South Koreans authoring new era of LPGA dominance

By Randall MellJuly 28, 2015, 5:03 pm

TURNBERRY, Scotland – You could argue Inbee Park enjoys the best view of what’s happening in the women’s game.

She does, after all, occupy the high ground as the Rolex world No. 1.

She says she is proud of what she is seeing this year.

She sees South Koreans riding yet another new wave of dominance into this week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open.

“I knew this was going to be our best year, even before the year started,” Park said. “Much better than what we’ve had the last 20 years.”

Park knew just how strong all this new talent coming over from South Korea was before the first shot of this LPGA season was struck. She predicted Korean rookies would make a giant impact in an interview on the eve of the season opener at the Coates Golf Championship.

“It was just a matter of how quickly they were going to start winning,” Park said.

South Korean veteran Na Yeon Choi won the season opener, but she had to hold off South Korean rookie Ha Na Jang to do so. The very next week, South Korean rookie Sei Young Kim won the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic. South Korean rookies won three of the first nine LPGA tournaments this season.

Overall, Korean-born players have won 13 of 19 LPGA events this year. Four of the top five in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are Korean-born.

Park, Choi, So Yeon Ryu, Amy Yang and Mirim Lee were a stellar cast who had already established themselves in the LPGA ranks coming into this year, but the addition of rookies Jang, Hyo Joo Kim, Sei Young Kim, and Q Baek could make this the most dominant group of South Koreans yet.

And that’s not including In Gee Chun, who won last month’s U.S. Women’s Open as a Korean LPGA Tour member.

These young Koreans are so good they aren’t waiting to win major championships as LPGA rookies. They’re winning them before they’re rookies. They’re winning them as pre-rookies and using their victories as tickets to join the LPGA.

Chun won the U.S. Women’s Open playing in her first major championship. While the 20-year-old may not have been a familiar name to American golf fans when she arrived at Lancaster Country Club, she was already a star back home.

Hyo Joo Kim followed the same pre-rookie script winning the Evian Championship at the end of last year. She also won the first major she played, shooting a remarkable 61 in the first round. At 19, she used the victory to claim LPGA membership this year. Chun is soon likely to do the same.

Hyo Joo Kim may be an LPGA rookie, but she’s already No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. Chun is No. 9. Sei Young Kim, Jang and Baek all rank among the top 25 in the world.

“They are not really rookies,” said Lydia Ko, who was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6. “They are super rookies. They have had multiple wins on the KLPGA and other tours. It’s hard to call them rookies.”

Park was part of a generation of players inspired to follow in the footsteps of Se Ri Pak, who ignited the popularity of women’s golf in South Korea winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998. While Park may be one of “Se Ri’s kids,” these young, new South Koreans pushing in behind her aren’t. Yes, Pak will always be the Godmother of Women’s Golf in South Korea, but this new wave is more a product of the system Pak inspired.

What makes these South Koreans so good?

“It’s the work ethic, it’s the parental support, it’s all that,” says Dean Herden, who was on the bag as caddie for three different South Koreans when they won majors. “But it’s also the tour structure. They KLPGA has a fantastic structure.”

While the LPGA has the Symetra Tour as its developmental circuit, the Korean LPGA Tour goes deeper. The KLPGA has the Jump Tour for fledgling pros and then the Dream Tour for more advanced pros.

The Jump Tour features 16 events, the Dream Tour 22 events and the KLPGA 32.

“They are all run out of the same office,” Herden said. “It’s the perfect structure, a fantastic formula. They are really seasoned tour players by the time they get here.”

After watching the Americans win the first three majors of last year, the South Koreans answered in force. They’re looking to win for the fifth time in the last six majors at this week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open.

While Americans tend to downplay any rivalry with South Korea, Park says there’s definitely nationalist pride at work in her homeland’s continuing run of success.

“The United States and South Korea have the best players in the world in women's golf,” Park said. “So we are going to have, somewhat, a little bit of a rivalry at all times, I think, and that's a good thing.”

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.