Golfer's career is on the upswing
RIVERVIEW - Kyeong Bae celebrated her most recent birthday in a big way. As Bae turned 24 on June 13, she was in the midst of finishing fourth at the McDonald's LPGA Championship, one of the four majors on the women's professional golf tour. The June 11 to 14 tournament marked her best finish in an LPGA major. "I felt really good during that event," Bae said. "I hope I can play that well the rest of the year."The good news did not end there for the Riverview resident. On June 15, she took part in a U.S. Women's Open qualifier. Bae - known as KB on the LPGA tour - outlasted 111 players to earn one of only 30 remaining spots for the 156-player field. This year's Women's Open will take place July 9 to 12 at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa. Bae will try to improve on her 10th-place finish from 2007, her first career top-10 finish in a major. To prepare for the Women's Open and the rest of her LPGA schedule, Bae practices at the River Hills Country Club in Valrico, less than 10 miles from her home. She starts practice at 7 a.m. during tournament season and at 6 in the offseason. "I like living in Florida and I really like that I can play golf all year long because of the weather," Bae said. "Honestly, I don't miss home at all." The Seoul, South Korea, native first took up golf at age 12 as a hobby. "My dad used to play golf, and he recommended it as a way for me to get fit," Bae said. "My mom played table tennis, which I really like, too, so I think I came from a family of athletes." In 2000, she turned pro. That proved to be a fortuitous turn of events for the 15-year-old. The next year, Korea established an age minimum of 18 for professional players. During her teens, she had success on the Korean LPGA, including two Korean Women's Open titles. After finishing sixth on the 2003 KLPGA money list, she moved to the United States to try her luck on the Futures Tour, the LPGA's developmental tour. She settled in Riverview four years ago, where she lives with her parents, to be close to her swing coach John Del Monte - a fellow Riverview resident - whom she has been working with for about five years. "When I first started working with her, I knew she was going to be a special player," Del Monte said. The duo's sessions usually take place at the Ben Sutton Golf School in Sun City Center. "She's matured a great deal on and off the golf course," Del Monte said. "That has enabled us to make some necessary changes to her swing." In 2005, she earned her first win, which helped her finish third on the Futures Tour's money list and earn an LPGA tour card for the 2006 season. "Competing with players like Annika Sorenstam, who is my favorite golfer, and watching how they practice and work was a huge honor," Bae said. Bae was able to finish in the top 50 in the tour's money list and earned LPGA Rookie of the Year honors in 2006. She also notched her career-best LPGA result, by finishing second at the Sybasse Classic. The following year she tied for 10th in the Women's Open, but she struggled during the 2008 season, finishing in the top 10 only once. As for the rest of this season, her goals are relatively simple. "Less bogeys, for sure," said Bae, who also is studying golf management at South Korea's Kyung Hee University. "I'd also love to get my first victory on the LPGA tour."
Reporter John Ceballos can be reached at (813) 627-4762.