Magenta Shores CC, March 29-31, 2024

HAYES: Cho’s Aussie Love Affair

It’s funny, nay amazing, how the world turns.

Cecilia Cho – Jeong-min to her family and friends in South Korea – was sitting at home in tears just three months ago.

Sadly, for a woman who once had the golfing world at her feet – Cho had been the top-ranked amateur globally briefly in 2011 – this had become the norm.

For almost five uncustomary winless years, Cho had fallen from the world’s top 50 all the way down to the wrong side of No.800.

Golf had her, figuratively speaking, in a figure-four leg lock.

No matter how hard she squirmed, which direction she headed, it ended in disappointment and back in the same horrendously challenging spot – on her couch, in tears.

She turned to a friend in Korea – legendary Australian caddie Dean Herden – who recommended she come back “down under” to rediscover her mojo.

Cho – whose surge to prominence as a junior came as she climbed the ranks of New Zealand golf with Lydia Ko – had spent part of her formative years in Australia often duelling with her great mate. Cho won the Australian strokeplay crown in 2010 and finished runner-up to Ko in a playoff the following year.

But when she turned professional in 2012, Cho turned her back on New Zealand and chose to represent her native Korea.

It’s hard to question that decision given that she won five times on the brutally tough KLPGA.

But now, with the aid of technicolour hindsight, Cho will readily tell you that being insular within that tour most likely hampered her game. More definitively, she will tell you that the untimely combination of Covid and a downturn in form left her pondering her very future in the game to which she has devoted her life.

Cho said there had been no injuries or catastrophic swing flaws that had brought about her slide.

“I cried a lot. Pretty much every week, I cried for a few days. It was hard times.

“I’ve been trying to figure out what is going to make my game tick. I’ve been trying a lot of stuff, meeting a lot of coaches, but I just couldn’t seem to figure it out,” said Cho after storming to the halfway lead at Duntryleague in the Women’s New South Wales Open regional qualifier in Orange today.

“My parents (Agatha and James) were coming here for a holiday and to see my brother (T.Y. Cho, who works in Sydney), so I thought I would come, too.”

And this is where the magic happened.

“Dean introduced me to an Australian coach, Steve McRae, and I’ve been working with him in Wollongong.

“Steve has worked with a lot of players who have had a hard time so he just knew where I was (mentally).

“We talked a lot through golf and tour golf as well, then after that he just said, `You’ve got to tough it out, just stay strong’.

“He said I was too weak (and to) stay strong (and) play my own game.

“I spent about a month with Steve and after that, my game was back on track and (it) clicked dramatically.

“I think about how I should play golf a lot. What Steve has told me is not something new, but it clicked with me, just like that.

“Every round since has been different to the ones before (in the previous five years).

“To toughen up was his main point, but he also made me work with a golf tool called T-Pro which helps with posture.

“I heard it’s made by Australians, too, so everything for me in Australia is going the right way.”

Cho’s chance return to Australian golf firstly showed up with a third-place finish at last month’s Vic Open on the Bellarine Peninsula, followed by her breakthrough win with a rampant 16-under total in two rounds to win the Wagga Wagga Pro-Am on the WPGA Tour last week.

“My parents were hoping I would play happier, more positive golf – we weren’t really looking for dramatic changes so soon,” Cho said with great humility. 

“But there (seems) something special for me in New Zealand and Australia. I’m at ease and I just feel that I’m in the right place. It is great.”

With victory in Wagga under her belt and another great chance tomorrow in Orange, it seems all but assured that Cho will have earned a place in the upcoming Women’s NSW Open, followed by the Australian Ladies Classic – both unlikely goals when her visit began.

So how high is she now prepared to aim?

“I always said I wanted to be No.1 professional, especially when I was that (rank) in amateur golf,” she reflected.

“Realistically, though, I just want to play competitive golf and for all the stuff I need to go through, I want to be in contention, that’s my goal.

“I’ve been on (the) KLPGA for 11 years, but coming through to Australia and the tour here now, I feel a bit sorry for myself for having been guarded only in Korea.

“The environment is so different here, pressure and practice wise, it’s very different.

“I think times go past and you are left with good memories only.

“But it’s nice to feel happy again.”

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