ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – A young Asian in the mix at St. Andrews isn’t a surprise. What’s surprising is that Jin Jeong is the man carrying Asia’s hopes in the 150th playing of the Open Championship.
Jeong is the standout amongst the amateurs at this week’s Open Championship. That’s surprising considering he only got his first experience of links golf a month ago.
The 20-year-old from Busan, South Korea is odds on to emulate Italy’s Matteo Manassero last year at Turnberry. Jeong is on course to win the British Amateur Championship and silver medal as leading amateur in the Open Championship. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if Jeong exceeded Manassero’s exploits last year and finished higher than 13th place.
For two days he’s looked as if he grew up playing by the sea. A 68 in the first round put him five shots off the lead. If that raised eyebrows, then his play in Round 2 sealed his reputation as a links specialist. He kept his head in the 25-30 mph winds when other, more experienced links campaigners were losing theirs.
When Jeong birdied the par-4, 7th hole to move to 6-under-par, he found himself tied for third place in the game’s premier tournament. A bogey at the eighth set him back, but level-par golf over the next nine holes put him back on track.
When play was suspended just before 10 p.m., Jeong was tied for sixth place at 5-under-par. He was an almost unbelievable 1-under for 17 holes on a day when most competitors struggled to break 75.
Jeong’s first taste of links golf came in the Scottish Stroke Play Championship at Glasgow Gailes. He did well to finish seventh considering it was a new experience.
Jeong played in the St. Andrews Links Trophy after the Scottish Stroke Play. He missed the cut but fell in love with the Old Course after just one practice round, even if links golf baffled him at first.
“I didn’t like it the first time,” Jeong said. “When I play in the U.S. or Australia I can control the ball, but here the ball bounces everywhere.
“I couldn’t do anything around the greens. Most times I hit it over the green. I couldn’t spin the ball on the greens.”
Jeong’s love affair with links golf continued at Muirfield in the British Amateur. Most surprising, he arrived at that Open Championship venue expecting to win – and did.
That was his ticket into this week.
No wonder he now loves the oldest form of golf.
“Now it’s fun,” he said.
That wouldn’t have been the choice of words for most players at wild and windy St. Andrews in Round 2, but Jeong’s like a child with a new toy.