young players to follow in the footsteps of the Jutanukarn sisters and Feng Shanshan.

South Korea is lagging behind. Talented female athletes are reluctant to go abroad. Male athletes are eager to compete on the big international stage, but their lack of popularity makes it difficult for them to get sponsorship.

■ Women’s Golf Going Down, Men’s Golf Coming Up

“There’s no next generation.” One of the reasons for the skepticism in women’s golf is the lack of new faces. After Park Se-ri, Inbee Park, In-Kyung Kim, and Na-yeon Choi played in the United States, while Ji-An Shin, Bomi Lee, and Ha-Neul Kim promoted Korean golf in Japan. Following in their footsteps, Kim Se-young, Park Sung-hyun, Jeon Ji-in, Ko Jin-young, Kim Hyo-joo, and Lee Jeong-eun followed in their footsteps to the United States.

Now, there is no one to carry on the Korean golf tradition. Choi Hye-jin, Annalynn An, and Hae-ran Hae have overcome the COVID-19 pandemic to play on the LPGA Tour, but they are not enough to carry on the legacy of the legends. On the LPGA Tour, which is dominated by players born in the 2000s, Korea is still relying on the likes of Ko Jin-young and Kim Hyo-joo.

Another reason for the decline is the reluctance of talented players on the Korean Ladies Professional Golf (KLPGA) Tour to go abroad. The top players on the KLPGA Tour earn more than $500 million a year in prize money alone. Park Min-ji earned close to 3 billion won in two years from 2021 to 2022. Top players are also heavily sponsored. Since they have to fly to the U.S. and play expensive qualifying tournaments (QTs) to get seeded, they naturally put overseas expansion on the back burner.

Men’s golf is the exact opposite of women’s golf. On the PGA Tour, Korean players have a stronger presence than in the past. This is thanks to the work of the “Korean Brothers” – Kim Si Woo, Lim Sung Jae, Lee Kyung Hoon, and Kim Joo Hyung. Their appearances on the PGA Tour’s official social media have become routine, and their birthday party with Scotty Schaeffler made headlines in the U.S. media.

With the rise of younger players, Korean Tour players are also looking overseas. Some, like Kim Joo-hyung, have ambitions to expand their horizons by competing on the Asian Tour, while others, like Kim Young-soo, who swept the Korean Tour titles and prize money last year, have earned a year’s seeding on the DP World Tour and are now playing in Europe.

The Korean Tour has also partnered with the DP World Tour to meet the needs of its players. In addition to co-organizing the Korean Championships in Korea, a business agreement was signed to give the top three finishers in the Genesis Points a DP World Tour seed. For athletes, it’s a nice perk that means they don’t have to earn an overseas seeding.

American players are also gritting their teeth for the biggest stage. Byung-Hoon Ahn, who lost his PGA Tour seed in the 2021-22 season, returned to the PGA Tour a year later. He didn’t miss a day of workouts or rounds. Kim Sung-hyun, who made his debut on the PGA Tour this season after establishing himself on the Confederation Tour, is also a dark horse.

The success of overseas players has inspired Korean players to set a goal of playing on the PGA Tour like Lim Sung-jae and Kim Joo-hyung. They don’t hesitate to participate in the qualifying tournament called the ‘Race from Hell’.

4 Legends Talk Korean Golf

We asked four legends representing Korea, Choi Kyung-joo, Yang Yong-eun, Park Se-ri, and Park In-bee, about the current state of Korean golf and where it’s headed. Among the many stories they shared, the key words were: nurture, environment, challenge, and encouragement.

