Saturday, May 4

An unassuming winner sparks an unlikely sports dynasty

The schedulers could not have realized it, however President Biden’s plan to host South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for a three-day state go to this month comes simply earlier than a milestone anniversary for the historical past of South Korean sports.

It was 25 years in the past, on May 17, 1998, {that a} little-known 20-year-old rookie professional from the central South Korean metropolis of Daejeon accomplished a three-stroke, wire-to-wire victory within the Ladies Professional Golf Association Championship, performed on the DuPont Country Club in Mr. Biden’s dwelling state of Delaware. Ms. Pak‘s victory was the first by a South Korean golfer in one of the LPGA’s 4 prestigious “major” tournaments.

It wouldn’t be the final — both for Ms. Pak or for a exceptional cohort of South Korean feminine golfers who had been about to rework the game.

With simply 0.66% of the world’s inhabitants and a homeland that doesn’t have a lot room to spare for ballfields, soccer pitches and golf programs, South Korea has at all times punched above its weight in the case of worldwide sporting competitions, in disciplines starting from taekwondo, archery and short-track pace skating to workforce sports akin to soccer and baseball.

Marathoner Hwang Young-cho received Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992, and Kim Yu-na did the identical in girls’ determine skating within the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Baseball is massively well-liked in South Korea and the victory by the nationwide workforce within the 2008 Beijing Olympics set off a large celebration again dwelling. South Korean soccer gamers may be discovered on a number of the world’s elite groups ,and lots of rank the Red Devils’ run to the semifinals on the 2004 FIFA World Cup, co-hosted with Japan, as maybe the nation’s high sporting reminiscence of the trendy period.

But it’s protected to say no win on the sphere, the rink or the pitch has had such a far-reaching affect as Ms. Pak‘s surprise victory that day in Delaware. Not only would Ms. Pak go on to win the U.S. Women’s Open two months later — the youngest participant ever to take action — and forge a Hall of Fame profession, however she additionally proved a harbinger for a technology of South Korean feminine golfers, a nationwide sports dynasty that might rival the Kenyan runners who adopted the trail blazed by Kipchoge Keino or the hordes of Swedish tennis stars who rose to prominence within the Eighties attempting to be the following Bjorn Borg.

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Golf got here to the Korean peninsula within the early twentieth century, in response to a 2020 survey within the Asian Journal of Sport History and Culture, introduced by international missionaries and dock employees throughout the interval of Japanese colonial occupation. The ravages of World War II and the Korean War practically decimated the game in Korea.

“Korean golfers who survived the Japanese colonial era began to rebuild the golf courses, thereby creating the cornerstone of what has today become a global golf powerhouse,” researchers Sang-woo Cho, Hyun Woo Lee and Gwang Ok wrote. Even then, nonetheless, the ladies’s sport took a definite again seat to males’s competitions.

Remarkably, given the variety of golfers who would observe in her footsteps, Ms. Pak was the one South Korean participant on the LPGA tour when she scored her breakthrough victories in 1998.

“The first couple of months, everything [was] lonely,” Ms. Pak recalled in an interview with Sports Illustrated final 12 months for a narrative titled “Today’s LPGA is brought to you by Se Ri Pak.” “… I never used the locker room, because they spoke English and I didn’t know [how]. Only the parking lot, to the course, back to the car, back to the hotel, back to the course in the morning. Just lonely, lonely, lonely.”

She wouldn’t be lonely lengthy: Largely impressed by her instance, a parade of South Korea feminine golfers, sometimes called “Se Ri’s Kids,” would go on to say a slew of titles and dominate event leaderboards across the globe. In one signal of the instances, 26-year-old LPGA star Lee Jeong-eun is routinely listed on the scoreboard as “Lee6,” to differentiate her from the 5 extra senior Lee Jeong-euns who play golf on the skilled degree.

Consider some numbers: South Korean ladies golfers received 17 of the 34 LPGA main titles up for grabs within the wake of Ms. Pak‘s 1998 wins. Five of the world’s top-ranked feminine golfers right this moment are South Korean, and 27 of the highest 100. When Jin Young Ko received the 2021 BMW Ladies Championship in 2021, it marked the 2 hundredth event win for a South Korean feminine golfer on the LPGA tour since 1998.

Even the world’s present No. 1 feminine participant, Lydia Ko, was born in Seoul earlier than her household emigrated to New Zealand when she was a younger woman, and a number of other different high 50 gamers can boast Korean ancestry.

And the pipeline of latest Korean stars exhibits no indicators of working dry — for 5 straight years beginning in 2015, the LPGA Tour’s “Rookie of the Year” award went to a South Korean.

South Korean male golfers even have discovered success globally, though nowhere close to the size of their feminine compatriots. There has lengthy been a debate in South Korean circles over whether or not the nation’s navy service mandate has held again the lads by forcing them to take years out of their prime enjoying days to serve.

Analysts level to a wide range of elements to attempt to clarify South Korea‘s late-blooming success as a golf superpower, starting with a strong cultural work ethic and a dedication to the teaching of fundamentals on the country’s thriving youth golf scene. South Korean stars akin to Birdie Kim, the 2005 U.S. Women’s Open champ, credit score sturdy parental involvement and assist, particularly for promising younger ladies.

The home KLPGA and the extremely aggressive males’s and girls’s nationwide groups — backed by more and more beneficiant company sponsorship because the financial system boomed — present a degree of coaching and match seasoning for Korean gamers earlier than they ever enter a global competitors. And some argue that, in contrast to in different international locations, South Korea‘s best young athletes tend to gravitate to the sport, partly because of the success of the country’s professionals akin to Ms. Pak on the world stage and partly as a result of golf doesn’t require uncommon power, peak or an imposing physique for achievement.

Ms. Pak has stated that her main titles in 1998 got here at a superb time for her nation, struggling on the time with a crashing financial system and the fallout from the last decade’s Asian monetary disaster. But she says she was shocked — and a bit of intimidated — that so many youthful South Korean ladies would look to her as a task mannequin.

For the Se Ri Kids, nonetheless, there’s no thriller concerning the astounding success.

“A lot of people are curious why Korean players are so good,” Soyeon Ryu, a star on the LPGA tour and, like Ms. Pak, a winner of the U.S. Women’s Open, advised Sports Illustrated. “One of the biggest things is we always had a good role model. Se Ri opened the door.”

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