You may not know this but there is a developmental tour for the LPGA and it’s called the Duramed Futures Tour. This is the proving grounds for future LPGA stars and they have a prestigious alumnus. Of course there are a good number of Korean players pounding away on the Duramed Futures Tour, but they’re also winning. Yesterday, Tiffany Joh won the ING New England Classic.
Leave it to Tiffany Joh to totally underestimate her prodigious talent or to downplay her ability to chase down a strong tournament leader and come out on top after a four-hole playoff.
The affable and always entertaining second-year pro did just that today when she roared from five shots back to win the $100,000 ING New England Golf Classic, finally ending the head-to-head battle in extra holes against Gerina Mendoza with a birdie on her last trip to the 18th hole at Wintonbury Hills Golf Course.
Joh (pronounced Joe) carded rounds of 67-65-68 to finish at 10-under 200 for the $14,000 winner’s check. Mendoza, who set tournament scoring records this week for 18 holes and 36 holes, posted rounds of 62-65-73 for a 10-under total of 200, losing the playoff for second place.
“Honestly, just getting into the playoff was an accomplishment,” said Joh, 23, of San Diego, who earned her first tournament win on the Duramed FUTURES Tour today. “This is just completely unexpected because I was five back, and because Gerina is such a great player.”
Mendoza started the day with a five-shot cushion and birdied her first hole to go up by six, but that advantage dwindled when the big hitter clobbered her drives all day and then wrestled with her approach shots. By day’s end, Mendoza had hit only eight greens in regulation and recorded five bogeys. That was far too much scrambling for a leader with hungry young pros like Joh breathing down her collar.
Susan Choi was first seen on The Golf Channel’s “Big Break Ka’anapali,” and since then she’s been pursuing the unexpected dream of playing golf on the LPGA Tour. Now a Korean woman playing golf is nothing out of the ordinary because there are many of them playing on the LPGA tour, but what we found unique about Susan Choi was that her journey was a somewhat circuitous route to golf. If you follow ladies golf, you’ll know that many of the Korean women out there pounded their way to the tour through practice, practice and more practice. Susan on the other hand found herself at Wellesley, studying hard and playing college golf at the all-women’s college. Wellesley is not known for producing professional golfers, but rather doctors, lawyers, politicians (Hillary Clinton is a graduate) and educated leaders of tomorrow. When Susan played her Freshman year at Wellesley, she was having fun and scoring in the 90s. However, in a couple of years, her game progressed quickly to shooting in the 70s. You would be hard pressed to find a guy who could improve his scores from the 90s to the 70s in such short a time.
This week is the qualifying tournament for the Duramed Futures Tour, the developmental golf tour for the ladies. Susan is playing in the tournament down in Florida with the hopes of getting status on the tour. We chatted with Susan earlier this fall and what we found was someone who isn’t shy like her Korean golfing counterparts, but someone who is really driven and happy to have found herself playing a sport she really loves. She also gives back and everyone loves this gal! It’s hard not to root for Susan Choi.
When did you start playing golf?
When I was younger my dad would take me to the driving range. He would try to bribe me and say he’d buy me McDonald’s if I would go to the range with him. So my dad bribed me with food. My parents really wanted me to get some exercise and go to the range.
I went to the Spring Rock Golf center in New Hyde Park; it has two levels. I went there real late at night after dinner. We would play Bethpage at Twilight for 9 holes.
My sister played for fun. I honestly think she could have been a real good player. We were really into music and she took that route. We were both into music and golf. I think music helped my golf. In a way I’m glad that I took up golf because it kept me focused during high school. I had a lot of fun practicing with my dad and challenging myself.
So you played golf at Wellesley?
I played golf all 4 years.
When did you think you could become good at golf?
I probably realized it by my junior year – probably end of sophomore year. This is so much fun and I’d rather be out here than in lab. My coach guided me my junior year and I told him that I wanted to go on tour. He gave me an honest talk about how hard it would be. I improved so much from first year to my junior year. If you look at my scoring average, I improved dramatically each year: 90s to 80s to 70s. I just remember having so much fun and also improving so much and believing that I could do this.
I told him that I wouldn’t miss practice and I’d put in extra practice. During senior year I really showed a lot by knocking down my scoring average to 75, compared to 90 something my freshman year. I won 8 tournaments in a row my senior year.
What was the key to improving?
Having a plan: practice with a purpose. I needed a little guidance with course management: knowing what kind of shot I was going to hit. I made it a more perfect practice. I always had fun practicing because I made it a game. I became focused with practice: working on my weaknesses and turning them into strengths.
I actually turned professional in 2008 because of the show I was on: The Big Break. I was actually going to stay amateur one more year. I haven’t had that much experience in tournament golf. The only way to get better is to play tournaments. It is very different because it’s a different setting, atmosphere, player, and the pressure. You learn a lot from these players. It’s at first intimidating but I learned a lot by watching other people during my first year. I also played on the Canadian tour and other mini-tours.
What was most surprising when you started playing professionally?
How expensive everything was. I don’t come from a lot of money. I would stay at the most ghetto motels and it was kind of scary. Knowing how to travel and knowing your stuff like setting up practice rounds, renting car, hotels, etc — it can be hectic and chaotic. That was one of my goals – to be very organized.
When you first arrived on the Duramed Futures Tour, what were the players like?
Everyone is nice to each other. I noticed there are lot of cliques out there. There are many Division I players out there and I came from a Division III school. These girls are very focused on getting to the tour. You sense that competitiveness they got from Division I schools. They’re all super sweet but they’re very competitive and really good.
