Koreans lead Team USA by 13 at WWATC

Ji-Hee Kim during the third round of the Women's World Amateur Team Championship.

Ji-Hee Kim during the third round of the Women's World Amateur Team Championship.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – For several years my boss has jokingly encouraged me to take Korean lessons. At least I prefer to think he’s joking, because that’s a lot of work. But days like today make me wish I’d picked up Rosetta Stone at one of those airport kiosks.

Korea has taken control of the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in record-setting fashion. They threw out a 68 (that’s a record) on Friday and took a 13-stroke lead over the Americans going into the final round. Hyun-Soo Kim shot 66 while Ji-Hee Kim and Jung-Eun Han each shot 68 to give them a 25-under 407 total (another record).

The press conference that followed was a confusing jumble of languages. A question would be asked in English, and then someone would translate it into Spanish for the Korean on site who speaks Spanish, but not English. The Korean would then translate for the team. The coach would say something, players would laugh and throw in their two cents, and by the time it got around to English again, we got “The course is more comfortable.”

There is something comfortable about Buenos Aires Country Club and this team. After combining for 16-under on Thursday, on Friday Ji-Hee Kim had an ace and Han added two eagles. Hyun-Soo Kim had a bogey-free round. When they did have to putt, the Koreans had few problems finding the cup.

“I think the Korean team started out sinking putt after putt early in the round,” said U.S. captain Roberta Bolduc. “It’s difficult to see that when your own are on the edges. It starts to wear.”

The Koreans on this team range in age from 16-18. Jung-Eun Han is ranked No. 1 while Hyun-Soo Kim is No. 2. Both plan to turn professional next year and play on the KLPGA. Ji-Hee Kim, 16, will wait another year. Because so many top Koreans turn professional at 18, this team doesn’t even represent the best young talent Korea has to offer. Of course, the same can said of the U.S. (i.e. Alexis Thompson).

When Korean captain Hyung-Mo Kang was asked for the secret to their developmental program, he mentioned that a series of camps have been instituted in the last 30 years, with scholarships given to players with potential. It was after the interview that someone with more insight and a better grasp of Spanish told scribes (well, me) that more than 600 players are in involved in six programs throughout Korea. Most sessions last 15 days, but one lasts one month. In the winter, they travel to warmer climates like Thailand and Indonesia.

Anyone who has watched the women’s game with even a modicum of interest the last five years can attest to the success of their programs, discipline and commitment. The game in Korea is not taken lightly.

There was a funny exchange that took place when captain Kang was asked if his team could play even better. Kang said the separation was a result of the rest of the field not playing that great, and that his team could elevate their games even higher.

The players laughed in protest saying something along the lines of “Really, captain Kang, what more could you expect?” At least that’s what I got third-hand.

Looking to get an idea of the hold Se Ri Pak still has on her people, I asked the team where they get their inspiration. Hyun-Soo Kim immediately said, Juli Inkster. Ji-Hee mentioned Pak and Han said Yani Tseng.

“She’s very strong,” Han said in English as she mimicked Tseng’s swing. “I like it.”

Bolduc knows it will take a “huge effort” from the American team tomorrow if they hope to add any pressure on a track where they struggled off the tee to 1 over three days ago.

The Australians came back from a 13-stroke deficit in 2002. Even so, probably best to download the Rosetta Stone demo tonight.

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