Korean women leave their mark on golf

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Korean women leave their mark on golf

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Pak Se-ri, Park In-bee, Kim Hyo-joo and now Chun In-gee have something in common other than the fact that they are Korean golfers at the LPGA. Throughout their careers, they have successfully marked their legacy in women’s professional golf by setting various records in the LPGA’s major tournaments. With Chun finally joining the club last weekend, it is now impossible to discuss major tournament records, regardless of gender, without mentioning Korean golfers.

On Sunday at Evian Resorts Golf Club in France, Chun became the fourth Korean professional golfer to set a new record in a major event. In the 2016 Evian Championship, Chun claimed the title by shooting 21-under 263, the lowest record set in major championship history, whether by a man or woman. The previous record for men’s major tournaments was 20-under, and for women’s, 19-under par. CNN later described Chun’s performance in the final round as “near flawless.”

During the 2016 Rio Olympics, where golf returned as an official event for the first time in a century, Park In-bee became the only golfer in the history of golf to win titles from four major championships and the Olympics.

The conquest of LPGA major tournaments by Korean golfers all started with Pak Se-ri, the first Korean golfer to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Joining the LPGA Tour full-time in 1998, Pak claimed her maiden victory at a major event, the 1998 LPGA Championship, in May. Two months later, in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open, another major event, she inspired Korea, which was undergoing economic turmoil from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, with her determination and boldness. Then a rookie, she took off her shoes and socks to hit a ball on the edge of a water hazard and went on to win the event. The entire nation was touched by her performance and some even say it motivated Korea to push forward to end the economic crisis earlier than expected. More impressive, Pak had claimed her first two LPGA wins in major events. Over the years, Pak’s name became synonymous with Korea’s future and hope in golf.

The legacy continued with Park In-bee, who took the baton to lead Korean female golf and become the second Korean Hall of Famer. In 2008, Park claimed her first LPGA tour victory at the U.S. Women’s Open, the youngest ever to do so at the age of 19. In 2013, Park claimed three consecutive major event titles: the Kraft Nabisco Championship (now the ANA Inspiration), the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open. In her eight-year stretch in the U.S.-based tour, Park claimed 17 victories, seven of them from major events.

A year later, it was Kim Hyo-joo that caught the world’s attention. Still a teenager at the age of 19, Kim broke the record for the lowest 18-hole score by shooting 10-under 61 during the first round of 2014 Evian Championship. This was the lowest score for one round of any major event, men’s or women’s. Kim went on to take the trophy from the major tourney, her first LPGA win, which she claimed under invitation.

Park Won, JTBC Golf commentator said, “Korean golfers are thrown into fierce competition from early on so they are mentally very strong.”

Another golf commentator, Im Kyung-bin, said, “The golfers who are in the 20’s and 30’s right now, especially, have gone through systematic training so they have strong fundamentals as well as mentality.” Other experts added that, compared to male golfers, female golfers are more interested in working on their mental agility.

Pak Se-ri, the first Korean golfer to open the doors for others to take a shot at the U.S.-based tour, will be putting her clubs down after this season, but the future of Korean female golf is as bright as ever.

No stones are left unturned, it seems, for Korean golfers, and Chun’s new record on Sunday may be the climax of Korean women’s record-setting legacy. But new faces are still rising to the surface, hoping to leave their own mark in the LPGA, including Park Sung-hyun. Park, who finished the Evian Championship tied at second and is a seven-time winner in this year’s KLPGA, is ranked 10th in the world and will be joining the LPGA full-time next season.

BY KIM DU-YONG, CHOI HYUNG-JO [choi.hyungjo@joongang.co.kr]
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