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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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.