Why Shouldn't Asian Women Dominate Golf? - Part 4
May 14, 2013
by William Szczepanek
In Part IV we visit those areas that provide a model for pursuit of success. Most successful people have had someone who has influenced them to make that extra effort to achieve.
Heroes and Role Models
The Koreans have role models. Se Ri Pak took the Korean golf world by storm when she won the U.S. Open in her rookie season of 1998. That act, in and of itself, inspired a nation and convinced them that they could be successful at an American-dominated game. It stirred the minds of the little girls that they too could achieve and now many have followed in Se Ri's footsteps to show that they can achieve also. The Se Ri Pak story isn't one of a natural talent that beats all odds, but is the essence of the culture of a nation that recognizes the importance of hard work. She was followed shortly thereafter by Mi Hyun Kim and Grace Park. Koreans have now spawned numerous role models: Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu, Jiyai Shin ─ the list goes on for a long while and it is continuing to grow. And while it grows it forms a nation of people who work hard at everything they do because they can see the fruits of their labors. Even if they struggle and don't succeed at golf they have learned how to use those talents to succeed in other ways. They have not lost.
Who are America's role models? In the American sports world the players who are idolized often achieve success by cheating or taking drugs. The temptation is too great for these athletes and hundreds have followed their examples only to the ultimate dissolution of young, aspiring kids. Where are our heroes? Where are the Ted Williams's and Stan "The Man" Musials. They are now folklore. But, they used to represent a way of life. It's been a long time since we had a real hero in the sports world. But heroes are often people who realize the number one position in a sport, but don't have the all around character to live up to be a role model. Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods come to mind.
In women's golf Stacy Lewis is making a case that she could establish herself as a hero and role model and if she can keep playing the way she has and acting the way she has we may have one for the long term. It's not so much winning over others as it is leading others in the right direction. Or, it may be that American girls will be affected by the Asian influence and model themselves after the Korean stars. That's not at all a bad thing. Many Korean Americans already have.
In the U.S. good golfers get scholarships to colleges. After college they are thrown into the fray, often without financial help and support. They spend their own money, or their parents' money to enter tournaments. If they succeed they move on, otherwise, they pay to play. It's not like they have the time to work at a job to support their goals.
In Korea they have the KGU (Korean Golf University), where students are housed and trained to become world class golfers. After the University sponsorships are easier to come by in Korea. In the U.S., only big names get the contracts.
Imagine if you were an interested, talented girl who showed potential and could practice all day, with little stress, and no money problems. Many barriers that currently exist would be eliminated. But that's not the current American way, unless you're rich. Koreans support women golfers because they have a chance to become a well known player, like a Se Ri Pak. The more they support, the better the chance of success. Corporations support women's golf in Korea in a big way. Due to the economic downturn in America, corporations are pulling out and only want to support winners, but there are fewer of those to support.
It takes a lot of money to play golf. Here we may get to the crux of the matter. Korean support for women's golf is huge. By the way, Korean support for U.S. golf is huge. Korean television pays a significant amount for the rights to broadcast the LPGA in their country. The same is true of Japan. Korean and Japanese television rights are two of the largest revenue streams keeping the LPGA afloat. Where is the American money? Well, we have just gone through a significant recession and cutbacks were severe. Sponsors disappeared and the Tour suffered with fewer tournaments and less prize money. It appears to be slowly recovering.
It is very difficult for someone to become successful at golf in the U.S without money because even after college scholarships there is no system to bring golfers along without them spending their own money or getting sponsorships, and the sponsorships often go to golfers who are good looking, ensuring the corporate logos will more likely get noticed.
At this point we can see a trend in the opportunities available to young people in the USA. Colleges and universities squeeze every penny they can from the kid's pockets with government help in order to prop up the economy. Schools get rich and students get poor. Having a college degree is no longer enough for guaranteed success for three reasons: first, the education provided to the kids is no longer the quality it once was; secondly, the kids don't put in the effort to take their learning to another level; and thirdly jobs are not in the waiting for those who graduate.
Once a young Korean girl gets really good at golf she can move on to the KLPGA, where success can bring money in winnings and the opportunity to move to the LPGA by winning an international tournament. Jiyai Shin, So Yeon Ryu and Hee Kyung Seo all obtained their tour card this way.
The KLPGA is the proving ground where the stars from Korea get their game. The tour is full of stars who have yet to make it to the LPGA, but who will likely do so soon, like Ha Neul Kim (upper right) who was the leading money winner on the tour last year, or Char Young Kim (left) who notched 3 victories on the KLPGA last year. We might also see Je Yoon Yang (right), who captured Player of the Year, or Rookie of the Year Ji Hee Kim (bottom). If anyone thinks that any of these young ladies won't add sparkle to the field, they are blind.
As a comparison the LPGA has about $50 million in purses per year. The KLPGA had about 12 million a year ago and is growing. The Symetra tour in the USA has 2 to 3 million in winnings per season. While the top 10 on the Symetra tour get an LPGA card, the Koreans must win an international tournament or go to Q School. In either case the KLPGA prepares the Koreans exceptionally well for the LPGA and is supported in a big way, providing the money to the winners to advance their careers. It appears the South Koreans have a system that works.
So it is now quite clear why Koreans are dominating the women's golf world, and why shouldn't they?
1. Practice - Koreans not only practice more, but they have learned how to practice better. I don't see them suffering much from too much practice, in fact, they seem to enjoy it. Especially the success part that comes from it.
2. Education - Koreans value education and the learning process. They are not only learning how to be better golfers, but also better doctors, scientists, engineers and teachers.
3. Work Ethic - Koreans tend to understand that in order to excel you need to work at it. The parents understand this and push their kids to succeed, sometimes too hard, but often hard enough to guarantee success even it is not at the top level. This is an integral part of their culture.
4. Heroes and Role Models - Having someone as a role model helps to drive any young mind to achieve. You don't have to be number one to be a hero, you only need the courage to try.
5. Sponsorships and Money - Korean parents, corporations and the KLPGA support their kids because that will determine the success of the family and the nation in the future.
All of this is pretty straight forward. In fact, it is much like the U.S. in the 1930s through the 1960s. It is a combination of many forces that coalesce to push a nation to succeed. Any one of these areas is usually not enough. Sometimes a natural talent can make it happen with less effort than others, but that is very rare. Making these things happen on a national level requires good leadership, good family values and unfortunately, money. What we appear to have forgotten is that the money comes from all of these other things working together.