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Korean win delivers 'moment women’s golf deserves'

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INCHEON, South Korea – The Korean women rolled over everybody at the UL International Crown.

That includes LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.

“I actually got knocked over,” Whan said. “I almost got trampled. I love it.”

Whan got in the way of the Koreans chasing Sung Hyun Park to the first tee for the start of Sunday singles at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club. He got between the world No. 1 and the massive throng of fans rushing to see her play No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn.

“If I have to get knocked over because fans want to see their favorite players, that’s a good day for me,” Whan said.

It was a great day for the Koreans.

They have won just about everything there is to win in women’s golf as the most dominant force in the game, but there has been frustration trying to break through and officially lay claim to being “the best golfing nation.”

That’s the title bestowed upon the winner of the UL International Crown.

The Koreans watched the Spaniards claim the inaugural International Crown in 2014 and the Americans take it in ’16.

With the advantage of playing at home this time, expectations soared.

“The pressure is all on them,” American Cristie Kerr said at week’s start.

The Koreans felt it. So much so that So Yeon Ryu pleaded with their fans to refrain from excessive criticism.

“Really painful, sharp criticism can actually erode our confidence,” Ryu said.

In the end, Ryu, Park, In-Kyung and In Gee Chun rode the wave of national pride to the title.

“When you play in the U.S., you don't get to see crowds like this,” Park said. “So when I come to Korea, I really look forward to the gallery. Today, the fans were supporting every shot. I think that it's because of their support that our team won.”

Ryu said she believed the Korean fans were different watching them play under the South Korean flag. They were different seeing their favorite players together as a team, instead of individuals with their own intense fan clubs.

“I can’t really imagine [winning] without each one of us,” Kim said. “The teamwork was indescribable.”

The Koreans won with 15 points, four more than the United States and England.

Kim clinched the victory, defeating England’s feisty Bronte Law, 2 up. The title was secure when they halved the 17th hole.

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In Gee Chun defeated Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist, 1up.

Ryu halved her match with Lexi Thompson, with Park losing her match, 1 down, to Jutanugarn.

Whan called it a win for women’s golf, with the world getting to see just how much Korean fans love their female players. For the first time, this event began to feel like it really could rival the Solheim Cup someday.

Still, the week started with some trepidation. On Thursday, there couldn’t have been more than 20 fans in the stands with England opening play against Australia.

“Yeah, I was a little bit worried,” Whan said of the low voltage start. “But once the Korean players got here ...”

So did their fans.

Whan’s only regret is that Tropical Storm Kong-Rey’s approach brought in rain Friday and wiped out Saturday’s play.

“I think Saturday would have replicated what we saw on Sunday,” Whan said.

Sunday was a celebration of women’s golf. There was a hint of Tigermania in the air. With Korean players moving to the practice putting green before the start of singles, fans swarmed. They were 10-15 deep around the fencing.

“They were cheering when practice putts went into the hole,” Whan said. “I’ve never seen that before.”

He didn’t see the mob of fans that knocked him over coming, either, but he loved what he saw at the first tee. The two sets of bleachers there held 1,000 fans. They were bursting at the seams. The hillocks running from the first tee to the first green were swarming with chanting fans.

“It was a moment women’s golf deserves,” Whan said.

Lexi Thompson marveled over the devotion of Korean fans.

“They were unbelievable,” she said. “A lot more were people out today, knowing the weather was going to be perfect, but they were amazing cheering us on.”

Kerr marveled, too.

“The fans got what they wanted,” she said.

Kerr was impressed how the Korean players rode the wave of support.

“They looked like they enjoyed themselves,” Kerr said. “They embraced the fans and didn’t put the extra pressure on themselves that I thought they would.”

The Koreans relished showing the world what they do so well.

“I am fortunate to be Korean, and to have the support we have,” she said.