INCHEON (Yonhap) ― South Korean teen golfer Baek Kyu-jung, who became the latest winner on the LPGA Tour on Sunday at home, said she draws inspiration from a close friend who has always been a step ahead of her in their burgeoning careers.
Baek, 19, captured the LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship in Incheon in a sudden death playoff over Brittany Lincicome of the United States and fellow South Korean Chun In-gee for her maiden LPGA title in her first appearance on the tour.
Korean teen golfer Baek Kyu-jung (AFP-Yonhap)
Baek is a rookie on the Korean LPGA Tour this year, and by winning on Sunday, she’s earned full-time playing privileges on the LPGA Tour for next season.
In the process, Baek became the second KLPGA member in 2014 to win on the LPGA Tour, joining her friend of 10 years, Kim Hyo-joo.
Kim, also 19, secured her playing rights by winning on a bigger stage. In September, she claimed the Evian Championship, the fifth major of the season, with a birdie on the 72nd hole. Kim trailed Karrie Webb by a stroke, standing on the final tee, but stunned the World Golf Hall of Famer by making the clutch putt for her first LPGA victory.
After her own win in South Korea on Sunday, Baek said she watched Kim’s victory and her friend’s early success provided plenty of fuel.
“As soon as she won, I texted her and told her I was so proud of her,” Baek said. “Throughout our careers, it has always been Hyo-joo who got victories before me. I’ve been inspired and motivated by her success. I think I’ve been working as hard as I have because she’s been around.”
Baek said she hadn’t yet decided whether she will choose to play on the LPGA Tour full-time next season, and her indecision has at least partially to do with Kim’s presence.
“When Hyo-joo won (at the Evian Championship), I was joking with my other friends on the KLPGA Tour that we’d have an easier time here next year because she’d be playing in the U.S.,” Baek said with a smile. “But now that I’ve also won, I might have to battle her for the Rookie of the Year on the LPGA Tour next season. It’s giving me headaches already.”
Baek acknowledged it’s long been her dream to someday play on the LPGA Tour, “like most other golfers set out to do.” She may just have the distance to be competitive there ― Baek is ranked 11th on the KLPGA Tour this year with an average of 261 yards off the tee, and it would put her inside the top 10 on the LPGA Tour this season.
Baek, however, said she felt she still has a lot of work to do, after dueling Lincicome, the longest hitter on the LPGA Tour this year who drives more than 270 yards on average, in the playoff.
“I think I need to develop more strength,” Baek said. “But I believe the way I swing is better suited for grass on the U.S. tour than Japan, if I had to go overseas.”
If not physical strength, Baek may have the mental makeup, along with a perspective of a seasoned veteran, to survive on the LPGA Tour.