Korea’s RNY stages winter training camp in U.S.

Robin Symes of the RNY Golf Institute works with a student on the driving range at Reunion Resort.

REUNION, Fla. – Pyung Hwa Kim dreams of winning the gold medal at the Asian Games so that he can skip Korea’s mandatory military service. The fact that the 15-year-old spent eight weeks at a winter training camp in Florida might suggest that he has a leg up on his competition. Not really.

“Winter training is a very competitive area,” said Robin Symes, a former DLGA instructor who opened his own academy – RNY Institute – with Young Jei Kim last April. “If you play golf seriously, you go to winter training.”

Kim joined 15 other RNY students on the Dec. 27 trek from Seoul to Orlando. They made camp at Reunion Resort, staying in condos on property. The price tag for full-time RNY students: $12,500. New students paid $13,500.

The RNY contingent – a mix of pros and amateurs, both male and female – flew home on Feb. 21. Golf360 caught up with them with several days left in their stay to talk about their time in Orlando and Korea’s growing dominance.

“After looking at the golf course and range, I thought I’ve got to come back here,” Pyung Hwa Kim said with the help of Kim.

Breakfast began at 7 a.m. and morning tee times started at 7:45. They trained six days a week, alternating between on-the-course instruction and range/short game analysis at Reunion’s sprawling facility.

Symes hired a chef to cook lunch and dinner (can’t go two weeks without kimchi). Twice a week they met with Andrea Doddato, an Orlando-based trainer who works with nine LPGA players, including Na Yeon Choi and Song-Hee Kim.

Both Choi and Kim work with Symes while in Asia. They were on hand to train with the RNY camp, along with LPGA rookie Jennifer Song, who gave a few English lessons. 

Nineteen-year-old Jung Min Lee won last year in her rookie season on the KLPGA. She learned trouble shots from Choi and Kim at Reunion. 

This marked Lee’s second time in the U.S. In 2008, Lee won the 2008 AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic, beating U.S. Girls’ Junior champ Jenny Shin in the final. Her thoughts on American junior golf: “This tournament was kind of like a party.”

Sounds about right coming from an Eastern perspective. For example: What did camp RNY do in their condos at night the last two months? 

“We putt,” Lee said.

The RNY Institute is situated in Incheon, Korea, on the Sky 72 driving range – the largest range in the world. Ba Reum Choi, 18, stays in a dorm at RNY and practices from 9-6 p.m. daily. She goes home once a month. In March, Ba Reum will take her semi-pro test – a four-day event – to qualify for the Korean mini tour. 

This marked Ba Reum’s first time in the U.S., and while the PGA Merchandise Show failed to impress her, she did enjoy the outlet malls. On one of their “off days” the group cut loose at Universal Studios. 

The most common request Symes heard: “Robin, can we go to Golf Galaxy?”

Symes, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, appreciates the discipline and dedication of his Korean students. When he first arrived at the DLGA at Woo Jeong Hills four years ago, he had his doubts about some of their tendencies. Now, he’s come to appreciate the culture enough to start his own business there. 

Why move back home for the chance at teaching a rare gem when there’s a seemingly endless supply of Koreans with the talent and discipline to take on the world?

“Whatever you’re doing (in Korea), you dedicate yourself to that,” he said. There’s a lot of things we could learn.”

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