Investigation of Korean female golfers’ success factors on the LPGA Tour from 1998 to 2007

Abstract

Se Ri Pak is arguably the most famous Korean name ever to play on the LPGA Tour. Ten years after Pak’s debut in 1998, 42 Korean players are now playing on the LPGA Tour. This international phenomenon over the past decade has produced a lot of Korean players and many Korean victories. Nineteen-Koreans have won 64 LPGA Tour events over the past decade. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to analyze the reasons why Korean female golfers have been successful in securing such a dominant position on the LPGA Tour. The survey used in this study was distributed to Korean players who participated in a professional golf event (State Farm Classic Tournament). The results of this study revealed that hard practice, certain goal, and family support were selected as the most important factors to be success on the LPGA Tour by Korean players.

Key words: golf, marketing, consumer behavior, retail

Introduction

With the development of the internet, it is now possible to easily access international newspaper, magazines, blogs, and other media in order to secure news and information
from around the world. For instance, individuals in the United States who are interested in news about Korea and/or its citizens can go to Korean media outlets
and access information about myriad topics concerning Korea. While finding news through Korean media outlets was fairly easy, finding Korean news stories in
American television news programs or cable networks was relatively difficult and uncommon. (Yes, finding information was difficult) When Chan-Ho Park became
the first Korean Major League Baseball (MLB) to be signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1994, and Se Ri Pak, became the first Korean to win the U.S. Open
Tournament and advance to the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) Tour in 1998, the Korean people could get more news about them through American television
programs or ESPN (Entertainment and Sport Programming Network) cable program. With South Korea’s economy in shambles in 1998, Chan Ho Park and Se Ri Pak gave
encouragement and hope to Korean people. When Chan Ho Park announced the starting pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers’ game or Se Ri Pak would participated in one of
the LPGA Tour tournaments, Korean television programs and big screens in Seoul city aired these game. As Korean people were watching Park and Pak’s victories
for the Major League baseball game and the LPGA Tour tournaments, Korean people felt some sense of satisfaction from them during the difficult Korean recession
period (16). Most Korean people believed that when these two players were signed to go into a major sports league, they would fail, because of differences related
to skill, physicality, culture, language, food, and a host of other potential challenges. However, Park and Pak overcame these supposed problems and were
very successful in their respective sports. The success of Park and Pak gave great hope to the Korean people to also overcome their serious economic problems
in the late 1990s (16). In addition, as Pak in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour collected four victories (including two major tournaments wins), other
Korean female golfers began to complete and eventually join the LPGA Tour.
As a result of the door opened by Pak and the record of her achievements, South Korea now has the largest international contingent on the LPGA Tour (14). One
of the interesting things about the Korean female golfers on the LPGA Tour is that while the Korean players have a large number of victories, they have not
turned out a dominant player since Pak burst on the scene a decade ago with victories in the 1998 McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open.
Ten years after Pak’s debut in 1998, 42 Korean players (i.e., Se Ri Pak, Mi-Hyun Kim, Grace Park, Shi-Hyun Ahn, Soo Yeong Kang, etc) are now playing on the LPGA
Tour. Every year, Korean female players are increasing on the LPGA Tour. Nineteen-Koreans (i.e., Se Ri Pak, Mi-Hyun Kim, Grace Park, Hee Won Han, Jeong Jang, etc) have
won 64 LPGA Tour events over the past decade. No other professional sports league in the world has as many Korean players. Only a few Korean female handball players
are playing on professional teams in Japan and Europe, and only one basketball player has played for the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association). The
numerous Korean players and victories on the LPGA Tour is a unique phenomenon. One may wonder why Korean female players are so prevalent on the LPGA Tour and
so good at the sport of golf. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to analyze the reasons why Korean female golfers have been successful in securing such
a dominant position on the LPGA Tour.

The History of the LPGA and the KLPGA
The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour is the longest running women’s professional sport association (1). The LPGA Tour was founded in 1950
by 13 members (1). Based on the LPGA Tour history, in its first season, the LPGA Tour hosted 14 tournaments with $50,000 in total prize money. In 1959,
the LPGA Tour included 26 tournaments and played for more than $200,000 in total prize money. The LPGA Tour featured 33 events and prize money of more than $58
million which was the highest ever paid out in LPGA Tour history. The LPGA Tour players competed for an average purse of $1.7 million for the 2008 season (1).
While the LPGA Tour is over a half-century old, the Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) Tour was founded in 1978. In its first season, the
KLPGA Tour held only one tournament. However, in the 2007 season, the KLPGA Tour hosted 22 tournaments with over $7 million in total prize money. About
1,003 members were registered as active members in 2006, and KLPGA Tour players, such as Se Ri Pak, Mi-Hyun Kim and Shi Hyun Ahn are also playing for the LPGA
Tour (6).

