(All pix: Courtesy: Korean LPGA)
Korean women golfers show the way in Covid times as first pro event tees off in Seoul
Korea’s Bae Seon-woo, who plays on Japan Tour, and ended her 14-day quarantine only on Friday, was one of the three players who shot five-under 67 in the first round of the Korean LPGA Championships. The first professional event on any recognised world ranking Tour in the world is also the first event on Korean schedule this year and it is a major.Kim Char-young and Hyun Se-lin also carded 67 each to share the lead.
Golf commissioners and officials around the world from United States to Europe, Asia and Japan, were tuned in to carefully watch how the Korean LPGA opened up with the first full-fledged competitive since the sport was shuttered around March 15.
A full pro event it is the first event on Korean schedule this year and it is a major.
The event at the Lakewood Country Club in Yangju, north-east of Seoul, carries a purse of $ 2.5 million and has a field of 150. A 36-hole cut for top 110 players who get to play the third round will be followed by the fine round for top 70.
The purse of $2.5 million is the highest in the event’s 42-year history and the winner takes $ 180,000 (7.3 %). The tenth place gets approximately $ 24,500 and the 70thplace gets approximately $ 14,650 and prizes go down to the last player, 150th, with about $ 5,100. So every one gets a cheque.
Three of the World’s Top-10 players, World number three Park Sung-hyun, sixth-ranked Kim Sei-young and number 10 Lee Jeong-eun are in this week’s field. But none of them are in the lead.
Bae, a four-time winner on KLPGA was quarantined for 14 days after returning from Japan last month. The quarantine ended last Friday and she did not resume practice until the weekend.
The 2019 KLPGA Rookie of the Year Cho A-yean was tied for fourth with two others after a four-under 68.
World No. 3 Park Sung-hyun, the highest-ranked player this week, carded a 73, as did the reigning LPGA Rookie of the Year Lee Jeong-eun. Kim Sei-young, a multiple LPGA winner, shot a 74.
Covid-19 golf rules in place for the Korean Ladies Tour
A whole set of Covid-19 rules are in operation. There are no spectators allowed at the Lakewood Country Club.
The players and staff have their temperature checked at various check points and UV methods are also in force. Before they enter the players, officials and all support personnel must wear face masks at all times.
Players are required to wear masks before and after play and can also opt to wear them during the round, though in the first round on Thursday, most players played the actual shots without them. They entered the premises and course with masks and many played without them, though they all maintained a minimum of two metres from their competitors.
The caddies are all masked at all times, even on the course.
Media was allowed to cover the tournament but is being restricted to two designated areas on the course at the first and 10th tees.
All players must have their meals alone and no caddies or family members are allowed to sit at the same table in the players’ lounge.
Unprecedented interest in KLPGA
Golf follows after Korean football and baseball leagues began behind closed doors.
With no live golf available right now, the KLPGA has also attracted the attention of golf channels that are keen to show the product. To top it, the Korean women golfers are among the best in the world.
Korea has four of the World’s Top-10; eight of the World’s Top-20 golfers and 13 of the World’s Top-30 golfers as per world rankings.
Three of the world’s Top-10 players are playing the event and they are Koreans.
“The priority is the safety of the players, tournament officials and golf fans and (the event) will be broadcast,” organizers said in a statement.
Among the catch lines for the tournament is, “Let’s get through Corona 19 together.”
Top stars in action at KLPGA
This week’s field has Park Sung-hyun, a two-time major champion, Kim Seei-young, nine-time winner on the LPGA Tour and Lee Jeong-eun, the reigning US Open women’s champion, who had all got back home before flights were suspended are playing this week.
The LPGA was in the midst of its international schedule with events in Australia, when the pandemic struck. After the first two LPGA events in Florida, the LPGA moved to Australia for the ISPS Handa Vic Open and ISPS Handa Australian Open, both of which were won by Korean players – Hee Young Park and World No. 11 Inbee Park.
The LPGA is set to return in mid-July in Michigan
Golf on other Tours
The men’s US PGA Tour was halted after the first round at the PLAYERS Championship in Mid-March and is now expected to resume on June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge beginning at Fort Worth, Texas. The first four PGA Tour events will be without fans.
The US LPGA is expected to re-starts in mid-July, while the men’s Asian Tour is hoping to start in Korea around August. The European Tour has its first scheduled event around July at the Betfred British Masters.