Korean players make mark on LPGA Tour

More than 20 women from South Korea are playing on the USA-based LPGA tour.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:06 IST
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New Rochelle, New York:While Annika Sorenstam has been the dominant force in women's golf for several years, a group of golfers from another part of the world is making news on the LPGA tour. More than 20 women from South Korea are playing, and playing very well, on the USA-based tour. Just a few short years ago, there were just a handful of South Korean women on tour. In a relatively short period of time, there has been a rapid growth of talented South Korean golfers on the LPGA tour. There were less than five Korean women on tour as recently as 1999. This year, there are 21 women from South Korea on the United States-based tour. Earlier in the current season, Grace Park won the Nabisco, the first major of the year. 18-year old Aree Song finished second in that difficult tournament. Others, including Hee-Won Han, winner at the 2003 Sybase Classic, have shown they have what it takes as well. Showing the way Why have so many good Korean players joined the LPGA tour, in such a short period of time? The reason, many of them say, is Se Ri Pak. As a 20-year old rookie in 1998, Pak captured the attention of golfers back home in South Korea, as she won two majors. "We feel like we saw Se Ri and we play together with her, like we think, oh maybe, she play well, why not me and we think you know we can do that too," said Seol-an Jeon, LPGA Tour rookie. "Yeah she doing great on LPGA tour, and she's already just got in hall of fame, and yea that's why the Korean players see the Se Ri and they want to play here and play hard, yeah," said Hee-Won Han, 2003 Sybase Big Apple Classic champion. Professional circuit When you include the number of players on the Futures Tour, including Aree Song's twin sister Naree, there are 40 South Korean women playing professionally in the United States. "It's not easy to play in our country, because it's all so much private golf course, and the weather condition doesn't help their game. From here, the US, anytime you want, anywhere you want, (you can practice) as long as you can, perfect condition for the game of golf. That's why I think everybody has changed their mind and come over here and play, so to tell the truth, it's surprising me it's such a big number in here from my country," said Se Ri Pak. The 26-year old Pak has stated that her number one goal was to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame, and she did just that, when she won the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill, Virginia in May of 2004. These are also happy times for Grace Park, who was back in South Korea recently for a tournament, and was reminded first hand just how much Korean fans love the game of golf. "We were so welcomed, and it was bigger than a US Open crowd, the last day, I mean it was unbelievable and they were all there to see us, who they only get to see on TV week after week," said Grace Park, 2004 Nabisco champion. TV rights fee That interest is why the LPGA receives its highest rights fees for televised events, excluding the US, from South Korea. "Yes, and I think that's a function again of the success that the Korean players have had on our tour and they are enormous celebrities and stars back in (South) Korea, and that's fueled I think the interest of our telecasts and our televised events going back to Korea, and ah resulted in the rights fees that we've been able to generate, which are the largest from outside the United States," said Ty Votaw, LPGA Commissioner. Korean fans desire to see South Korean women on the LPGA tour is likely to grow, especially with scenes that show Grace Park winning this year's Kraft Nabisco championship, one of the tour's major events. (AP)

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