SPORTS

Teen golfer hoping for Hall of Fame induction after runner-up finish at major

By Alex Park
  • Published : Jul 18, 2017 - 09:17
  • Updated : Jul 18, 2017 - 09:17

INCHEON -- On the heels of an impressive performance at the oldest major championship in women's golf, South Korean teenager Choi Hye-jin said Tuesday she hopes to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame someday.

Choi returned home early Tuesday after finishing runner-up to fellow South Korean Park Sung-hyun at the US Women's Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Choi shot a nine-under 279 to end up two strokes behind the champion.

Choi, 17, came close to becoming the first amateur champion of the tournament since Catherine Lacoste of France in 1967, but a costly double bogey at the par-three 16th foiled that bid.

South Korean amateur golfer Choi Hye-jin speaks to reporters at Incheon International Airport on July 18, 2017. Choi finished runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open in New Jersey on July 16. (Yonhap)

Choi was tied for the lead with Park at 10-under after a birdie at the 15th but dumped her tee shot at the 16th into the water en route to that disastrous double bogey.

"As soon as I made contact with the ball, I thought it was going into the water (in front of the green)," Choi told reporters at Yonhap News Agency. "I knew I was tied at the top, but then I hit such a bad shot."

Choi admitted she kept replaying that hole in her head during her flight, and that she'd like to do it all over again.

But the teenager, who will turn 18 next month, said coming so close to the victory was still a "fun" experience.

"My primary goal was to make the cut and do better than last year," said Choi, who finished 34th at last year's US Women's Open. "I thought I could finish in the top 10 if things went right. And I wanted to become the first amateur champion in 50 years. It was an honor to be able to play my game at such a huge event."

Because she is an amateur, Choi didn't bring home any check from her strong performance in New Jersey. Choi also didn't get any money for winning a Korea LPGA event last month.

The KLPGA victory was worth 100 million won ($88,600), and the runner-up at the U.S. Women's Open would have netted her $540,000.

Choi had previously said she wasn't thinking too much about the money but acknowledged Tuesday she was well aware of how much she could have made.

The teenager can start making money for playing golf in September, when she plans to turn pro. Given her considerable gift, the world's No. 2-ranked amateur will be earning more than her fair share on the links.

"I felt I need to improve my conditioning if I were to play on the LPGA Tour full-time," she said. "And I also must work on my short game around the green."

Choi has also set a high bar for herself, saying, "I'd like to become a member of the Hall of Fame, just like Pak Se-ri and Park In-bee."

Pak, now retired, is a South Korean golfing pioneer who won two majors as a rookie in 1998 en route to her Hall of Fame induction in 2007. She leads all South Korean players with 25 LPGA wins. Park, former No. 1, qualified for the Hall of Fame in 2016 as the youngest ever at 27. She tops South Koreans with seven major titles, and won the Olympic gold last year. (Yonhap)