Alternate Shot: Which nation is No. 2?

Updated: May 1, 2006, 4:27 PM ET

There is no denying that the world's best golf -- both men's and women's -- is currently being played on the major professional U.S.-based tours. It's also tough to debate that the nation isn't producing the world's top golfers, at least when compared to other countries.

But which country is second? Australia owns five wins on the PGA Tour this season, while South Korea has claimed four victories on the LPGA. Jason Sobel argues for the former and Bob Harig takes the latter, as our experts debate which nation is producing the best golfers -- after the U.S. -- in this week's edition of Alternate Shot.

Other than the U.S., which country is producing the top golfers?
Australia (men)

Don't look at the World Rankings. On the men's side, there are 13 Australian players ranked in the top 100. Not bad, but it pales in comparison to the South Korean women. There are 13 South Koreans in the women's top 40 players.

Then again, the Women's World Ranking also has a 16-year-old newly-minted professional as No. 2 on its list; someone named Yuri Fudoh ahead of Cristie Kerr and Juli Inkster; and youngster Brittany Lang just outside of the top 10. To say the list has its share of flaws is an understatement.

Instead, let's look at other factors. Like the competition, for instance. The men's World Ranking is represented by 10 separate countries in the top 25 spaces alone. The women's game is hardly as spread out amongst different nations. And yet, even with all of this competition, Aussies have combined to win five of the 18 PGA Tour events so far this season.

Individually, the blokes from Down Under provide a murderer's row of talent. Adam Scott is the highest-ranked and at 25, has a few decades of winning events tucked away in that ultra-smooth swing of his. Geoff Ogilvy has a major-ready game and already has leapt to 16th in the world this year. Stuart Appleby is finally realizing his potential, with two wins this season. Aaron Baddeley and Rod Pampling have both won strong-field events. Then there's guys like Nick O'Hern, Robert Allenby, Mark Hensby and Steve Elkington, any of whom can seemingly play up to the level of the world's top players.

At any level, success is measured purely by victory totals. This current batch of Aussies knows how to win. And they're going to keep doing so for a long time on the PGA Tour.

-- Jason Sobel

South Korea (women)

Nobody is producing more talented golfers than South Korea, at least when it comes to women's golf. Mi Hyun Kim is the latest from the country to win on the LPGA Tour, capturing her sixth career title on Sunday at the Ginn Clubs & Resorts Open near her adopted hometown of Orlando.

It was the fourth time in eight tournaments this year that a player from South Korea has won on the LPGA Tour. There are 32 players from South Korea on the LPGA Tour this year.

That is nearly one fourth of the total number of players who have at least limited status. And this is from a country that is roughly the same size as Indiana.

Remarkably, South Korea had virtually no presence on the LPGA Tour until Se Ri Pak broke through in 1998, winning two major championships. She is credited with setting the wheels in motion. Kim, who is 29 and about the same age as Pak, admitted that seeing her do it gave her the confidence to come to the United States.

Others have followed in huge numbers. Part of the success, it can be argued, is cultural. In South Korea, where men have a military obligation -- which helps explain why K.J. Choi is the only prominent male player -- women are closely tied to their parents, especially their fathers. In some cases, perhaps, dads have had a lot of influence in pushing their girls to golf stardom.

The country also seeks to identify top golfers and then quickly get them instruction. All you have to do is look on the driving range at any LPGA event. As Kim said Sunday after her victory, the hardest workers appear to be the Koreans. And it is paying off.

-- Bob Harig

Subscribe to:
Golf Digest
Golf DigestGolf for WomenGolf World