Ten years ago, believe it or not, there were no fully exempt Koreans on the LPGA tour. And then there was one: Se Ri Pak, a lonely 19-year-old with a pushy father and a limited 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 South Korean girls began training for golf careers of their own. Now that first wave of Korean players has landed in America — this year 45 of them hold tour cards — and a typical LPGA leader board is now covered with mellifluous monosyllables: Kims and Yims, Ahns and Hans, Jangs and Kangs.
Like Pak, who will soon be inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame at the ripe old age of 29, the newcomers have had a hard time picking up English and making friends outside their ethnic entourage. It has been equally difficult for American and European fans to sort out the Seoul Sisters. Birdie Kim? She’s the gal who holed a bunker 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 Kim prepares for majors by painting Korean-flag designs on her fingernails? Is it Young Kim, Joo Mi Kim or Na Ri Kim? (Answer: Joo Mi.)
Truth is, the Koreans are diverse in their interests. Gloria Park is a skydiver and roller-coaster addict. Jeong Jang knits her own headcovers. Jimin Kang owns more than 70 purses and reads the Bible every night. Meena Lee trained to be a concert pianist.