For Korean golf queen, LPGA is not plan A
By Kang Seung-woo
Since Pak Se-ri took off her socks and went into the water to make a dramatic winning shot at the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998, the U.S. women’s professional golf circuit has been a rite of passage for many local players.
Those who have had a breakthrough season on the domestic tour have rushed to the LPGA qualifying school in such droves that they are collectively known as the “Seoul Sisters.”
Now the focus is on whether Kim Ha-neul, 23, who dominated the Korean LPGA Tour last year, has any immediate plan to play overseas, specifically on the LPGA Tour.
But Kim, the KLPGA’s reigning player of the year, said that playing in the United States was not plan A.
“I do not have a plan to move to the LPGA Tour right now,” Kim said in a recent interview. “When I won tournaments, people would often ask me when I would move to an overseas tour, making me wonder whether a foreign tour was a must-do for local players.”
Kim has often said that playing on foreign courses is nice, but it is not a something she has to do right away.
“The KLPGA Tour’s money leader can participate in several LPGA tournaments in a season. For me, it’s okay to focus mainly on the KLPGA Tour while moonlighting on the LPGA Tour” she said.
Kim, who turned pro in 2007, ascended to the top of the Korean women’s tour last year after winning three tournaments, the most victories by a single golfer. She also topped the money list with 524 million won ($458,500) on her way to becoming player of the year.
There are currently 27 Koreans on the U.S. women’s tour that have KLPGA membership and most of them entered after passing the five-round qualifying tournament.
“I do not want to play on the LPGA Tour by applying for its Q-School. I have no plan to go through it. I think the Q-School is too exhausting mentally and physically and I do not want to experience such pressure,” she said.
Kim joined the KLPGA Tour without playing a qualifying tournament and said that she did not face any pressure to qualify for the top level and does not want to do so in the future.
“Skipping the qualifying tournament is my own standard for a U.S. appearance. Apart from automatic tour exemption status from winning tournaments, I will not try to secure a full-time slot on the LPGA Tour.”
There are some Korean players whose trajectory she wants to emulate, such as Shin Ji-yai, Seo Hee-kyung and Ryu So-yeon who qualified by claiming LPGA Tour titles. Shin won three including the Women’s British Open in 2008; Seo, the Kia Classic in 2010; and Ryu, the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011.
Kim’s refusal to join Q-School does not mean that she cannot play on the LPGA Tour.
As the Korean tour’s highest money earner last year, Kim has taken part in three LPGA Tour tournaments this season and made the top 25 each time.
She finished 24th at the season-opening Women’s Australian Open in February. In March, she tied for 20th at the Kia Classic in California and finished tied for 11th at the Kraft Nabisco Championship last month, also in California, the year’s first major.
“It was exciting playing tournaments overseas and I gained confidence in performing on the international stage,” Kim said.
She is determined to remain on the KLPGA Tour until there is nothing left to achieve and has returned to the local stage for the new season with the aim of putting up better numbers than last year.
“Last season, I nabbed three awards, but missed the one for scoring average. So this season, I want to sweep all four trophies,” said Kim, whose scoring average was, at 71.89, the fourth-best record on the tour.
And her campaign to play better this season got off to a good start. She rebounded from an poor opening-round display to tie for third at the KLPGA season opener two weeks ago, which she said boosted her confidence.
“I was not in the best shape at the beginning, but I found my rhythm down the stretch to produce a good score,” she said.
“With my swing and putting improving, if efforts to control my mental game pay off, I will be able to get better achievements.”