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Korean LPGA gaining strength as LPGA rival

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The Korean LPGA is becoming a stronger rival to the American-based LPGA, according to the South Korean-based Yonhap News Agency.

According to a story Wednesday by the news organization, Sung Hyun Park is “proving” to other South Korean players that “a U.S. LPGA membership is no longer essential for success – financial or otherwise.”

Park won the KLPGA’s Hanwha Financial Classic Sunday in South Korea, defeating a strong field that included Americans Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda. Park took home a first-place check of 300 million South Korean won, the equivalent of $297,000 U.S. dollars.

The victory was Park’s seventh KLPGA title this year, boosting her KLPGA money winnings this season to 1.26 billion won, the equivalent of $1.1 million dollars. Yonhap points out that Park’s earnings are more than every South Korean playing the LPGA this year except Sei Young Kim, who has earned $1.2 million.

More from the story:

“About a decade ago, the likes of [Jiyai] Shin and Hee Kyung Seo, former LPGA Rookie of the Year, took the popularity of the Korean tour to new heights. The KLPGA pie has gotten bigger for everyone, and even Jin-Young Ko, No. 2 on the 2016 KLPGA money list with a little over 800 million won, would find herself among the top 15 on the U.S. tour.

“Eleven players have made more than 300 million won, including Ji Hyun Kim, who's earned 308 million won without a victory. She'd still be inside the top 50 on the LPGA money list and get herself into invitational tournaments too.

“The Korean tour has been a talent feeder for the LPGA, producing such stars as So Yeon Ryu and Sei Young Kim, the U.S. tour's top rookies in 2012 and 2015, respectively. There were times when the KLPGA functioned like the minor league in baseball, where golfers who'd scaled the peak here would turn their eyes toward the United States.

“Park, on the other hand, has bucked the trend by staying put and actually making a meteoric rise up the world rankings. She started the year at 27th in the world but has gone all the way up to No. 12, sixth best among all South Koreans. She's ahead of LPGA winners, including Ryu and Mi Rim Lee.”