For Korea’s Golfers Eyeing the Olympics, More Than Four Is a Crowd

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — So Yeon Ryu is a two-time main winner and a former world No. 1 who entered this week’s ANA Inspiration, the first L.P.G.A. main of the 12 months, as a prime 20 participant. Ryu’s credentials for the Tokyo Olympics this summer season are stable gold.

Her passport is her drawback.

Ryu is from South Korea, the place champion ladies golfers are an plentiful pure useful resource. With three months till the group rosters for the delayed Summer Games in Tokyo are finalized, Ryu is No. 16 in the world however No. 7 in her homeland.

The Olympic qualification requirements dictate that each participant in the prime 15 is eligible to compete however that no nation can have greater than 4 representatives in the 60-player area. Led by Jin Young Ko, Koreans maintain the prime three spots.

“I don’t know that there’s a harder team in sport to make right now,” mentioned Mike Whan, the departing L.P.G.A. commissioner.

In 2016, when golf returned to the Olympics as a medal sport for the first time since 1904, Ryu missed a berth on the South Korean group regardless of a top-12 world rating.

“It’s tougher to make the team from my country than to win the gold medal,” mentioned Ryu, who opened with an even-par 72 Thursday at Mission Hills. Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand shot a six-under-par 66 to steer the area.

South Korean champions have been plentiful over the previous decade, capturing 23 of the 47 L.P.G.A. majors contested. They occupy 14 of the prime 35 spots in the world rankings. For gamers needing to tell apart themselves, making the Olympic group is a precedence.

“So many players are playing so well from Korea that I want to say people back home are less appreciative to see what we’re doing on the tour,” mentioned Ryu, 30, whose main titles got here at the 2011 United States Women’s Open and the 2017 ANA Inspiration, each in playoffs. “They’re more keen to see the Olympics because they know it’s really, really tough to make the team.”

Inbee Park, Ryu’s greatest buddy and compatriot, gained the ladies’s competitors at the Rio Olympics, by 5 strokes over New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, then the top-ranked participant. With the nation’s team members all so highly ranked, Korean officers had been assured of no less than one medal in the ladies’s competitors. Park overcame a wrist harm that had slowed her progress all 12 months and delivered on the expectations.

No stranger to the highlight, she took the golf world on a thrilling journey in 2013 when she won the first three majors in a bid to grow to be the first skilled, male or feminine, to win 4 in the identical 12 months. But by no means, Park mentioned, had she felt extra stress. After arriving in Brazil, Park absorbed the sense of urgency radiated by the archers, the swimmers, the taekwondo athletes and the handball gamers representing Korea who’ve one probability each 4 years to craft their legacies.

“You get so much attention from the people and the country and from everyone pretty much,” Park, now 32 and a seven-time main champion, mentioned this week. “I think it’s double, triple, probably 10 times more pressure than I ever felt in a major championship.”

Whan mentioned the telecast of Park’s last spherical drew a 27.1 score in South Korea. To put that in context, he mentioned, Park’s unsuccessful bid for history at the 2013 Women’s British Open — she completed 14 strokes behind the winner, Stacy Lewis — acquired an 8, which was roughly the identical as the score for Tiger Woods’s victorious last spherical at the 2019 Masters.

“So imagine Tiger at Augusta times three,” Whan mentioned. “She went from being a really noteworthy golfer to being one of the most famous people in Korea in one weekend.”

Ryu didn’t plan to observe any of the 2016 Olympics protection. “I was so close to making the team that it definitely hurt for me,” Ryu mentioned. “I wanted to avoid it as much as I can.”

She added, “But when you know your best friend is rocking it in Rio, you have to watch.”

Ryu was glad she noticed Park clinch the gold. She credit Park’s efficiency in the Olympics along with her personal victory at Mission Hills and ascent to No. 1 the following 12 months.

“Before Rio I was maybe so afraid, ‘What is going to happen if I miss the Olympics?’” Ryu mentioned. “So I almost just wanted to believe winning a major is better than the Olympics.”

She added: “After Inbee won the gold medal, I was definitely jealous — not of her but because I felt she did something that was big for the whole golf industry. Maybe that motivation really helped me to play well in 2017.”

In 2018, South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In a nod to her new stature, Park was chosen as certainly one of the last torch bearers. As she ran with the flame into the Olympic Stadium, slowly to keep away from tripping in circumstances so chilly she may hardly really feel her toes, her buddy Ryu sat awe-struck in the crowd of 35,000.

After being so close to the prime 10 and nonetheless so removed from qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, Ryu acknowledged it could be her solely probability to expertise an Olympics up shut.

Source link