Later today, the best women's golfers in the world will tee it up in the US Open at Blackwolf Run in Kohler. I will be interested to see how this year's tournament compares to the first time the Open was held here--back in 1998. That tournament is considered to be one of the most historic in Women's Open history--not just for the high scores due to the difficulty of the course--but because of what happened after it.
Korean Se Ri Pak won that tournament in a 20-hole Monday playoff--becoming the first woman from that country to win the US Open. Pak's victory resulted in an explosion in popularity of women's golf in Korea--and now women from that country dominate the LPGA. Nearly one-third of the field this year are from South Korea--compared to just three women in the entire field in 1998. Koreans have won more than half the women's majors over the last five years--and they occupy seven of the top ten spots in the world rankings.
Some argue that the Korean domination is bad for the sport. They point to the struggles the LPGA tour has had recently in getting TV ratings. The tour is down in terms of the number of tournaments every year due to a loss of sponsors--but that is more likely a result of the economy, rather than who is winning every week. But one thing that should stand out is that the Koreans have earned this position of domination.
A friend of mine is a volunteer marshall at Blackwolf this week--and he says the Koreans simply outwork their American counterparts. They spend more time hitting balls on the driving range. They spend more time on the putting green working on their stroke. They spend spend more time in the short game practice area chipping and hitting bump and runs. Based on what I saw on Twitter on Tuesday, that may be true. Natalie Gulbis tweeted pictures that afternoon of her signing autographs in the Merchandise Tent and at a Wal-Mart somewhere in front of a big display for Michelob Ultra Beer. Paula Creamer posted pictures that afternoon of her playing with her dog in the air-conditioned home she is renting this weekend. And Brittany Lincicome tweeted pictures that afternoon of her fishing in a pond somewhere near the course. Gulbis, Creamer and Lincicome are three of the most popular golfers on the LPGA--and between them, they have one major championship.
The Korean players certainly aren't more physically gifted then their American opponents. They don't have better junior or college programs. And they don't have a government-supported development program. They simply want to put in the work neccessary to win more than the current crop of Americans. And that is something to admire, even if they don't do swimsuit calendars, commercials or personal appearances.
As a side note, it's a good thing for the Korean ladies that American golf isn't like American politics. Otherwise, there would be efforts to limit their success by capping how much they can win. There would probably be Occupy the 18th Hole protests and the President wouldn't let them play because they win "more than their fair share".