Pro golf returns without fans in South Korea

Bae Seon-woo of South Korea watches her tee shot on the 10th hole during the first round of the KLPGA Championship on Thursday. (AP)
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Updated 15 May 2020

Pro golf returns without fans in South Korea

  • Bae Seon-woo, Kim Char-young and Hyun Se-lin in three-way tie for lead on 67

YANGJU, South Korea: Players were ordered to keep two meters apart and there was no touching the flagsticks without gloves as women’s professional golf returned post-coronavirus in South Korea on Thursday.

Spectators were barred from the Lakewood Country Club as the KLPGA Championship, a domestic tournament, got underway with world top-10 players Park Sung-hyun, Kim Sei-young and Lee Jeong-eun in the field.

In an unusually quiet round in Yangju, northeast of Seoul, none of the trio could break par, with Park and Lee carding one-over 73s and Kim 74. Joint leaders Bae Seon-woo, Kim Char-young and Hyun Se-lin all shot 67.

The tournament, normally overlooked outside South Korea, is the first high-level women’s golf to be played since the US-based LPGA suspended its season in February.

With sports fans around the world long deprived of live action, rights have been sold to broadcasters in countries including the US, Canada and Australia.

“Interest is very high since this is the first golf tour in the world amid the pandemic,” the KLGPA said in a statement.

To avoid any coronavirus infection, players were advised to keep two meters (six feet) apart on the course and minimize physical contact, while touching the pin without gloves was prohibited.

Players also had to wear masks before and after their rounds, but could choose whether or not to do so during play — with most deciding against.

Apart from the host broadcaster, media were restricted to the first and 10th tees, with personnel required to wear face masks at all times.

“I was surprised to see so many camera crews at the first tee, feeling as if I was seeing a gallery,” Park said.

“From the second tee, it became all quiet and you could hear every little sound,” she added. “It felt a little boring, yet refreshing.”

South Korea is a hothouse for women’s golfing talent, with eight players in the current world top 20.

Park, the world N0. 3 and a double-major winner, sixth-ranked Kim — a nine-time winner on the LPGA Tour — and No. 10 Lee Jeong-eun are part of a 150-strong field chasing the $180,000 winner’s check from a tournament-record purse of $2.5 million.

Bae, one of the first-round leaders, only completed two weeks of self-isolation six days ago following her arrival from Japan.

Playing without fans was a “pity,” Kim Sei-young said after her pre-tournament practice.

“Usually a lot of fans show up, more here in Korea than in the US,” she said. “But I’m thankful for just even being able to play.”

Everyone entering the course had their temperature checked and had to provide their personal information.


Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

Updated 20 October 2020

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

  • Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League

LONDON: Pep Guardiola starts his latest bid to lead Manchester City to Champions League glory with the shadows of past failures casting doubt on his ability to secure that elusive title.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish boss and his club.

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, Guardiola has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, Guardiola has seen City beaten by Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the quarterfinals.

He also lost in three semifinals during his time as Bayern Munich manager before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat against Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling as City were heavy favorites against the French side.

Guardiola deserved a large portion of the blame for that letdown after his tactical tinkering appeared to unsettle his players and did nothing to tilt the tie in City's favor.

Interpreted by Guardiola's critics as further proof that his Champions League success at Barcelona was due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi's presence, the only bright side of the Lyon loss was that it was not their farewell to Europe for a while.

For several months last season, it appeared City would not even be competing in the Champions League this term after UEFA gave them a two-year ban from European competitions for Financial Fairplay breaches.

City's legal dream team won that battle and the suspension was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Whether Guardiola can be as successful in Europe as City's Abu Dhabi-based owners were in the court room remains far from certain.

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of Guardiola's future.

Guardiola is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree on a new deal amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium in 2021.

For now, Guardiola will focus on Porto's visit to Manchester rather than entertaining questions about his long-term plans.

The 49-year-old insists he has to earn a prolonged stay at City by improving on last season's disappointment, which saw them surrender the Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

There have been some worrying signs already as Leicester thrashed City 5-2, while Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal was far from convincing.

Significantly, Guardiola was able to welcome back Sergio Aguero last weekend as City's record goalscorer made his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

City have lacked a cutting edge in Aguero's absence and Guardiola's hopes of a serious Champions League challenge hinge on the Argentine striker staying fit.

"The important thing is that Sergio comes back in good physical condition, starts to get his rhythm, doesn't get more injuries and plays good," Guardiola said.

"We know what he means for us, we know how we appreciate him, but now he has to show like every one of us, me first, that we deserve to continue here and playing good and winning games."