Jin Young Ko wins Korea’s 200th LPGA title: We rank the nation's top eight women golfers

From the inspirational Se Ri Pak to Ko’s latest success, Korea has become the strongest golfing nation in the women’s game.

Korea's passion for golf is not quite as straightforward as it is sometimes portrayed.

Three years ago the nation hosted the LPGA International Crown - a team event - and the home team was naturally expected to win.

There was much talk of it being an enormous event, one that would generate huge publicity and coverage across the country.

In truth, it was a lot like most golf tournaments anywhere: lots of blather and excitement inside the property, minimum impact outside.

Mention of the tournament in the coffee shops and bars of the streets of the host city Incheon prompted blank stares and, often, complete incomprehension.

It perhaps revealed that the key to Korea's love of golf is not that the entire nation is under the sport's spell, but that, for those who are, the ardour is intense. 

Because that's what Koreans do - when they like something there is no faffing about, they're all in. Just as bars in the country often have one intense theme, so golf fans focus their attention on one player (joining fan clubs that micro-analyse their hero), and maybe that habit of fierce concentration aides players too?

When Se Ri Pak became the youngest winner of the US Women's Open in 1998 she opened the eyes of many Korean girls to the possibilities of golf and it was an opportunity many of them grabbed with absolute conviction.

Jin Young Ko's victory in last week's BMW Ladies Championship, on home soil in Busan, was the 200th win by a Korean on the LPGA, a remarkable tally that owes much to the inspiration of Pak.

Let's take a closer look at the eight most influential Korean women golfers and, for the sake of a fun argument, rank them in order of impact.

1. Se Ri Pak

Pak was not the first Korean winner on the LPGA - that came back in 1988 - but she was the first Major winner and rarely has one player's triumph triggered so much success in others.

Nor did she win once, galvanize, and then drift away. Anything but. Her total of 25 LPGA titles remains the greatest by a Korean golfer and in all she won five Majors.

Moreover, both those tallies would be considerably greater had her career not coincided with the remarkable Annika Sorenstam (72 wins, 10 of them Majors) and Karrie Webb (41 wins, seven Majors).

A statue in Seoul commemorates her 1998 US Open win and the Korean Times rated the win the third greatest moment in the nation's sporting history. A pioneer and legend of the sport.

2. Inbee Park

She's a seven-time Major winner, has spent four different spells at the top of the world rankings, her total of 106 weeks at No. 1 has been bettered by only two players, and she has a grand total of 21 LPGA wins.

Dig deeper (if you really need to) and what shines through is her resilience and longevity: in 52 Majors since the start of 2010 she has landed 32 top 10 finishes.

Her career sweet spot came in the three seasons between 2013 and 2015, when she claimed six of her Majors. In 2013 she won the first three of the year and actually led the fourth, the Women's Open on The Old Course, early in round one. Remarkable dominance, but the Grand Slam eluded her.

Her swing is unique; if it were a gate you'd rehang it. But it's also relentless, she owns it, and her putting is nothing less than sensational.

3. Jin Young Ko

Unlike many of her peers she took her time breaking out of Korea, aware that she was not yet ready to take on the burdens of travel, expectation and elite competition.

It was a shrewd decision and also indicative of the smart thinking that typifies her game. When she did make the move to the LPGA in 2018 she became Rookie of the Year and the following season she won two Majors and hit the top of the world rankings.

Now up to 11 LPGA titles, she has chased down Nelly Korda to retain her World No. 1 spot, and more Major success seems inevitable.

4. Jiyai Shin

An 11-time winner on the LPGA, two of them Majors, but what elevates her to the number four spot is that she enjoyed three spells at the top of the world rankings.

Never quite as comfortable in America as many of her compatriots, she relocated to the Japanese circuit after the 2014 season and has racked up 28 wins there - and has a grand total of 61 victories worldwide.

5. Sung Hyun Park

Seemed destined to hit astonishing heights with a blistering start to her career that witnessed 10 wins on her home circuit in 2015 and 2016, the LPGA Rookie of the Year title in 2017, and seven wins on that circuit in the next three years, including two Major Championships.

She also hit the top of the world rankings on four separate occasions, but never for very long.

Feted by her fans, who are taken by her resemblance to K-pop singers, it became apparent in late 2018 that the pressure was actually too intense and intrusive. Her form has been badly affected and she hasn't made a top 10 in two years.

6. So Yeon Ryu

The fifth and final Korean to have ascended to the top of the world rankings, Ryu did so in the summer of 2017, some six years after she made a winning breakthrough in the US Open.

Like Chun (below), she has never been a prolific winner. Sei Young Kim, for example, has 12 LPGA wins, Na Yeon Choi nine and Mi Hyun Kim eight. In contrast, Ryu has just six, but two of them were Majors (and she lost a play-off in a third).

Her consistency in the Majors also demands she rank above others. From late 2012 to mid-2019 she landed 18 top 10s in 33 starts in the events that boast the best fields and the toughest examinations.

7. In Gee Chun

Just a three-time winner on the LPGA so why the elevated position? Because all three triumphs were superb.

The first came in the 2015 US Women's Open and the second a year later in the Evian Championship - two wins, both Majors. The third success arrived on home soil, at the 2018 Hana Bank Championship, and it did so after an emotional performance in front of exultant fans after suffering from online abuse and grief following the death of her grandmother.

An off-the-course superstar, too, once spotting that a caddie had taken a shine to Korean biscuits and buying him a box of them. She also set up an educational fund at Lancaster CC where she won her US Open.

8. In-Kyung Kim

A controversial final pick maybe, ahead of those more prolific winners mentioned above.

But Kim has still landed seven LPGA wins and one of them was a Major. Moreover, it was a dominant performance, in the 2017 Women's Open.

She also came as close as anyone has come to winning a Major without actually lifting the trophy because she had a one-foot putt to win the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship, but it lipped out and she lost the play-off. It was an excruciating blow, one she took some time to recover from, but the fact she did says much about the Beatles fan's courage.

The last four on the list - Park, Ryu, Chun and Kim - all have an extra tick in the box for being members of the Korean team at that 2018 International Crown where they won the title despite feeling profound pressure.

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