Professional golf returns in South Korea in the face of COVID-19

Park Hyun-Kyung of South Korea celebrate winning the tournament on the 18th green during the final round of the 42nd KLPGA Championship at Lakewood Country Club in Yangju-gun, South Korea
Park Hyun-Kyung of South Korea celebrate winning the tournament on the 18th green during the final round of the 42nd KLPGA Championship at Lakewood Country Club in Yangju-gun, South Korea

22-year-old Hyun Kyung Park got her maiden victory in the first professional tournament since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Strict precautions

South Korea hosted the KLPGA Championship in Lakewood Country Club in Yangju on Thursday, as the first country to reopen a professional golf tournament.

With the world’s major golf tournaments on hold due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the KLPGA Championship has captured a huge amount of attention from global golf communities. In addition to live broadcasts of the tournament in a number of countries, more than 100 reporters including 16 foreign correspondents visited Yangju.

In an official statement, the KLPGA said: "Interest is very high since this is the first golf tour in the world amid the pandemic."

Heo Da-Been of South Korea leaves after 18th hole during the final round of the 42nd KLPGA Championship
Heo Da-Been of South Korea leaves after 18th hole during the final round of the 42nd KLPGA Championship
2020 Getty Images

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the event was held without any spectators and also followed a number of strict health protocols to avoid the spread of the virus.

Before entering the course, players passed through ‘a walk-through UV steriliser’ and thermal scanners.

On the course, players were advised to maintain a safe distance from their playing partners. Post-round hugs and handshakes were replaced with ‘elbow bumps’ to minimise physical contact.

Players were required to sanitise their clubs during their rounds and wear masks before and after their turn, although wearing them during the rounds was optional.

Competition for Olympic team

With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the KLPGA also had to pause the season after December last year. Following this long break, this year’s KLPGA Championship - the first tournament of 2020 in South Korea – made headlines as several top-ranked LPGA Tour players signed up to play.

This includes three of the world’s top 10 players, Sung Hyun Park (No.3), Sei Young Kim (No.6), and Jeongeun Lee6 (No.10) - all competing to make next year’s Olympic team.

As South Korea have six players in the current women’s world top 15, and each country can only field a maximum of four players, the South Korean women’s golf team is one of the toughest Olympic teams to get into and secure a spot.

But postponement of Tokyo 2020 means the competition is starting all over again with a new qualification period.

World No.6 Sei Young Kim said: “As tournaments were cancelled or postponed, I had to stay at home. Now I'm in the process of resetting goals for this season because the Olympics were postponed, so I'd like to prepare as much I can before then.”

Lee Hyo-Rin of South Korea on the 18th hole during the final round
Lee Hyo-Rin of South Korea on the 18th hole during the final round
2020 Getty Images

The Tournament

South Korea's Hyun Kyung Park won the KLPGA Championship with a 17 under par score.

In normal times, this would have been a simple breakthrough story of a 22-year-old player in her second season on tour, significantly after having a disappointing rookie season. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, Hyun Kyung Park, currently ranked No. 92 in the world, became a player of many firsts in the post-COVID-19 season

In addition to her first win of the KLPGA tour, she became the first women’s professional tournament winner since the outbreak of COVID-19, and the first to win a KLPGA tour event with no fans in attendance.

Of the three world’s top 10 players who participated this tournament, Sung Hyun Park (No. 3) missed the cut, No. 6 Sei Young Kim finished 46th and No. 10 Jeongeun Lee6 finished 15th, with -9, eight strokes behind the winner.

YANGJU-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 14: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Bo-Mee Lee of South Korea prepares for tee shot on the 1st hole during the first round of the 42nd KLPGA Championship at Lakewood Country Club on May 14, 2020 in Yangju-gun, South Korea. The Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) begins again with the 42nd KLPGA Championship being part of the world's first major golf tour to be in action amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
YANGJU-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 14: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Bo-Mee Lee of South Korea prepares for tee shot on the 1st hole during the first round of the 42nd KLPGA Championship at Lakewood Country Club on May 14, 2020 in Yangju-gun, South Korea. The Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) begins again with the 42nd KLPGA Championship being part of the world's first major golf tour to be in action amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
2020 Getty Images

Possible changes

On Friday, the Korea Golf Association announced the cancellation of the Korea Open men’s tournament as a result of the coronavirus situation in South Korea. Originally scheduled for 25-28 June, the cancellation was marked an unprecedented decision in the 62-year history of the tournament.

Due to the current situation, there are still potential schedule changes for KLPGA tour, even though it has already resumed with the KLPGA Championship. The next upcoming event is the E1 Charity Open, which is scheduled for 29 May.