I’ve said more than once that the KLPGA is the second strongest women’s golf association in the world and even though I don’t believe wholeheartedly in the Rolex process, the rankings of that tour’s top players blew my opinion out of the water. The top players in the JLPGA are ranked much higher and at first glance it would appear that even the LET could beat out the KLPGA.
How could such a hotbed of golfing talent show so poorly? Every league can have a down year but the explanation is simply, Economics. The stars of the KLPGA always leave after a year or two (I believe there is a requirement for a member to stay a certain length of time or risk losing the right to play any Korean events) for the greener pastures of Japan or, most often, the United States. Women’s golf is such a draw in Japan that the purses there are at least comparable to the lesser ones of the LPGA, so they lose far fewer players overseas. The LET seems to suffer less than the KLPGA on this front, but the combined economies of Europe are also better suited to support them than the single nation of South Korea ever could. Obviously - if Jee Young Lee, Seon Hwa Lee and Song-Hee Kim were still playing regularly there, the KLPGA would be the powerhouse tour I believed it was.
I’m going to venture outside my usual sphere now, and it’s likely that some of you are going to get angry with me. Despite what the media will tell you, the Korean Golf Boom is only minutely the result of a nation enthralled with the sudden success of one of its daughters ten years ago. It’s primarily an economically-driven mindset to seek out a better life for their children (and sometimes selfishly for themselves) than the war-torn existence of their parents and the astronomically high economic ladder their own generation had to climb. Se Ri Pak gave them the map and Mi Hyun Kim confirmed the directions but their accomplishments primarily showed Mom and Dad a road that was paved with gold, not fairway grass.
If it sounds like I’m labeling Koreans as greedy, that is not my intention. They are only looking for a quality of life better than what they already had (who isn’t?), and I have to respect anybody who works so diligently in pursuit of that. Any generalized statement about a nation or culture borders on racism or at the very least nationalism so I have to tread carefully here. To show my good faith - why do Suzann Pettersen, Karen Stupples and Annika Sorenstam play here? Why don’t Paula Creamer or Laura Diaz play more events internationally? The “correct” answer to both questions is “to play against the best in the world” but the true answer is “the money is better here than in Europe or Japan”. Well, the money is REALLY better here than it is in South Korea.
I’m sure you can give me an affluent exception or five among the four dozen LPGA Koreans (Grace Park is one) just as I could rattle off a couple of American players who came from less than privileged beginnings (I’ll start with Nancy Lopez). Not that already being affluent ever stopped anybody from desiring more wealth. But it is time to stop labeling the Korean Boom purely as a collective of innocent little girls emulating their hero and recognize it as the economic phenomenon it is.