In the last 15 years or so, South Korea has emerged as a golf power.
South Koreans have won a combined 20 majors since 1998. Of course, 19 of those belong to women. Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park have led the way with five each, although 11 different South Korean women have claimed at least one title.
On the flip side, only one South Korean male has become a major champion. Y.E. Yang’s triumph over Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine remains the high point in male golf on the Korean peninsula. Why is there such a disparity between the men and the women?
The obvious answer is that the females developed as the women’s game in general grew. Female athletics took off internationally with the advent of Title IX in the United States, as well as with the help of growing gender equality world wide.
South Korea entered its name in the mix along with Sweden, Norway, Australia, and even Taiwan and China in women’s golf. The U.S. dominated early, but the world caught up quickly. The result is a more balanced LPGA Tour compared to its male counterpart. Even as I write this, the LPGA is playing in South Korea at the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship in Incheon, Republic of Korea.
Golf has long been established as a men’s sport. South Korea wasn’t years behind, as it was with the women. It was decades and even centuries behind.
With the Presidents Cup set to take place in South Korea next fall, the time is now for the nation to prove itself in the men’s game. The push towards that event couldn’t have started any better for the hosts.
In April, 22-year-old Seung-Yul Noh claimed his first PGA Tour victory at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. Whee Kim and Sung Joon Park graduated from the Web.com Tour this year as well. 24-year old Jin Jeong was the top ranked amateur in the world for a period of time. And then, last weekend, Sang Moon Bae opened the 2015 PGA Tour season with a win at the Frys.com Open.
All five would love a spot on the International Team at the Presidents not just for a chance to represent their emerging golf nation, but also to play for their idol.
K.J. Choi first earned his PGA Tour card at the age of 29, a late start for any professional. But the well respected veteran quickly made a name for himself stateside. The 44-year-old has won eight times on the PGA Tour and if 2014 is any indication, he’s not done just yet.
Choi posted two second place finishes this past season. His consistent play belies his rather small – 5-8, 185 pounds – stature. Choi will serve as Vice Captain for the International Team at the President’s Cup.
Could he play in it as well? That remains to be seen. But chances are one of his countrymen will make the squad, whether that’s Yang, Bae, Noh, or someone who has yet to burst onto the scene.
South Korea has long been a strong athletic nation. Its speed skaters are among the best in history, and its soccer team reached the semi-finals at the 2002 World Cup, which the country co-hosted with Japan.
With the Olympics on its way and golf a participant, these South Korean golfers will begin jockeying for position to represent their nation.
South Korea was once the new biggest thing in women’s golf. Maybe now, it’ll become the same for the men.