The U.S. Women’s Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour attracts the world’s best players.
The first generation of Korean women’s golfers, the late Koo Ok-hee, became the first Korean to win on the LPGA Tour in 1988 at the Standard Register. Ko Woo-soon followed with one win each in 1994 and the following year, but it wasn’t until Park Se-ri arrived on the scene in 1998 that the LPGA really started to take notice of Korean players. With four wins, including two majors, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open, Park was named Rookie of the Year.
Korean women’s golf’s golden age: The Seri Kids
Korea, which has slowly moved into the mainstream of the global women’s golf scene with the likes of Kim Mi-hyun, Park Ji-eun, and Han Hee-won, has been led by Park In-bee, the leader of the “Serie Kidz,” who won five titles in a season (including two majors) in 2015 and surpassed the United States as the country with the most wins in a season with a combined 15 (see table). In 2017 and 2019, she also collected 15 wins each, and by 2020, she had won the LPGA title for six consecutive years, continuing the “golden age of Korean women’s golf.
It was only in 2021 that South Korea’s reign as the world’s strongest nation, surpassed only by the United States, began to falter. Despite winning five matches since September, including four by Ko Jin-young, to take their season total to seven, they lost their seven-year reign as the world’s most successful nation to the United States, who won eight matches in total, and were relegated to the No. 2 spot.
South Korea, whose 2021 rise has been stunted, won just four matches last year, and their slump this year has been even deeper. Through 25 events in the 2023 season, including the Kroger Queen City Championship, which ended on September 11, the United States has the most wins (eight), followed by France, Thailand, and Australia (three). France is led by Celine Boutier’s lone victory of the season, while emerging powerhouse Thailand has three thanks to a “rebellion” at the Portland Classic in early September by rookie Channetee Wannasarn, who became just the third player in LPGA Tour history to win a Monday qualifier. Australia was led by Lee Min-ji Lee, who won the Kroger Queen City Championship, as well as Grace Kim (Lotte Championship) and Hannah Green (JM Eagle LA Championship). South Korea, on the other hand, has just two wins, from Jin Young Ko, who won the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March and the Cognizant Founders Cup in May.
The harsh reality of South Korea’s lack of tour dominance is also reflected in their major wins over the last three years. South Korea hasn’t won any of the five majors in the 2023 season. It is a seven-major winless streak since Jeon In-ji topped the leaderboard at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last June.
South Koreans have combined for 35 major victories since Park Se-ri won the 1998 McDonald’s LPGA Championship. The country has won as many as three majors in a season six times (2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020), but has won just one of the last 15 majors in the last three years. As of Sept. 12, only two South Koreans were ranked in the top 10 in the women’s golf world rankings, Jin Young Ko (No. 4) and Hyo Joo Kim (No. 6).토토사이트
While the fact that Ko Jin-young, who holds the record for the longest time at the top of the Women’s Golf World Ranking (163 weeks), won just one event last year due to a wrist injury, and has won just two events this season, the more fundamental reason is the lack of generational change.
Only a handful of players from the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) tour have recently made it to the LPGA, including Kim Arim, who won the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open as a non-member before crossing the Pacific the following year, and Choi Hye-jin, Anna Rin (who debuted in 2022) and Hae-ran Hae (who debuted in 2023), who came through qualifying tournaments. While there are not many new blood transfusions, there is no denying that the “golf empress” Park In-bee, who is on maternity leave, as well as Yoo So-yeon, Kim Se-young, Jeon Ji-in, and Park Sung-hyun, are on a downward spiral past their prime.
The reason why KLPGA Tour players have not exploded into the U.S. like they did in the past is because the KLPGA Tour has become so successful that there is less incentive for them to take on the U.S. stage. With more tournaments and bigger prize pools, the best players in Korea are not willing to travel to the United States. The U.S. environment is not attractive enough for them to take the risk when approaching it from a “business” perspective: frequent travel in an unfamiliar environment, high costs, and higher taxes than in Korea.
China-Thailand Golf Rising Powerhouse
While South Korea has stagnated, the United States has continued to rise to prominence with a number of young players, including Vietnamese-born Lilia Vu, the third generation of the Boat People. A total of 10 players have won their first LPGA Tour event this year. Six of them are American, including Boo, Rose Chang (Mizuho Americas Open) and Megan Kang (CPKC Women’s Open). In addition to the U.S., Thailand, China, and Europe, including England and France, countries that have been on the periphery of the LPGA stage are emerging as “emerging powers” with new faces.
In the world rankings released on Sept. 12, Yin Luning (China) rose to No. 1. The 2002-born rookie, who won two titles this season in her second year on the tour, became the second Chinese player to become World No. 1 after Feng Shanshan. She is younger than South Korea’s youngest player, Hae Ran Lee (born in 2001).
Last year, there were 11 players who won their first career tournament on the LPGA Tour’s 32 events, including Jennifer Cupchow (USA) and Ataya Thittitjerin (Thailand). For two years, there was not a single Korean name on the list.
The question is, when will South Korea regain its dominance on the LPGA Tour due to the failure of the generation change, and the sobering reality is that there is no sign of a rebound.