A professional golfer from Seogwipo City, Song Bo Bae, 27, has made a name for herself on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) of Korea Tour and the LPGA of Japan Tour. Sponsored by Cheong-Kwan-Jang, Korea Ginseng Corp., Song was again in the spotlight last May when she was named an honorary ambassador to promote Jeju tourism. On a cool day in June at a café with a beautiful view of Seogwipo Port, Song, who was home from Japan for a few days to recharge her batteries, told The Jeju Weekly her story.
In 2003, Song Bo Bae, a high school girl from Seogwipo won the Korea Women’s Open and emerged as a rising golf star. The following year, she entered the KLPGA and had much success, including winning the Korea Women’s Open again in 2004, the Pyongyang Women’s Open in 2005, the Japan Women’s Open in 2009, and the 2009 Mizuno Classic, co-sanctioned by the LPGA Tour.
▲ Pro golfer Song Bo Bae. Photo by Kim Jung Lim
Now she is still striving to achieve her dream.
Song cannot say for sure when she first gripped a golf club. She naturally became interested in golf as a child, influenced by her parents who played golf as a hobby. When she was 12, she decided to be a professional golfer and sought out training from Ko Min Jong, a Jeju pro golfer who is still her mentor and trainer.
At that time golf was not the only thing in her life; Song was a diligent student. She played the piano and the violin, and was a choir member. Then, when she entered middle school, she stood at a crossroads.
“My parents told me to choose between music and golf, to devote myself to only one. In my second year [of middle school], I chose golf,” she said. “Frankly, playing golf was very hard for me. But at that time Pak Se Ri was very famous, you know. I guess I felt that I wanted to succeed like her.”
As a middle school student and a young teenage girl, she had to pay dearly for her choice to become a golf pro — with the intensive training that entails. Her daily life was completely turned upside down as she adapted to the rigid schedule.
She recalled how she often didn’t even have time for sleep. She had to wake between five and five thirty in the morning, head to the golf course, and practice until 11 or 12 at night. In addition to her golf training, she had to study English in preparation for life on the world pro golf circuit, and she did weight training to strengthen her primary physical fitness.
There were too many things to do, she said. That routine continued through high school and she recalled being pushed to the breaking point.
Also, she was lonely.
“I had been sociable and outgoing and had many friends, but I began to feel that those around me were all related to golf,” she said.
Now 27, she looks back at that time as an amateur golfer and feels that all those years of training with uncertainty about whether she could become a professional were a time to be strong and to become a top-level golfer.
“Even though I worked so hard at that time, now I feel like I could have worked harder,” she said.
Still, her hard work paid off while still in her teens, when she won the 17th Korea Women’s Open in 2003. With that feather in her cap, she was granted immediate membership into the KLPGA. In the next three years, she won the 2004 Korea Women’s Open, the KLPGA Open Tournament in Singapore in 2005, and the KLPGA Tour’s Pyongyang Women’s Open in North Korea in 2005.
After going to Japan in 2006, she surprised everyone again with her remarkable performance at the Japan Women’s Open in 2009. She remembers that tournament as evoking one of the greatest senses of accomplishment she’s ever felt.
“In sudden death playoffs, with 15,000 people in the gallery — well, lots of people came because it was a big event in Japan, all the spectators focused on just Yokomine Sakura and me,” she recalled. Sakura and Song were the final two players doing battle.
“Of course, I guess some might have been cheering for me silently, but there was no one who shouted ‘Himnaera! [‘Go for it!’ in Korean].’ Everyone was cheering for Yokomine Sakura. In that situation, I won …”
Another reason that win was especially meaningful for her was that while competing in Japan, some fans at home had forgotten her because Japanese TV was rarely rebroadcast in Korea.
“I was happy I could prove to my fans that I was still good,” she said, adding the win put her back in the spotlight of Korean media.
Naturally, to become a professional golfer she received a lot of support from her entire family.
“My father dedicated 10 years [of his life] to helping me, and my mother always prays for me. Even my brother studied weight training in the US with me in mind, since he worried about my [initial] low level of physical fitness. After finishing his studies he became my manager and trainer in Japan,” she said.
Asked about her role models in golf, she replied that even though she’s been asked this many times, she had no one in mind. Rather, she set out to become a role model herself, someone others could look up to.
“As a child when I pictured my future self, it was not who I am now. I was eager to do well [and become a better player]. People find it easy to criticize an athlete in a slump. But athletes are not machines. Even machines sometimes break down so how do you expect a human to do well steadily? Success cannot be achieved only with desire or enthusiasm. Now I feel I learned many things from golf,” she said.
About her career, she said she wanted to “be a player who can get along with other people,” and though she wants to play for many years to come, at some point “if I do something different in golf, I want to give my knowledge and skill to others, but not for money.”
Currently, she is also thinking of working for Jeju. For the next two years, even on her tight schedule, she will act as an honorary ambassador for Jeju. “I want to do something positive in promoting Jeju, participating in many events,” she said.
Since Song is based in Japan, she is often asked about Jeju and her hometown of Seogwipo. She said she usually answers the question by pointing out Jeju’s similarity to Okinawa “with lots of beaches, seafood dishes, and resorts.”
“But one thing's for sure — Jeju is much better than Okinawa,” she laughed.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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