SEOUL • As the rest of the world's top women golfers were playing for millions of dollars in prize money at the US Open last week, South Korea's Ko Jin Young was half a world away, dreaming of what might have been.
One of the brightest young talents in women's golf, she made her mark on the world stage by finishing second at last year's British Open and has risen to 33rd in the world despite playing outside the US circuit, where events offer far more money and world ranking points than the domestic Korean Tour.
While she received an invitation to the US Open, the most prestigious tournament in women's golf, there was one thing holding her back - the threat of a US$100,000 (S$134,300) fine from the Korea Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA).
The 21-year-old, who won the Chojung Sparkling-Yongpyong Resort Open with SBS last year, was a victim of the KLPGA's "Defending Champion" rule, which demands golfers repay all the prize money from a tournament they win if they do not return the following year.
Aimed at discouraging players from taking up invitations to foreign tournaments when the dates clash with Korean events, the KLPGA said Regulation 14:2 helped the Tour flourish by giving sponsors value for money and bringing in more fans.
"The regulation is a promise to fans that the champion will be back next year. It also makes sponsors happy," the KLPGA said.
The KLPGA added that it had never imposed the fine, suggesting Korean players take their defending champion duties very seriously. That or they are unwilling to repay the prize money.
It also pointed out that "the Japanese LPGA has a similar rule", though the Ladies Professional Golfers' Association of Japan imposes a fine of only ¥1 million (S$12,715) on players who do not defend their titles.
If the tournament clashes with one of the five global Majors then the fine is not levied.
Ko had taken the whole thing in her stride, determined to try her best in her title defence last weekend.
But clearly her heart was not in it. She missed the cut for the first time this season.