Jang Jeong takes time out after British Open winJang Jeong, 25, winner of the Weetabix Women’s British Open on July 31, still remembers the conversation that led her into the world of professional golf. It was in the summer of 1993 when Jang, then in the sixth grade, was told by her mother to bring her father back from a driving range. “Oh, my life. This man is close to living on that driving range. Jeong, run and fetch your father,” said Lee Gyeong-suk, 53. She went to the driving range. “Dad, Mom said to stop and come home,” Jang said. “I see. Do you want to try it?” her father replied.
The girl completely forgot what her mother had said and picked up a club. She was only 140 centimeters (4 feet, 7 inches) tall, but hit the ball surprisingly well. “Well, you are pretty good. Do you want to learn how to play golf?” her father asked.
This is how Jang became a golfer. After winning the British Open, she came back to Korea and was resting at her house in Daejeon for the first time in a long while since joining the LPGA tour.
Six months after she began golf, she entered a junior golf tournament on the Dogo golf course. She partnered with Kim Young, also now on the LPGA tour, and Park Hin for the first round. It was raining lightly, and Jang hit a round of 116.
“Kim Young said to me, ‘I had a hard time counting your score.’ I felt so ashamed and even wanted to hide in a mouse hole. Other players shot at most in the 80s while my score was well over 110,” Jang said.
“I thought about quitting golf, but instead began spending most of my time on golf courses.” Six months later, she entered another tournament. Again she played with Kim, but this time hit an 81.
“Kim was very surprised. She said she had never seen anyone improve so quickly,” Jang said.
Her father, Jang Seok-jung, taught her himself. He was only a bogey player but studied and instructed her on how to swing.
“In the beginning, I asked a teaching professional to train her, but I had doubts about him,” he said. “One day I was looking at how the lesson was going and saw the coach swearing at my little girl. I thought I would rather teach her myself,” he said.
Jang videotaped his daughter’s swing and explained it in detail to her after the practice was over. Like her fellow LPGA player Pak Se-ri, also from Daejeon, most of the time the young Jang played constant rounds on the Yuseong golf course near her home. But sometimes she was sick of playing golf ― on hot summer days she would often stop playing practice rounds or shorten them.
“On Yuseong golf course, the first hole and the fourth hole are very close to each other,” Jang said. “After a quick look around, I moved from the first fairway to the fourth hole, just to finish it quickly.”
In 1997, when Jang was a high school sophomore, English golfer Alison Nicholas, the winner of the U.S. Women’s Open that year, came to Korea to participate in a local golf tournament. Nicholas was 150 centimeters tall. Jang’s father was curious to know whether she was taller than Nicholas so he took her to the golf course.
“Nicholas was practicing on a putting green. I asked Jeong to stand beside Nicholas to see who was taller. Jeong said it was embarrassing, but later I found that Nicholas was a little bit taller,” her father said.
“I once thought about letting her stop playing golf, but people said, ‘Players like Nicholas won a major. Jeong can do it as well.’ That was encouraging for me,” he said.
After she started playing in the United States, her height continued to be a source of embarrasment. Jang said she is 153 centimeters tall, and since Nicholas retired she is the shortest among the LPGA players. “I don’t care about what other people say. No matter what, I won’t get any taller,” she said.
Asked which club she likes the most, Jang replied instantly, “My putter.” “I sleep with a putter in my arms every day. I did that during the British Open,” she said.
One of the players she admires the most is Annika Sorenstam, whom she played with in the last round of the British Open.
“Sorenstam is not only a good player but also has a gracious manner. She is a great player. Standing beside her, I felt enormous energy from her. In the hall, I greeted her, but said nothing during the round,” Jang said.
Her favorite singer is Tei and she says she likes all of his songs although she is not a good singer.
“My sister always teases me. She says I am a born rapper, and sing like a rapper. When I went to karaoke rooms when I was in middle school, my friends kept laughing at me. For the next three years, I never went to karaoke. Even these days, I don’t go there unless I go with very close friends,” she said.
The down to earth and outgoing Jang gave a high-pitched laugh at the memory. “In the past, I was envious of Pak Se-ri. When I was around her, people only recognized her. I wished I were famous like she is,” Jang said. “I want to be a long-lasting player rather than a short-lived star.”
During the interview, mobile phones belonging to her father and sister, Eun-kyeong, 28, kept ringing as congratulatory calls poured in.
by Chung Jeh-won
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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