Asians Laying Foundation For Dominance

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Futures TourLife or death.
 
That is the English translation of what Futures Golf Tour member Kathy Choi-Rogers says is the driving force behind Korean players in womens golf. Thats how they approach the game every single time they set foot on the tee.
 
When Koreans are playing together, there is so much pressure, said Choi-Rogers, born in Seoul, Korea and now a resident of Huntington Beach, Calif. Its life or death. You have to beat everybody.
 
Choi knows, because she once subscribed to the same philosophy. Its what propelled her to a third-place finish in the 1996 NCAA Womens Golf Championship while playing for UCLA. Its that East/West conflict that occasionally resurfaces during Futures Tour competitions.
 
I used to feel like that, but now Im so relaxed, said Choi-Rogers, who married an American and settled in Southern California. Now, I think of golf like a game rather than a way of life.
 
But that warrior mentality has changed the womens game. It has raised the bar and in some cases, has left Westerners behind. Four of the top-five players on the current Futures Tour money list are natives of South Korea. Six of the top 10 are from Asia, calling Korea, India and the Republic of China home. Since 1999, when the Futures Tour began awarding LPGA Tour cards to its top players, six of 17 card winners have been either Asian or Asian-American. Nine of those 17 have been international players.
 
Which begs the question: Why are Asians so dominant in golf?
 
I think it definitely has a lot to do with work ethic, said Natalie Wong, a Chinese-American from Los Angeles. Were taught from a very young age that working hard equals success.
 
Wong observed that Korean players on the Futures Tour often play nine holes in a practice round and come back to the practice tee to work on their swings or particular shots, then go back out on the course and play nine more holes.
 
Most of us just play our practice rounds and then we can go do what we want, said Wong, who played collegiately at Yale University. Their approach is completely different. I think they practice more.
 
Jimin Kang, currently leading the Futures Tour money list, agrees that Koreans generally practice more than other players. Its a culture thing, said Kang, a native of Seoul, Korea, who played her college golf at Arizona State University. Koreans are very hard workers.
 
Its impossible to argue that point and its evident that either personal desire or parental pressure - or both - make Asian players fixtures on the practice areas of both the LPGA Tour and Futures Golf Tour. The correlation between time spent in practice and success in tournament competition is almost predictable.
 
I got here Monday afternoon and 15 Korean players were already out here, said Choi-Rogers of the Tours 54-hole tournament in Albuquerque, N.M., played Friday through Sunday. And I can tell you that the two weeks we have off between now and the next tournament, the Koreans will go on to Indiana and will practice and play there for two weeks before the rest of us arrive. They dont take time off.
 
They are here for golf, added Reo Kato, a Futures Tour rookie of Tokyo, Japan. I think it is different for Japanese and Koreans. Japanese love golf more because it is status.
 
Status and success are key ingredients for all of the Asian cultures when it comes to golf, say the players, even though there are fundamental differences in the approach to attaining it. Many Korean golf parents will invest heavily into their daughters game and expect her to perform at a very high level.
 
Its the fathers dream and the culture dictates that the child is not supposed to argue or go against the wishes of the parent, said Choi-Rogers. The family puts everything into their child. Once the daughter makes it and becomes successful, the status goes back to the parents.
 
Entire families become involved in the progress of the player, added Wong.
 
Maybe thats why Asians are so successful in golf, she said. Parents are very involved in your career. True, some players feel pressure, but they also know they have their family behind them.
 
Teresa Ishiguro, a Japanese-American on the Futures Tour, believes Asian success in womens professional golf has more to do with finances than any other factor. She says the players who have the greatest chance to succeed in golf also have the means to play the game that is cost-prohibitive to many in their homelands.
 
When the Japanese yen was strong, Ayako Okamoto and Hiromi Kobayashi were playing good golf on the LPGA Tour, said Ishiguro, of Ione, Calif. Its not a race thing. Its about money. If you want to get good, you have to invest money into your game. A lot of the players on our tour go to David Leadbetter and they can afford to do things others cant do.
 
But Ishiguro, who played college golf at the University of Nevada, also added that international players combine financial means, discipline and cultural insulation to their advantage on the professional levels.
 
Many of them have very limited English, she said. So they stay in their shells and are more focused on their golf than in socializing.
 
There is no clear answer to why Asians excel so remarkably in professional womens golf. Certainly, there are many variables. But with the continued success of future World Golf Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak on the LPGA Tour, the highly publicized ascent of rising amateur star Michelle Wie, and the recent win by mainland Chinas Hong Mei Yang on the Futures Golf Tour, the doors most definitely will continue to swing wide open to all of Asia as the top eastern players travel to the west to test their skills against top global fields.
 
America is where the best women golfers come to play. It is where the best continue to develop and it is where the most talented and dedicated players reap the richest rewards. When it comes to life or death in a game, for some, the simple option is to win.
 
Editors Note: Lisa D. Mickey is the director of communications for the Futures Golf Tour and a longtime member of the national golf media. For more information, about the Futures Tour, contact lisa@futurestour.com or visit futurestour.com.