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Seoul Sisters
John Garrity
March 12, 2007
Except for Americans, South Koreans comprise the largest single group on the LPGA tour, yet their views are largely unknown. Here's what they think
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March 12, 2007

Seoul Sisters

Except for Americans, South Koreans comprise the largest single group on the LPGA tour, yet their views are largely unknown. Here's what they think

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Age LPGA Yrs Wins Skinny
Shi Hyun Ahn 22 4 1 Speed demon exceeds 90 mph on roads back home thanks to knowledge of radar locations; spends two hours daily yakking on cellphone
Hee-Won Han 28 7 6 Husband, Hyuk Sohn, pitched in the Korean major leagues for eight years and retired in 2004 with a 36--31 record
Jin Joo Hong 23 R 1 Named Best Dressed at 2005 Korean LPGA award show; mother, Young-Hee, supported her by running a restaurant in Japan
Jeong Jang 26 8 2 Shot 18 under at St. Andrews; knits own headcovers; video-game addict (fave: EA Sports Tiger Woods golf games)
Jimin Kang 26 4 1 Owns more than 70 purses; reads Bible nightly; father, Joo-Bok, is a black belt in taekwondo
Soo-Yun Kang 21 5 1 In homeland has been dubbed "fashion model of the field" for her stylish on-course apparel
Birdie Kim 24 4 1 Loves driving fast and got two speeding tickets last year; now, swing coach--travel companion won't let her take the wheel
Joo Mi Kim 21 3 1 Her patriotic gesture: At major championships, paints her fingernails with Korean-flag designs
Mi Hyun Kim 30 9 7 Patterned her swing after John Daly's; writes a weekly column for Korean daily HanKook Ilbo
Meena Lee 24 3 2 From ages five to 12, trained to be a concert pianist; turned to golf because she hated playing piano
Seon-Hwa Lee 21 1 1 Youngest Korean pro (age 14, 2000) and youngest winner on Korean LPGA tour (age 15, 2001 McSquare Championship)
Se Ri Pak 28 10 23 Believes in reincarnation and hopes to come back someday as a man so she can be the No. 1 player of both genders
Gloria Park 27 8 2 Thrill seeker is an avid skydiver and a roller-coaster addict; youth spent in Australia provided nickname: Koala
Grace Park 27 8 6 At age four won a children's acting contest in Seoul; as a teenager lived in Phoenix with a nanny while her parents were in Korea
Sung Ah Yim 22 3 1 Classmate of Joo Mi Kim at Seoul's Se-Hwa Girls' High; father, Yong Won, is a retired Korean Airlines pilot

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.

To learn more about the Korean golfers, SI, with an assist from Jee Jung of The Korea Times, surveyed 22 of them. The results suggest that the mythical typical Korean player is a Lexus-driving Buddhist with a yen for Hollywood megahits. It's clear from their answers, however, that these young women have to cope with the same familial and cultural challenges that Pak faced. The principal difference is that the newcomers are not so lonely.

Who decided that you'd play golf, you or your parents?

Me 43%

Parents 57%

What would you do if you weren't a golf pro?

Pianist 18%

Student 18%

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