South Korea has produced the past four LPGA Rookie of the Year Award winners. And Lee Jeong-eun wants to extend the streak to five in 2019.
After dominating the Korea LPGA Tour over the past two seasons, Lee, 22, will take her talent to the US competition this year. She won the revamped LPGA qualifying tournament, named Q-Series, in Nov. and will now try to prove that her talent can translate to the world's premier circuit.
At a press conference in Seoul on Thursday discussing her goals for her first LPGA season, Lee said her primary goal will be to become the latest South Korean to be named the top rookie.
"I know a lot of fans want to see the streak alive, and I want to make that my first and foremost goal," Lee said. "Since this will be my first season there, I know I'll have to make a lot of adjustments."
Lee won the KLPGA Rookie of the Year award in 2016 and then reached even greater heights in 2017, capturing four titles en route to earning the Player of the Year honors and finishing first in money and scoring average. She defended her money and scoring titles in 2018.
On the LPGA Tour, the top rookie award is determined on points earned based on placements at each tournament. It is difficult, but not impossible, for players to finish first in the points race without winning a tournament.
Lee said she will try not to get caught up in the numbers so much and will instead focus on the process.
"I don't want to set a specific number of wins as an objective. I won the Rookie of the Year in Korea without a tournament victory (in 2016)," Lee said. "If I can just take one tournament at a time, I think good things will happen. It's everyone's dream to win a major championship, but I'd be happy to win any tournament on the tour."
Lee won the Q-Series on Nov. 3, but didn't make her decision to move to the United States until Nov. 28. Lee admitted on Thursday that the opportunity to play in the LPGA came at a time when she wasn't mentally prepared.
"I just didn't have a sense of purpose, because I had never thought about going to the US before," Lee said. "And I didn't think I could just pack up and leave all by myself. I needed a proper support system, and I finally have it now."
Lee is scheduled to leave for Thailand to begin her winter training and will make her debut at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open starting on Feb. 14. Australian caddie Adam Woodward, who has previously worked with Charley Hull of England and Yoo Sun-young of South Korea, will be on the bag for Lee.
Lee has played at select LPGA events in recent years, including majors, thanks to her world ranking positions. She said she has to get better at playing in the wind to compete with the best in the LPGA.
"I feel like I have a lot of room for improvement, as far as making shots in windy or inclement conditions," she said. "I also have to sharpen my short game, especially with shots from 100 yards and in."
Lee said she has a great deal of admiration for South Korean veterans who have played at a high level for a long time. Park In-bee, at 30, is already a Hall of Famer and is No. 4 in the world. Shin Ji-yai, also 30, is a former No. 1 who has left the LPGA Tour for Japan and has been a dominant force there in recent seasons, with 16 victories since 2014.
"People always expect big things out of South Korean players in the LPGA, and I want to live up to those expectations," Lee said.
"I want to become a consistent presence for many years." (Yonhap)