[FOUNTAIN]Golf comes out of the closetDuring the Kim Young-sam administration, a golfer scored hole-in-one at a country club near Seoul. A hole-in-one is the dream of every golfer, but this fellow immediately quit the game and fled from the course. Civil servants were banned from playing golf at the time, and some golf aficionados made reservations under pseudonyms to avoid possible reprimands. The golfer who scored a hole-in-one was a civil servant and he was afraid that his outing at the course would be exposed by the hole-in-one story.
But Pak Se-ri’s U.S. Open victory in 1998 brought a change to the image of golf here. Koreans, who were depressed because of the country’s economic meltdown in 1997, took pride in her play. She became a household name in Korea and golf was no longer considered a luxury sport.
The origin of golf is unclear. While some say it came from a Roman sport called paganica, others say kolf, a Dutch children’s game, evolved into golf. Another theory supports a Scottish folk tradition that shepherds there originated the game. Golf was widely played in Scotland, and King James II had banned golf in 1495 when he thought the game distracted soldiers from practicing martial arts and archery.
The center of world golf is the Professional Golf Association tour in the United States. The total amount of prize money in 48 tournaments on the PGA tour this year was $225 million, far more than the European Professional Golf Association tour’s $124 million and the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour’s $38.23 million. Annika Sorenstam, the top-ranked LPGA golfer with six wins last season, earned $1.9 million this year. A Korean golfer K.J. Choi, who ranked 30th on the men’s tour, didn’t win a tournament this season but earned $2 million. The difference in prize money shows how big the PGA is.
Kevin Na, 20, became the second Korean to qualify for next year’s PGA tour. Choi is a self-made man who overcame many hardships, but Na moved to the United States when he was eight and made his name as an amateur golfer. He was a student of Butch Harmon, a renowned instructor who also coaches Tiger Woods.
Korean female golfers have invaded the LPGA, with stars like Pak Se-ri, Grace Park, Han Hee-won and Kim Mi-hyun. Someday, we will see male golfers bringing home trophies from the PGA tour as well. For a country where golf was frequently banned, that is a notable development.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.