LPGA’s youngest golfer is fit and ready for tee-offBorn in Busan on February 2001, Son Yu-jeong will make her LPGA Tour debut this season as the youngest Korean golfer.
On the LPGA Tour, the Rookie of the Year has been dominated by Korean golfers over the past five seasons, since Kim Sei-young won it in 2015.
To follow in her compatriots' impressive footsteps, Son has been training harder than ever and has just completed her four-week physical training in Haenam County, South Jeolla.
“I’ve never had that kind of training before,” Son said. “On the first day of training, I called my mom and said this is a different world and asked ‘what do I have to do?’ But once the training was done, I felt my body changing. It gave me confidence. I think I got more power in my swing. I’ll work on my shots in the United States, and I’m excited to see how much farther I can hit.”
Looking at her average driving distance last year on the Symetra Tour, Son can hit 261.93 yards.
Last year, Son earned her LPGA Tour card by finishing 30th on the LPGA Tour’s qualifying series in November 2019.
Back when she was an amateur, she was already gaining notoriety. She has won about 60 tournaments throughout her amateur career ranging from local to international. In 2014, when Son was just 13 years old, she made headlines by becoming the youngest golfer in history to win the Women’s Oklahoma State Amateur Championship and was christened “Oklahoma’s version of Michelle Wie.”
“At school, I saw a magazine that had a photo of me, and it was really amazing because they had a very big [photo of] my face,” Son said.
At age 5, Son moved to the United States with her parents. She first started golfing as a hobby at age 9 and as her interest in the sport grew, so did her scores. Just three months after starting, she won a tournament, and within six months, she shot an under-par round.
“On my third try, I won the U.S. Kids [Golf] World Championship at age 11,” Son said. “When I won, I thought that I wanted to play golf forever and commit my life.”
Back in 2018, at age 17, Son also qualified and competed at the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, after winning the Rolex Girls Junior Championship.
Despite her outstanding junior career, it wasn’t all plain sailing when she turned pro and started playing on the Symetra Tour, the second tier of the LPGA Tour, last year.
In her first 12 tournaments, Son only made cuts in four of them. At one time in the season, she reached a point where she said she just hated competing. But with the help of her coach, who also mentored Shin Ji-yai, Ko Jin-young and many more, Son slowly found her old form. In June and July, when the schedule is the busiest, she managed to finish in the top 10 in four straight tournaments and once the season ended, Son had runner-up finishes.
She competed in a total of 23 tournaments, the most among Symetra Tour golfers. Behind her success in being able to compete in all 23 tournaments and travel all over the United States are her biggest supporters, her parents. Son dad’s not only took on the role of designated driver but was also her caddie. Although he wasn’t a professional golfer, he taught himself about the games and at times, even offered advice to his daughter. Son’s mother acted as a manager of sorts, looking for accommodation at each location and preparing Korean food for her daughter.
“I’m not good at expressing my emotions, but I’m always thankful to my parents,” Son said. “I’m sure my parents were also tired, but I was cranky [toward them]. I have to be better.”
Although Son was given full-scholarship offers from colleges, she decided to jump right on to the LPGA Tour.
“Since I started golf, I’ve been saying that I want to get to the LPGA Tour,” Son said. “It feels like a dream. When I see other golfers, I only feel like I have to work harder. In the big picture, my first goal is to keep my Tour card, but I’m also going to challenge myself with the bigger goal of keeping the Korean golfers’ dominance of the LPGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year award.”
Son will make her LPGA Tour long-awaited debut at the Founders Cup in March.
BY KIM JI-HAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]