Korean Golf Circumstances

Despite the increasing popularity of golf in the world, golf has not always been a popular sport in Korea. The sport of golf was socially recognized as
a luxury in Korea because most Korean people believed that only wealthy people could participate in golf (8). Koreans have long associated golf with corruption
and greed (2). Government officials with meager salaries could never afford to pay the fairway fees; however they could play golf by receiving bribes (2).
The cost of participating in the sport of golf in Korea is very expensive, at least compared to playing golf in the United States. Compared to golf courses
green fees in the United States, where the average cost of playing an 18-hole is about $36 including cart, Korean golf course green fees are about $140 for
an 18-hole (5). Although Korean golf courses often provide better services than that received at typical golf courses in the United States (i.e., caddies, locker
rooms, saunas, other amenities), spending over $150 for participating in a one-time leisure activity is not easy money to come by for median-low income level people
in Korea. However, the golfing population has gradually increased from the late 1990’s. Shin and Nam (16) posit that since 1998, the number of Korean golfers
is gradually increasing because of the economic downturn in Korea which has forced golf courses to decrease membership and green fees. In 2004, there were
approximately 176 golf courses in Korea. According to Korea Golf Index (7), golf participation population was about 2.5 million.

Korean LPGA Tour Players

Ok Hee Ku is a pioneer of Korean women’s golf. She won 19 tournaments in Korea since 1980 and won 23 international tournaments since 1985. Ok-Hee Ku has mostly
played in Korea and Japan. Ok-Hee Ku was the first Korean winner on the LPGA Tour. She won at the 1998 LPGA Standard Register Turquiose Classic Tournament.
She had the record of the most wins in a single season until it was broken by Ji Yai Shin in 2007 (13). Woo-Soon Ko was the first player who won twice on
the LPGA Tour. She won at the Toray Japan Queen Cup in both 1994 and 1995 (17). Ten years later, Ok-Hee Ku won on the LPGA Tour, Se Ri Pak advanced to the LPGA
Tour and won two major tournaments (U.S. Women’s Open and LPGA Championship) and won two other tournaments during her rookie season. Pak won total 24 tournaments
on the LPGA Tour and six victories on the KLPGA Tour since 1996. In addition, Pak was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007. After Pak advanced
to the LPGA Tour, other Korean female golfers were also challenged to join the LPGA Tour because they gained confidence watching Pak’s successful entry into
the professional tournaments. Largely because of Pak’s achievements, South Korea now has the largest international contingent on the LPGA Tour. Ten years after
Se Ri Pak’s debut, 42 Korean players (not counting Korean-American women like Christina Kim or Michelle Wie), which is 23% of total players (179 LPGA players)
and 50% of international players from Korea in 2007 season, are playing on the LPGA Tour. Nineteen Koreans have won 57 LPGA Tour events, but 44 of those were
from four players: Pak (24), Mi Hyun Kim (eight), Grace Park (six) and Hee-Won Han (six) (18). From 1998 to 2007, five Korean players were named as Rolex Rookie
of the Year including Se-Ri Pak, Mi-Hyun Kim, Hee Won Han, Shi Hyun Ahn, and Seon Hwa Lee. Only three American players, one Mexican, and one Brazilian player
were named Rookie of the Year.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

