Now more than ever, golf has become a global game, especially when it comes to women's professional golf. Currently in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, the top 20 players represent 12 countries with the United States leading the pack with four players in the top 20, followed closely by the Republic of Korea with three players. Outside of the top 20, the women's game is dominated by Korean players. The country leads the way with 27 players in the top 100 and 141 in the top 500.
Despite the dominance in numbers from Korean women, the LPGA Tour is the dream for most players from the peninsula country, even with the tour being halfway around the world. The opportunities to play women's professional golf in America are small, but the rewards can be worth the journey. The Epson Tour is the only direct route to the LPGA Tour outside of LPGA Qualifying School, which only happens once a year. With all of that said, TV Chosun in Korea has put together a golf survival show, “The Queens”, that gives the four finalists a chance to play on the Epson Tour, providing them starts in the Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes, IOA Golf Classic presented by LPT Realty and the Inova Mission Inn Club and Resort Championship.
“The Queens” aired their first season, which was eight episodes long, with four finalists eventually claiming those coveted Epson Tour starts. Of the four finalists, only three decided to take on the challenge of professional golf overseas to chase their dreams and get a taste of what life on tour is like.
Meet the Finalists
Ga Yul Kang
Hometown: Pyeongtaek, Republic of Korea
Tournament accomplishments: 2 amateur wins and 1 runner-up
Ga Yul Kang is the oldest of the three competitors who made the journey to the United States, but it also means she has the most experience. Kang has been playing golf since she was 12 years old and won “The Queens.” The experience she gained while under the mentorship of former professional golfer and golf legend Se-Ri Pak was beyond what the 22-year-old could imagine.
"I had a very good experience; my mentor was Se-Ri Pak and the chance to get to talk to her and learn from her was great. It is hard to meet and ask advice from a person like Se-Ri Pak, and she gave very specific advice to each competitor," said Kang. "She told me I had to be tougher physically and mentally, especially when I had a bad flow in my game. She taught me how to cut it and get back to my routine."
The mentorship for Kang worked, who finished in a tie for second in her first event at the Garden City Charity Classic. Even before the outstanding performance, “The Queens” winner was excited to play in the United States; the opportunity to travel and play the game you love does not come around often.
"I really wanted to experience a different culture than Korea. America is the best place to do that because it is a mix of a lot of different cultures. I really enjoyed the mixture of cultures," explained Kang. "There are a lot of nationalities here, we cannot communicate with each other but that is okay because we all play golf. Golf is the one connection that we all have."
Heading into the next two events, Kang is full of optimism and hope. Her game is already proving good enough to compete; keep an eye on her in Florida in a week's time.
Hometown: Pohang, Republic of Korea
Tournament accomplishments: 2 amateur wins
Yoonji Woo already has had an impressive start to her very young career, winning two amateur events in Korea by the age of 17, but before she hit her first shot on the Epson Tour, she declared herself professional. The pressure of playing golf in the Republic of Korea is immense, even at the amateur level, so despite her young age, Woo has plenty of experience. There are a lot of expectations on the country's best players in Korea, but in the United States, Woo feels like she can play the game with a little more freedom.
"In Korea, the atmosphere of the tournament is very strict and tense but here, people seem to just be enjoying golf. In a way, they play the game more free," said Woo. "I learned a lot competing against the pros, I realized what I have been doing wrong and where I need to improve so it was a really good experience for me."
The 17-year-old was not able to make the cut in her first start on the Epson Tour, but ahead of the next two events in Florida, Woo feels prepared and excited to get a chance to play in events she has dreamt about for quite some time.
"I benefitted from the competition, the intensity of the program helped me with the intensity of playing professional golf," said Woo. "I put my best work into the competition because I wanted to play the Epson Tour, so it was very meaningful when I was able to do that."
Hometown: Gyeonggi-do, Republic of Korea
The youngest and least experienced of “The Queens” stars is 16-year-old Dabin Lee. When she first entered the program, she aimed to gain some knowledge and experience. Instead, Lee became one of the show's finalists and is now gaining even more from the experience than she ever thought she might.
"My purpose for going on “The Queens” program was to gain experience, but I did great and got good results and was able to come play," said Lee. "I actually learned more (on the Epson Tour) than I learned from “The Queens” because this is all so new. I look forward to competing in the next two tournaments in Florida."
There’s always a lot to take away from your first events as a young golf professional, and the atmosphere could be nerve-racking for any player, let alone a teenager. However, Lee was pleasantly surprised and excited with how her first events went. She is looking to take more than just her experiences on the golf course back with her.
"The atmosphere out here is so positive compared to Korea. So even if my play isn't going as intended, I feel like I can power through because of the positive energy," explained Lee. "When I go back to Korea, I want to lead the golfers in a more positive way at tournaments because I thought that was the best part of American golf culture."
“The Queens” finalists now head to Florida to finish their Epson Tour stretch. Follow along with their journey at https://www.epsontour.com.