News & Opinion

Haney gets it right as Lee6 wins USWO

Lee6, Day 2 - HSBC Women's World Championship 2019
SINGAPORE - FEBRUARY 01: Jeongeun Lee6 walking-up the 6th during the second round of the HSBC Women's World Championship 2019 at Sentosa Golf Club - Tanjong Course, Singapore on March 01, 2019.

CHARLESTON, S.C. – The sad irony of the 74th U.S. Women’s Open is that Hank Haney was correct.

A player from South Korea did win the championship, and her name is Lee. More specifically, Jeongeun Lee6, with the number added because there have been five other players with the same first and surname competing on the Korean LPGA, which assigned numerical suffixes to allay confusion (scores).

f9327b77-7e42-4c68-8b13-991c947f129b_121x151.png
Jeongeun Lee6

Haney, of course, last week provoked accusations of racism and sexism when the instructor derided women’s golf on his SiriusXM Radio show by predicting that “a Korean” would win, adding that he couldn’t name six players on the LPGA, but he would “get a bunch of them right” if he guessed “Lee” (“If Haney feels remorse, next step is key,” May 30).

Haney’s SiriusXM show was suspended. He apologized and acknowledged whiffing his attempt at humor. “In an effort to make a point about the overwhelming success of Korean players on the tour, I offended people, and I am sorry,” he told Golf Digest. “I have the biggest respect for the women who have worked so hard to reach the pinnacle of their sport, and I never meant to take away from their abilities and accomplishments.”

Late Sunday, Haney tweeted congratulations to Lee6 – though he misspelled her first name as Jeougean – on the victory, adding in a comment to his SiriusXM Radio co-host: “Who’s The Great Predictor now Steve Johnson @steveyrayj. I knew a Lee would win.”

During Sunday’s post-round interview, Lee6 was asked to comment on the Haney flap. She said, through an interpreter, that she had heard about it, but didn’t really grasp its significance. A few minutes later, she inadvertently reinforced the Asian stereotype. Asked how she planned to spend the $1 million first prize, Lee6 responded, “Eat more ramen.”

Talk about lost in translation.

The gist of Haney’s remarks is nothing new. It’s been only 10 years since then-LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens was ousted after she addressed the influx of Koreans with a proposal to make English language proficiency mandatory for all tour members. The nationalistic angst persists, as evidenced by Haney’s remarks.

Women’s golf continues to be dismissed because it fails to “move the needle” with regard to fan interest and media coverage. Truth is, it never really has.

Even when Americans were winning 44 of the first 49 U.S. Opens since the inaugural in 1946, no one paid much attention. The following year, 1995, Annika Sorenstam of Sweden won the first of her three U.S. Open titles. Se Ri Pak’s victory in 1998 ignited a new Open era, with players from Asia winning 10 of the next 21 Opens. The Koreans became convenient scapegoats.

The needle didn’t budge during the past week at the Country Club of Charleston, either, but the nationality of the winner isn’t to blame. The oppressive heat affected attendance and contributed to rounds lasting upwards of six hours. The event simply lacked buzz.

“It was a little bit different,” two-time Women’s Open champion Inbee Park tactfully acknowledged.

Though she made bogey on two of the last three holes, Lee6 closed with a 1-under 70 for a 6-under 278 total and two-stroke victory. Americans Lexi Thompson and Angel Yin shared second place with South Korea’s So Yeon Ryu.

To its credit, the USGA bumped the Women’s Open purse this year to $5.5 million, the largest in women’s golf. Lee6 took home a record $1 million. As she noted, that’s a lot of ramen.

Dave Seanor has been a sports journalist since 1975, including a 13-year stint as editor of Golfweek magazine. He has covered golf in 25 countries, including the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Email: daveseanor@gmail.com