Determining the success factors of Korean players on the LPGA Tour has not been easily accomplished. Shin and Nam (16) tried to explain the social structural
of Korean golfers’ success. They studied the golfing boom in Korea, Korean family structure, the goal-oriented nature of Korean people, the Korean psyche, and
other possible factors for success. One of the interesting issues was coming from Shin and Nam’s study related to the Korean family structure. According
to These scholars, one of the reasons the Korean players can focus and devote themselves to golf is the close involvement of parents, because Korean family
members usually live together in a single household until the children marry. This lengthy period of living together develops strong and close relationships
between parents and children. As Korean young female golfers come to the U.S. to learn golf or participate in a tournament, their father or mother, or both
of them, come to the U.S. together to fully support them. Therefore, young Korean players can play well and feel comfortable staying with their parents in a foreign
country. Usually, Korean players fathers’ roles are that of coach, caddy, adviser, manager or driver during the season. Their mothers are doing such things as
cooking Korean food or doing laundry for their daughter.
Lee, Kim, and Lee (9) credited factors such as Korean parents’ passion for education for their children, corporate sponsorships of players, and early golf education
as the sources of Korean female golfers’ successes on the LPGA Tour. Lee, et al. (9) explained that getting corporate sponsorships for players is one of
the most important factors in playing golf well on the Tour. According to Norwood (12), golfers need a minimum of $150,000 a year to play on the PGA Tour, $100,000
for the Champions Tour which is for Senior players, $75,000 for the LPGA Tour, $55,000 for the Nationwide Tour which is the developmental tour for the PGA
Tour. However, international players need at least $100,000 to play on the LPGA Tour because of international flight fares, staying at hotels and eating food
with their parents, tutoring in English, and other expenses. For example, an LPGA Tour player normally needs about $2,000 for travel, hotels, and meals per
event. In addition, a player should pay at least $1,000 for the first two rounds to her caddie. If a player makes the cut and plays three and four rounds of
the event, she needs to pay more to the caddie. Then, a player needs at least $5,000 to break-even for the event after receiving prize money and taxing. If
a player plans to participate in 20 events per year, she needs about $100,000 for the season. Therefore, players need to get corporate sponsors to be able
to play well on the LPGA Tour under stable financial conditions.
Recently, another study examined the success factors of Korean female professionals on the LPGA Tour. Ramstad (14) believed that hard practice, a passion for golf,
and family structures have led to Korea’s having the world’s best women golfers. In addition, Korean government’s elite sport system for young athletes and strong
spiritual strength are major reasons for their success on the LPGA Tour (9,11). A number of researchers have also suggested that culturalism, spiritual strength,
and sport globalization are added factors to the success (3,10). Korean LPGA Tour golfers had strong mental power and more confidence rather than do any
other LPGA players (9). Lee et al., (9) looked at a socio-cultural analysis on the success of Korean players on the LPGA Tour and Shin & Nam (16) looked
at the case of Korean players on the LPGA Tour as approaching to socio-cultural issues such as gender roles, culture, and sport. Lee et al., (9) anticipated
factors such as Korean parents’ passion for education for their children, corporate sponsorships of players, and early golf education as the sources of Korean female
golfers’ successes on the LPGA Tour, but never before has been studies to approach to experimental studies about the success factors of Korean LPGA players. This
research will be asked one question to Korean LPGA players that what is/are the most important factor/s to survive on the LPGA Tour. Therefore, the purpose
of this study is to analyze the reasons why Korean female golfers have been successful in securing such a dominant position on the LPGA Tour..

METHODS

Sample and data collection
In order to accomplish the goals of this study, there was a need to secure the involvement of Korean players on the LPGA Tour. Therefore, this study was conducted
in Springfield, IL, where the 2007 LPGA State Farm Classic tournament was held. A total of 145 players participated in this tournament. A questionnaire was
distributed to Korean players at the practice putting green and driving range. Twenty-five of 26 potential Korean players at the tournament event participated
in this survey for a response rate of 96%. The golfers who participated in this study were asked to answer one question. A total of 25 out of 26 Korean players
responded and only one player refused to answer a question because of practice. (Total 31 participated in the tournament, not survey. I distributed this questionnaire
to 26 players).

Instrumentation

Based on the review of academic literature (5,9,16) and the accounts in traditional media outlets (i.e., newspapers, magazines) that examined, Korean golfers’ success
factors, a questionnaire was developed that included comprised of 10 factors (hard practice, family support, sponsorship, Korean athlete elite education
system, confidence, turning professional early, the Korean chopstick culture, competitive Korean social circumstance, certain goals, and a passion to play
golf) in one question to find out which factors most influenced Korean players to achieve success on the LPGA Tour. After collection of the data, the analysis
of the results involved frequency counts and descriptive tabulations. For instance, “1” was a hard practice, “2” family support, “3” Sponsorship, “4” Korean elite
athlete system, “5” confidence, “6” Turned professional early, “7” Korean chopstick culture, “8” competitive Korean social circumstance, “9” certain goal, and “10”
passion to golf. The research question was to select the top three reasons why Korean female golfers have been successful in securing such a dominant position
on the LPGA Tour.

RESULTS

The study found that hard practice was the first reason for success on the LPGA Tour. 22 Korean players selected “1” (hard practice) as the top reason for dominating on the LPGA Tour. The second reason from 18 out of 25 Korean players was “9” (certain goals) and 15 players answered that “2” (Family support) was one of the top three reasons for success on the LPGA Tour. Korean players marked “10” (passion for golf) as the fourth reason by players. Four out of 26 players selected “6” (turned professional early). Six Korean players were selected “7” (Korean culture, two players), “8” (competitive Korean social circumstance, two players), and “5” (confidence, two players). Interestingly, only two players marked sponsorship or the Korean Athlete Elite Education System. Therefore, based on these results, sponsorship, Korean Athlete Elite Education System, competitive Korean Social Circumstance, the Korean Chopstick Culture, and confidence were not important factors to success on the LPGA Tour for Korean players. This study suggested that the social phenomenon or Korean culture was not the important factor but rather the individual’s talent or effort (hard practice, certain goal, and passion to golf) to success on the LPGA Tour.

