Allow a KLPGA player to play in the LPGA
South Korean women’s golf is the strongest in the world. There are about 30 South Koreans in the top 100 of the Rolex World Women’s Golf Ranking every year, followed by the United States with about 20, and Japan with about 15.
However, since two years ago, South Korean players have no longer had such an imposing and strong presence on the world’s biggest stage, the U.S. Women’s Professional Golf (LPGA) Tour. Four years ago, in 2015, 2017, and just this year, 2019, they swept the season with 15 wins, but last year and this year, they have only won four.
The ladder of success, where top players who dominate the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) Tour naturally move on to the LPGA Tour and new talent emerges on the domestic tour, has seen a decline in recent years. Instead, players in their early 20s like Ataya Thititjer (Thailand) and Yin Ruining (China) have taken over the world rankings.
The LPGA Tour’s BMW Ladies Championship ended three weeks ago. The same week, the KLPGA tournament was held. That’s because the KLPGA declared the only LPGA Tour event in South Korea an “unsanctioned tournament” and fined players who tried to play in it hundreds of millions of won. The week of the two tournaments, Sung Yoo-jin, Hong Jung-min, and others with LPGA Tour aspirations began taking qualifying tournaments in the United States.
The LPGA Tour’s TOTO Japan Classic ended last week in Japan. The tournament was held on a Japanese course and featured 38 Japanese players, including 35 from the Japan Ladies Professional Golf (JLPGA) Tour, and they took the top spots. JLPGA player Inami Monet won the tournament and earned a spot on the LPGA Tour. She earned a direct ticket to the U.S. Tour without qualifying.
The TOTO Japan Classic, which began as the LPGA Japan Classic in 1973, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. When it was first created, the LPGA Tour was not a global tour, so it was co-hosted with the JLPGA from the beginning. Half of the players participated, and the points and prize money reflected each other. Starting with Ko Woo-soon in 1994, Korean players such as Shin Ji-ae, Song Bobae, and Ahn Sun-joo won many tournaments.
The first LPGA Tour event held in Korea was the CJ Nine Bridges Classic in Jeju Island in 2002. Since then, Hana Bank and Kolon have become sponsors, and Korean players have won 13 of the 17 tournaments through 2018. Since 2019, the BMW Ladies Championship has been the only LPGA Tour event in Korea.
The tournament, which started as an LPGA Tour-only event, was very popular in its early years, attracting many of the world’s top ranked players. Since then, as Korean players have become more prominent on the LPGA Tour, the number of KLPGA Tour players has increased. In the 2019 event, 46 out of 84 players (54.76%) were Korean, and in the 2021 event, 49 out of 84 (58.3%) were Korean. 캡틴토토 도메인
The tournament showcased a number of up-and-coming KLPGA Tour players, with five going straight to the LPGA Tour, including Ahn Si-hyun, Lee Ji-young, Hong Jin-ju, Baek Kyu-jung, and Ko Jin-young. The following year, in 2018, Ko became the No. 1 player on the LPGA Tour and held the top spot for the longest time. Jang Ha-na of the KLPGA won the title in 2019, before it was declared unsanctioned, and Im Hee-jung battled Ko in a thrilling extended playoff in 2021.
Last year, Kang Chun-ja, the former vice president of the KLPGA, who was also the head of the KLPGT, explained the decision to make the BMW Ladies unsanctioned and create a KLPGA event to compete in the same week, saying, “If all our good players are out during the LPGA, why should the rest of the players take a break? This is understandable, but it is not a reason to label the only LPGA tournament in Korea as unsanctioned.
Why not create a KLPGA tournament the same week, but allow players who want to go on the LPGA Tour to compete in the BMW Ladies? With the KLPGA at the peak of its popularity, there’s no reason not to. Talents like Sung Yoo-jin and Hong Jung-min who want to make the LPGA Tour shouldn’t have to give up their domestic tournaments and travel to the United States for qualifying.
For players who want to play on the LPGA Tour, this once-in-a-lifetime event will give them a chance to play overseas, and for players who want to stay in the KLPGA, it will give them more options. In the end, more KLPGA players will have more options. The head of the KLPGA, who is committed to the players, understands that.
I’m sure KLPGA President Kim Jung-tae, former chairman of Hana Financial Holdings, will be pleased. He would have been upset that the KEB Hana Bank Championship, which had been a successful LPGA event until 2018, was discontinued and declared ‘unauthorized’. He is concerned about the future of the KLPGA players and has a great personality, so he would not do anything that would be misunderstood.
‘If the LPGA is held during the golden season, the domestic tournament will not be successful, so it should continue to be unauthorized,’ he said. Others argue that if we allow players to compete, there will be no KLPGA tournaments. Do they want talented players to settle for the KLPGA? Lift the ban and allow KLPGA players to compete in the LPGA.