After her U.S. Women’s Open Victory last weekend, Jeongeun Lee6 talked to LPGA.com with her manager Jennifer Kim translating for a 50-minute all-encompassing conversation to shed light on how she got into golf.
1) Lee6 walked away from the game for three years starting at the age of 13
Lee6 began playing the game of golf at the age of 9, at the urging of her father. The game didn’t immediately come to her, as her first coach didn’t teach her mechanics properly. At the age of 13, Lee6 reflected on the game of golf in her life.
“I didn’t really want to play. I wasn’t enjoying it. When I played amateur tournaments I felt like I needed to improve.”
When she walked away from playing, she turned to focusing on school. She thought she would end up giving lessons part time as a teaching professional but returned to the game at the age of 16 after realizing she wasn’t sure what she truly wanted to do.
She didn’t entirely walk away from education. More on that to come in a later bullet.
She began playing in amateur tournaments again in 2012. Initially, she struggled, but began playing better after changing to a new swing coach in 2013. The improvement motivated her to keep going after it and she joined the Korean National team at the age of 17.
2) Lee6’s new swing coach changed her career’s trajectory
While picking up a golf club for the first time in four years and becoming a successful professional on the KLPGA four years after the return sounds like the work of a natural, it was her swing coach that vaulted her to that path.
“When I started to play golf, the first coach I learned the incorrect way. When I changed my coach, I started to feel what golf is.”
Struggling to break the mechanical mistakes of her youth, she turned to Joon Lee for assistance. On the mechanics front, he worked on getting her to focus on her arm.
“I tended to feel super tense in my arm when I did my backswing. My backswing was super short too, so I was focusing on keeping loose and making my backswing longer as much as I could.”
She immediately felt the impact, hitting the ball longer, more consistently, and getting looser on the golf course. Lee6 still works with him today.
He also adjusted her mental approach to the game. Shortly after Lee6 turned professional on the KLPGA for the 2016 season, Lee got her to focus on doing the best she can, and let the results come to her.
“Whenever I played or hit a ball with a certain goal in mind, it just brought upon so many expectations and pressure. I ended up not doing well. I had to start adopting the mentality of going out there and doing my best.”
While that mentality didn’t result in wins right away, her focus on continuing to hone in on her swing and short game, combined with a belief in herself she could win, led to great results in 2017. Lee6 took home four victories, resulting in winning the KLPGA player of the year in 2017. She had the most victories on the KLPGA that year as well. She also played in a US Major for the first time, finishing T5 in the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open.
3) Lee6 did not come up with the idea to travel to the United States and try for the 2018 Q-Series
After playing for two years on the KLPGA, Lee6 was eligible to leave and try to go to the LPGA if she desired. The thought never crossed her mind as she returned for the 2018 KLPGA season, but she did dabble in American Majors. She played in four of them in the 2018 season, with three top 20 finishes highlighted by a 6th place finish at the ANA Inspiration.
She had exhibited the talent to come to the LPGA, but it was never a serious thought for her.
At the end of her 2018 season, coach Lee suggested to her to try out the new Q-Series.
“I honestly had no plans of coming to the United States. My coach told me to enjoy and just think of it as practice. Maybe it’s a good idea for you to go to Q-Series and play the best you can.”
Lee6 got more than some practice in. She went and won the inaugural Q-Series, securing her status for the 2019 LPGA season. For many players, it would’ve been an instantaneous yes. Lee6 had to mull over her decision.
4) Lee6 was initially overwhelmed by the size of the United States
“Before I came, I was worried about the United States because it’s so much bigger than Korea, it’s a lot more travel. When a manager was hired, that manager oversaw a lot of the planning and logistics, I became a lot more comfortable.”
The United States is roughly 99 times the size of South Korea. It was one of the reasons she thought about before committing to the LPGA for the 2019 season. She decided that she wanted a different challenge, dedicating herself to coming to America after about a month of deliberation.
She also dedicated to keeping the 6 at the end of her last name to make it easier for American fans.
“Some people spell my first name wrong. Some spell it Jung, but my name is Jeongeun, and I don’t want people to feel confused about it. That’s why I put my last name down with the number 6.”
The manager hired for her, Jennifer Kim, and Lee6 have clicked and made a deep connection despite not knowing each other for very long. Kim was hired at the start of the season, and the tears they shared at U.S. Women’s Open is emblematic of an instant bond.
Part of the dilemma may have been how Lee6 handles going back and forth from Korea.
“Before I leave for the USA, I pretty much don’t sleep at all. Like, at all. I go to the USA as early as possible to get used to the time difference, and I take a melatonin pill to get a good night’s sleep.”
That came to the forefront at the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship. They flew in to San Francisco shortly before the start of the tournament after playing the KLPGA’s Creas KLPGA Championship, and Lee6 was dragging. Her team still isn’t sure how she got into a three-way playoff with Bronte Law and Sei Young Kim, but she showed an even tempo going (-4) over the final four holes to force her way in.
Lee6 has since gotten over her anxiety. She has enjoyed her time with her fellow LPGA players, her agent, and the tournament staff.
She’s also able to talk with her parents consistently. They talk about three times a week while she’s stateside.
Lee6 has enjoyed the travel across the country that once was a source of dread.
She also had her reservations about her lack of English. The Q-Series champion started studying in December of 2018, shortly after deciding to come to the LPGA Tour.
While committing to do her next victory press conference in English at the conclusion of the U.S. Women’s Open, she thinks it’ll take her about two years to master the language.
When asked the reason for dying her hair blonde, she took over translation responsibilities for Kim.
“I like blonde hair,” Lee6 explained with no hesitation.
English is not the only thing Lee6 is trying to teach herself.
5) Lee6 is currently enrolled at Korea University in Seoul
Lee6 is studying Physical Education related to Golf at Korea University. She started when she turned pro, in 2016. She’s not currently sure when she will graduate, but she’s attending classes during breaks in her pro schedule.
Considering she’s packed her bags for the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January of 2020 and 2021 with her victory, that might be a bit more crammed than Lee6 initially thought.
6) Lee6 knew she could win the U.S. Women’s Open after the 6th hole of the final round
Lee6 posted her fourth consecutive par after the par 3 6th hole, looked up at the leaderboard and saw the leaders were struggling out of the gate. Lee6 was in a groove and felt she had a chance to win it.
“Leading up to the 16th hole, my putting and my shots all felt great. I was really relying upon that feeling. It wasn’t until the 16th hole when I felt really nervous. Looking at the stroke advantage I had, I realized I really had nothing to worry about after being so nervous.”
She found three more birdies before the final nervy stretch. Lee6 appreciated the celebration with So Yeon Ryu, who she recognizes could’ve easily taken off for her next destination instead of waiting around.
After her win, she talked with the most important people in her life, her parents. “They didn’t have any expectations of me winning, but after realizing I won such a huge tournament, they were proud, and speechless.”
While excited by her victory, it didn’t register for her season goals. As she told LPGA.com after her 6th place finish at the ANA Inspiration this year, each tournament she has two goals. First, to make the cut. Second, after making the cut, to make the top of each event.
As for her career, Lee6 is staying in the moment and not looking ahead of herself. She wants to continue enjoying traveling around the United States, and not get injured.