SEOUL, Jan. 24 (Yonhap) — It’s no secret that South Korea has been a dominant force on the LPGA Tour in recent years. The country has produced the past two LPGA Player of the Year winners and the top three players in the current world rankings all come from South Korea.
Considering the popularity of women’s golf in South Korea, that the country is only hosting one LPGA tournament each season comes as a mild surprise. The tour has gone so global that 12 out of 34 tournaments in 2021 are scheduled to be contested outside the United States.
The BMW Ladies Championship in October in the southeastern metropolitan city of Busan stands as the only LPGA event in South Korea. And to hear LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan tell it, the U.S. tour has considered creating another Korean event in the calendar, but he also wanted to be respectful of the Korea LPGA (KLPGA) Tour.
“In my tenure, we were pretty serious about adding a second Korean tournament in the not-too-distant future,” Whan said in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency. Whan announced on Jan. 6 that he’ll step down as LPGA commissioner after an 11-year stay in charge.
“The reality of it is, we can certainly play two or three times a year in Korea. But the KLPGA is a strong, thriving tour and I don’t want to get in the way of their schedule,” Whan added. “I know that when we show up, sometimes it interrupts their season and their sponsors. We don’t want to be that kind of force. I do want to be a global force in women’s golf and I want to help other tours be stronger. But I think, if we spend too much time there (in Korea), we’re probably in the way of the KLPGA.”
The first LPGA tournament in South Korea was played in 2002 on Jeju Island. It moved to the southeastern town of Gyeongju for two years in 2006 and 2007, and then found its new home in Incheon, just west of Seoul, for an 11-year stretch.
During that time at Sky 72 Golf & Resort, adjacent to Incheon International Airport, the tournament under the sponsorship of KEB Hana Bank expanded from 54 holes to 72 holes.
The tournament moved to Busan with BMW coming on board as the new sponsor in 2019. It wasn’t played in 2020 due to effects of the coronavirus pandemic but is scheduled for Oct. 21-24 at LPGA International Busan.
“In a perfect world, we’d probably have a Seoul event and a Busan event as one-two staples,” Whan said. “At a minimum, two (tournaments in Korea), and we can certainly play more. But I think it’d have to be something that the KLPGA would really want to embrace us being there more often. If they don’t, my job isn’t to get in the way but to help them become as strong as they can be.”
Whan insisted that the LPGA and KLPGA aren’t competitors that some may believe them to be.
“We all really have the same mission. We want young girls to be able to pursue their dreams in the game of golf, whether that’s at home or abroad,” Whan said. “I want to be the most global version, most money, most TV and most opportunities. But I also know not every player wants to travel the world every year to play golf. Some would rather stay home. Together, with tours like LPGA and KLPGA, we’re providing women with choices. You can stay home, have a really good career and make good money. You can step out to a more global option. If we stay in this together, then our members are winning.”