Can she be best of both worlds?
Friday, August 7, 2009
ST. LOUIS – Jennifer Song might literally become the best of both worlds. The women’s game today can be divided into two golf powerhouses: the U.S. and Korea.
Behold we bring you Song, an American-born player raised in Korea who once captained the Korean national team and now stands to lead the U.S. Curtis Cup team in June 2010. Dual citizenship can be a beautiful thing.
Song, 19, extended her outstanding summer run another day when she advanced to the semifinal round of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Aug. 7 with a 2-and-1 victory over Stephanie Kono. She won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in June and was low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open in July.
“I try to be as humble as I can,” said Song, who is trying to become only the second player in USGA history to win both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and the WAPL in the same year. “I don’t tell myself, ‘Hey, you’re a champion of a USGA event.’ “
I met Song by chance two years ago at the David Leadbetter Academy at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club just outside Seoul. I was there doing research for a story on the Korean golf boom and finding Song was like spotting a pot of gold at the end of the range. She not only spoke perfect English, but also understood the two golf cultures well enough to compare and contrast. While the rest of her Korean national teammates skipped class to focus entirely on golf, Song got up at 6 a.m. to go to school and didn’t hit the pillow again until 2 a.m. If Song had a test, she was up until 5 a.m.
“Sometimes I go crazy,” she said. Golf and academics were of equal importance to her, a rare combination for Korean athletes.
Born Dec. 20, 1989, in Ann Arbor, Mich., to Museok Song and Jeeyeon Koong, Jennifer has lived in the U.S. on three separate occasions for a total of about fours years. She first picked up a golf club in the third grade while her father was working at the University of Michigan. She went back to Korea two years later and honed her game on the Korean junior circuit.
Song’s love affair with the American culture was cultivated at an international school, where she was fluent in English and studied French for three years.
It’s unusual for Korean players to show an interest in the American college system, but Song’s proficiency in English and an academic-minded father made it a viable and attractive option. She chose USC and was named Golfweek’s College Player of the Year her freshman season, finishing runner-up at the NCAA Championship with a devastating double bogey on the last hole.
Song carries herself with the grace of her mother, a concert pianist who teaches classes at Yonsei University in Seoul. Her older brother, Albert, studies industrial design at Carnegie Mellon.
Museok, a professor of naval architecture and ocean engineering, is the brains behind Jennifer’s golf career. If Song goes on to win this week, she will have the two biggest amateur titles in women’s golf on her resume. While Song has enjoyed her time at USC, Museok worries his daughter might lose focus and motivation if she stays amateur longer than one more year.
“The question is, does she want to play the same amateur tournaments over and over again?” Museok asks. “She is very goal-oriented.”
Song might be the most disciplined player in this field. The Bob Rotella disciple listens to track No. 17 of “The Golfer’s Mind” before every round.
“He just soothes me,” said Song, who rarely looks rattled to begin with.
The decision to identify herself as an American rather than a Korean was obvious to Song. Her brother already considers himself American. Museok said his parents weren’t overly thrilled with the idea, but they respect the family’s choice.
It’s understandably a delicate topic in Korea, where people unfamiliar with the family will question their decision to choose the American flag.
“Those kinds of people will always be there,” Museok said. “Jennifer is a proud Korean-American.”
Song wants nothing more than to represent the U.S. at next year’s Curtis Cup. She’s a lock for the team, and it wouldn’t be surprising if she turned professional shortly thereafter. Much of that will depend on what happens this weekend and how well she progresses in her sophomore year at USC.
It’s hard to imagine college golf doing much more to mature Jennifer Song. She’s as polished as they come, and determined to live life on a global scale.
Look out world.