Professional / LPGA Tour

Jang flashes big personality, but draws criticism from South Korean media

Ha Na Jang
Ha Na Jang (Getty Images)

PHOENIX –– Ha Na Jang walked into the media room at the JTBC Founders Cup wearing a little black dress and high heels. She was dressed for Tuesday night’s pro-am party, and flashed that million-dollar smile on her way to the dais.

Jang, a two-time winner in 2016, has a made a name for herself in the U.S. thanks to her sparkling personality and creative celebrations. The displays, however, haven’t gone over as well in her native South Korea.

The message in Korea, Jang explained, is that she gives “too much reaction, too much celebration, too much fun. Looks really bad.”

“So I’m now every day crying in my room,” she said, “last night, last week, a little sad.”

After winning the second tournament of the season, the Coates Golf Championship, Jang twirled around her putter like a sword on the 18th green.

American fans and media ate it up.

What to call it?

Jang grew up learning Korean-style fencing, but figured American journalists would better understand the phrase “Samurai” when explaining her celebratory lasso.

The Korean media, however, didn’t take too kindly to her referencing a Japanese tradition. Jang explained that she was simply trying to use a Western-friendly descriptor.

“It’s a little, it’s hard on my heart every week,” she said. “It’s a little sad it’s happening.”

When Jang won last week in Singapore, she channeled her inner Beyonce, dancing for the crowd after making eagle on the 72nd hole. Again, she was criticized in Korea for celebrating too much considering the early-week incident between her father and rival In Gee Chun.

Jang’s father let go of a hard-case suitcase at the top of an escalator at the airport in Singapore and it slammed into Chun, who was forced to withdraw from the both the HSBC Women’s Champions and this week’s Founders Cup due to injury.

Jang had promised her fans early in the week in Singapore that she would give them a big celebration, should she win again.

“She thought about not doing it,” said Sean Pyun, the LPGA Managing Director International Business Affairs, who acted as an interpreter for Jang. “But at the end of the day, thought (keeping her promise) was the right thing to do.”

The victory moved Jang up to No. 5 in the world, bumping Chun down the Olympic qualifying ladder – behind No. 6 Amy Yang and No. 7 Sei Young Kim – when she slipped to No. 8. The Olympic angle made this storyline all the more enticing to Korean fans and media.

“When I was in Korea last week so many people asked about that,” said So Yeon Ryu, who emphasized that the Korean stars are “good rivals.”

“It really shouldn’t have been written about,” said Inbee Park. “It was just an accident. Because of the Olympic matter, everybody wanted to make it such a big deal. It was a total mistake.”

Jang’s manager, Pyungki Kim, came to Phoenix and helped Jang try to explain to U.S. media that she didn’t want to comment further on the incident with Chun. It’s a delicate and complicated matter, they said, and she feels remorseful over all that has transpired. It wouldn’t be fair to Chun, who isn’t here this week, or the Korean media, to talk further about it on this side of the world.

“(Ha Na) is still hurt,” Kim said. “Also her father is very hurt, especially during this week.”

Should Jang win for a third time this year in Phoenix, Jang said it will be a subdued affair.

“I don’t want to try celebrations this week,” she said.

Going forward though, Jang will have to decide how to stay true to herself and that big personality while still appeasing a more conservative culture back home.

“Do you know Popeye’s saying? ‘I am what I am?’ ” Kim asked. “She is what she is.”

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