Why do Korean Women Dominate Golf?

[su_heading size=”20″ margin=”18″]Caddy Dean Herden takes a look at why Koreans dominate the sport of women’s golf.[/su_heading]

So many people ask me, “Why are Korean female players dominating the world professional golf scene?” The answer to that question is a combination of a few things that happen, but the main, underlying reason is very clear – especially after spending time in Korea and seeing it firsthand.

Yes, we all know that the Korean culture of a hard work ethic is one reason. Second, a female growing up under Korean culture develops very tough mental strength to want to prove herself in society. Third, very strong parent support for children is a key as well. This is certainly a great combination to build strong, motivated sportswomen, but it doesn’t explain why it’s only happening in professional golf.

We all know that no golfer automatically has the ability to turn pro after just taking up the sport. First, they must have some sort of decent amateur competition background. Right now in Korea, if a young girl wishes to become a golfer, there is a strong junior amateur tour in which, from age 10 to 16, she can compete in over 20 amateur tournaments per year. With all this competition at the start, a player has a strong indication if she has a chance at a career in professional golf.

The KLPGA Tour is structured to produce competitive, well-seasoned and tour-experienced young professional golfers – the absolute main reason there are so many great Korean female pro golfers competing worldwide.

I was one of the first foreign professional caddies to work full-time on the KLPGA Tour, when a very young Jiyai Shin invited me to come work for her back in 2008. At that time, I was motivated to see how and why this ‘assembly line production of great young female pro golfers’ was coming out of Korea, why golf had grown so quickly in the country, and why it seemed to keep producing world-class pro golfers.

It’s an undisputable fact that the KLPGA Tour is the best-structured tour of any pro golf tour in the world to produce great players at such a young age. It boasts three levels of competition for a pro golfer to compete around Korea – all controlled by the KLPGA office.

BH40 Golf Dean and Shin Jiyai2

KLPGA Jump Tour: If a young female golfer wants to compete in professional golf in Korea, she is able to go through a test and simply enter into the KLPGA Jump Tour. It consists of at least 16 tournaments, whereby amateurs and professionals compete against each other in the same event (with no prize money given to amateurs). The events are sometimes played midweek over two or three rounds. The broadcast is televised on delay via national cable TV, just showing the last few holes.

KLPGA Dream Tour: The next level for a young female professional after competing on the Jump Tour is to earn a tour card to play on the KLPGA Dream Tour. With a minimum of 22 events, it features professionals that have risen from the Jump Tour as well as players that have dropped down from the main KLPGA Tour. The events are also televised on delay on national cable TV.

KLPGA Tour: For the young player who has come through the Jump Tour and Dream Tour, she is then able to compete in the main KLPGA Tour. With 31 or 32 events in 2015, the KLPGA Tour is televised live on SBS or JGolf networks and shown throughout Korea the following week, twice a day.    

The KLPGA structure gives every opportunity for a young amateur to challenge herself at a professional career and prove she can do the following.

(1) Make a living competing as a professional.

(2) Gather more experience as a professional.

(3) Gather mental toughness to compete as a professional.

(4) Gain full experience as a professional tour player to promote and handle sponsor commitments and media demands and to conduct herself in a very professional manner.

(5) Gain experience to compete worldwide and make the next step onto the US LPGA Tour.

The following players are undeniable proof of what the KLPGA Tour is producing. At the time they won these majors, they were all still only competing on the KLPGA Tour and had yet to reach the level of international competition on the main LPGA Tour.

  • Jiyai Shin – British Open 2008
  • So Yeon Ryu – US Open 2011
  • Hyo Ju Kim – Evian Championship 2014

* In Gee Chun – US Open 2015

BH40 Golf Dean and Injee Chun

This list doesn’t include Eun Hi Ji, who almost, as an LPGA rookie, won the US Open in 2009. Also, Hee Kyung Seo won the KIA Classic 2010 on the LPGA Tour, as an invited player that very week – straight from the KLPGA Tour. On top of that, this year, Sei Young Kim already won in the Bahamas and Hawaii on the LPGA Tour as a rookie, fresh from the KLPGA Tour.

The KLPGA Tour is set up the way all tours should be if they wish to produce so many top-class professional golfers who are ready to win majors and conduct themselves professionally. The smooth transfer to play up against the professionals and find out if one is good enough or not to make a living at it at an early age is essential. Jiyai Shin, So Yeon Ryu, Hyo Ju Kim and In Gee Chun are proof of winning a world major their first time competing.

The players coming out of Korea are very young – so much so that one main concern facing Korean parents of golfers is their daughters spending too much time at the driving range or on the golf course, thus ignoring education and academic studies. To override this problem, there are some driving ranges now setting up schools or opening closely to schools, so young golfers don’t ignore their school studies.  

With this current structure in Korea, I guess we are going to be hearing about many more young Korean players dominating the sport for years to come. Three great players currently competing on the KLPGA Tour 2015 are almost certain of international victories the next few years. Look out for Jung Min, So Young Lee, In Gee Chun and Hana Jang, who is a rookie on this year’s LPGA Tour and is set for major wins.

So you think there are a lot of great female Korean players competing throughout the US and Japan? Well, look out. There will be many, many more to come in the future.

Portions of the article were also featured in Australia Golf Digest.

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