On the 11th hole of the final round of the Schooner Fall Classic on Sept. 30, junior Jiwon Jeon stood on the tee box frustrated, anxious. She was tied for the lead.
Mic Potter, the head coach of Alabama women’s golf team, noticed her rushed routine and the tension on her face, so he sent his assistant, Susan Rosenstiel, to check on her.
Jeon, ranked No. 7 in the World Women’s Amateur Ranking, told Rosenstiel she wasn’t getting her putts to the hole, so she needed to hit them harder. Knowing that could produce more tension, Rosenstiel offered an alternative solution: relax.
“She helped me not think about the golf too much,” Jeon said. “So I’d try to focus on each shot, and then when I’m not hitting I’d just try to not think about the golf at all.
“I’m a really big Starbucks fan. We were like, we have to get Starbucks after the tournament. She was like, I’m going to get java chip Frappuccino and then I was like, Okay, I’m going to get green tea Frappuccino.”
Jeon birdied the 11th hole, and then made more four more birdies down the stretch to win the tournament by three shots over her Alabama teammate, senior Lauren Stephenson. Her three-round total of 196 was the lowest in school history, and it helped the team set an NCAA record with a winning score of 45-under-par.
Since beginning her Alabama career with a 5-over-par 77 at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate in mid-September, Jeon has been red-hot, shooting 29-under par over her most recent five rounds.
She attributes the turnaround to swing changes she started while playing in the Arnold Palmer Cup in France in July. Potter helped her adjust her weight transfer once she arrived in Tuscaloosa, and the difference has been stark.
“The thing about good players is it doesn’t take much,” Potter said. “She adapts really easily. She’s hitting draws [right-to-left shots] now, and that’s where she’s more comfortable.”
For a while, though, she struggled to get comfortable in Alabama – and before that, in the United States at all.
Having attended high school in Australia, Jeon originally committed to play golf at the University of Washington. She was not yet eligible to play in Division I, however, so she played two years at Daytona State College in Florida, where she won five tournaments including the junior college national championship.
Daytona coach Laura Brown contacted Potter, whom she has known for more than 20 years, to tell him about one of her freshmen she believed could play in the SEC.
Potter and Rosenstiel got their first look at Jeon in February 2017, and it didn’t take them long to realize what Brown meant.
“We saw her hit the first tee shot and were like, Okay, this is exactly what we need,” Potter said. “Great golf swing, good ball flight, power. Her size [5-foot-1] is kind of misleading when you look at how hard she can hit the ball.”
While Jeon’s talent has never been in doubt in either Daytona or Tuscaloosa, her adjustment to living in profoundly different cultures without her family has proven to be difficult.
“My first year [at Daytona] was pretty hard for me because it’s a big transition from Australia to the U.S.,” Jeon said. “You’ll be walking and make eye contact with a random person and they wave at you or say hi. In Korea, if you do that it’s like, Who are you?”
Those concerns resurfaced when she transferred to Alabama. She only knew her future teammates and fellow top-10 amateurs Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman as competitors, having competed against them in the Palmer Cup and played against both in the U.S. Women’s Amateur a month later.
She did, however, know sophomore Angelica Moresco. Jeon stayed in Moresco’s dorm while Hurricane Irma was ravaging Daytona Beach and forcing her to extend her official visit by a couple days in September 2017. The two now room together at tournaments.
Moresco, whom Potter described as “very nurturing”, had to face the same challenges of adjusting to a foreign culture last year as she moved to the U.S. from Italy.
“When she first got here I saw that she was a little homesick, so I kind of saw myself and how I was last year,” Moresco said. “[I told her to be] herself because she’s a really sweet girl. Everyone’s going to love you so don’t be worried about it.
“We started to hang out other than golfing, like going to dinner and watching movies. … We both like sushi so we always go to get sushi together.”
Potter said the rest of the team did a great job of rallying around Jeon and involving her early on, but he believes she now no longer needs it. She agrees.
“I was a little worried about moving to another state because they might have a different culture too,” Jeon said. “But now I’m all settled and ready to roll.”