I feel like I have the skills but I need the experience. If I continue to workout hard and keep practicing, I’ll develop faster. If you have a good support team, it helps out a lot. My coach has been so good to me. He really believes in me. He’ll get mad if I don’t do a workout. He doesn’t get mad at a bad score.
What motivates you?
I’m very family oriented and my family motivates me. I keep pictures of them. I see them when I first wake up and therefore I get up quicker.
Does it get lonely out there?
Honestly, it does. You just keep focused and you keep yourself busy.
It’s hard to have balance. It’s tiring after the end of a round, and sometimes you can’t go out because you have to get up early for a round. I do feel very blessed!
What do you do for fun?
I do a lot. This past year, I needed something to rejuvenate me so I did a bunch of charity stuff and corporate outings. I’m one of the founders of the golfprogirls.com website. It’s a website with interviews of notable golf people and has other things like golf destinations and things about rules, etiquette and where to get the best gear.
So what is your goal now?
My main goal is to play tournament golf and make it on tour.
What do you need to do to make the LPGA Tour?
When I play at a course, I need to be good at course management. I need to make more birdies; what are the best spots for birdies. Everything is fine with the swing – just need to believe in yourself. It’s more attitude than skill.
I’ve been working on my attitude, even talking about it after a round. If you talk to yourself in a positive way, it changes everything.
Last question and it’s off topic but what is your favorite Korean food?
I love kogi (Korean BBQ)!
You can find out more on Susan Choi at her website Susan Choi Golf. Susan recently won the J&J New England Women’s Open Championship and placed second at the Sun Coast Series event.
Christine Song just turned 18 years old and she’s living her dream of being a professional golfer. She just completed her first full season on the Duramed Futures Tour, the LPGA developmental league, finishing in the top ten of the money list. As a result, her top ten finish makes her eligible for conditional status on the LPGA and allows her to compete with the big girls like Michelle Wie and Lorena Ochoa. She’ll be heading to the final rounds of Q-School in December with the hopes of being able to compete full time on the LPGA.
So what’s it like being a teenager and already being a professional athlete? When we chatted with Christine, we were surprised to find that after a long season running around the country from tournament to tournament, she really didn’t find it to be a job but a real joy of being able to play a sport she really loves. Of course when competing at the professional level there’s a lot of self-induced pressure, but what she walks away from the Duramed Futures Tour is a whole lot of leanings and friendships that she’ll always have.
What’s it feel like to be 18 years old and competing at a high level against the ladies on the Duramed Futures Tour?
I was kind of scared at first because they were older and some of them looked scary. But after a few weeks, I became closer to the players. They’re all nice and of course not scary.
What did you enjoy most about this summer on the Duramed Futures Tour?
Just traveling and playing a lot of different courses. Meeting a lot of new people. Learning a lot on the tour.
What was your favorite course?
I guess I like the courses I played the best at like the Louisiana Pelican Classic (2nd place finish).
What do you think you learned while playing on the Duramed Futures Tour?
I learned a lot about myself in general and my game and where it’s at now. I learned to be patient and not to get to angry and to stay calm. Because it’s just one tournament. Even if I do bad there’s the next tournament where I can redeem myself and it’s not the end of the world.
What do you think is the strength of your game?
Either accuracy off the tee and probably chipping and putting. I’m still working on putting.
What do you think you need to work on?
Do you think distance is important?
Yes. Well, I think everything is important. I think putting and being long are very important.
Was this your first year on the Durmed Futures Tour?
What did you enjoy about the Tour?
I liked the Tour and the people. It was a lot of hard work and tiring because of the travel.
Who do you look up to on the LPGA or the PGA tour?
Did you ever take a moment to think that you’re a professional athlete?
Well, more and more (girls) are turning pro at a younger age. I turned pro at 17 and a few of the other girls turned pro at 17. They were still in high school.
Why do you think Korean women are so successful in golf?
Practicing. Working out. Our parents push us in a good way, not in a bad way.
Do you enjoy playing golf?
Yes. It’s what I want to do.
How old were you when you first started?
9 years old
Did you have immediate success?
I started improving probably around 15 or 16 years old.
What advice would you give other girls?
Are all the girls serious on tour?
They like to have fun. Some girls go out at night and some just practice a lot.
Any good places that you ate along the way?
We actually took food and usually we went to Korean markets. My dad would cook all the time.
What’s your favorite Korean food?
I like anything that’s Korean.
OK. What if you walked into a Korean restaurant today. What would you order off the menu?
Sam Gyup Sal (which is Korean Pork Belly BBQ).
Were your parents with you all the time on tour?
My dad was with me traveling all summer. My mother was at home.
What’s on your iPod?
I have a lot of Korean music: Big Bang. 4 Minute. 2PM.
Thanks Christine and good luck to you at Q-School and the big tour.
This past weekend in Albany, the golfing season came to a close for the LPGA developmental league, the Duramed Futures Tour. By the end of the ILOVENY Championship, the top ten players on the money list earned their LPGA tour card, which gives them membership to play with the big girls next year. Of the top ten, three were of Korean descent: Misun Cho of Cheongju, South Korea; Song Yi Choi of Seoul, South Korea; and Christine Song of Fullerton, Calif. Many graduates of the Duramed Futures Tour have gone on to very successful careers on the LPGA tour, such as Christina Kim and Angela Park. Lets hope that these three ladies make a big splash next year and continue the trend of Koreans winning on the LPGA tournament.
Cho also was a two-time winner this season. She finished the season ranked third in earnings at $64,118. She looks forward to next year’s LPGA season, when she’ll play against several fellow South Koreans.
“It makes me comfortable that there are so many Korean players out there,” said Cho. “I can relate to them. I’m just going to enjoy myself next year and just keep working hard.”