Korean Women Golfers Fired Up by Olympic Hopes

      March 03, 2015 12:14

      Korean women golfers are off to a strong start in the 2015 season of the U.S. LPGA Tour, winning three out of four events. And the only other winner was world No. 1 Lydia Ko, a Korean-New Zealander.

      Choi Na-yeon claimed the title in the season-opening Coates Golf Championship, Kim Sei-young picked up the trophy at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, Ko won the Australian Women's Open, and Amy Yang was the latest winner of the Honda LPGA Thailand on Sunday.

      Players say a strong desire to be part of the Olympic squad for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro has been a big motivating factor.

      "I want to realize my life-long dream of competing in the Olympics and I will work very hard to achieve it," Choi said. And Kim Sei-young said, "The biggest reason why I moved to the LPGA Tour this season is to improve my chances of making it on the Olympic team."

      "As we approach the Olympics, I've come to realize more and more how awesome but challenging it is to be an Olympian," Yang said.

      Golf is making a comeback as an official Olympic sport in Brazil next year, 112 years after it was last seen in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, the U.S.

      Clockwise from top left, Park In-bee, Kim Hyo-joo, Amy Yang and Ryu So-yeon

      Why is being part of the Olympics worth so much to female golfers who already enjoy significant fame and wealth and do not need an Olympic medal to get out of military service like their male counterparts?

      Ryu So-yeon, who won two gold medals in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, said, "Representing your country is a really special honor that doesn't come to many people. It would be a great honor to be the first Olympic golf champion in 112 years."

      Park In-bee has said since last year that she is preparing for the Olympics, the most important event of her career. But these golfers must survive a fierce competition to be selected to the national team from a wide pool of world-class players.

      According to the qualification system for next year's Olympics by the International Golf Federation, eligibility will be based on the world rankings as of July 11, 2016. There will be one gold medal available for men and women's events respectively, and 60 golfers in each event will compete in individual stroke play.

      Up to the top 15 seeds in the world rankings, a maximum of four players from one country will be able to qualify. "Beyond the top-15, players will be eligible based on the world rankings, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top-15," the IGF explained.

      Host Brazil will be given one berth in each event. Also, "each of the five continents of the Olympic Movement will be guaranteed at least one athlete in each of the women's and men's competitions respectively, if not automatically qualified."

      Based on the current world rankings released on Monday, that would mean Korea can have four golfers in the Olympics.

      Park is in second place, Kim Hyo-joo in seventh, Ryu in eighth, and Yang in 10th. Yang's ranking soared from 16th to 10th with Sunday's triumph in Thailand. If this remains unchanged, Choi, who has eight LPGA titles and is sitting in 14th place, will not make it. She knows it. "I really need to work harder," she said.

      Outside the Top 10, Korea has eight players in the top 25 with the potential to move up. Baek Kyu-jung is in 12th, Choi in 14th, Lee Mi-rim in 16th, Ahn Sun-ju in 20th, Jang Ha-na in 21st, Kim Sei-young in 22nd, Chun In-gee in 23rd, and Choi Woon-joong in 25th.

      Korea's field in the men's competition is much weaker. As of Feb. 22, Bae Sang-moon is the highest ranked Korean golfer in 75th, but he has been charged with violating military service regulations.

      Noh Seung-yul is in 99th place, Kim Hyung-sung in 123rd, and Choi Kyung-ju in 132nd.

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