Ten years ago,believe it or not, there were no fully exempt Koreans on the LPGA tour. Andthen there was one: Se Ri Pak, a lonely 19-year-old with a pushy father and alimited command of English. When Pak, as a rookie, won four tournaments in 1998(including the LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women's Open), hundreds of SouthKorean girls began training for golf careers of their own. Now that first waveof Korean players has landed in America--this year 45 of them hold tourcards--and a typical LPGA leader board is now covered with mellifluousmonosyllables: Kims and Yims, Ahns and Hans, Jangs and Kangs.
This is an article from the March 12, 2007 issue
Like Pak, whowill soon be inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame at the ripe old age of 29, thenewcomers have had a hard time picking up English and making friends outsidetheir ethnic entourage. It has been equally difficult for American and Europeanfans to sort out the Seoul Sisters. Birdie Kim? She's the gal who holed abunker shot on the 72nd hole to win the 2005 U.S. Women's Open. Mi Hyun Kim?She's the little whisp from Inchon who swings like John Daly. But which Kimprepares for majors by painting Korean-flag designs on her fingernails? Is itYoung Kim, Joo Mi Kim or Na Ri Kim? (Answer: Joo Mi.)
Truth is, theKoreans are diverse in their interests. Gloria Park is a skydiver androller-coaster addict. Jeong Jang knits her own headcovers. Jimin Kang ownsmore than 70 purses and reads the Bible every night. Meena Lee trained to be aconcert pianist.
To learn moreabout the Korean golfers, SI, with an assist from Jee Jung of The Korea Times,surveyed 22 of them. The results suggest that the mythical typical Koreanplayer is a Lexus-driving Buddhist with a yen for Hollywood megahits. It'sclear from their answers, however, that these young women have to cope with thesame familial and cultural challenges that Pak faced. The principal differenceis that the newcomers are not so lonely.
Who decided thatyou'd play golf, you or your parents?
What would you doif you weren't a golf pro?
Housewife, officeworker, skier, taekwondo instructor, veterinarian
Finding Nemo,Harry Potter, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Mrs. Doubtfire, Notting Hill,Passion of the Christ, Runaway Bride, Saving Private Ryan, Seabiscuit, SisterAct, Spiderman, 2 Fast 2 Furious
Who is your rolemodel?
Se Ri Pak 12%
Lance Armstrong,Zach Johnson, Abraham Lincoln
Do you have aboyfriend?
Who will selectyour husband, you or your parents?
What do youdrive?
Cadillac,Chevrolet, Chrysler, Infiniti, Jia, Mini Cooper, Toyota, Volvo
What is yourlevel of education?
High schooldegree 24%
Did Se Ri Pak's1998 U.S. Open win influence your decision to play golf?
Do you considerMichelle Wie to be an American or a Korean?
Favorite AmericanTV show?
Charmed, Deal orNo Deal, The Raven
Do you preferAmerican or Korean food?
Kimchi (seasonedvegetable) casserole) 30%
Kalbi (grilledbeef ribs and rice in lettuce) 30%
Bul-go-gi(barbecued meat), dwen-jang jji-gae (bean casserole)
What is yourreligion?
Do you curse inEnglish or in Korean?
If you had beeneligible to vote in the last U.S. presidential election, for whom would youhave voted?
Does the U.S.media stereotype Korean golfers?
Las Vegas 14%
New York 10%
Atlanta; SanFrancisco; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Williamsburg, Va.
Favorite musicianor group?
Kim Jong Kook17%
Bach, Black EyedPeas, Michelle Branch, Kelly Clarkson, Celine Dion, Gladiator, Ok Joo Hyun(Korean pop star), Kim Min-Mong (Korean pop star), Britney Spears
Getting to KnowKim
Having troublekeeping your winning Kims straight? Here's a scorecard with a little backgroundon each of the Korean players who have been victorious on the LPGA tour
|Shi Hyun Ahn||22||4||1||Speed demon exceeds 90 mph on roads back home thanks to knowledge of radarlocations; spends two hours daily yakking on cellphone|
|Hee-Won Han||28||7||6||Husband, Hyuk Sohn, pitched in the Korean major leagues for eight years andretired in 2004 with a 36--31 record|
|Jin Joo Hong||23||R||1||Named Best Dressed at 2005 Korean LPGA award show; mother, Young-Hee,supported her by running a restaurant in Japan|
|Jeong Jang||26||8||2||Shot 18 under at St. Andrews; knits own headcovers; video-game addict(fave: EA Sports Tiger Woods golf games)|
|Jimin Kang||26||4||1||Owns more than 70 purses; reads Bible nightly; father, Joo-Bok, is a blackbelt in taekwondo|
|Soo-Yun Kang||21||5||1||In homeland has been dubbed "fashion model of the field" for herstylish on-course apparel|
|Birdie Kim||24||4||1||Loves driving fast and got two speeding tickets last year; now, swingcoach--travel companion won't let her take the wheel|
|Joo Mi Kim||21||3||1||Her patriotic gesture: At major championships, paints her fingernails withKorean-flag designs|
|Mi Hyun Kim||30||9||7||Patterned her swing after John Daly's; writes a weekly column for Koreandaily HanKook Ilbo|
|Meena Lee||24||3||2||From ages five to 12, trained to be a concert pianist; turned to golfbecause she hated playing piano|
|Seon-Hwa Lee||21||1||1||Youngest Korean pro (age 14, 2000) and youngest winner on Korean LPGA tour(age 15, 2001 McSquare Championship)|
|Se Ri Pak||28||10||23||Believes in reincarnation and hopes to come back someday as a man so shecan be the No. 1 player of both genders|
|Gloria Park||27||8||2||Thrill seeker is an avid skydiver and a roller-coaster addict; youth spentin Australia provided nickname: Koala|
|Grace Park||27||8||6||At age four won a children's acting contest in Seoul; as a teenager livedin Phoenix with a nanny while her parents were in Korea|
|Sung Ah Yim||22||3||1||Classmate of Joo Mi Kim at Seoul's Se-Hwa Girls' High; father, Yong Won, isa retired Korean Airlines pilot|
The Korean contingent includes (clockwise from top left) Shi Hyun Ahn, BirdieKim, Jee Young Lee, Kyeong Bae, Sung Ah Yim, Meena Lee and Seon HwaLee.