Since Se Ri Pak inspired a generation of young women to take up the game of golf with her thrilling victory in the U.S. Women’s Open more than two decades ago, the Republic of Korea has been at the epicenter of growth within the women’s game. Thursday, the LPGA Tour returns to Korea for the fourth edition of the BMW Ladies Championship.
When the inaugural BMW Ladies Championship was held in Korea in 2019, 11 of the top 25 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings were from the country, a clear indicator of the booming influence that Korea has had on the game of golf in the wake of Pak’s win. But four years later, that number has dropped to three, with only Jin Young Ko, Hyo Joo Kim and Jiyai Shin ranked inside the top 25 in the Rolex Rankings.
It’s not that the Korean players have declined in talent or ability. In fact, earlier this season, Ko set the record for the most career weeks spent at world No. 1, holding the top spot for a total of 159 weeks. But it wasn’t just young girls in the Republic of Korea who were inspired by Pak’s victory. It was hundreds of juniors from countries across the globe.
So, what’s behind the change? Well, the rest of the world has gotten better, too.
Currently, there are players from 13 countries ranked inside the top 25 in the world. The players from Korea were just the first in the wave to reach the LPGA Tour, with Inbee Park ushering in the next generation of Korean superstars with her U.S. Women’s Open victory in 2008, a decade after Pak’s landmark win. But that wave of influence is now swelling in other countries, with players from Thailand, China, Japan and nations across Europe filing those spots atop the global rankings that Koreans once held.
Players like Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, the People’s Republic of China’s Shanshan Feng and Japan’s Ai Miyazato have inspired a whole new generation that is now making its mark on the LPGA Tour. Many of those rising stars are poised to compete at the BMW Ladies Championship, which features top-ranked American Lilia Vu, China’s Ruoning Yin, France’s Celine Boutier and Japan’s Yuka Saso.
The BMW Ladies Championship is the second of four events being held during the Tour’s fall swing through Asia, where a limited field of just 78 players will compete in the 72-hole, no-cut event for a purse of $2.2 million.
The BMW Ladies Championship will be contested for the first time at Seowon Hills at Seowon Valley Country Club, which is located an hour outside of downtown Seoul. Over the past three months, the course has been undergoing a redesign at the hands of David Dale to make the layout more strategic and appropriately challenging for the best in the women’s game. Seowon Hills will play to over 6,600 yards with four par 3s and four par 5s.
Thursday will see the return of Jin Young Ko, who won the 2021 BMW Ladies Championship but hasn’t competed on Tour since the CPKC Women’s Open in August. Major champion Nelly Korda will also tee it up for the first time since the Solheim Cup.
Defending champion Lydia Ko is poised to compete, relying on a sponsor invite in order to try and successfully defend her title. This year has been a challenging one for Ko, who returns to the Republic of Korea in search of just her second top-10 finish of the season. Currently ranked outside the top 100 in the Race to the CME Globe point standings, Ko has sizable work to do to climb inside the top 60 in the Race and qualify for November’s CME Group Tour Championship, where she is also the defending champion.
More than 70 years ago, the LPGA Tour got its simple start by competing at stops across the United States. But in the wake of Pak’s breakout win and golf’s booming popularity in the Republic of Korea, the Tour grew globally and today boasts members from 36 countries. More than 20 players with connections to Korea are competing in this week’s BMW Ladies Championship in what will be a celebration of the growth of women’s golf not just in Korea but around the world.