We are all driven by something. There is an inner fire in all of us that makes us leap out of bed in the morning and step a little quicker as we attack the day. Some people get excited by success. Their measuring stick is winning at whatever they do – sports, business, entertainment … everything.
Others are motivated by money, especially those who, at some point in their lives, have struggled. They promised themselves that they would never experience that fear and pain again, so they drive themselves to be financially secure.
I know many people who strive to create a better life for their children than they had for themselves, a worthwhile and heartwarming goal. And I know plenty of people whose passion is helping others. They devote endless hours to caring for the less fortunate, whether through missionary work, volunteerism, or creating and funding worthy charities.
When I was young, I was motivated to be No. 1 in the world at whatever I chose to pursue. For years, I didn’t know what that path would be. Growing up in Seoul, my parents exposed me to all kinds of activities without steering me down any particular path. I was free to explore music, art, cooking and sports. I swam, sang, and played violin and piano. My parents supported my sister and me no matter what we chose to do.
The things I loved most were music and golf. Teachers told our parents that my sister and I had the ear and the work ethic to carve out careers in music. My younger sister, Somyung, is a masterful and accomplished violinist, the kind of artist who can bring men to tears and audiences to their feet. I was good, but I’m not sure I was that good.
Then there was golf.
I took up the game at school because our physical education teacher offered us hamburgers if we succeeded at certain skills challenges, like putting into a hole or chipping into a circle. I gravitated to golf because I liked hamburgers and, in the process, I realized that I was pretty good at it.
There are so many similarities between golf and music. Both require intense practice of repetitive motions. Both require a mastery of mechanics, movements in sequential order, each building on the one before it. Both require artistry and imagination as well as confidence and conviction.
I loved them both. But at a point in my life, I had to choose.
My mother brought it up. She could see that I was being pulled by competing interests. She knew that my coaches in golf and my instructors in music wanted more of my time and attention.
I chose golf, not because I loved it more than music, but because success in golf was not subjective. If you shoot the lowest score in a tournament you win. A birdie is a birdie. In music, you can love a song and the person next to you might hate it. Proficiency and skill can be objectively measured but success in music requires great luck, good timing and catching the fickle ear of an audience.
Golf is the opposite. There is not a “comment” section on the scoreboard. There are no reviewers who can make or break your career.
But now, after more than a decade of playing golf professionally, having won two majors, five different national championships, including the U.S. Women’s Open and, just last week, the Korean Women’s Open, and having been the LPGA co-Player of the Year and ranked No. 1 in the world, I have learned that winning golf tournaments is not what drives me.
Don’t misunderstand, I focus on winning in every event I play. Every week when I tee off, the goal is to finish on top. I would love to win all five LPGA Tour majors, the Career Grand Slam, and one day be considered for the Hall of Fame. Those are lofty dreams that I keep in mind each day as I grind on the practice tee. But victories, as important as they are, do not stir the soul. Only love for others does that.
Trophies tarnish over time. Money only provides material stability. In golf, you are a winner for one week, a defending champion for one year. But the positive impact that golf has allowed me to have on other people’s lives – the charities I can support, from the Meijer Food Bank to Australian bushfire relief to COVID-19 charities and others, as well as the example of service that I try to set - that is lasting. And that is what pushes me, inspires me, and keeps me driving on.
I really appreciate my mom exposing me to so many different opportunities and allowing me to choose. If she hadn’t allowed me to explore, I’m not sure I would be as confident as I am with my choices. But more than anything, I appreciate the example of service that she set. My parents gave everything to my sister and me. But they also gave selflessly to others, loving and supporting strangers in ways big and small.
Their example is my example. That is what drives me today.