Top row, from left: LGPA pros Danielle Kang, Jennie Lee, Ilhee Lee, Eun Jung Yi, Eun Hee Ji, Mi Hyang Lee, Jennifer Song, Tiffany Joh, Esther Choe, Jane Park, Irene Cho and Vicky Hurst. Bottom row, from left: LPGA pros Angela Park, M.J. Hur, Seon Hwa Lee, Mindy Kim, Chella Choi, Se Ri Pak, Meena Lee, Birdie Kim, Jeong Jang, Jee Young Lee and Jenny Shin.
The annual golfing event, featuring some of the best the LPGA has to offer, journeys to Pechanga Resort and Casino this year.
story by STEVE HAN
photographs by Alex Hsiao, Janet Ching Ya Chen, Ryan Malehorn and Janet Wang
Publisher James Ryu has long said that KoreAm Journal, which he founded with his father 23 years ago, serves as a hub for the Korean American community, and that idea seemed to come to life on the wide green expanse of the Journey at Pechanga golf course last month.
KoreAm hosted its seventh annual KoreAm Pro-Am April 7 to 8 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif. Sponsored this year by Dura Coat Products, new host Pechanga and first-time ball sponsor Volvik, the event once again paired Korean and Korean American professional players—including World Golf Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak, as well as PGA pro Charlie Wi—with amateur players in an atmosphere that mixes competition with fun.
“KoreAm Pro-Am is an opportunity for me to spend time with the Korean American community,” said Pak. “It’s wonderful to be here and get to know my colleagues better. KoreAm is definitely promoting this tournament with a great cause.”
Pak’s sentiments were repeated throughout the day by other pros, many of whom have made the event an annual tradition.
“It’s great to be having a good time with my fellow Korean American golfers,” said LPGA pro Vicky Hurst, five-time winner on the Futures Tour. “This is the only pro-am that brings Korean Americans together. It’s nice for us to come together, and celebrate our heritage and culture. That’s why I come here to play.”
Eun Jung Yi, Team Hanmi Bank and their supporters. (Talk about team spirit!)
The two-day event officially began with the Pairings Party on the night of April 7, held at Eagle’s Nest located on the rooftop of the Pechanga Resort. Over a sushi dinner, the pros and their amateur partners got a chance to get to know each other, while being entertained by comedian Walter Hong, who served as emcee, and Heejun Han, an American Idol Season 11 finalist, who crooned classic like “New York State of Mind.”
“The most important thing for golfers is to go out and enjoy the game,” Pak said, in an interview during the dinner. “Golf is probably the most difficult sport because you need to maintain a high level of focus and concentration, while you’re traveling so much.
“So it’s hard to enjoy the game sometimes, but for golfers, you need to stay focused and serious on one hand, but on the other, we have to have fun. And Pro-Am is an event that lets us do that.”
Unlike last year’s event, when the temperature hovered just around 75 degrees to make it a perfect day for golf, the weather wasn’t so accommodating this time around. It started with a drizzle in the morning, and eased up as the day went on, but the climate remained cold as the wind blew constantly throughout the day.
Angela Park and Team Dura Coat No. 3.
The inclement weather, however, didn’t discourage the determined players, as they excitedly rushed to their golf carts to hit the green for the 10:30 a.m. tee-off.
What makes the KoreAm Pro-Am so memorable, many participants said, is the give-and-take relationship that’s developed between the pros and amateurs. While the amateurs see the event as a chance to compete and learn at the same time, the pros are given an opportunity to play without the mammoth pressure of tournament competition.
“This is an event that lets me just go out there to play good golf in a friendly atmosphere,” said Hurst, who has played at the KoreAm Pro-Am the last four years. “I usually don’t mean to impress the amateurs, but I end up impressing them anyway.”
Amateur golfer Thomas Kim, who played for the First California Bank team, was certainly impressed with his pro partner, M.J. Hur. “It’s fun. When you’re here, you play with the best,” he said. “It’s nice to play with someone you can count on. You get to learn just by watching [the pros’] form and talking to them.”
Team Pechanga No. 2, led by 2005 U.S. Women’s Open winner Birdie Kim, was crowned champions of the tournament with a total score of 57. It was Kim’s first triumph at a pro-am event since turning pro 13 years ago.
The 2013 KoreAm Pro-Am winners, Team Pechanga No. 2 and pro Birdie Kim, with Dr. Mike Hong and James Ryu.
“It feels great to win,” she told KoreAm.
At the awards dinner, emceed again by quick-witted Walter Hong, Kim was presented with a check for $5,000, which will be donated to the LPGA Foundation in her name. She and her teammates also received the shiny winners’ cup and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue for each player.
“I’ve been here for the past three years, and every year, it seems to be getting bigger and better,” said Kim.
“This tournament means a lot to the Korean American community,” she added. “It’s an opportunity for Korean Americans from different cultural backgrounds to get together and build an understanding with each other. Even though we’re one people, most of us come from different backgrounds. So it means a lot for us to spend time together.”
LPGA pro Irene Cho’s Team Scala fell short by just a point, finishing second with a score of 58. Each of the second place finishers was awarded a two-night stay and $50 food certificate at the Pechanga Resort and Casino.
Pechanga Director of Player Development Bill Anderson, who played for Team Pechanga No. 3 alongside LPGA pro Danielle Kang, was recognized for longest drive for men.
“I figured I’d blast the ball because we had a lot of sh-tty putters,” Anderson quipped.
Longest drive for women went to amateur Alice Jeong, who will be starting school at the University of California, Berkeley, this year.
The agony of the last place finish went to Team Kardia, which incidentally included KoreAm Journalpublisher James Ryu. But that did not dampen Ryu’s enthusiasm for what he considered another successful KoreAm Pro-Am.
“It was exciting to go to a new location this year,” said Ryu. “Many of the players told me they really enjoyed the golf course and accommodations at Pechanga, and Pechanga’s staff was fantastic.”
Scala’s Ike Hong, Team Scala members and James Ryu.
Ryu also acknowledged four-time title sponsor Dura Coat Products, founded by president and CEO Mike Hong. “We are very grateful for Dr. Hong’s consistent support of this event over the years,” said Ryu. “He really recognizes the value in supporting the LPGA, and has always been proud of the LPGA players.”
When KoreAm held its first pro-am in 2007, 80 percent of the pros were Korean nationals and about 20 percent Korean Americans, Ryu noted. This year, there was more of a balance between Korean and Korean American players. “Through this event, I am always impressed with all the new players coming up in the LPGA,” he said. “It’s a nice mix now of international players and Korean American pros playing and enjoying their time together at the Pro-Am, with a little healthy competition, too.”
He said that the annual gathering is a source of great pride for him and his event staff. “After the event,” he added, “many players left us messages thanking us for hosting it and telling us they look forward to it every year.”
This article was published in the May 2013 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).