Why Do Asian Women Dominate the LPGA?

After Inbee Park won her third consecutive major at the U.S. Open last week, I began thinking about a trend that doesn't get talked about that much in certain circles but is painstakingly obvious--that being the overwhelming dominance of Asian women players on the LPGA tour.

Asked a question about that very trend after winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship, three-time consecutive major championship winner Inbee Park responded "It's in our blood." Given Asian women players' collective success, Inbee's point is hard to argue; however,  I find it hard to believe that Asian women have any sort of genetic advantage over other other female players. As ubiquitously dominant as Asian female golfers are (60+ in the top 100 of LPGA ranking) their male counterparts pale by comparison as they have failed to distinguish themselves in US events and major championships. So let's just go ahead and throw genetics out of the equation (one interesting caveat is that Tiger Woods' mother is Asian, even though pop culture predominately identifies Tiger as black).

I've watched a decent amount of women's golf over the years, and I'm always amazed at how low women score at LPGA tournaments. Of course women play significantly shorter courses than men do (1000 yards less than a men's PGA tour event is rough way to think about it), and the pins at LPGA events are generally not set up in comparatively severe locations as one would experience on the PGA tour. Where Asian women differentiate themselves--in my humble opinion--is by putting in more effort in PERFECTING their swing and games and having incredibly reliable swings that hold up under pressure. But that still doesn't suffice for an answer as to why Asian women dominate, because hypothetically Asian men would or should do the same, and their lack of success on the PGA Tour suggest otherwise.

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So here it is - LPGA courses are shorter and favor less of a power-game than PGA courses, and Asian women are the most "precise" golfers in the world. Because length is comparatively less important on the women's tour than men's, Asian LPGA players thrive with their consistent swings and pressure-tested games.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at Michelle Wie who at age 14 was trying her hand on the PGA Tour and shot several rounds at even and under par, a phenomenal accomplishment for any 14 year old, not to mention that fact that Michelle was a teenage girl competing against seasoned PGA Tour vets. So one would naturally think that if Michelle could hover around the cut line as she did in several PGA Tour events as a youngster, that she would go on to DOMINATE the LPGA tour right? Nope, wrong again. Fast forward 9 years and at age 23 Michelle has won an unimpressive two times on the LPGA Tour. One must factor in some injuries and her decision to attend Stanford, but to drive home my point precision matters more in women's golf than raw power, and that is where Asian women differentiate themselves. But don't take my word for it, below you'll notice that ONLY ONE PLAYER IN THE TOP 10 IN SCORING AVERAGE IS IN THE TOP 10 IN DRIVING DISTANCE.

Scoring Average

1 Inbee Park 69.67
2 Stacy Lewis 70.09
3 Na Yeon Choi 70.43
4 Suzann Pettersen 70.46
5 Jiyai Shin 70.58
6 I.K. Kim 70.63
7 So Yeon Ryu 70.66
8 Jessica Korda 70.70
9 Lizette Salas 70.71
10 Karrie Webb 70.72


Driving Distance

1 Nicole Smith 274.9
2 Brittany Lincicome 271.5
4 Lexi Thompson 270.0
5 Marina Stuetz 269.2
6 Gerina Piller 268.8
7 Daniela Iacobelli 267.6
8 Jessica Korda 267.4
9 Yani Tseng 265.7
10 Karin Sjodin 264.5

Lee Trevino once said "There is no such thing as a natural touch. Touch is something you create by hitting millions of golf balls."  Asians are known for having intense work ethics, and because golf may requires a phenomenal amount of practice to achieve relative perfection (nobody is perfect in golf), their culture promotes an certain level of excellence within women's golf. Furthermore, many Asian families make significant monetary investments in their daughters with a specific ROI in mind. This may be the case for some American girl golfers, but by and large, golf is far more of a luxury sport than a means to a livelihood (second caveat--Title 9 has increased the amount of women's golf teams relative to men's--so significant opportunities currently exist for girls to earn collegiate scholarship, a wonderful opportunity that more girls should seek out).

I hope nothing I've written offends anyone (doubtful given the gross generalizations I've been making), but these are my thoughts on a trend I've seen developing for so long. The true answer as to why Asian women golfers succeed lies in cultural norms that have developed over time, thanks in large part to the pioneer for all Asian women golfers--the iconic Se-Ri Pak who won 25 times on the LPGA tour before Asian dominance was the norm. Pak has a relentless work ethic which has become the standard for so many talented and driven Asian women players.

A couple things I"ll be watching and blogging about down the road:

  • Will American women ever catch up?
  • Will Asians women ever become "interesting" to American media?
  • What foreign players (besides the plethora of Euro stars, of course) will break through in men's golf?