It’s a personal decision and not an easy one. On Tuesday in Seoul, Ha Na Jang, a four-time winner on the LPGA Tour and the No. 10-ranked player in the Rolex Rankings, gave up her LPGA membership to move home to South Korea.
“I thought being world No. 1 was the only goal in my life and that was where my happiness comes from,” Jang said. “But I realized there are many more important things than that. Even though I won four times, I still felt empty inside. I made this decision because being with my family is more important to me than being the world’s top golfer.”
She misses her mom, which is understandable. Few people appreciate the cultural adjustments that Korean players make when they join the LPGA Tour. In Gee Chun, last year’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year, won the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open without being able to say “Hello” in English. Now, she handles television interviews like a seasoned pro. Two-time major champion and No. 2-ranked player with world So Yeon Ryu didn’t know the language, the culture, the food, or American customs when she joined the tour in 2012. Now, she’s the most articulate ambassador for Koreans in the women’s game.
“Yes, we are a worldwide tour,” Ryu told me in Williamsburg, Va., at last week’s Kingsmill Championship. “But, I think we lose (fan) interest when we spend too much time away from the U.S. So, I’m glad we’ve got some new (U.S.-based events) this year.”
Imagine moving to a country where you can’t read a sign, can’t ask directions, can’t order a meal and can’t answer a question. Now, imagine trying to compete and make a living in that country. That’s the life of the Korean LPGA rookie. Most of them handle it with extraordinary aplomb. A few choose to go home early.
Jang was a bright spot on the LPGA Tour, known for her huge smile, enthusiastic fist pumps, and gregarious personality to go with a golf swing that a lot of teachers considered a model for young girls entering the game. Her samurai dance after her first victory, and the Beyoncé dance after her second, drew criticism back home, where humility and stoicism are mandatory virtues. The denunciations hurt. Jang shed more than a few tears afterward.
Even in her most recent victory in February at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, she didn’t look as joyous as she did in her first two years on tour.
The happiest I’ve seen Jang in the last 12 months was on the tiered driving range at Taekwang Country Club just a few minutes from her home near Seoul. There she was as animated and happy as ever, thrilled to see an American friend in her homeland.
Now, that’s where we’ll have to go to see her. It’s a shame for American golf fans. But it’s a move we all can appreciate and respect.
Ha Na Jang’s LPGA Tour Wins
2016 Coates Golf Championship
2016 HSBC Women’s Champions
2016 Fubon LPGA Taiwan Championship
2017 ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open