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The Korean golf dynasty

February 17, 2018

The Korean dominance in the LPGA is a golfing dynasty. 

They produce world class players and swarm leaderboards at every tournament. 

At least one player from Korea finished inside the top seven in every event throughout the 2017 LPGA season.

In fact, last season 15 of the 33 LPGA events were won by a Korean.

From the remaining 18 events they failed to win, at least one Korean finished on the podium (second or third) on ten occasions, six times a player tied for fourth or fifth and only twice they finished outside the top five - this was either tied for sixth and or tied for seventh. 

In the latest World Rankings they currently have 10 players the inside top 20.

An incredible achievement, but why are they so successful and producing world class players at a rapid rate year after year?

In Korea they have three levels of tours, starting with Stage One called a 'Jump Tour' this is for amatuers and is played midweek but broadcasted across the nation showing the last few holes on delay. The next level up (stage 2) is called a 'Dream Tour' which is for players that have risen up and or dropped down from the KLPGA Tour (Level One), this is also broadcast on national TV. The KLPGA Tour is Korea's number one tour, it's for the young professional that's progressed through the Jump and Dream Tours and this is televised live. 

Caddy for LPGA Rookie Jin Young Ko, Dean Herden, currently lives in Korea and has studied the Korean structure, he believes Australia could benefit from their three tier golf system.

"I was in Korea in 2008 for the KLPGA and I really enjoyed the tour," Herden said.

"It's easy to travel and you can do everything by car, they have about 30 tournaments there now and prizemoney is reasonable, it's about half of the LPGA purse.

"But you have a bit of time to drive around the country, your basically only working six days a week instead of the seven it's a little bit easier life, so I wanted to get really involved in the 17 to 20 year old players. As I was living there from two years ago I woke up to what the system was all about and I really wanted to find out why so many players are coming through the KLPGA system and were just so dominant. 

Since the start of the 2015 season the Koreans have won 40 LPGA events from a possible 97.

In Korea some kids start playing golf as early as grade two and up until last year it was normal for kids to miss school for a coaching or training session if they were an athlete in any sport.

However female participation in sport is not huge, the men go to military and this is one of the reasons why why don't see more Korean's dominating the PGA Tour. 

Korean's are known to have huge work ethics, they are dedicated people and fiercely competitive with a disciplined approach towards anything they put their mind too. 

"The big wake up for me was So-yeon Ryu when she won the US Open in 2011 she wasn't a member of the LPGA and got invited to the US Open, then won it," Herden said. 

"Also in 2015 In-Gee Chun came along and the same thing, then Hyo Joo Kim came along playing in the KLPGA Evian Championship she won that in 2014 so the level in Korea is really really high. 

"I went to Korea to find out why and basically their system is a fantastic system and very simple. You can just imagine the transition from an amateur to a professional it's always a big step, it's huge for Australians and Americans.

"But in Korea they make it so easy, they allow the amateurs to play professional tournaments and they earn points and of course they cant earn prizemoney, but they earn points and if they earn enough points during that season the KLPGA will go to them and ask them if they want to go to the secondary tour (Stage 2 Dream Tour).

"If they've earned enough points, the KLPGA will offer them membership to come and play the KLPGA Tour the secondary tour or the Dream Tour and it's a constant stepping stone and players are able to see their ability and I think that inspires them a bit, and I think it allows two avenues - the natural born golfer being the one who just comes through the system anyway and the other system it allows 'the grinder' professional to come through.

In Korea golf isn't seen as a luxury sport like some other countries. It's made affordable, kids aspire to play golf and this comes from the current world stars Korea has produced. 

Players such as So Yeon Ryu, In Gee Chun and Inbee Park are idolised more by kids' parents than their  children but this is how it begins.

"They (kids) just all aspire to play golf and it's cheaper for them of course,"

"They see what So-Yeon Ryu does and In-Gee Chun and all these girls they think wow, it's so inspiring for them.

"It's easy for them to just go down the road and hit balls down the driving range, it doesn't cost a lot of money and I think Australia should probably look at that hard.

"I think the government should get behind and really encourage kids to play golf. 

"The best way to do that is not so much on a golf course, it's to get them swinging a club properly and then they can search around to join a club once they start hitting the ball.

Whilst the most dominant sport in Korea is still baseball, kids are still eager to hit balls at a driving range, it's easily accessible.

"Membership in Korea has all that other stuff too before professional golf it's like a kid can actually go down to a driving range and start hitting balls," Herden explained.

"There is a lot located in city areas because of the three story system like in Japan, same thing they hit balls off mats, they are able to do that so it's an easy in for a kid to walk down and dad might say come on son come down to the driving range and hit some balls, they kind of see it as a nice social thing to spend some time with their kids.

"The Koreans are a very motivated country that's why you see it in the ice skating, once they put their passion into something - this week it's the winter olympics - and once they put their passion to something they really go at it!

Their dynasty continued at Kooyonga as LPGA Rookie Jin Young Ko won the 2018 Australian Open - her first win on the LPGA - with other Koreans Hye-Jin Choi (second), Jiyai Shin, So Yeon Ryu and Sun Young Yoo all finishing tied-for-seventh it was more of the same from world dominators as they continued their stranglehold on the competition.

The Korean Golf organisation, are certainly achieving what other countries only dream of and maybe it's time to start mirror imaging this proven Korean structure.

One thing we know for sure it’s a system that works very well.

 

Images- Andrew Frackowski

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