South Korean golf is at the top of the game
South Korean golf is at the top of the game Image Credit: Jiyai Shin Instagram

This week’s Tokyo 2020 golf competition highlights the dominance of Asian golfers in the ladies game of golf — and more specifically South Koreans.

The statistics do not lie: South Koreans in the world rankings this week include four of the top six and 17 in the top 50.

For a country of less than 52 million people and just 16 per cent of the population of the US it is a remarkable story that deserves research.

South Korea have, by all accounts, the best golf development programme around the world. They must have; to deliver these consistent and strength in-depth results.

The original breakthrough came following Se Ri Pak’s triumphant victory at the 1998 Women’s Open.

A local hero in Pak winning one of the best tournaments on the other side of the world will have caught the attention of the youth and girls in South Korea.

But still there has to be a structure to tap into that interest.

Jiyai Shin, born in 1988, was inspired by Pak and has been a catalyst to all the other LPGA players in her journey by mixing and speaking English to all, and she created a pathway to more of the South Koreans to join the LPGA Tour and become the No. 1 nation in the Women’s game.

In 2007 Jiyai won 10 events out of 19 on the KLPGA Tour and things began to develop.

In the following year she played only 10 tournaments on the LPGA Tour, as a non-member and won three events, including the Women’s Open.

In 2006 the KLPGA had just 17 tournaments on the schedule but that was up to 27 in 2008 with a bona fide superstar in their midst.

In addition to the KLPGA, the Jump Tour and Dream Tour were developed in South Korea, all under the same organisational management, to create a seamless transition up the golfing ladder in their home country.

The fields of all these tours were completed by amateurs and this provided a structural progression from amateur to the professional ranks with like-minded players of similar standards and aspirations.

Playing golf in a competitive environment from a young age has also added to the success story.

South Korea has also focused on hitting balls into nets at a young age, according to the world’s No. 1 golf coach, Peter Cowen.

“Hitting repetitive balls, with no interest in results created a positive mental attitude for these young girls. The South Korean women are all strong mentally,” said Cowen.

Why has the men’s game in South Korea not followed the same path is the question to ask? It seems the men seem to travel earlier to explore other golf opportunities and golf tours. The South Korean women’s golf infrastructure has been around a while.

It has proved a huge success that seems to have not been replicated in any other country around the world.

Let’s see if this model is sustainable. It really seems to be.