[Author’s note – earlier this year, the Golf Nerd Goddess and I hosted LPGA tour rookie Julie Yang when she played in the North Texas Shootout, which I recounted here. I had a chance to catch up with her today.]
You’re 20 years old and just finished your maiden voyage on the LPGA tour.
Up until now, you’ve enjoyed success at every level – junior, amateur, college – but it’s been a frustrating year. No cuts made. It’s a new town and a new course each week. Your game’s just not quite right, and neither is your back. It’s hard to maintain any kind of consistency.
You watch as girls your age are enjoying success, knowing that your game is certainly on the same level.
For most of the season you’re traveling on your own, with your caddie your only companion to rely on. Mom was there for the first four or five weeks, but she had to return home to South Korea to be with your dad, who is having heart surgery.
And through it all, you go out and do your best each week. There are signs of life in your game but something’s just not clicking.
This is your dream, Julie Yang.
It’s late season here in DFW; I’m working on my second cup of coffee and trying to endure a Monday of conference calls and IT project issues. The phone vibrates, and there’s a text message from . . . Julie Yang.
“Hey Gary and Sharon! I’m in DFW! What’s up?”
She had just made a 12 hour flight from Seoul, on her way to her stateside home in Stillwater, OK, and had a lengthy layover, and was wondering if one of us would have time to “hang out” a bit.
Well – Sharon’s at the office, but hell yes, I can!
We met up at DFW and I took her over to our club for a late breakfast. We talked about her rookie season a bit.
“It was frustrating,” she admitted, “and hard.” Some of it was the mundane – having to find where she was staying, how to get laundry done. And some of it was loneliness – some of which, she acknowledged, might have been self-inflicted. “I was so overwhelmed by the experience; it was pretty much all I could do to get myself to the practice range, to my tee time . . . “ Then she smiled. “But I learned a lot.”
When her season ended, she returned to Korea to visit her family and to undergo surgery for a herniated disk; the latter seems to have turned out for the best. She’s pain-free and played very well in a couple of invitational tournaments. “I made enough money for the trip back to Q-School,” she grinned.
Ah yes . . . Julie will have to go through that grinder again, but she’s really upbeat. “My parents are coming out,” she said, almost as if they were driving from Tulsa to Stillwater for an Oklahoma State homecoming weekend. “We’re going to drive to Florida together. I’ll play in a tournament and then be ready for Q-School on December 2nd.”
“And . . . “ she continued happily, “They will be will me all next year when I’m on tour.”
“Damn!” I replied, “We’ll need a bigger house for all of you when you play here!”
We had shown her and her mother around the area the last time they were here, and she said that this area would be a great location for her to make as a base of operations, what with its proximity to both of the airports. She’s been inquiring to local clubs about memberships; I mentioned that tour player Danny Lee (a native Korean who is now a naturalized New Zealand) is a member at our club. I also told her the story of Danny’s plaintive plea for a girlfriend (which set off a firestorm of tweets and practical jokes among his fellow tour players). She laughed and shook her head – “You know, Danny and I attended the same golf camp when we were younger. He’s got a good heart, but he’s a real goofball!”
We reminisced about the Presidents Cup, which of course was held in her homeland and turned out to be one of the more exciting golf events of this past year (despite some blogger’s suggestion that it had perhaps grown a bit too one sided), and then she brought up our “match” that we played last May. “You played really great that day!” she gushed, which brought a big smile to my face.
It came time to get her back to the airport. We spoke of the somber events that had occurred over the weekend in Paris and a few weeks back during at Oklahoma State, and it made me realize that for all the maturity that Julie possesses, I forget that that she was a child when 9/11 occurred and that she hasn’t been hardened to some of the realities of the world that we live in. At the same time, in her brief life, she’s traveled a good part of the world, and has a sense of place that I wish more of us had.
I got her to her gate and suddenly felt very paternal (“This is curb-side check-in, you have to tip the agent,” I admonished her. “I know, I know,” she laughed). She handed me an envelope that she had planned to mail Sharon and me, and hugged me good bye.
I opened up the envelope when I got home; inside were three “fan cards” of her, one of them inscribed with a lovely note from her on the back. Which brought another smile to me face.
But that’s what Julie does. And after going through the trials and tribulations of her first year on tour, she said to me, ‘You know, Gary? Each time I’ve taken it to another level in golf, I’ve had my problems at first. But once I’ve gotten comfortable, things have worked out pretty well.”
How can you not root for this kid?