Meet Jin Jeong - golf's most resilient player
July 18, 2010, Sunday of the 139th Open Championship. Jin Jeong drives the 18th green and holes the putt for an eagle. The 20-year-old Korean amateur finishes inside the top 15 to finish off a remarkable four weeks of golf having also become the first Asian to win the Amateur Championship at Muirfield.
His playing partner that day at St Andrews was Robert Rock, who was posting his best Open finish, a tie for seventh.
“He looked ready to play in any event, I was nervous finishing off my tournament and I had been a pro for 15 years. At that point and he was just 20. Finishing that high in the best major of the lot doesn’t really happen other than the great, great players,” Rock said.
The following April Jeong followed the glamorous path of the Amateur champion, staying in the Crow’s Nest at Augusta with his fellow supremely talented non-professionals, one of whom was Hideki Matsuyama, before turning pro after the Masters.
Two years later, in Perth, he was a winner on the European Tour. Two weeks after that he shot four rounds under par in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. The following February he very nearly won in Joburg, finishing alongside Tyrrell Hatton in second behind George Coetzee.
But then it all stopped moving forward. His 2015 season only lasted until June as he battled a hip injury, and 2016 was bleaker still. Over the two years Jeong missed 32 successive cuts, not playing once on the weekend. Speaking to him though, it’s not a tale of hard luck or pointing the finger. There have been injuries but he won’t be found hiding behind them.
He’s cool, he’s funny, he’s honest and he has the respect of his fellow tour pros, both for an attitude and work ethic that has never changed and a talent that is undeniable.
“You can only admire how he has persisted and finished off every round, he’s never withdrawn and you don’t often see that. And he’s always working hard on his game,” Rock added.
“I missed three successive cuts this year and I thought the world was going to end, that I was going to lose my card and that I would be working in the shop again.
“The positive is that he has got the fact that he was a brilliant amateur and has won on tour, that will keep him going. He knows his good golf is good enough and that is probably the most important thing you need to know as a pro.
“I was at the bottom end of the Order of Merit for a long time starting out and I didn’t know if my good golf was good enough. He has already done that so he just needs to find the pieces of that to do it again. He is not trying to build anything, he is just looking for something that is already there.”
There are a lot of people hoping that he manages to piece it all together again.
Where were you when YE Yang won the 2009 PGA to become the first Asian to win a major?
I was watching it on TV, I had grown up watching Tiger Woods and had always wondered why an Asian couldn’t win a major. That was my dream goal so it was great for any Asian player growing up.
A year later you won the Amateur at Muirfield…
When I was in Korea I didn’t know much about the Amateur as only US events would be televised. But when I moved to Australia at 16 I became more aware of it and you would chat to other players and they would always talk about the Amateur.
Matteo Manassero was only 16 when he won it at Formby to get into Open and Masters and I thought that was my big target for 2010.
How good is Muirfield?
They had the Open there in 2002 and I had just started playing golf. The course was different to anything I had played; I love to plan recoveries from knee-high rough or play in windy conditions I was really nervous but excited to see the course.
After a couple of rounds it became my favourite course in the world – very fair and the condition was perfect. And then I loved it even more after winning it.
You obviously think a lot about the possibility of playing in the Open and Masters before the week but, once you are into the Matchplay, you are too busy to think about anything else. Then a month later I was playing in the Open at St Andrews.
And finishing as the leading amateur?
Yes, and another brilliant links. In the practice round I was just nervous being there, then I was paired with Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar.
I holed so many putts that week, the ball kept going in. I was tied third after two rounds so, as long as I finished the week, I would get the Silver Medal. So I made sure I had enough balls left!
In the last round I missed a short putt for par at 17 so I was a bit angry at the last, then I drove the ball and holed for eagle.
What are you memories of Augusta the following year?
People always talk up places but this was even better, it just blew my mind. It was perfect; the condition, layout, atmosphere, everything about it was perfect.
I didn’t play my best, I chipped and putted well but I just smiled all week. I stayed in the Crow’s Nest all week. The first night everyone stayed – Hideki Matsuyama was another amateur to be playing and he finished as the low amateur, and the rain was so heavy and really loud – and David Chung and I stayed in there for the week.
I was pulling for Adam Scott and Jason Day and they tied for second behind Charl Schwartzel.
Jumping forward two years you came through the first stage of Q School at Frilford Heath, two weeks later you were a winner on the European Tour in Perth…
I knew the Lake Karrinyup course really well and I had prepared so well. The 18th was likely to have a tough pin position on the Sunday so I would practise a lot of downhill 40-foot putts, and I would tell myself that I would need to two putt this to win.
It was incredible, that’s where I was at the 72nd hole to get into the play-off. I had practised this for three months, I was actually laughing to my caddie, who was a good mate and player Rory Bourke, that I can’t lose this.
In the play-off I had the same putt but this time it was two putts to beat Ross Fisher.
When you are playing well what are your strengths?
When I get into contention I focus well, I’m not too aggressive and I try to play very smart. I generally putt well so I don’t have to push too hard to make birdies.
Interview continues on the next page, where Jeong discusses his troubled two years…