NAPLES, Fla. – Tears welled up in Lydia Ko’s eyes on the 18th green Sunday as she wrapped up a monumental comeback season. Soon after, she wrapped her arms around a tall, slender man wearing black and khaki, who wiped tears of his own. This marked the first time Jun Chung had seen his soon-to-be-bride win in person. Most of their golf together is casual, with dinner on the line or a fun dare.
Chung, son of Ted Chung, vice chairman and CEO, Hyundai Card, Hyundai Commercial, works in finance for Hyundai and has a home in San Francisco. Because of the pandemic, they were pen pals for six months before meeting for the first time. Shortly after, Ko broke a three-year victory drought in Hawaii. Friends started calling him her good-luck charm. His presence in her life, however, brought a lot more than luck.
Ko’s older sister and manager, Sura, said that she could tell a significant difference in Lydia after Jun came into her life.
“Since she met him,” said Sura, “she finds her own peace.”
That peace translated to bona fide comeback season, with Ko winning for a third time on the LPGA in 2022 at the CME Group Tour Championship, collecting her second Rolex LPGA Player of the Year Award and second Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average in the process.
And, after a record $2 million payday at the CME Group Tour Championship, she also clinches the LPGA money title with $4,364,404. That’s $591 shy of Lorena Ochoa’s all-time record in a single season.
“He puts a smile on my face,” said Ko, now a 19-time winner on the LPGA. The couple will marry Dec. 30 in Seoul.
Ko came into the final round tied at 15 under with Leona Maguire, five shots clear of the field. Maguire took the lead early as Ko bogeyed the first hole on a blustery, overcast day at Tiburon Golf Club.
By the time they made the turn, the standing had flipped, with Ko on top by a stroke. After both made shocking bogeys on the par-5 14th, with each finding the hazard, other players popped into the conversation. As Anna Nordqvist posted a final-round 67 to get to the clubhouse at 14 under, Ko hit the gas, making birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to pull two clear of the field. She closed with a 70 to finish at 17 under.
“Lydia is a class act,” said Maguire. “She always is. She was really steady, really solid. She obviously putts phenomenally well, so any time she got a chance, she took it, and that’s what you have to do.”
Chung played tennis in high school and took up golf during the pandemic. He admits having to Google Ko’s career in those early stages of their relationship. Their favorite thing to do together is play golf. He carries his bag; she uses a push cart. They play Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, where Ko has a home, and around California.
“I try to make it entertaining for her,” Chung said with a smile.
Ko’s instructor, Ted Oh, said the most impressive thing about the former phenom is her relentless work ethic. They’ll have day-long practice sessions together in San Francisco, and then Ko will head to the gym at night.
“People just don’t know the behind-the-scenes stuff she does,” said Oh. “It’s crazy.”
Chung, who flew into Naples on Saturday, agrees.
“Sometimes it’s really annoying because it makes you feel so bad,” he said, laughing. “She just won’t sit down and take a breather, but it’s really inspiring to see her.”
From Ko’s point of view, the balance in her life has never been better. For a while, she said, her identity felt so connected to her score. Chung has given her a new perspective of golf and life, knowing that her performance has no bearing on how Chung perceives her. Though she really did want to win this one with him by her side.
“After meeting him,” said Ko, “I’ve actually wanted to like work harder during the times that I am working. And then also enjoy, you know, time off. And I think I probably had a few more breaks than I did like two, three years ago, but I think that’s just only helped me to be more focused and be more on when I’m actually doing my work.”
After Ko won at the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea last month, she broke down bawling when she phoned Chung, wanting nothing more than to celebrate that special moment with him. She’s always dreamed on winning on South Korean soil.
“I think he motivates and inspires me to become a better person and a better player,” she said.
With Sunday’s triumphs, Ko, 25, moves within two points of the 27 needed to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame. The youngest player to qualify for the Hall is Inbee Park, who was 27 back in 2016.
Ko said earlier this week that she wouldn’t hang around to chase one Hall of Fame point if she knew it was time to leave the game. From the moment she turned pro, Ko has said that she won’t play past the age of 30. Sura believes that if her sister gets to 27 points, she might start to shut it down soon after.
Competing in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, however, is high on the priority list. Should she win two more points before Paris, Sura said her sister would press to play in one final Olympics.
“She wants to do so many things after golf,” said Sura. “She said she wanted to be an interior designer at some point. I’m like, you’re not from the arts.”
The first thing Oh noticed when he started working with Ko earlier this season was how much more relaxed she seemed. Chung is a kind, easygoing fellow, who is quick to laugh and stay in the background. Sura said they often mirror each other.
“Nothing is going to change too much next year,” said Chung, standing on the back of the 18th green, away from the cameras. “She’s going to keep playing. I don’t want to interfere with that. I want her to give all she’s got for the time she has left.”