South Korea romps to 17-shot win at World Amateur

South Korea after winning the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship. From left, coach Jong-Il Kim, Hyun-Soo Kim, Jung-Eun Han and Ji-Hee Kim.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The fact that Korea had to come out and play on Saturday was more formality than anything else. They had the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship locked up after three rounds. Only the Americans could serve as any kind of threat, but they came out flat and joined the rest of the world in awe of Korea’s dominating play.

“It’s hard to express in words the way they’ve played over here,” said German national coach Marcus Neumann. “It’s another league, another dimension.”

The Americans were exhausted watching Korea build its four-day tally to a record 30-under 546. The previous 72-hole mark of 558 was set by the U.S. in 1998. The Koreans shot 5 under in the final round, with all three players under par at Olivos. They claimed the top three spots on the individual leaderboard.

The U.S. finished 17 strokes back (-13), and the rest of the field threw up their hands in defeat, with Sweden, France and South Africa all tied for third at 4 under. Even the race for second was a yawner.

“We tried to do our best and it wasn’t good enough,” said Auburn senior Cydney Clanton. “Their putting is pretty amazing.”

When Jung-Eun Han, the best amateur in Korea, closed out her round on the 18th green, her two teammates ran out with Korean flags waving. Han, a rather vocal player, led them in a chorus of screams and yelps for the Korean contingent living in Argentina who came out to support.

“I never looked at the leaderboard,” said Hyun-Soo Kim, who birdied three of her last five holes to shoot 69. “I realized we won on the last hole.”

The Americans thought they might have a slim chance entering the final round considering they had fared so much better at Olivos in the opening round. Alas, the Koreans gave up nothing.

“They arrived here from Korea with about a 24-hour difference,” said Korean coach Jong-Il Kim of his team’s slow start on Day 1. “They were not well-adapted.”

By the second day, the Koreans were on their beloved Buenos Aires Golf Club, and they stunned the Americans with a record 16-under effort to take the lead. Round 3 was more of the same, with two eagles and an ace helping to expand their lead to 13.

Han, 17, claimed she was nervous heading into the final round but never showed it, setting an individual scoring record with a 275, besting American Jenny Chuasiriporn’s 1998 record by one stroke. Han advanced to the third round of last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur. Both she and Hyun-Soo plan to play on the KLPGA next year.

Germany’s Neumann knows enough about the Korean program to know their steady, concentrated games are the result of an inordinate amount of work.

“You can see that golf is a working sport (in Korea),” said Neumann, who believes the demanding program has lost many young people on the road to the world championship.

Jong-Il Kim said 3,000 Koreans are involved in academies set up throughout the country. Out of that large group, 72 players are selected to receive some type of funding. The six chosen for the elite squad practiced together for 150 days over the course of the year. The top three from that squad qualified for Argentina.

“Thirty years ago we started with golf schools,” Jong-Il Kim said. “And just now we are starting to see the results.”

Coming into this week, Korea had won this championship only one time in 1996. They finished runner-up in 1994 and ’00. With 45 Koreans currently competing on the LPGA, their dominance grows stronger each year.

“They outplayed us, obviously,” said American hotshot Jessica Korda.

It’s difficult to imagine a country stepping up to match Korea’s dedication. As far as method goes, they truly are in a league of their own.

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