Practice makes perfect for Koreans

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

It may sound strange, but according to defending CN Canadian Women's Open champion Meena Lee, her success and that of other South Koreans on the LPGA Tour is due to a lack of courses back home.

Practise, practise, practise.

That's what South Korean kids do -- just as she did before coming to North America in 2005.

The 25-year-old, who arrived at London Hunt and Country Club yesterday, said through her interpreter that because there are just 250 courses in her homeland, Korean kids work on fundamentals of the game and get rare opportunities to play.

"In North America, they go on the course every day and have fun," she said through Jinnie Yoo, a tournament volunteer

"In Korea, it's not easy to actually get on a golf course. So before they get on the course, they go to the driving range every day and practise."

Lee also said she read an article that Koreans must have a handicap of 21 or lower before they can play on any golf course.

"And of course it cost a lot of money."

The LPGA Tour and the Futures Tour are loaded with South Korean players -- 32 on the LPGA Tour and 36 on the Futures Tour. There are 21 playing this week in London.

Of course, the Wayne Gretzky of Korean golf, Se Ri Pak, led the way, coming to the U.S. in 1998. Before that, there were no Koreans. In her rookie year, Pak won two majors, including the U.S. Open.

A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Pak enjoys rock-star status back home with 22 career victories and $8 million US in winnings. According to My Sik Choi, a golf writer with the Seoul Daily News who is in London this week, Pak is as big a star as baseball and soccer players back home. She has received the Order of Merit from the South Korean government, the highest honour an athlete can receive.

For Lee, there is no question Pak was her hero growing up.

"She was my biggest idol, no question," she said. "Se Ri Pak is the biggest idol for all Korean players."

Though only in her second year on the LPGA Tour, Lee has already made her mark. Coming back to Canada this summer holds special meaning because last year in Halifax her Canadian Women's Open win was her first on the LPGA Tour.

The win also brought some financial security. With the prize money, she bought a home in Orlando, Fla. and a new car and gave some to charity and her old school back home.

She has not won this year, but said she has a good feeling coming to London Hunt.

"I had a very positive attitude last year," she said. "I had such a good time. I've had a very good year so far and I'm happy to be back here in Canada."

The Korean reporter, one of several in London including a seven-person TV crew, said Korean golfers do well not only because they practise hard for long hours but because they receive quality instruction.

He said there aren't large numbers with about 10,000 playing junior golf.

"Most parents are eager for their children to do well," he said. "Most of the Korean golfers have financial backing to learn golf and if you are good enough to go to university, it is free."

Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Golf Association last night released pairings for the opening round tomorrow.

Lee will be playing at 12:22 p.m. from the first tee.

One of the featured groups of Dawn Coe-Jones, Pat Hurst and Natalie Gulbis follows Lee at 12:33 from the first tee. Canadian hopeful Lorie Kane, Brittany Lincicome and Seon-Hwa Lee start on the back nine at 9 a.m., followed by Cristie Kerr, Brandie Burton and Pak at 9:11.


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