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.
Check out the videos from The Big Break below.