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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why the Korean Women Play So Well

There's been a lot of debate about why the Korean women have become such a dominant force on the LPGA. The general conclusion has been that they work harder than anyone else -- and I don't doubt that they work hard -- but I'm pretty sure that's NOT the reason.

I don't have any experience with Korean golf instruction but I DO have some experience with Korean martial arts... and if my experience is any indication, the reason for Korean excellence is really simple: Fundamentals. (BTW, we had more than a few instructors at the school who were golfers, including one who played the Tour at the time. My instructors explained things to me more than once by using golf analogies. So I'm pretty sure I'm on target with this.)

I took two years of Tae Kwon Do when I was 46 and 47, back around 2003-2005. I finally had to quit because of a foot injury (not received in TKD class) and a job change that interfered with my classes. During that time I got where I could do hard workouts with the 20-somethings without undue stress -- although I was sore for nearly a year until I reached that point -- but once I got there it was amazing. I would have never believed I could have done it if I hadn't been there to see it. ;-) And I did well enough to receive two "Most Improved" awards at my belt level while I was there.

How did my instructors get me to that point? Was it just hard work? Well, classes lasted around 50 minutes and Master Kim usually recommended no more than 5 classes a week. He was very happy if we showed up 3 times a week. So it wasn't just how much we worked.

But although we each had belt-specific curriculum that we were learning, each class began with everybody working out together. And I mean everybody -- from the newest white belt to the most senior black belt, which basically covered everybody from 1 month of training to 15 years or more. And what did we do? Fundamentals. Everybody worked out together as a class, doing the same things -- black belts teaching the white belts proper technique, and white belts helping the black belts become better because (as every teacher knows) you always learn more when you're teaching. In fact, we used to say that when you got a black belt, you'd finally learned enough that Master Kim could teach you to do it right.

Those fundamentals workouts usually ran 20-30 minutes, but I remember several classes where we spent 45 minutes working together on fundamentals. That left only 5 minutes to divide into our belt-specific groups and get a little quick instruction. But our TKD school consistently placed well in competitions (at all belt levels). In fact, Master Kim was one of the US TKD Olympic coaches in London, so I feel it's safe to say he knew what he was doing.

And what he focused on was fundamentals. I have no doubt that the Korean golf instructors are also focused on teaching their students fundamentals. Just look at their swings! How often do you hear the TV commentators talk about the rhythm, the tempo, the balance of their swings?

In my experience, US players (and instructors) focus on shotmaking. The Koreans may not have as many shots in their repertoires as the US players, but then they're in the fairway and on the greens more often and don't need as many recovery shots. They play more consistently and so they put themselves in position to win more often.

I'm not saying that US players should pay less attention to shotmaking, just that they need to put more emphasis on their fundamentals. On days when you aren't at your best, it's fundamentals that keep you in contention. And that's why I spend most of the instructional posts on this blog talking about fundamentals -- when you don't have a lot of time to practice, it's more important than ever that you focus on your fundamentals.

That's the big Korean golf secret. I'll let you have it for free.

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