Amidst massive crowds, host South Korea wins UL International Crown

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Amidst massive crowds, host South Korea wins UL International Crown

LPGA Tour

Amidst massive crowds, host South Korea wins UL International Crown

INCHEON, South Korea – At last, the sun broke through, feverish fans poured through the gates and the most dominant nation in women’s golf proved they could win as a team. The victorious South Korean foursome filed into the press room wearing a wreath of flowers (well, all but Sung Hyun Park, who carried hers low) and relatively straight faces. Were they overcome with exhaustion or perhaps relief that they’d finally beaten the world on home soil?

“It’s kind of surreal,” So Yeon Ryu said.

One by one, smiles broke through.

“I think that this is perhaps the best win of the season,” offered Sung Hyun Park, who won a major in July.

As the player who drew the biggest and most frenzied galleries all week, Park credited the fans for lifting them to victory. Members of Park’s fan club wore hats and hoodies, stickers and pins that bared her nickname, “Namdalla,” which translates to “I am different.” A-Min Noh, a young woman who’d gone to four of the five majors this year, bringing champagne and roses to the finish at the KPMG Women’s PGA, even had Park’s symbol scripted on her fingernails.

It’s a different level of fandom here.

Sunday at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club was a feast for the masses. Even Ariya Jutanguarn couldn’t resist whipping out her phone for a quick video on the first tee. Fans packed grandstands, covered the grassy mounds and filed down the first fairway and around the green for World No. 1 Park’s match against second-ranked Jutanugarn. This is the kind of madness we’d come to expect all week, that is until Typhoon Kong-Rey spoiled the party.

Bronte Law stood off to the side of the 18th green with English teammates recounting part of her round as the juicy anchor match – Ryu and Lexi Thompson – settled on a halve. It was In-Kyung Kim who’d actually secured the Crown for South Korea on the 17th against Law. No one had a better close-up view of the Koreans than the former Curtis Cup juggernaut, who’d been playing against the South Koreans all day. First in the third-round four-ball session and again in singles.

“It’s obviously really nice to have a lot of people cheering for you,” said Law, “but at the same time I know what the sort of culture is like here, and I know that they suffer a lot of judgment. To come out and play as well as they have done. … They just are so good under pressure on the putting greens, and I think that’s ultimately what makes the difference.”

Se Ri Pak, an icon of mental toughness, placed the individual crowns on the heads of each South Korean competitor. The woman who created this golf-crazed society literally crowned the next generation. It was a dreamy script for undisputed favorites.

In the third staging of this event, South Korea became the first country to hold its lead after team four-ball competition and win overall. The formidable foursome – all major champions – led by two points after three four-ball sessions and went 2-1-1 in singles for a total of 15 points. Team USA and England took a share of second, four points back.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan stood on the back of the 18th green as the event team rolled out the red carpet. His answer to involving the rest of the tour in team competition had never looked better.

“I think the bottom line is there’s no reason we can’t do this on a more regular basis,” said Whan of the electric atmosphere. Without giving away any secrets, the commish confirmed that 2020 would feature a new host country, meaning some other lucky foursome will benefit from the rush of home support.

The hype coming into South Korea was significant as the rows of boxed suites on the drivable par-4 14th were the same size as the Presidents Cup and sold out three months ago. The $250,000 in advanced ticket sales was unprecedented, and particularly impressive in a culture that prefers walk-up purchases. Even on Sunday, fans were still buying the $500 International Pavilion passes. Though there were times when more security was needed, the 200 guards hired for this event dwarfs the few dozen at a regular LPGA stop.

The first International Crown held on South Korean soil was a sight to behold. But most couldn’t help but leave with the impression that can get even bigger.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home