It’s no secret that women’s golf has exploded in the Republic of Korea since Se Ri Pak broke out on her Hall of Fame career in 1998.
The LPGA has a long history in Asia, and it continues to grow bigger and better every year. This year alone, the Tour will visit the Republic of Korea, China (twice), Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan and this week in Singapore.
Tour players enjoy the exuberance of rabid fans in each of those golf-crazy countries, and the LPGA’s reach in the continent seems to expand on an annual basis. With eight of 33 events this season taking place in Asian nations, that impact is only expected to balloon more and more.
World No. 1 Lydia Ko is excited about any opportunity to play in Asia.
“I haven’t had that many opportunities playing in Asia,” she said this week in Singapore. “The most I’ve played was really during the Asian swing last year, and I had so much fun. The crowds are great and just people in Asia, they are so intrigued and they love the LPGA.”
Each nation has been proud to have top-level players carrying their flags around the world, and the marquee stars have done their part to promote the game of golf on a global scale. The Republic of Korea has had a plethora of juggernauts, from Pak to Inbee Park, So Yeon Ryu and Na Yeon Choi.
Add new potential stars Amy Yang, Sei Young Kim, Sun Young Yoo, Ha Na Jang and Mirim Lee, just to name a few, and the country’s prominence is magnified. China has world No. 4 Shanshan Feng, Chinese Taipei has former world No. 1 Yani Tseng, Thailand and Ariya and Moriya Jutanugarn and Japan former world No. 1 Ai Miyazato as ambassadors.
Reigning Rolex Player of the Year Stacy Lewis talked about the game’s recent explosion in Thailand and the rest of Asia before teeing it up in the Honda LPGA Thailand last week.
“Well I think you just look at all the young Thai players we have right now on Tour, and that’s all in the last, what, five or six years we’ve been playing here that they’re kind of coming, too,” she said. “It’s great to see the impact they’re having on their country, the players that they’re inspiring to come out.
“So, I think it’s so cool they get to play in their home country in front of all their fans, all the media, get all the attention, because they deserve it. We play in Korea, and we play in all these other countries to grow the game, and we’ve finally been here long enough that you're seeing the players come as a result of us being here.”
As the LPGA’s roots grow deeper in Asia and Asian fans fall more in love with the women’s game, more events could make their way to the Eastern Hemisphere. Last year’s inaugural International Crown was further evidence of the growing stature of the game abroad, and Asian countries were lynchpins in that competition.
Throw in the massive impact the 2016 Rio Olympic Summer Games are expected to have on golf on a worldwide scale, and the potential for growth is staggering. The Tour’s Asian expansion has been crucial to its overall success and revival in recent years, and the future looks bright for all involved.