by Dave Andrews
South Koreans Go 2 for 3 in First Three LPGA Events
It is only three events (of 34) into the LPGA’s 2016 season, but South Korean players are already making a big statement. Koreans have captured the victories in two of the first three events on the tour; the third win going to a Japanese player. Koreans have six players now in the top 15 on the tour’s money list. The United States has 3. Koreans have the leading candidate for rookie of the year, and they lead in many of the statistical performance categories (scoring average, putting, greens in regulation, etc.)
Last year Korean players dominated play on the LPGA, and it appears that may continue this season. In 2015, Koreans totaled 14 victories on the tour, compared to only 7 by American players. There were 11 Koreans in the top 25 in earnings in 2015, compared to 8 Americans. This does not include Lydia Ko, the #1 ranked player in the world and five-time champion in 2015. Ko was born in South Korea but moved at a young age to New Zealand and officially represents New Zealand on the tour.
2016 Coates Golf Champion – Ha Na Jang
Each season in recent years a few new faces from Korea have emerged on the tour to join several established veterans and tour winners like Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, and Seo Yeon Ryu. The depth of talent on the KLPGA, the professional women’s tour in South Korea, is remarkable. Many could make the transition to the LPGA and compete well.
The winner of the Coates Golf Championship, three weeks ago, was Ha Na Jang, who is in just her second LPGA season. Jang had 4-second place finishes last year in her rookie season. It proved to be just a matter of time before this very talented player would hoist a winner’s trophy as she did in Ocala, Florida.
Hyo Joo Kim, who captured the victory in the first event of the 2016 season in the Bahamas, is also in her second year on the LPGA Tour. She had one victory in her rookie LPGA season last year and she also won a major tournament, the Evian Championship, in 2014 as a non-member of the tour.
Another second-year LPGA player from Korea with proven ability is Sei Young Kim. She won 3 LPGA events in her rookie season, finished third on the tour’s money list, and easily won the 2015 Rookie of the Year honors. In the first three events of this season, she already has a T3 and a T2 finish.
In Gee Chun, last year’s winner of the U S Women’s Open appears to be the next force from South Korea on the LPGA Tour. Chun is officially a rookie on the tour this year, but she had already established herself as the dominant player on the Korean LPGA when she won last year’s US Women’s Open, automatically qualifying her for membership on the LPGA. She finished tied for 3rd in the Coates Golf Championship, her first event of the 2016 season on the LPGA, and she is now the leading money winner among all LPGA rookies.
Ha Na Jang and Lydia Ko – 2016 Coates Championship
The center of gravity in women’s professional golf has clearly been shifting over the past several years towards Asia and away from the United States and Europe. In the current Rolex World Golf Rankings, 28 of the top 50 players in the world are from Asia (South Korea, Taiwan, China, Thailand, and Japan) compared to just 18 from the U.S. (12) and Europe (6). South Korea alone has 19 players in the top 50.
The only young non-Asian players in their first or second year on the LPGA Tour who have established themselves as potential major forces are teenage Canadian sensation Brooke Henderson, American player Alison Lee, and Charley Hull from England. Henderson has already achieved her first LPGA victory, last year as a non-member at the Cambia Portland Classic. She finished in second place at the Coates Golf Championship, two shots behind Ha Na Jang.
With only three events completed the LPGA season is just beginning. There are plenty of events remaining to determine where this year’s dominant players will come from in 2016, but right now the nod has to go to South Korea once again.
Dave Andrews is a retired television news reporter. He is also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the LPGA and the Symetra Tour.
He is the author of Pops and Sunshine, a novel and screenplay about a young woman pro’s dream and struggle to make it to the LPGA.
The screenplay has been optioned by a production company in Hollywood.
The novel is available at Kindle Ebooks.
Follow Dave online on Twitter @PopsandSunshine
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