Tag Archives: Julie Yang

A Year That Didn’t Totally Suck

Another year without a hole in one. But golf has other rewards and foibles . . .

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Travel Tales . . .

In January, The Golf Nerd Goddess and I trekked to the Diamante Resort in Cabo San Lucas, home to Davis Love III’s acclaimed Dunes Course and Tiger Woods’s initial foray into course design, El Cardonal. It was the latter that proved to be a pleasant surprise, as Woods has created a linksy track that is both playable for the high handicapper while presenting a challenge to better players, particularly around its wildly contoured greens. This takes nothing away from The Dunes, which features holes that play along the Pacific, and its magnificent par 3 11th – an uphill beast whose green is carved into a dune – provides a breathtaking vantage point.

Beyond all of that, golf at Diamante has a vibe all its own – after checking in, one heads for the smoothie/slider bar for a pre-round snack, and then proceeds to the practice range, which features salsa music and comfortable lounge chairs. Once on either course, one can enjoy margaritas or mojitos, black bean soup, outrageously delicious tamales, and other local delights at various stations – all of which are included in the greens fee. Add to that a mountainous desert landscape that dips into the ocean – which, during January, features frolicking whales – and it’s hard to imagine a more unique setting for golf.

Quite the opposite was our trip “up nort” to Eagle River, WI, the most aptly named town in the US.Flocks of eagles flew overhead as we navigated our way through a couple of modest but thoroughly enjoyable tracks, one in the host town and another in nearby St Germain.

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We hosted and became friends with Julie Yang, an aspiring LPGA player. It was a tough year for her, as she failed to make a single cut, but she returned to Qualifying School and achieved full status for the 2016 season. Look for a much better year from this talented (and wonderful) young lady.

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I weighed in on erstwhile Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foray into the world of golf. Things have not gone particularly well for The Donald on that particular front, as the R&A has removed his recently acquired Turnberry from the Open rota in reaction to his rants regarding immigration and refugees in the US. He also lost a court case in an effort to block a proposed wind farm that would overlook his course in Aberdeenshire, and had his name (briefly) removed from the signage for his course in Dubai. The PGA tour is considering moving its World Golf Championship away from Doral (also owned by Trump), which would be roughly akin to having the Kentucky Derby being run at Aqueduct. Stay tuned.

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While Spieth and Day dominated the news on the PGA Tour, the most exciting event of the year was The Presidents Cup, an event I admittedly decried for its seeming irrelevancy. The teams were separated by a point going into Sunday’s final day singles play, in which 7 of 12 matches went to the 18th hole, including the final decider, which was contested between the home country’s instant national hero and the American team captain’s son.  I was one of perhaps dozens in the US who stayed up to watch the live overnight coverage from Seoul, and it will likely be forgotten by the time the 2017 match rolls around.

And for some, the most poignant Tour moment may have been what might be Tiger’s last stand at The Wyndham tournament in Greensboro. Records crowds turned out as Woods seriously contended for three rounds before fading on Sunday. A month later, he was undergoing yet another surgery, this time for his back. His press conference at his own tournament in December was downright painful, as for the first time, he seemed to acknowledge his own mortality – at least as a golfer. If he is able to come back, I hope it is with realistic expectations from everyone concerned, and that he can make his way to some tour stops that he’s not frequented in the past so that all golf fans can pay tribute to this remarkable player.

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And finally . . .

Readers may recall the seemingly unrequited romance between the Golf Nerd Goddess and a certain golf club. Happily, Santa heard her urgent pleadings and delivered said club under the tree Christmas morning. The GNG tried it out that afternoon; the resulting tee shots were impressive. That trip to Pebble Beach may be forthcoming, after all.

Also on Christmas Day, I got to play golf with my sister Lisa and her boyfriend Chad.  Lisa’s interest in the game has been somewhat recent, and Chad (despite my concerns) has been a willing enabler. I was wowed by her tee shots; she drove the ball over 200 yards a couple of times. Moreover, despite some major work required on other game skills, she truly enjoys playing – and is actually watching golf on TV. If nothing else, this has made Christmas shopping for her a helluva lot easier.

A Bump or Two In the Road

[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.

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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?

 

Welcome to Your Dream, Kid

So you’re 19 years old and something of a golf prodigy.

You started playing at the age of 6. Not at the urging of an uber-parent like Earl Woods; in fact, neither your parents or your older sister play. But you grow up in a golf course community in Seoul, Korea, and the course becomes your playground of sorts. It’s fun for you; furthermore, you show uncommon knack for the game. Travels with your family take you to Thailand and Arizona where you win some junior tournaments. And somewhere between the ages of 11 and 12 you decide that you want to be a professional golfer.

