Korean golfers get warm welcome here

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

Londoner Jinnie Yoo is keeping her fingers crossed that South Korean golfer Jee Young Lee comes back to win it all at the CN Canadian Women's Open today.

While most of the visible buzz and gallery crowds at the Hunt Club have surrounded Canadian star Lorie Kane this week, there's definitely electricity being generated on the other side of the world by the drive-and-putt exploits of the 20-year-old Lee.

"The country's going crazy -- I went on a Korean website and everyone's talking about what she's doing here," said Yoo, who is chair of player services for the large contingent of Korean golfers here this week.

"I'd love to see her win it. Everyone only sees the public side of these golfers while they're competing, but she's so personable and a lot of fun. This (year) is really one of her first times winning and having success on the LPGA (Tour), so everyone's really happy for her."

Among her duties, Yoo has helped the young visiting players find a place to stay in the local Korean community, performed translations and introduced the group to what London has to offer. Though defending Open champ Meena Lee has been great, Yoo has a soft spot in her heart for Jee Young Lee because the two have remained in communication since the youngster decided to play here.

"At the start, we had been sending e-mails back and forth to each other for a month while she tried to set up a place to live here," Yoo said. "Players like Se Ri Pak and Mi Hyun Kim already know it all because they've travelled for years and they're used to this lifestyle. But for the rookie players, this is a new experience. For a lot of them who aren't well known yet, their galleries are usually their moms and maybe a few other people. I hope people come out to watch them play."

Born and raised in Seoul, Yoo came to Canada in 1990 and has lived in London for nearly 10 years with husband John Yoo, a surgeon at the London Health Sciences Centre.

"I tell these girls I know exactly how they felt when they came here because I did the same thing," Yoo said. "You have to get used to the culture. The food is different, but in a lot of ways, the culture shock isn't that bad. There's a lot the same. Good manners and bad manners are the same anywhere you go."

Yoo, a member of the Sunningdale Golf and Country Club, got a quick taste of the dedication that has made the Koreans a force in the sport since Se Ri Pak opened the door in 1998. She threw a party at her house on Thursday for the players and noticed most were ready to turn in early.

"They're very self-disciplined," Yoo said. "Most of the ones that didn't make the cut this week were still staying until Sunday and were looking for places to practise. Their parents are unbelievable in their support. Most of them follow the players here to help them out."

Thanks in large part to Yoo, the Korean players will leave London with fond memories and -- judging by the leaderboard -- a hefty chunk of the prize purse.

"The (Korean) players have all been very pleased here because it's one of the first tournaments on the Tour that offers hospitality like this for them," Yoo said. "They love the golf course and being able to stay in the Korean community here. I'm very happy because I've been able to be helpful to them and I would do this again if I get the opportunity."


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