NAPLES – Tears welled up in Lydia Ko’s eyes on the 18th Green Sunday as she wrapped up a monumental comeback season. Moments later, she wrapped her arms around a tall, slim man in black and khaki who was wiping tears. This was the first time Jun Chung saw his bride-to-be personally win. Most of their golf together is casual, with dinner on the line or a fun challenge.
Chung, son of Ted Chung, Vice Chairman and CEO, Hyundai Card, Hyundai Commercial, works in Hyundai’s finance division and is based in San Francisco. Because of the pandemic, they were pen pals for six months before they first met. Shortly thereafter, Ko broke a three-year victory drought in Hawaii. Friends called him their lucky charm. However, his presence in her life brought much more than happiness.
Ko’s older sister and manager Sura said she saw a significant difference in Lydia after Jun came into her life.
“Since she met him,” Sura said, “she finds her own peace.”
That peace led to a true comeback season, with Ko winning for a third time on the LPGA in 2022 at the CME Group Tour Championship, earning her second Rolex LPGA Player of the Year Award and second Vare Trophy for lowest point average.
And after a record $2 million payday at the CME Group Tour Championship, she also takes the LPGA money title with $4,364,404. That’s $591 less than Lorena Ochoa’s all-time record in a single season.
“He puts a smile on my face,” said Ko, now a 19-time LPGA winner. The couple will marry in Seoul on December 30.
Ko came into the final round tied with Leona Maguire and Leona Maguire, five shots clear of the field. Maguire took the lead early when Ko bogeyed the first hole on a blustery, overcast day at Tiburon Golf Club.
By the time they made the turn, the standings had flipped and Ko was in the lead in one fell swoop. After both made shocking bogeys on the par-5 14 and each found the hazard, other players popped into the conversation. When Anna Nordqvist scored a 67 in the final round to reach under the clubhouse at 14, Ko threw up the gas and birdied in 16th and 17th place to remove two from the field. She graduated at 70 and finished under at 17.
“Lydia is class,” Maguire said. “She always is. She was really stable, really solid. She obviously putts phenomenally so she grabbed every chance and you have to do that.”
Lydia Ko poses for a photo with the Vare Trophy, Rolex Player of the Year trophy and CME Globe trophy after winning the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 20, 2022 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Chung played tennis in high school and took up golf during the pandemic. He admits he had followed Google Ko’s career in those early stages of their relationship. They love to play golf together. He carries his bag; She uses a wheelbarrow. They play Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, where Ko has a home, and in California.
“I try to make it fun for her,” Chung said with a smile.
Ko’s instructor Ted Oh said what’s most impressive about the former phenom is her relentless work ethic. They’ll have full-day workouts together in San Francisco, and then Ko will hit the gym at night.
“People just don’t know what she’s doing behind the scenes,” Oh said. “It’s crazy.”
Chung, who flew to Naples on Saturday, agrees.
“Sometimes it’s really annoying because you feel so bad,” he said, laughing. “She just doesn’t want to sit down and take a breather, but it’s really inspiring to watch.”
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 on golf and life, knowing that her performance doesn’t affect how Chung perceives her. Although she really wanted to win this one with him by her side.
“After meeting him,” Ko said, “I actually wanted to work harder during the times that I was working. And then enjoy the break. And I think I’ve probably had a few more breaks than I did two, three years ago, but I think that just helped me be more focused and focus more on my work.”
After Ko won the BMW Ladies Championship in South Korea last month, she broke down screaming on the phone with Chung and wanted nothing more than to celebrate this special moment with him. She has always dreamed of winning on South Korean soil.
“I think he motivates and inspires me to be a better person and a better player,” she said.
Lydia Ko poses for a photo with her family and the Vare Trophy, Rolex Player of the Year trophy and CME Globe trophy after winning the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 20, 2022 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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 in 2016.
Ko said earlier this week that she wouldn’t be hanging around chasing a Hall of Fame spot if she knew it was time to leave the game. From the moment she turned pro, Ko has said she won’t live past 30. Sura believes if her sister gets 27 points, she could start closing them soon.
However, attending the Paris 2024 Olympics is high on the list of priorities. Should she win two more points ahead of Paris, Sura said her sister would be pushing to compete in one of the final Olympics.
“She wants to do so many things after golf,” Sura said. “She said she wanted to be an interior designer someday. I think you’re not from art.”
The first thing Oh noticed when he started working with Ko earlier this season was how much more relaxed she seemed. Chung is a friendly, easy-going guy who’s quick to laugh and keeps a low profile. Sura said that they often mirror each other.
“Not much will change next year,” said Chung, standing off the cameras at the back of the 18th green. “She will keep playing. I don’t want to get involved in that. I want her to give whatever she has for the rest of the time.”