Ghost of victories past return to haunt Korean golf champions

Thu Jul 14, 2016 2:33am EDT
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By Peter Rutherford

SEOUL (Reuters) - As the rest of the world's top women golfers were playing for millions of dollars in prize money at the U.S. Open last week, South Korea's Ko Jin-young was half a world away dreaming of what might have been.

One of the brightest young talents in women's golf, Ko made her mark on the world stage by finishing second at last year's British Open and has risen to 33rd in the world despite playing outside the U.S. circuit, where events offer far more money and world ranking points than the domestic Korean Tour.

While Ko received an invitation to the U.S. Open, the most prestigious tournament in women's golf, and one she dearly wanted to play, there was one thing holding her back - the threat of a $100,000 fine from the KLPGA.

The 21-year-old, who won the 2015 Chojung Sparkling-Yongpyong Resort Open with SBS, was a victim of the KLPGA's "Defending Champion" rule, which demands golfers repay all the prize money from a tournament they win if they do not come back the following year.

Aimed at discouraging players from taking up invitations to foreign tournaments when the dates clash with Korean events, the KLPGA told Reuters 'Regulation 14:2' helped the Tour flourish by giving sponsors value for money and bringing in more fans.

"It is a player's duty to defend their title," the KLPGA told Reuters by telephone. "The regulation is a promise to fans that the champion will be back next year. It also makes sponsors happy to have the champion come back.

"Appearing in a tournament as a defending champion is an honor for a player."

That honor can sometimes become a burden, however.   Continued...

Golfer Ko Jin-young hits a shot during the Doosan Match Play Championship in Chuncheon in this handout picture provided by KLPGA and released by News1 on May 21, 2015. KLPGA/News1 via REUTERS