The world’s first big-purse post-coronavirus golf tournament wrapped up in South Korea on Sunday, marked by a ban on spectators and stringent safety measures that saw competitors having to sit apart while eating. The Korean LPGA Championship - featuring three of the world’s top ten women players - grabbed global attention, with broadcasting rights sold to countries including the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Normally overlooked outside South Korea, the tournament is the first high-level women’s golf event to be played since the U.S.-based LPGA suspended its season in February. Park Hyun-kyung prevailed at Lakewood Country Club in Yangju, scoring her first victory since turning pro in 2018 to claim USD 180,000 of the USD 2.5 million purse.
She shot a final-round five-under-par 67 to finish 17 under for the tournament - a shot ahead of Bae Seon-woo (68) and third-round leader Lim Hee-Jeong (71). “The moment I had always dreamt of finally has come true,” a tearful Park told cable channel SBS Golf.
World No. 3 and double-major winner Park Sung-hyun missed the cut, sixth-ranked Kim Sei-young finished two under for the tournament for joint 46th, while World No. 10 Lee Jeong-eun finished 15th at nine under.
To avoid the risk of coronavirus infection, players were advised to keep two metres (six feet) apart on the course and minimise physical contact, while touching the pin without gloves was prohibited. Players also had to wear masks before and after their rounds, but could choose whether or not to do so during play - with most deciding against.
The 20-year-old champion was congratulated by her mask-wearing peers with elbow-bumps, and held up the trophy at the prize-giving ceremony while also wearing a mask.
South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside mainland China but brought it under control with a widespread “trace, test and treat” programme.
Professional football and baseball both resumed this month - albeit behind closed doors. Only four LPGA Tour events have been completed this year - the last in Adelaide in February - but the tour has outlined plans to resume in mid-July in Michigan.
The men’s US PGA Tour, which came to a juddering halt when the Players Championship was abandoned after the first round in March, has pencilled in a restart behind closed doors at the Charles Schwab Challenge beginning June 11 at Fort Worth, Texas.