BETHESDA, MARYLAND | South Korean 19-year-old Yaeeun Hong is playing her first major this week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club, in the outskirts of Washington, D.C., the town where her father and caddie, Taesik Hong, played college golf in the early nineties.
“My dad was on the South Korean National Team, but he had to quit because my grandfather did not want him to play,” said Yaeeun while practicing her putting under her dad’s supervision.
“I was (ranked) number one when I was 14, but at that time my father did not believe any Asian could be successful in professional golf. He wanted me to follow his career and become a politician,” explained Taesik.
So Taesik managed to get a golf scholarship from George Washington University with a commitment to study political science. “After a year I changed my major to art and drama. I wanted to be a film director,” said Taesik, who did not get to direct films but was All-Conference in 1995 after being medalist 14 times.
“When my daughter was born, I told my wife ‘I want this baby to be a professional golfer,’” said Taesik.
“I started playing golf at eight and I did not enjoy it. It was so boring. But I fell in love with the game when I started competing, playing tournaments, and traveling with my friends,” said Yaeeun, who represented South Korea at the 2018 World Amateur Championship, where her team collected a bronze medal.
One year later, she won the Australian Women’s Amateur Championship and finished T4 at the 2019 LPGA Qualifying Second Stage, although she could not advance in the LPGA Q-Series because she did not meet the minimum age requirement.
However, she did earn full status for the 2020 Epson Tour. “It is very hard because of the travel and because there’s a lot of good players trying to make it to the LPGA,” said Yaeeun, who started her two years in the Epson Tour with a T3 at the Florida Natural Charity Classic and had six top-10 finishes in 2021.
Unlike many of her countrywomen, instead of the Korean LPGA, Yaeeun chose the Ascensus Race of the Card on the Epson Tour as the road to access the LPGA. She recognizes that her dad’s experience in the United States helped her make the decision to play in the U.S. that culminated with her earning the LPGA Tour membership for the 2022 season.
“She needed to learn the language, to know how to travel on her own, to understand the American culture, to feel comfortable in order to be successful in the LPGA,” said Taesik about her journey together on the Epson Tour and her advantage with other young players from Asia.
“A lot of good young players from Asia come to the United States and they don’t speak English well. They feel lonely and they have a lot of culture shock,” added Taesik, who makes sure to remind his daughter “to be happy on the golf course, because it is a learning process, and she is just 19.”
And at 19 years-old and in her rookie year at the LPGA, Yaeeun will be playing her first major in the United States. Before teeing off on Thursday with her dad on the bag, Taesik will take her on a tour of his alma matter and the sites of the nation’s capital.