But your parents want you to have a fallback plan, so they make sure you study hard. At the same time, they encourage your interest in golf. You win several AJGA events; then at 14, you spend a couple of years at the prestigious Loretto School in Musselburgh, just outside of Edinburgh. You wow the golf coach with your swing, and you take delight in playing the great seaside courses in Scotland. And along the way, you become the youngest ever to win the Welsh Ladies Open, the Danish International Ladies Amateur Championship, and the English Women’s Open Stroke Play Championship.

Eventually it’s time for college, and you quickly become a mainstay on the highly acclaimed Oklahoma State ladies golf team, earning All Big 12 honors on the golf course and in the classroom. You reach the semi-finals of the USGA Public Links championship and fare well in inter-collegiate tournaments.

Junior year is completed (somewhere along the way, you skipped a grade and graduated from high school at 16), and you make the decision to go through the LPGA Q-School, a grueling elimination held in three stages in different parts of the country. There are hundreds of women vying for 20 exempt spots on the LPGA tour. Some, like you, are making their first attempt at getting a tour card. Others are seasoned veterans whose games have perhaps temporarily deserted them, and are making a determined effort to get back to where they once were.

You get through the first two stages and arrive at the Hills Course at LPGA Headquarters in Daytona Beach for what can most charitably described as 5 Days of Golf Hell. The pressure at Q-School finals is unlike any other in professional golf, as you are literally playing for your career. Your first three rounds are rather pedestrian, but the fourth yields a nifty 67. A solid 71 on the final day pushes you into a seven-way tie for 18th place . . . but only three are going to be given tour cards, which means a sudden-death play-off for those spots.

You are still an amateur, but the LPGA officials tell you that if you choose to participate in the playoff, you must declare yourself a professional. With a gulp and a smile, you agree.

Welcome to your dream, Julie Yang.


 

The LPGA North Texas Shootout event is held at Las Colinas Country Club, less than a mile from where we live. The Golf Nerd Goddess and I thought that it would be fun to host a player needing accommodations for the event (this is fairly common on the LPGA and Web.com tours). After passing whatever muster was required (suitable location, no felony arrests, and no bedbugs), we learned that we would be hosting Julie.

The GNG found her on Facebook and started messaging her; she received a reply almost immediately and we all began chatting. When I checked out her page, I was stunned to see a photo taken maybe 5 years ago on her page that featured the son of a British couple that I know. It turned out that he (George is his name) and Julie both attended Loretto . This naturally piqued my interest; I messaged George (a pretty fair golfer in his own right who is 17 going on 30) and inquired about our future guest.

“Oh, yes, Julie! Fantastic golf swing! How do you know her?”

I explained the above; George gave the predictable “small world” response, and added, “Please give my regards, if she remembers me.”

Don’t worry, buddy. She does. Instant connection.

Julie and her mother Brenda (she’s in the States for about 6 weeks) arrive on the Saturday before the tournament. She greets us with a big hug. We have a little bit of time to talk before she heads over to the club to practice and hopefully a practice round – it’s been uncommonly rainy in Texas this spring, and Las Colinas does not drain particularly well.

Julie, unfortunately, did not get one of the top 20 Q-School playoff spots (if she had managed one shot better, she would have safely finished in a tie for 11th with several other players, including one Cheyenne Woods who, rumor has it, has an uncle who is a pretty fair player). She instead has what is called “Category 17” status, which will likely get her into a good number of events while causing some anxious moments. She was listed as the 4th alternate for this particular tournament, which meant that if three players already in the field or ahead of her on the alternate list did not drop from the field, she would have to enter in the Monday qualifier, in which 50 players vie for two open slots. Luckily for her, a spot opened up so she did not have to attempt to qualify.

Her days are long – she’ll stretch and exercise for an hour in the morning, and then head over to the course to practice for a couple of hours before playing a practice round. During non-tournament weeks, she’ll spend five to six hours practicing. After dinner, it’s another 45 minutes of stretching, and then bedtime. And repeat.

We dine together a few times – Julie is quietly engaging; she speaks fluent English (as well as Thai and her native Korean). I get the sense that she realizes where she is in her golfing career, but does not seem overwhelmed by the moment. I think to myself, “This kid has it.”

Day One of the tournament comes on Thursday. Sharon and I can’t make it, but I have the LPGA Leaderboard app up on my iPhone and keep hitting refresh once she tees off at 12:10. She starts with a birdie, follows it with a messy double bogey, and then reels off three consecutive birdies. Damn, I muse, I wish I was out there. And then I realize how invested I’ve become with her.

She finishes the day with a one under par 70, only four shots behind the leaders. The stats from her round indicate a wild ride to get there; only 10 greens in regulation, but also only 24 putts. After some post round practice, Julie and Brenda arrive back at the house; I high-five her and congratulate her on the round. She smiles and comments, “ Well, there were a few speed bumps out there, but it was fun.”

