South Korea is the center of the universe in women’s golf.
That makes this week’s LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship a major event if not a major championship. It’s the only LPGA event in South Korea, home to the most dominant female players in the game.
“The LPGA is largely U.S. based,” said South Korea’s Inbee Park. “We don’t get an opportunity to play in front of our Korean fans, [but] we get to play in front of our family and fans [this week]. So that, in itself, is a great experience.”
South Korea holds the Rolex world No. 1 ranking with Park in the top spot.
Seven of the top 10 players in the world rankings are Korean born.
Five of the last six major championships have been won by Korean-born players.
There’s immense nationalistic pride in what South Korean women are accomplishing.
“I would say women’s golf is like football in the States,” So Yeon Ryu said.
Thirty of the 77 players teeing it up at Sky 72 Golf Club in Incheon this week are South Koreans. There are 12 players from the Korean LPGA Tour in the field, including the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, In Gee Chun, who plans to take up LPGA membership next year based on her U.S. Women’s Open title.
While world No. 2 Lydia Ko is from New Zealand and relishes being Kiwi, she also cherishes her South Korean roots. She was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6. Here’s what she said about her South Korean heritage earlier this summer: “I think I'm really lucky that I have the Korean background in me. I grew up in a totally different country in New Zealand. Those two would be home. If I go to Korea or New Zealand, that's where I feel most welcomed. I love going there. Most of the time, when I'm in Orlando having a week off, my mom cooks me Korean food. That's where my Korean background comes into it. I guess it's really hard to choose just one certain country, but I'm really fortunate that I'm getting great support from both.”
South Koreans are going for their third consecutive KEB Hana Bank title. They’ve won the tournament nine of 13 times since its inception. Q Baek is the defending champion.
American Juli Inkster, a Hall of Famer, admires South Korea’s passion for the women’s game.
“What I love about Korea is the way they embrace their players,” said Inkster, who is playing on a sponsor exemption this week. “They have so much respect for women’s golf. I wish the United States would do more of that. These players coming up – and Se Ri Pak really set the stage – they respect their games and they respect women’s golf, which I think is marvelous right now.”