U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Korean Jeon Keeps Tide Rolling at Women’s Amateur August 10, 2018 | Kingston Springs, Tenn. By Bill Fields

Jiwon Jeon is one of three players with University of Alabama ties to reach the Semifinals at The Golf Club of Tennessee. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

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In her Daytona (Fla.) State College women’s golf team bio, Jiwon Jeon’s favorite quote is, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work.”

It’s safe to say Jeon walked the walk in her Quarterfinal match on Friday against Gurleen Kaur in the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at The Golf Club of Tennessee.

“She really hung in there,” said Jeon’s caddie, Erik Fiske. “We struggled on the first six holes, then got it together and stayed 1 down the rest of the match until the very end. She’s tenacious. She gets down, nothing bothers her. She just keeps plugging away.”

Jeon, 21, from Daegu in the Republic of Korea, demonstrated her grit Friday afternoon. The 2018 National Junior College Athletic Association individual champion fell behind Kaur, an 18-year-old from Houston, Texas, on the fourth hole and didn’t square the match until making a par on No. 18, with Kaur failing to get up and down for par from a greenside bunker.

“I was trying not to think about scores and just play my game,” Jeon said. “In the beginning, I was kind of thinking about the match, the whole thing, but as things went on, I tried to focus on each shot, not the whole match, and it ended up pretty well.”

On the first extra hole, the 121-yard par-3 10th, Jeon hit a 9-iron safely 15 feet from the flagstick. Kaur’s pitching wedge flew the green, finishing near a rock outcropping and leaving her a precarious downhill chip. After Kaur missed a 35-foot par effort, Jeon was able to two-putt to advance.

“She came back really well, which is commendable,” said Kaur, a sophomore at Baylor University. “She played really well. I think I had too much adrenaline on the playoff hole. I hit the same club as earlier in the match. There was nothing much I could from where I was but try to lob it on.”

Jeon is about to start her junior year at the University of Alabama, where her semifinal opponent, Lauren Stephenson, is a senior. Another semifinalist, Kristen Gillman, is a junior for the Crimson Tide. But Jeon enters the program with strong credentials, having won eight tournaments the past two years at Dayton State, a school that won its 10th national title this past spring.

“I think he’ll be extremely happy about this,” Jeon said of Alabama women’s golf head coach Mic Potter.

Jeon moved as a teenager from Daegu, Korea’s fourth-largest city, to Australia, where she spent three years prior to coming to the U.S. and enrolling at Daytona State College, a junior-college powerhouse in women’s golf.

“Two years at Daytona State helped me a lot,” said Jeon, who won four tournaments as a sophomore in addition to the NJCAA title. The Lady Falcons won the national title by a whopping 40 strokes, a record, in May.

Jeon represented the international team in the 2018 Palmer Cup, the first junior college golfer to be selected. She is seeking to become the fourth Korean-born golfer to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur, joining Pearl Sinn, Grace Park and Eun Jeong Seong. “It’s very competitive in Korea,” Jeon said. “There are tons of great golfers. We don’t have really have great facilities there, but they’re all working hard to be the best players in the world.”

Many young Korean golfers, even those on an elite competitive arc, spend a lot of their formative years hitting balls off artificial turf at driving ranges.

“The golf facilities,” Jeon said when asked what she likes most about the U.S. “I can play golf on the course every day and practice on the grass. It’s just great.”

Playing one college teammate in the Semifinals and potentially another in the 36-hole final on Sunday will be quite an experience, but Jeon won’t have any problem staying focused.

“They’re my teammates,” she said, “but it’s an individual game in the match play. I’ll try my best to win this tournament.”

And no doubt keep her favorite quote in mind as she tries to do so.

Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.