“Put another one up tomorrow, “ I respond, “and you’ll be playing on the weekend.”

We take them across the street to our favorite southwestern restaurant, and see tour player Christina Kim leaving the premises, fuming about having to wait an hour. Sharon winks at us and says, “Don’t worry, we won’t have that long of a wait.” We watch as she negotiates with the owner; ten minutes later we are seated. I mention to the staff and whoever else in earshot that we have a genuine professional golfer in our midst. Julie beams. All seems right with the world.


 

Sharon and I arrive at Las Colinas CC for Julie’s 7:15 AM tee time for round two. It does not start well for her; her opening drive hooks into the trees on the left, and she’s not able to recover cleanly. Bogey. She fares better on the second, making par, and spots us as she leaves the green.

“Do you have any bug spray?” she whispers. “The mosquitoes are awful!”

Another errant drive on three finds her up against a tree; Sharon and I hold our collective breath as she plays a left-handed shot successfully back in to the fairway. Still, it’s another bogey. “Damn,” I hear Sharon mutter.

Julie settles down for the next four holes, making solid pars and just missing on a couple of birdie chances. But disaster strikes on 8; she hooks her tee shot into the water and bogies, and follows that up with another bogey on 9. She’s gone from under to three over and now is in danger of missing the cut (projected to be one over).

I spot Brenda walking alone. “How are you holding up?” I ask.

“Bad,” she smiles sadly. “Very bad.”

Things do not get any better on the back side. Julie continues to have trouble with her tee ball and bogies 11. Number 13 finally yields a birdie, but 14 is a disaster; after a decent drive, her second shot finds a bunker that is short of the green, leaving her with a long bunker shot to a hole position that falls away from her. Guarding against over shooting the flag, her third shot comes up woefully short, and it takes three more tries for her to hole out for a hideous double-bogey 6, which for all intent removes any hope of making the cut.

But Julie soldiers on, making pars on 15, 16, and 17, and closes out her round with a nice birdie on 18. She finishes with a five over par round of 76, and stoically marches off the course, making a beeline to the scorer’s tent.


We all go out to dinner that night. I don’t want to dwell on negatives, but am curious if driving the ball is usually an issue for Julie. She does not seem put off by the question, and replies “No, not really. You know, that’s just the way the game seems to go sometimes.” And I have to remind myself that this is a 19 year old kid playing her third professional tournament.

As they are staying through the weekend, I ask if she would be practicing on Saturday. “No,” she smiles, “I think I need a day off. We’ll probably take in a movie or something.”

“Well, would you like to play with us on Sunday on the TPC course?”

Her eyes light up.

“Oh, I’d LOVE to play with you and Sharon! That would be awesome!”

So, I make arrangements for us to play early Sunday afternoon. It’s a perfect day, and Julie wants to have some kind of match with me. She proves to be a master negotiator as far as strokes are concerned, so I only wind up with four per side. We decide on a $5 Nassau.

Playing with Julie is a joy. Since she’s not played our course before, I give her some guidance for targets. Unlike most folks, she actually executes the shots I recommend (although she chides me about wanting to give her false information, given our bet).

I birdie the first hole, which prompts a howl of indignation from her – “I’m giving you HOW many shots?”

We banter back and forth throughout the round. Virtually every shot she hits is solid – at 5’7”, she drives the ball between 250 and 260 yards, and when she does miss the green, she controls the ball like a sorceress with her chipping and putting. She and Sharon converse in the cart during the round; she complements Sharon’s putting stroke – and curses mine, as while my ball striking is somewhat erratic, I’m making most every putt I stand over – I record 12 putts on the front nine, and take a two-up lead. Sharon half-jokes that this is the hardest she’s seen me work at anything in a long time.

Eventually, though, reality hits, and she winds up taking me for $5, which I begrudgingly hand over, muttering about how unfair it was to have only 8 shots from a genuine professional. She giggles and, as is her wont, gave me a big hug. It was the most fun I’d had on a golf course in a long time.


 

The following morning, I took Julie, Brenda, and her caddie Mark (pronounced “Mahk;” we commiserated over the Yankees sweep of the Red Sox) to the airport. It’s on to South Carolina for a mini-tour event, and then to Williamsburg, VA to play at the LPGA Tournament at Kingsmill. For someone who had been in our life for a week, the goodbye was pretty misty.

Later that evening, we got a call from Julie; she first spoke to Sharon and then wanted to talk to me to thank us for being so hospitable. She felt like she was at home with us, and missed our goodnight hugs. I told her that it was a privilege for us to have her, and that she was welcome to stay with us anytime. And to play hard. She promised she would.

How do you not root for a kid like that?