Date: September 10, 2014
Author: Martin Blake/

Triumphant Oh comes back to reality

h is tired, understandably so, but she has precious little time to rest. A member of Australia’s world title-winning amateur team just a few days ago at Karuizawa in Japan, she is back in Melbourne with schooling to attend, like any other 18-year-old.

Oh is studying the last three subjects of her VCE at Mackinnon Secondary College, and like any student, she is hitting the critical part of the year. As much as possible, she has tried to keep up with her assignments while travelling on the road from America to Europe and then Japan, but it’s not easy.

“I’ve got to go back to school because I only have a couple of weeks left,’’ she told today. “Exams are in November but the classes finish in October, and I have to get everything in before that.

“It’s been very difficult. I thought (in) year 12 I’d be doing similar movements to year 11, but I’ve travelled a lot more and had a lot more tournaments this year. It’s tricky, but the school’s been really good in supporting me in everything that I do.’’

Australia’s triumph in winning the Espirito Santo Trophy in Japan is notable to say the least. It is 12 years since an Australian team has won the women’s world title, and it reflects the optimism that is being felt in the golfing community about the future.

Oh, her friend Minjee Lee, also 18, and Shelly Shin, 16, from Concord Golf Club in Sydney came from fourth at the end of three days to reel in the leaders and storm to the win. They began the final round seven shots back from the leading Canadian team, but at a team meeting the night before the final day’s play, they vowed to give it a shake.

Oh closed with a 66 and Lee a 65 while Shin, who roared through the front nine, faded for a 72. But Australia’s 29-under, including a record-low final round score, was enough.

“After the third day, we just said ‘we’ll try our best and see what happens’,’’ said Oh. “We were still there, it was only seven shots. Because two scores counted, really it was 3 ½, and whenever you’re that close to the lead you are always a good chance for the win.

“We knew that if we played really well we definitely had a chance. One person could go out and shoot eight-under, but if the second one doesn’t do it, well then it’s not going to matter. We all had to do our best.’’

The three Australians were in different groups on the final day, but Oh soon realised that her teammates were on fire. Shin was five-under through eight and it spurred Oh. “The first time I saw a leaderboard was at the ninth, and we were at the top. I thought ‘woah, we’re there!’ I heard Shelley and Minjee were five-under after nine, and I was only three, then after 12 I was four (under) and I think Shelley and Minjee were five still. I was talking to Matt (team manager Matt Cutler) saying ‘I need to lift to match the other girls’.’’

Oh delivered, and her 66 followed earlier rounds of 71-68-70. Her 13-under total, combined with Lee’s 16-under, gave Australia a winning 29-under. Their final-day score was a record for the competition.

It’s a long way Su Oh’s start in Australia as an eight-year-old South Korean emigrant who could not speak English, to winning a world title at 18 for her adopted country. The family moved from Korea to Melbourne in 2004, initially for a year to learn English, but they remained permanently.

Su (full name Su-Hyun, but she prefers the shortened version) remembers sitting in year three classes at Kilvington school in Ormond in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs and scarcely uttering a word. “There were a few Korean students who helped me out, but I just kind of sat in class and listened,’’ she said. “I learned pretty quickly though. Even now I like learning new languages, and I think in about six months I was able to communicate.’’

Initially golf was not on the radar, although her father Seok-Gu is a fanatic. After about a year in Australia, Su visited Moorabbin public course with her dad to watch, then picked up the game. “I had no idea what golf was,’’ she said. “But I followed Dad, and I think I sat in the kart and watch him and his friends play. Then he bought me a set of clubs and we went to the range, I got a few lessons and played a few nine-hole tournaments.’’

Oh was a natural, clearly. She soon played the Victorian primary schools championships at Portsea, and made the state team. “That was a really good experience,’’ she said. “That’s how I got into it.’’

At 12, she entered qualifying for the 2009 Women’s Australian Open at Metropolitan on a whim, at her home track of Kingswood in the famed sandbelt. Astonishingly, she qualified, becoming the youngest-ever participant in the tournament, where she brought a novelty factor. She was still in year seven at Mackinnon and drew widespread publicity.

“All I can remember of it was that I kept getting asked questions, and people would say ‘well done for getting in!’,’’ she said. “I remember the atmosphere but I don’t remember any golf. It was like a dream.

“When I did the pre-qualifying, I just entered and I got in. It was at Kingswood and I was a member there. I just heard there was a tournament and I ended up playing in it. It was massive at the time but I had no idea. It was just another tournament to me.’’

One of her idols was Karrie Webb, Australia’s greatest-ever female player, and Oh was soon in Golf Australia’s Karrie Webb squad, travelling to the United States to spend time with Webb. It still blows her mind that they are friends now. “Now she (Webb) sends me tweets and messages and email saying congratulations. Karrie’s still the big idol in my head, but it’s just weird.’’

At 18 she has already played some big tournaments, almost winning the Australian Ladies Masters in 2013, where she tied for second. She played two majors this year on invitation – the Kraft Nabisco in America, and the Women’s British Open. 

She is approaching the most crucial time of her golfing career so far, with the LPGA Tour qualifying school to be played in Florida next month. Oh and Minjee Lee have automatic entry to the second round, but they have four rounds to complete before the numbers are cut for the third round, also in Florida, in early-December. Just 20 LPGA cards are handed out.

If all goes to plan, Oh will turn professional like Lee, who is teeing it up in France this week, and join the LPGA, which begins its season at the Women’s Australian Open early next year. Oh has a fire in her belly. “I’ve always loved playing big tournaments,’’ she said. “I don’t think I’ve actually been there with a chance to win a big event but the experience of just being there was great. It made me realise that I really want to belong there and play those tournaments week-to-week.’’