(Reuters) - With Park In-bee’s victory at the North Texas Shootout on Sunday South Korean golfers have won seven of the first 11 LPGA Tour events this season and the world number two says the battle for a spot on the Korean Olympic team is driving them hard.
Golf returns to the Summer Games in Rio next year for the first time since 1904, with 60 players qualifying for the men’s and women’s events.
The top 15 in the world qualify automatically, with a limit of four per country, and the remaining places go to the highest ranked players from countries that do not already have two golfers qualified.
According to International Golf Federation rankings, Park would currently be joined by LPGA Tour rookie Kim Hyo-joo, Ryu So-yeon and Amy Yang, although qualification places will not be decided until next year.
None of the four can take their spots for granted, though, with Lee Mi-rim, Kim Sei-young, Choi Na-yeon, Baek Kyu-jung and Jang Ha-na all inside the world top 20.
Park said the incredible run of victories on the LPGA Tour this season, which would rise to nine of 11 with the inclusion of South Korean-born Kiwi Lydia Ko, could be a reflection of the desire to grab a coveted Olympic berth.
“I don’t know the exact cause, but maybe it’s because players are concentrating really hard right now with the Olympics coming up next year,” South Korea’s Yonhap News quoted Park as saying.
“The way the players look at it, the qualification period for the Olympics has already begun so they are really concentrating hard and pushing each other.”
Park said the impressive performances of Tour rookies Kim Hyo-joo and Kim Sei-young had also been a reminder to established players that they had to keep improving or risk being left behind.
At 19, Kim Hyo-joo already has a major to her name after winning the 2014 Evian Championship while she was still playing on the Korean Tour, and she earned her second LPGA victory at the JTBC Founders Cup in March.
Kim Sei-young, 22, is a two-time winner this season and would have claimed her first major at last month’s ANA Inspiration but for a meltdown in the final round.
“The rookies on the LPGA Tour this year like Kim Sei-young and Kim Hyo-joo have really motivated the players who have been here for a while,” said Park, who at 26 has already claimed five majors and almost $11 million in prize money.
“Watching them put in these great performances we are saying to ourselves, ‘we can’t afford to stand still’.”
Reporting by Oh Seung-yun; Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Nick Mulvenney