Looking at the leaderboard after the opening round of the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf was a reminder of how dominant South Korean-born players have become on the LPGA Tour.
Leading the way, as she always has, was World Golf and LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak, the matriarch of the Korean influx to the LPGA herself. The 25-time champion shot a smooth 68 to share the first-round lead with countrywomen Hyo Joo Kim and So Yeon Ryu, and that trio was half of a group of six South Koreans who were among the top nine after Round 1.
World No. 1 Inbee Park was part of that group after posting a 2-under 70, and seeing the South Korean flag dominating the top of the leaderboard was nothing new for LPGA fans. Ever since Pak broke on the scene with two major championship victories during her rookie year of 1998, South Korean players have made their presence felt on Tour.
Their ascension helped spark an LPGA boon in Asia that has done great things to grow the women’s game. It has been widely written that Pak’s groundbreaking impact on the Tour has opened the door for her compatriots, and it is one of her greatest accomplishments as a pro golfer and ambassador for the game.
After her stellar opening round, the media asked Pak about the growth of the women’s game in her native country and the group of 33 South Koreans that are LPGA Tour members in 2014.
“The last many years, Korean players were consistent in the top, so (it’s) not surprising. Everybody knows about it,” said Pak, who qualified for the halls of fame in 2007. “Not only our country, but you can see all Asian players come from all over. They are young, too.
“Just things (have) changed in the LPGA now. I mean, not only Korean, not only Asian, but I think more from international, and the age is going a lot more younger. And there is more talent, and they are in better shape and play well.”
Of the 33 South Korean players in the LPGA, 22 have won tournaments. They have combined for 90 victories, including 15 major titles, and Pak is one of 17 South Koreans currently ranked in the top 50 in the Rolex Women’s Golf World Rankings.
Pak believes, like most LPGA fans, that the Asian influence on the Tour is a positive for the women’s game.
“It’s really good to see it happen,” said Pak, who has five major championship titles. “And to see it more public and that people know that is really different than the old days, actually. More fun to watch and more better games, actually, so that's really great for the LPGA. I like to see it happening, too.”