the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour, where the world’s best players gather.
The late Koo Ok-hee, a first-generation Korean women’s golfer, became the first Korean winner of the LPGA Tour at the 1988 Standard Register Tournament. Ko Woo-soon recorded one win each in 1994 and the following year, but it was with the emergence of Se-ri Pak in 1998 that the LPGA stage began to pay attention to Korean players in earnest. Se-ri Pak, who won four times, including two wins in major competitions, including the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open, even won the Rookie of the Year Award that year.
Seri Kids, the golden age of Korean women’s golfFollowing Se-ri Pak, Korea has gradually become a mainstream player in the global women’s golf world with the addition of Kim Mi-hyun, Park Ji-eun, and Han Hee-won, and in 2015, Inbee Park, the representative of the ‘Seri Kids’, achieved 5 wins in one season (2 wins in major competitions), reaching 15 wins in 2015. By collaborating together, they surpassed the United States and received the honor of being the country with the most wins in the season (see table). In 2017 and 2019, they each achieved 15 wins, and continued the ‘glory era of Korean women’s golf’ by taking the title as the country with the most LPGA wins for 6 consecutive years until 2020.
Korea, which overtook the United States and reigned as the world’s most powerful country, began to tremble in 2021. Since September, Ko Jin-young added 4 wins to make it 5 wins of the season and the joint team took 7 wins, but the team lost the title as the country with the most wins in 7 years to the United States, which recorded a total of 8 wins, and fell to ‘number 2’.
Korea, whose upward trend slowed down in 2021, only won 4 games last year, and this year’s slump is deepening. Of the 25 competitions in the 2023 season, including the Kroger Queen City Championship, which ended on September 11, the United States has an overwhelming majority with 8 wins, followed by France, Thailand, and Australia (3 wins). In France, Celine Boutier won three wins alone this season, and in Thailand, which has emerged as an emerging powerhouse, the ‘rebellion’ of rookie Channeti Wannasaen, who became the third player in LPGA tour history to reach the top after going through the Monday qualifiers, won the Portland Classic in early September. Thanks to this, we recorded 3 wins. In Australia, Lee Min-ji, who won the Kroger Queen City Championship스포츠토토, Grace Kim (Lotte Championship), and Hannah Green (JM Eagle LA Championship) all achieved wins. On the other hand, Korea’s only two wins were Jin-young Ko’s wins at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March and the Cognizant Founders Cup in May.
The harsh reality of Korea’s decline in tour dominance can be confirmed by the number of major championships won over the past three years. Korea has never won any of the five major tournaments in the 2023 season. Jeon In-ji has been undefeated for seven consecutive times since reaching the top at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in June of last year.
Korea has won a total of 35 major tournaments since Se-ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship in 1998. There have been six seasons (2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020) in which he swept the most three major tournaments in a season, but he has only won one win in 15 major tournaments over the past three years. As of September 12, there are only two women’s golf world rankings in the top 10: Ko Jin-young (4th) and Kim Hyo-ju (6th).
Why has Korea, which once dominated the LPGA stage, lost its power? Ko Jin-young, who holds the record for the longest period of time (163 weeks) at No. 1 in the women’s golf world rankings, only won once last year due to a wrist injury, and this year’s loss of only two wins at the beginning of the season is crucial, but a more fundamental reason can be found in the failure of generational change. there is.
Players from the Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) tour who recently entered the LPGA include Kim A-rim, who won the 2020 US Women’s Open as a non-member and then crossed the Pacific the following year, and Choi Hye-jin and Anna Rin, who entered through the qualifying tournament (debut in 2022). , Yoo Hae-ran (debut in 2023), etc. are just a few. There is not much new blood transfusion, but it cannot be denied that players who are likely to aim for the championship trophy, including ‘golf queen’ Park In-bee, who is away on maternity leave, Ryu So-yeon, Kim Se-young, Jeon In-ji, and Park Seong-hyun, have passed their peak and are gradually declining.
The reason why the advancement of KLPGA tour players to the U.S. is not as explosive as in the past is because the momentum to challenge the U.S. stage has diminished thanks to the boom of the KLPGA tour. As the number of competitions increases and the amount of prize money increases, the top domestic players do not necessarily think about moving to the United States. This is because the American environment, such as frequent movement in an unfamiliar environment, high costs, and higher taxes than in Korea, is not attractive enough to take risks when approaching it from a ‘business level’.
China and Thailand emerge as emerging golf powers
While Korea is stagnant, the United States is maintaining its reputation with several young players, including third-generation Vietnamese boat people Lilia Vu. There are a total of 10 players who experienced their first win on the LPGA tour this year. Among them, there are six American players, including Boo, Rose Zhang (Mizuho Americas Open), and Megan Kang (CPKC Women’s Open). Countries that have remained on the periphery of the LPGA stage, including not only the United States but also Thailand, China, and even Europe such as England and France, are emerging as ’emerging powers’ with new faces at the forefront.
The player who rose to first place in the world rankings announced on September 12 is Yin Luoning (China). Yin Luoning, who won two games this season in her second year on the tour and became the second Chinese player to become ‘World Number 1’ after Feng Shanshan, is a rookie born in 2002. He is younger than Korea’s youngest child, Yoo Hae-ran (born in 2001).
Last year, there were 11 players, including Jennifer Kupcho (USA) and Attaya Titikkun (Thailand), who won their first championship in 32 LPGA tour tournaments. For two years, not a single Korean player’s name could be found.
When will Korea, which lost its dominance on the LPGA tour due to a failure in generational change, regain its power? The cold reality is that there is hardly any opportunity for a rebound.