Joining her first LPGA Tour this year, 19-year old golfer Baek Kyu-jung has made her debut a memorable one by winning the KEB-HanaBank Championship in a three-way sudden death playoff. She defeated fellow Korean Chun In-gee and fivetime LPGA winner Brittany Lincicome at the Sky 72 Golf Course in Incheon, Korea, on Oct. 19. After finishing the week with a final-round score of 67 to finish 10 strokes under par, including five consecutive birdies during the back nine holes, she birdied the par-518th hole to take the tournament championship. “Going into the final nine, my goal was to come into the top 5, and so I really concentrated on every hole and I started making birdies,” Baek told AP. “It all started to kind of work for me from then on.”
With the victory, Baek soared to No. 13 in the LPGA’s world rankings, currently topped by fellow Korean golfer Park Inbee. She’s not the only 19-year-old Korean making waves on the LPGA tour, however. Big-hitting teen Kim Hyojoo became the third-youngest major winner at 19 years, and 2 months when she beat Australian legend Karrie Webb in the Evian Championship at the Evian Resort Golf Club in Évian-les-Bains, France, on Sept. 14. Kim also set a major record with a first round 61, the lowest round in a major championship by a male or female. The two newcomers will give Korea a potent new one-two punch on the LPGA tour when they join next season.
Keeping Korean success alive
Baek was already a rising star on the KLPGA tour, She first came to prominence in her early teens as a member of the Korean National Team with Kim Hyo-joo and the golfer she beat on Oct. 19, Chun In-gee. In 2012, Baek teamed up with Kim and Kim Min-sun to give Korea its third victory in the Espirito Santo Trophy, one of amateur golf’s top tournaments.
Kim Hyo-joo, now No.10 in the world ranking and the 10th Korean to win a major championship, has also been a golf phenom since the age of 14 when she put on surprisingly good performances in two KLPGA major championships, the Hite Cup and KB Star Tour Grand Finale. She also helped lead Korea to victory in the 2010 Amateur Ladies Asia-Pacific Invitational Golf Team Championship, also known as the Queen Sirikit Cup.
The appearance of these two stars on the Korean golf scene is especially welcome at a time when some are expressing concern that Korea’s impressive legacy of female golf talent, beginning with Korean golf pioneer Pak Se-ri and continuing on to present stars like Park Inbee, might be coming to an end.
The success of a new generation of Korean golfers, however, has proven these fears unfounded. Baek’s victory in Incheon marked the seventh win by a Korean golfer in the last nine LPGA events, with the average age of the Korean winners being just 22.5. This trend continues with Lee Mi-rim who, at 23 years old and still in her rookie season, already has two LPGA victories this year.