By Kang Seung-woo
While Korean golfers are steadily improving, the behavior of local galleries does not seem to be keeping pace with them.
The nation’s lone LPGA Tour event, the KEB-HanaBank Championship, was held in Incheon last week and as expected, many Korean fans including around 20,000 on Sunday flocked to the Sky72 Golf Club over the three days to watch some of the world’s top players.
However, the gallery hoping to enhance their experience went too far, frequently bothering players with the continual clicks and snaps of cell phone cameras.
The opening round of the 11-year-old tournament featured defending U.S. Women’s Open champion Choi Na-yeon, world No. 1 Yani Tseng and fan-favorite Michelle Wie in the same group and the three of the game’s biggest stars gathered the biggest crowds that continually distracted the marquee threesome by snapping photos with their phones.
As a result, players often had to swivel and stare at the followers, backing off shots and resetting on the tees, with caddies busy shouting, “No cameras, please.”
The scene was similar on the fairways and greens.
During LPGA Tour events, cell phones are permitted but must be put on vibrate or silent with no rings, alerts or other sounds and the PGA Tour also began allowing fans to bring mobile devices to tournaments last year, designating areas away from the action where phones could be used but also reminding fans that they should not be used closer to the players.
World Golf and LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Pak Se-ri criticized the galleries for taking pictures, especially during critical shots.
“Foreign players as well as Koreans were distracted by the clicks and snaps of camera shutters,” said Pak, who heard the complaint from Suzann Pettersen. The two played in a group that also featured Ryu So-yeon on Sunday.
“This tournament has been held for more than 10 years and it is considered as the best among those taking place in Asia but fans need to take a little bit more attention (to not taking photos during live play).”
Amid growing complaints from the players, Choi Kyoung-ju has made efforts to raise the image of Korean golf since last year by making his namesake tournament — K.J. Choi Invitational — free of mobile phone ring tones and camera shutters.
“Last year’s tournament was a big hit when we enforced a no cell phone policy and the galleries were very receptive and respectful,” Choi told the Asian Tour website last month.
“Some may feel uncomfortable but it is good for everyone.”