Dom­i­nat­ing the fairways Is tiger par­ent­ing the key to South Kore­ans’ suc­cess?

Com­pet­i­tive spirit and strong fam­ily sup­port are reap­ing div­i­dends, writes Kate Rowan

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

Any­one ob­serv­ing the prac­tice greens of the Evian Golf Re­sort last week could have thought they were at the Anyang Coun­try Club be­tween Seoul and In­cheon rather than in the French Alps. It was not just the num­ber of South Korean play­ers present, in­clud­ing even­tual win­ner Ko Jin-young, but the over­whelm­ing amount of brand­ing from Korean com­pa­nies on ev­ery­thing from um­brel­las to club cov­ers.

Walk fur­ther to the out­door ter­race re­served for play­ers and their en­tourages and, at times, anx­ious Korean par­ents dom­i­nated it. The scene was sim­i­lar in the pro shop with proud par­ents splash­ing out on ex­pen­sive mer­chan­dise such as £250 silk scarves.

When you con­sider that 10 of the play­ers in the top 20 women’s golf world rankings are South Korean, this should be of lit­tle sur­prise. Nor was it a shock that three Kore­ans; Ko, Park Sung-hyun and 2016 Olympic golf medal­list In­bee Park, pop­u­lated the fi­nal group on Sun­day.

So why do South Korea’s women dom­i­nate golf?

In Korea, the women’s golf rev­o­lu­tion has not been state driven but sup­ported by par­ents. Speaking to The Daily Tele­graph, In­bee Park cred­its the Kore­ans’ nat­u­ral com­pet­i­tive­ness com­bined with parental en­cour­age­ment as keys to the suc­cess. “We are very com­pet­i­tive, we start at a young age, we get re­ally good sup­port from our par­ents,” she says. “What our par­ents do is spe­cial, they re­ally sacri­fice in order to help their daugh­ters play pro­fes­sional golf. Then, when many play­ers turn pro­fes­sional, their par­ents join them on the tour to sup­port them.”

The cul­ture of tiger par­ent­ing has come in for crit­i­cism in south-east Asia hav­ing been blamed for a men­tal health epi­demic among young South Kore­ans, yet it would seem this parental drive has been har­nessed as a pos­i­tive for young fe­male golfers. De­spite progress in re­cent years, in­clud­ing Park Geun-hye

be­com­ing the first fe­male pres­i­dent of South Korea from 2013 to 2017 and an in­crease of women in chief ex­ec­u­tive roles, Korea still has one of the high­est gen­der pay gaps in the de­vel­oped world, while rigid beauty stan­dards also dom­i­nate the work­place, with many Korean women speaking out about how make-up was “com­pul­sory” in the cor­po­rate world at the out­set of the Metoo move­ment.

Korean girls are at an ad­van­tage com­pared with their male coun­ter­parts as all men aged 18-35 must com­plete mil­i­tary ser­vice as, of­fi­cially, South Korea is still at war with North Korea. Con­scrip­tion has taken male play­ers, in­clud­ing the 2017 Play­ers’ Cham­pi­onship win­ner Kim Si-woo, out of the PGA Tour.

Just as Tiger Woods in­spired a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can ma­jor win­ners such as Jor­dan Spi­eth and Patrick Reed, Korean women have their own role model or “men­tor” in Pak Se-ri.

In 1998 Pak be­came the first Korean woman to win a ma­jor and her gutsy per­for­mance to win the US Open in a play-off in 1998 be­came South Korea’s equiv­a­lent of Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup as she waded bare foot into a wa­ter hazard. A video of the sem­i­nal mo­ment is used by the gov­ern­ment to show­case South Korean men­tal for­ti­tude and has led to the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion be­ing dubbed “Se-ri’s kids”.

The LPGA op­er­ates with the Korean mar­ket at its heart and has its Asian head­quar­ters based in Seoul. Play­ers, due to their per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies, will of­ten use in­ter­preters rather than speak English for fear of not ap­pear­ing per­fect.

While Eng­land may not have en­joyed the same foot­balling suc­cess since 1966, the Kore­ans are just as fa­nat­i­cal about women’s golf now as Pre­mier League foot­ball fans. The LPGA view­ing fig­ures out­num­ber those of the PGA Tour in South Korea, ac­cord­ing to LPGA com­mis­sioner Mike Whan.

Al­though the Amer­i­can is keen to point out the global na­ture of women’s golf, he can­not help but smile at the suc­cess in Korea. “Right now Kore­ans have this spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with women’s golf, the way Cana­di­ans feel about ice hockey,” he says.

Park Sung-hyun has her own ded­i­cated fan club with many mem­bers mak­ing the trip to Evian last week and to the Women’s Open at Woburn tee­ing off to­mor­row. As a re­sult of the play­ers hav­ing sta­tus equiv­a­lent to K-pop stars, The Tele­graph un­der­stands play­ers can earn up­wards of $10,000 a month in en­dorse­ments.

Ron Si­rak, the vet­eran Amer­i­can golf writer and broad­caster, says: “The Korean women re­mind me of Lee Westwood, the amount of spon­sors’ lo­gos they wear.”

This is help­ing the women’s game fi­nan­cially with Whan tak­ing note of a new brand name adorn­ing play­ers’ gear that could be­come wider part­ners in the women’s game as he checks out the prac­tice ranges.

So, if you are at Woburn this week and want to un­der­stand how South Korea has changed the face of women’s golf, stop and count the lo­gos.

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