  • Nurturing

“If they’re just starting out, they’ll look at Lim Sung-jae or Kim Joo-hyung and think, ‘I want to be like them. When you have a leader, it’s a little easier to follow. As long as you work hard, the path they opened for you will become your own. That’s really important.” _Choi Kyung-joo

One of the reasons for the crisis in Korean golf is the lack of players who can follow in the footsteps of the legends. The women’s game needs to find a successor to Ko Jin-young and Kim Hyo-joo, and the men’s game needs to find a player to play on the PGA Tour after Kim Joo-hyung. Choi has partnered with the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) to help junior players gain experience at an early age. “I see them playing in AJGA tournaments and realizing, ‘Oh, I can go to college in the U.S. with golf,’ or ‘There are so many different paths to get to the Confederation Tour or PGA Tour,'” he says. Your eyes get bigger, your mind gets bigger, and your goals get clearer. It creates an atmosphere where you can’t help but do your best.”

Park, who, like Choi Kyung-joo, has rolled up her sleeves to nurture juniors in Korea, emphasized the need to instill the right perception of golf in junior players. “We need to let them know that golf is not just a means to success, but a fascinating sport that constantly challenges them through a constant battle with themselves. As a result, it is necessary to instill the right perception of golf so that they can realize themselves and achieve their dreams.” It is also necessary to develop a specific and solid curriculum for player development and find good players.

“We need to realize what it takes to be good at golf through experience, and I hope that if seniors become leaders after retirement, their friends who are starting to play golf will grow up with more systematic training,” Park said.

  • Environment

“I don’t think the environment when I was growing up is incredibly different from now. I don’t have free access to practice rounds either. I don’t see how a junior can develop a sense of practice if all he does is practice shots on a mat.” _Inbee Park

Golf has become popular in Korea, but that doesn’t mean that the conditions and environment for players have improved. Even professional players have trouble booking golf courses. Especially when it comes to tournaments, players have to fight for a spot. Junior players are even worse off.

In addition to the high cost of lessons, junior players have to pay $200,000 for green fees. There are not enough places for them to practice to their heart’s content, let alone discounted green fees. Park In-bee, who trained in the U.S. as a child, said.

“I could arrive at the golf course after 3pm after school and work on my short game, putts, shots, nine-hole rounds, whatever I wanted. It wasn’t expensive, and every golf course had a junior program. I know that Korean golf courses can’t realistically help junior golfers like they do in the US because they have to work nonstop. But it would be nice to see things improve a little bit.”

Other legends echoed similar sentiments. Choi Kyung-joo said, “In Korea, tee times are tight and it’s not easy to use the courses. Thailand has a lot of golf courses and easy accessibility. You can’t ignore those conditions,” he pointed out.

However, there are definitely improvements. Park said that while the nature of Korean golf makes it difficult to change environments, the variety of training has definitely helped her develop into a good player. “The system is much more organized. Mental training, weight training, media training, and so on, whereas before it was almost just golf, nowadays we prepare a lot of things systematically.”

“The more players who play overseas, the better the synergy between them, and the better the chances of Korean players performing well in each tournament. It’s not easy for only one player to do well every week.” _Yang Yong Eun

Choi has been training juniors for 15 years with his foundation. He has a lot to learn from meeting teenage players in person. “The girls want to stay in Korea, and the boys want to go to the PGA Tour,” he says. Of course, it’s because there are positive changes in the environment, but I want them to see the world a little more and develop their skills.”

“American players are good, but it’s nothing when you get down to it. Don’t be afraid of not being able to do it, just do it. To get rid of fear, it’s good to play against foreign players more often. You need to see the world a little bit more and improve your skills. If you keep your head down, like a grain of wheat when it’s ripe, you’ll be able to laugh about it one day.”

Olympic gold medalist and Women’s Golf Hall of Fame inductee Inbee Park also advised the younger generation not to be complacent. “Young athletes should constantly challenge the world stage. It’s hard to compete with the younger generation for a long time if you don’t have a blood supply. They need more courage and challenge. I don’t want them to be afraid of failure. Golf is a sport where you can’t be perfect, so you can only become stronger through failure. The accumulation of many failures will eventually put me where I want to be.”

Park also said, “As new players from around the world stand out, Korean players can also improve through goodwill competition. “As an athlete, you should see it as an opportunity if there is a superior opponent in front of you that you can catch up with. Sports shine when athletes are able to showcase their best skills through fair competition.”


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