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A Coat, A Smile And Another Birdie

by Lewine Mair - August 07, 2017

ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND | For years, the amateur bodies in the more northerly regions of America and Europe have spent the earth sending their top youngsters to warmer climes for off-season training camps.

The Korean Federation, on the other hand, go about their business altogether differently. They dispatch their more promising juniors to Jeju Island at a time of year when the temperature can plummet to minus-10 Celsius. “It’s snow-cold,” said In-Kyung Kim, who won the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns on Sunday.

This extraordinary South Korean secret was divulged by Inbee Park during the rain-lashed practice days at Kingsbarns. And the reason she divulged it was because someone had asked if there was anything from her childhood which had contributed to her reputation as a good bad-weather golfer. Park, who won the 2015 Women’s British Open in positively vile conditions, regaled her audience with details of camps on Jeju Island which lasted for as long as two months. “I guess they kind of trained us very well,” she said. “I remember wearing three layers and sometimes four with a thin wind-stopper over the top.”

Presumably there were days when it was just too bad for the juniors to venture outside? Park laughed and shook her head. “We didn’t have any choice because everybody, like 30 or 40 girls and boys, kind of train at the same time, so you can’t suddenly say, ‘I’m going back to the clubhouse because this is too cold.’ ”

“Korean girls and boys would not make a fuss because it is not the done thing in Korea to show your emotions – and not showing your emotions ends up being good for your golf.”
So Yeon Ryu, the current world No. 1

At Kingsbarns, Park’s thinking reflected those early lessons and, each day, she went out expecting a disconcerting mix of all four seasons. It was typical of the player that, when a thrashing wind came from nowhere towards the end of her Saturday 64, all she did was to add a coat, a smile and another birdie.

Park’s revelations prompted thoughts of other South Koreans who had produced some of their finest golf in the foulest circumstances. Jiyai Shin, for example, won the 2012 Women’s British Open at Hoylake when she played through one desperate storm after another before negotiating the 18th in the half dark. And it was on that same grim day that Lydia Ko collected the amateur award whilst struggling to see through her glasses.

At one point, Ko’s mother made the interesting aside that South Koreans were properly built for golf. The reasoning, here, was that they and their swings are mostly too compact to be bullied by the elements.

Mrs Ko would have held up In-Kyung Kim as a prime example of the above. Kim survived a monumental downpour on her way to the halfway lead at Kingsbarns and, yes, she turned out to have been another graduate of those Soth Korean camps. What is more, she would confirm that Inbee Park’s description of them had been spot on. They had been ridiculously cold.

So Yeon Ryu, the current world No. 1, remembered how it was only when it snowed that the camp schedules would be adjusted. If the snow settled to the point where the course was unplayable, they would concentrate on fitness training and putting. Ryu added that her country’s culture played its part: “Korean girls and boys would not make a fuss because it is not the done thing in Korea to show your emotions – and not showing your emotions ends up being good for your golf.”

Warming to her theme, this engaging citizen said that she felt it was important for a travelling golfer to immerse himself or herself in “the spirit” of a place – and that weather was very much a part of it.

To her, the Scottish climate is a thing of delicious depth and intrigue: “The wind is so strong, always rain coming. You can have a really strong wind from the south and, all of a sudden, you can have a wind from the north. Always blowing so much.”

The 53-year-old Dame Laura Davies knew nothing of the South Koreans’ training camps though they did not surprise her. However, she certainly knew a thing or two of how players in general have become more adaptable than they were. One of her abiding memories is of early forays to the US where the American girls were far quicker than she was to fuss about conditions which departed from the norm.

“They would complain if it was too hot and they would complain if it was too cold,” she said. “Today, that doesn’t happen so much because everyone’s getting accustomed to playing everywhere. But of course there are some who do it better … ” (i.e. the South Koreans).

Now that the cat is out of the bag and we know a bit more about why the South Koreans shin up leaderboards as others start to slip, we can expect a few national coaches to start investigating the South Korean way and to make themselves pretty unpopular in the process. It would be too much, too soon.

For sure, British juniors in receipt of invitations to training sessions in the Arctic as opposed to the south of Spain would see it as a step too far. What is more, they would not be inclined to keep their emotions under wraps like an In-Kyung Kim, an Inbee Park or a So Yeon Ryu. They would kick up one hell of a fuss.


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