If you watch the LPGA on Ziggo for an evening out, you will immediately notice that the Asian ladies are overwhelming. Not only in number but also in performance. In this Why section, we answer questions you didn’t know you had: Why do Asian golfers dominate the tour?
Put the top 10 golfers in the men’s and women’s world rankings side by side and you’ll read names like Scotty Scheffler (No. 2), Cameron Smith (No. 3), John Rahm (No. 5) and Victor Hofland (No. 10) in one list. Others include: Atthaya Thitikul (No. 3, see photo above), Jin Young Ko (No. 5), In Gee Chun (No. 8), Hyo-Joo Kim (No. 9), Nasa Hataoka (No. 10) . There are at least five Asian players in the top ten of the world rankings. Of the top 100 golfers, nearly 60 come from Asia, mostly from South Korea, Thailand and Japan. For men, there are only 7.
Do Asian women have more talent for golf than women from other parts of the world? No, is the answer. But what makes her so dominant in the LPGA is a question with multiple answers. We make an effort!
Specialization and work ethics
Society in countries like South Korea and Japan may be less of a distraction for young people than young people from America and Europe. As a result, kids focus on one sport at an early age, which is golf in this case. Compare that with Dutch children: they sometimes do two sports, play an instrument, and also want to have enough time to meet up with friends.
South Korean and Japanese golfers are more likely to devote all their time to golf because the number of recreational activities available to them is more limited. Add to that the tremendous discipline and work ethic – for which the cultures of both countries are known – and you have part of the answer.
Women are better than men
You may be wondering if this specialization at a young age and high work ethic does not apply to men as well. Yes, but Asian women on the LPGA Tour still have an advantage over Asian men on the PGA Tour. The reason is that length and strength are less important on the shorter LPGA courses than they are on the PGA Tour. What is important is consistent swing and accuracy, which is exactly what Asian women have been training every day since childhood.
What also matters is that in Asian cultures, the pressure for men to study and then get a good job is very high, much higher than for women. Men are more likely than women to choose a path of study and a career rather than an uncertain future as a professional golfer. For the youngsters from South Korea, a continuous golf career would be tough anyway. South Korea is one of the few countries where compulsory military service is still for men, with a minimum of 18 months. The time when their American and European peers happily train and improve.
So it is mainly women who have made themselves heard at the highest level of golf in recent years. As they stormed the rankings, they looked up to a role model like Park Se Ri (pictured below). The South Korean golf star made her debut on the LPGA Tour in 1998 and has since won 25 tournaments, including eight Grand Slams. She was also inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007.
And just as Pak Se Ri inspired girls to play golf in her day, Enppi Park (South Korea) and Ayaka Furyu (Japan) are doing the same for their generation. Families of young Asian golfers are sure to make a very positive estimate of their return on investment. Because if, after the significant investment of time and money, the US LPGA Tour and Championships are won, many family members will be able to live off the prize money. A tempting opportunity for these families and well worth the risk of making a major investment in their young daughters.
Finally, a short anecdote about this “how do you mean?” to close with. In 2019, American golf instructor and former coach of Tiger Woods, Hank Haney, is at the center of a mini-riot in the world of golf. Looking at the US Women’s Open, he predicted, “The Korean golf star is going to win and she’s probably going to have my last name because they’re all called that.” Hanyi was scolded, but he was right. On the fourth day, the name “Jeongeun Lee6” topped the leaderboard. Why these six? There were already 5 other professional players named Jeongeun Lee: Jeongeun Lee1, Jeongeun Lee2, Jeongeun Lee3, Jeongeun Lee4, and Jeongeun Lee5!