DISCUSSION

Lee et al., (9) anticipated factors such as Korean parents’ passion for education for their children, corporate sponsorships of players, and early golf education as the sources of Korean female golfers’ successes on the LPGA Tour. However, this study found that hard practice, certain goal, and family support are the
most important factors to success on the LPGA Tour. This result described that individual’s skills, efforts, and abilities are more important factors than other factors (i.e., sponsorships, Korean chopstick cultures, or competitive Korean social circumstances).
This study also found that family support was also important factor to success on the LPGA Tour. Shin & Nam (16) also anticipated that family support is the one of the important factor. This result will help to young Korean golfers who are trying to advance to the LPGA Tour. If young Korean female golfers follow
the success factors which were selected by Korean LPGA players who advanced the LPGA Tour since 1998, young Korean female golfers might success easier than ever on the LPGA Tour. As noted above, hard practice, certain goal, and family support were the top three reasons to success on the LPGA Tour.
There are a number of limitations that should be considered when interpreting the results of the study. First this study used only one question to answer. One question to answer might not be generalized on the result. Future study should consider several questions to find the factors. Another limitation of
this study was sample size. This study collected twenty five samples. Total 42 Korean LPGA Tour players were playing for the LPGA Tour in 2007. Therefore, future study should also consider collecting more samples at the LPGA Tour tournaments which is the most Korean players participate in.

CONCLUSIONS

This study was to analyze the reasons why Korean female golfers have been successful in securing such a dominant position on the LPGA Tour. This study found that individual’s skills, efforts, and abilities are more important factors than other factors such as sponsorships, Korean chopstick cultures, or competitive Korean social circumstances.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT

The significance of these finding is related to the work of sport marketing professionals. With the increasing numbers of Korean female golfers on the LPGA Tour, the LPGA Tour needs to consider Korean players as a marketing strategy. According to Blauvelt (4), the largest percentage of the LPGA Tour TV rights fees came from South Korea. In 1998, the majority of LPGA Tour TV rights came from the U.S. because there had been no Korean players on the LPGA Tour at that time. In addition, the LPGA Tour might consider using a Korean language version online as a way of increasing international traffic, because many Korean fans are visiting the LPGA Tour official website to check Korean players’ stats and information. If the LPGA Tour put products related to Korean players on the online pro shop, the sales of merchandise might greatly increase due to Korean fans. As many Korean players are playing on the LPGA Tour, Korean companies might want to sponsor the LPGA Tour. Before 1998 season, there had been no Korean sponsor on the LPGA Tour. However, since 1998, Cheil Jedang and Samsung (both of which are major corporations in South Korea) took title sponsors for inaugural events and regular tour tournaments. Koron also signed as title sponsor of Koron-LPGA cross-cultural professional development program. This program was designed to help all LPGA Tour players be successful on the LPGA Tour. Therefore, if the LPGA Tour focuses on increasing marketing around Korean players, Korean fans, TV right fees, sponsors, etc will increase and make more revenue for the LPGA Tour.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None

REFERENCES

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www.lpga.com

 

TABLE 1

The LPGA Rookie of the Year from 1998 to 2007

Year Name Nationality
1998 Se Ri Pak Korea
1999 Mi Hyun Kim Korea
2000 Dorothy Delasin U.S.
2001 Hee Won Han Korea
2002 Beth Bauer U.S
2003 Lorena Ochoa Mexico
2004 Shi Hyun Ahn Korea
2005 Paula Creamer U.S.
2006 Seon Hwa Lee Korea
2007 Angela Park Brazil

 

TABLE 2
Korean players’ success factors on the LPGA Tour


Factors

The total number of times listed(For
your question,
players can select three factors. 22 out of 26 players select “1”.

Hard Practice (“1”) 22
Certain Goal (“9”) 18
Family Support (“2”) 15
Passion to Golf (“10”) 7
Turned Professional Early (“6”) 4
Confidence (“5”) 2
Korean Chopstick Culture (“7”) 2
Competitive Korean Social Circumstance (“8”) 2
Korean Athlete Elite Education System (“4”) 1
Sponsorship (“3”) 1
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