Hyo Joo Kim carded a bogey-free 64 in the final round of the 2021 HSBC Women’s World Championship to claim a one-stroke victory. It was her first LPGA Tour win since 2016.
Yet, instead of talking about her great performance on Sunday – where the 25-year old Korean made four birdies in five holes (TWICE!), everyone was commenting on her mask.
With wrap-around sunglasses and some kind of a face mask/neck gaiter, Kim’s entire head was covered. Some joked that she looked like a beekeeper, while others chose a Star Wars character. But the most common reaction – by far – was that she appeared absolutely freaky and it belonged nowhere near tour golf – LPGA or PGA.
We agree: the LPGA should immediately ban these masks before they become more common on tour. And not because they look weird and creepy (which they do), but on the basis of an unfair competitive advantage.
Kim, who wears the face mask to cover her “neck” from getting sunburned, was asked if she gained any advantage by covering up.
“I think it might be helpful because with my sunglasses and mask on, no one can really see my face expression,” said Kim through an interpreter.
“But that wasn’t my intention.”
Um, most golf penalties aren’t intentional.
However, golf is far more mental than fans realize, and, if a player is allowed to gain an advantage – for instance by avoiding the noise and distractions that come with the final round of elite tour golf, that is a huge benefit.
Phil Mickelson discussed this very topic on Friday night after missing the cut at the Valspar.
“I know what my problem is. I’m not physically able to keep my focus,” said a frustrated Mickelson after finishing with a bogey to miss the weekend by a stroke.
“As I’ve gotten older, I have a hard time focusing. And that’s my challenge right now and I’m trying to come up about with — I’m trying all different things to be able to elongate my ability to stay focused or to refocus.”
What if Phil were to show up at next week’s Wells Fargo wearing a full mask to go along with his shades?
For golf fans, a big part of Sunday’s final rounds are the emotions we see on the faces of players coming down the stretch. TV viewers grow a bond through the reactions and passion conveyed by these players.
It’s why we see network cameras zoom in on a player’s eyes when replaying important putts: it’s to further personalize the player and develop engagement.
Imagine Tiger Woods winning the 2019 Masters wearing glasses and a mask when he exploded emotionally on the 18th green? Or Jack Nicklaus donning the same getup for his iconic putt at the 1986 Masters where we watched his facial expression change with every rotation of the ball until it finally dropped and we could read his lips?
Imagine all that visual history covered up?
Beyond the competitive advantage argument, the more damaging aspect is the image it creates for the LPGA, which is horrible.
For years, since the boom in the 90s, the LPGA Tour’s Asian natives have been accused – fairly or not – of being robotic and disengaged from fans with some citing a language disconnect and others noting a cultural divide.
On Sunday, Kim played into this this criticism to precision. She was next-level robotic in both etiquette and appearance while being disengaged completely under a cloak of privacy.
UPDATE: In proving my point, Titleist congratualted Kim with a gram post, but didn’t use a photo of her swinging with the mask as it would be absolutely absurd and pointless.