U.S. WOMEN'S OPEN
Three-Time USGA Champion Seong Seeks Rarest of Feats
July 13, 2017 | BEDMINSTER, N.J.
By Lisa D. Mickey
It’s been 50 years since an amateur won the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, and in this event’s 72-year history, only one player has pulled off that feat.
Catherine Lacoste won the 1967 Women’s Open by two strokes with a score of 10-over-par 294, defeating Susie Maxwell and Beth Stone on the Cascades Course at Virginia Hot Springs Golf & Tennis Club in Hot Springs, Va.
This year’s U.S. Women’s Open features 21 amateurs – 11 of whom are in the top 50 of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking – all hoping to become the second non-professional to win the coveted title.
One of those players brings three USGA titles to this week’s championship. Eun Jeong Seong, 17, of the Republic of Korea, is both the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior champion and is No. 6 in the world. She began play on Thursday at 7:40 a.m. EDT in a grouping with defending champion Brittany Lang and 2015 champion In Gee Chun.
Last year, Seong became the first player to successfully defend her U.S. Girls’ Junior title since Hollis Stacy won three straight from 1969-71. She also became the youngest player in history to appear in four USGA championship finals, with her only loss coming to Fumie (Alice) Jo in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.
When asked by email how she would feel if Seong were to join her in the USGA’s history books this week, Lacoste, who lives in Spain, replied, “I would congratulate her on a wonderful feat, as there are so many wonderful pros out there now.”
Of course, many of those pros are aware of the talented young amateur. Seong qualified in April for the last position into the LPGA’s Lotte Championship in Hawaii and fired an 8-under 64 in the final round to tie for 16th at 10-under 278. That seven-way tie included 2016 U.S. Women’s Open champion Brittany Lang and five-time LPGA Tour winner In-Kyung Kim.
“She’s a great player and she had many birdies in that tournament,” said LPGA Tour veteran Amy Yang, who played with Seong in the event.
“She doesn’t play like a teenager,” added Yang. “She’s very patient and mature out there and plays more like a professional golfer.”
“That was my top result in the LPGA and I’m very excited,” said Seong, who will graduate from high school in February 2018. “I saw that I can play well there and I played better in every round.”
On Monday evening, Seong had a chance to visit with five-time USGA champion and World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster during the U.S. Women’s Open amateur dinner.
Now working as a commentator at USGA championships for Fox Sports TV, Inkster has seen Seong rip long irons into tight flagsticks and has watched her hammer her drives to places where most young women cannot go.
She has also watched Seong’s soft touch around tricky greens and her patience in match play.
“She’s good – she’s really good,” said Inkster of Seong. “Her ball flight is amazing. It’s like a rocket when it takes off and she hits it like a guy.”
Inkster also noted that Seong has not relied just on her considerable talent. She has put in the effort in the practice areas, watched and played alongside top amateur and professional players, and made steady progress toward her goal of eventually turning professional.
“She works hard on her game and just keeps improving,” said Inkster. “And she’s like Gumby – just very loose, young and strong.”
Last year when Seong repeated as winner of the U.S. Girls’ Championship, there was talk of a potential “three-peat” this year. Seong confirmed there will be “no three-peat” this summer and no return to the U.S. Women’s Amateur for another shot at that title.
Instead, the teen is focused on playing as an amateur in the Ricoh Women’s British Open in early August. She is also hoping to get an exemption to compete as an amateur this fall in an Asian professional event.
Seong plans to go to the LPGA Qualifying Tournament in October. Players can compete in the event as amateurs, but if they earn LPGA membership in the tournament’s final stage, they must turn professional in order to compete on the tour the following year.
Seong says she will turn professional if she plays well enough to earn her LPGA tour card.
“That’s what I want to do,” she said.
But before that happens, Seong is focused on this week’s U.S. Women’s Open. She likes the course layout and feels confident in her play.
“I can hit the ball far here and I like that,” she said. “And I can make the ball spin on the green. Even if I hit the rough, I can still hit a short iron to make the putt.”
Seong says she knows she has to relax and be patient. It’s a U.S. Women’s Open and the course is difficult.
“If I have a bogey, it doesn’t matter because this course is hard and other people will make bogey, too,” she said.
The pre-championship amateur players’ dinner was at the USGA’s Golf Museum, where Seong saw her name displayed three times in the museum’s Hall of Champions. She also saw the names of Korean compatriots Se Ri Pak and Inbee Park, as well as two-time Women’s Open champion Karrie Webb and other players in this week’s field.
“It gave me confidence because I saw my name in the museum as a champion,” said Seong. “I know I can play well in these championships and I know I can play well again in the future.”
Seong also noticed the name of Danielle Kang, winner of back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateurs in 2010 and 2011.
“I saw Danielle win the LPGA’s KPMG [Women’s PGA Championship] on TV and the commentator said she had won two USGA championships,” said Seong. “So, I thought about my wins and it gave me confidence.”
“I can play well in USGA events,” said Seong with a quiet smile. “Maybe this week.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.