Korea, Japan face off in golf event

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Korea, Japan face off in golf event

Korean golfers left for Japan yesterday to ready for the Million Yard Cup, an annual competition between Korea and Japan. The 10-member Korean men’s team will look to further their country’s lead in the rivalry event that began in 2004.

This year’s tournament will be held at Passage Kinkai Island Golf Club in Nagasaki Prefecture. The three-day match starts on Friday.

The rivalry match revived in 2010 after a five-year hiatus that stemmed from sponsorship issues. Korea won the first match in 2004, lost in 2010 and then won last year.

To get even with Korea, Japan is fielding some of its best players including Ryo Ishikawa, who has nine championship titles on Japan’s Golf Tour at the age of 20. Hiroyuki Fujita, 43, who has 13 Japan Tour titles, and Toru Taniguchi, 46, who has 18 Japan Tour wins, will also take part in the event.

On the Korean side, four leading players on the local Tour will represent the country including Park Sang-hyun, 29, the runner-up in the money list on the 2011 Korean Tour, and Kang Kyung-nam, 29, an eight-time winner on the Korean Tour.

Lee Dong-hwan, 25, a two-time champion on the Japan Tour and ranked 208th in the world, and five other players playing in Japan will also play in the Cup.

Some of Korea’s best-known golfers, however, will miss the event, including Choi Kyung-ju (a?k?a K.J. Choi), an eight-time winner on the U.S. PGA Tour, and Yang Yong-eun (a?k?a Y.E. Yang), a two-time PGA Tour winner. Both will play at the PGA Tour’s AT&T National that will begin on Thursday in Bethesda, Maryland.

Two leading Korean players on the Japan Tour, Kim Kyung-tae and Bae Sang-moon, are also absent from the Korean roster.

Kim, the 2010 leading money winner of the Japan Tour, and Bae, the 2011 money winner of the Japan Tour, will also compete in the AT&T National event, according to officials of the Korean Tour.

The Japan Tour, which co-hosts the Million Yard Cup with the Korean Tour, had requested Bae and Kim attend the upcoming rivalry match but understood the situation, officials said.

“Japan is a powerhouse in golf and Korea has quickly caught up to be able to compete with it,” said Park Kwang-soo, an official of the Korean Golf Tour.

Park said the event will also help boost the popularity of men’s golf in both countries, which is less popular than women’s golf.

The victory at the rivalry event will be decided through 20 matches over three days: five alternate shot matches on the first day, five four-ball matches on the second day and 10 single matches on the final day.

The winner’s purse of $200,000 from the 2011 event was donated to help victims of the March 11 tsunami that hit eastern Japan.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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