MATEO VALLES QUINTANA WRITES — In the previous article SOUTH KOREA: WHY KOREAN WOMEN DOMINATE THE LPGA, I explained how the cultural and structural aspects of South Korean society have created a national junior golf system that produces professional players (gets results). However, their golf system is not perfect and has flaws. In this article, I will focus on the negative effects of golf specialization and the cultural pressures of South Korean society on athletes. The South Korean golf system has proven its ability to create world-class golfers, but we must also acknowledge the faults of this system and its negative repercussions on athletes.
The social and financial pressures that South Korean golfers endure when trying to reach the American professional tour act as a pressure cooker, resulting in player burnout, ruined family relations, and mental health issues.
Understanding how the intense pressure South Korean golfers endure impacts their life is necessary to grasp the pressure cooker comparison. As well as how the negatives aspects mentioned above come to be. I used the second half of my conversations with Chris Smeal a long-time junior golf instructor and Cassie Kim a Korean American NCCS golfer to discuss the negative effects of such an intense golf system on players. Their extensive experience in the golf world gives them an informed perspective on South Korean golf and society.
Mateo Valles: What are the negative effects that we are seeing from all of this pressure that is being put on players to succeed and get results who are ultimately going to
Chris: “It’s really bad. It’s an unhealthy system of when you lose the fun, when you go all at it and you don’t succeed, or it just becomes a depressive thing. It’s very scary. Unfortunately, I am dealing with it with students, I have some students and their parents, their parents are driving the engine and the kid hates the parent because of it. When you become and adult and all of the sudden you hate your dad because he forced you to play golf well guess what happens, you do everything you can to piss off your dad and you don’t give a shit about yourself anymore and now you’re running a very ugly path. I have seen it for years and parents don’t understand that driving their kid to that level is only gonna ruin their relationship with their kids.”
Chris has seen the worst of the golf system in South Korea and described the worst-case scenarios of burnout. Burnout is a term used in sports for describing the ailment caused by excessive stress and strain on the body and mind from training. The intense pressure that both female and male athletes face impacts the athlete as well as their relationship with their parents.
The expectations and burden placed on athletes by their parents. Show how the South Korean pressures on society directly correlate with burnout. As well as the extent to which it can damage an athlete. Additionally, the power dynamic between parents and athletes with different viewpoints on the sport creates tension. This tension builds over time and wears down the athlete, similar to how a pressure cooker operates.
The negative impacts of this intensity and pressure are noticeably more common in South Korea than in other countries. This became clear to me after Cassie shared her thoughts and experiences as well. When athlete’s burnout it is a strong indication that they have been pushed (by others or themselves) too hard for too long. This is never healthy, and the degree of its severity is magnified by the structural and cultural aspects of South Korean society.
Mateo Valles: Can you comment on the aspects of South Korean society that result in a golf player that is a lot more determined and does not worry about anything else in their life outside of golf?
Cassie: “Your whole life ends up being defined by how well you play the sport.”
Cassie: “When I see people from Korea play, the way they react and the way their parents react is a lot more drastic.”
Cassie shares another way in which the system in place can come to place such intense pressure on athletes. When your entire life revolves around golf your mood is likely to reflect your performance. Which is very unhealthy, Chris descried the negative repercussions of this intense golf focus in great detail above. The main takeaway from both Chris and Cassie’s statements is the intense involvement and pressure of South Korean parents in an athlete’s life can have detrimental effects to their parental relationship.
My conversation with Cassie ended with a very straightforward question and answer. Neither one of us shied away from being direct.
Mateo Valles: Do you think all of this pressure South Koreans put on golfers is healthy?
Cassi: “It’s not healthy in any way. I know people in Korea deal with a lot of mental health issues because of all of the pressure.”
Burnout is seen across every sport and happens in every country in different forms. The negative impacts of this intensity and pressure are noticeably more common in South Korea than in other countries. This became clear to me after Cassie shared her thoughts and experiences as well. When athlete burnout it is a strong indication that they have been pushed (by others or themselves) too hard for too long. This is never healthy, and the degree of its severity is magnified by the structural and cultural aspects of South Korean society.
Players lose touch with their love for the game because they are overworked by higher performance and practice standards. They no longer enjoy playing golf and choose to do other things with their time.
The pressure cooker that is the South Korean golfing world has produced world-class players that lead very successful careers on the American tours. But not everyone succeeds, and many burn out before they get the chance to. Discussing the shortcomings of South Korean golf as well as their success is necessary to understanding the intense pressure their athletes face.