K-golf: South Korea's female golfing phenomenon

By Heather Chen
BBC News

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
South Korea's Park Sung-hyun has won her first women's major

Newly-crowned golfing champion Park Sung-hyun has become the latest name in a stellar series of female winners from South Korea.

This week, Park, 23, won the US Women's Open by two shots to claim her first LPGA title. Eight other Korean women also made it to the tour's top 10.

"It's almost like I'm floating on a cloud in the sky," said Park, whose nickname Dak Gong translates to "shut up and attack".

South Korean women have dominated the fiercely-competitive game, claiming victory at the US Women's Open seven times in the past decade. So what makes them so successful?

Not just a K-pop country

For decades, South Korea has emerged as a major exporter of popular culture. The lucrative 'K Wave' evolved from a regional development into a global phenomenon and cemented the viral status of Korean pop music groups and drama serials.

Korean golfing has now joined the ranks of K-pop and K-drama stars, with its athletes being given an impressive amount of respect on the world stage.

"Many people associate South Korean women with being just K-pop and K-drama stars. But Park is just one in a long line of champion women golfers from our country," wrote Jin Joo-so, a golf fan on Facebook.

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Move aside K-drama starlets, these women are carving a new global name for their country

Decades of rigorous training and intense competition has resulted in a generation of strong, young Korean women who have transformed and revolutionised the "thinking man's game".

Eric Fleming runs a fan site titled SeoulSisters, devoted to South Korean players. He says that the reason why Korean golfers dominate the sport is simple: they work hard.

"When a Korean girl shows talent in golf, her family will do whatever it takes to support her dream. Even if that means spending most of their savings to make it possible," he explained. "In return, she is expected to do everything possible to maximise her potential."

Golf is cut throat and pressure to excel in the sport is huge. But reality is harsh and sadly, not everyone becomes a champion.

"For the few that make it to the top, they have not only put in thousands of hours of training, they have developed a drive that makes sure they will continue to work hard to get as far as they can," Mr Fleming said.

"When a Korean girl makes it to the LPGA, I believe she is more motivated to win because of all the work and investment she has put in.

She has to make big sacrifices. Many American golfers just don't."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Pak Se-ri changed the face of women's golf and sparked a South Korean revolution

These are exciting times for South Korean golf.

And there's one name that's synonymous with the Korean golfing wave and that's Pak Se-ri, the woman credited with starting it all.

The 39-year-old from Daejeon city is now retired but she went out on a high in 2016 with a Hall of Fame career that yielded several major titles and inspired a wave of young women players who followed her to the renowned LPGA Tour.

"I am extremely proud of all of them. To witness the success of so many South Korean players on tour makes me feel proud of what I was able to accomplish," Ms Pak told BBC News from Seoul.

"Together we proved and continue to prove that no matter your country, background or circumstances, if you work hard enough to pursue your dreams, anything is possible."

She also spoke about "competitive training regimes" which set the standard for many South Korean women, who have learned to adapt to the gruelling game.

"Golf is a game of repetition and very often, it is difficult to remain dedicated. But hard work, dedication, passion and a lot of support was what I had," she said.

"I can say that from a cultural perspective, South Koreans are exposed to insane amounts of pressure from a very young age. So we naturally deal better with pressure on tour."