Hye-Jin Choi finished second in the United States Women’s Open over the weekend. It was a star-making performance for a 17-year-old and seemed to be well-timed, financially. The event had the largest prize money in women’s golf history, and second place was worth $540,000.
But Choi won’t get a penny. As an amateur, she is ineligible to collect prize money. If she was tempted to suddenly turn pro to get the check, it would not have worked. Once she hit her first shot, she could not be paid, even if she had won.
Choi, who is from South Korea, qualified for the event in a tournament in South Korea, and went on to finish two strokes off the lead of Sung Hyun Park at the Trump National Golf Club on Sunday in Bedminster, N.J.
The days when amateurs like Bobby Jones frequently placed high in major events is long gone, although a future star breaks through once in a while.
Catherine Lacoste, of the family known for alligator shirts and tennis, was the most recent amateur winner of the Open, in 1967.
Lydia Ko, who was also born in South Korea, won the Canadian Women’s Open at 15 in 2012 and repeated the next year. On the men’s side, Phil Mickelson is the last amateur to win a Tour event, in 1991 in Tucson. Neither suffered inordinately from skipping a payday. Ko has won $7 million on tour and Mickelson more than $80 million.
Choi is the latest phenom from South Korea, which has dominated women’s golf. South Koreans hold five of the top 10 spots in the world rankings and have won 12 of the last 25 majors.
At least one person was excited about Choi’s big run at the tournament:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2017
The Korean L.P.G.A. mandates that professional golfers on its tour be at least 18. So Choi’s prize money will be distributed to the two women who tied for third, and the other prizes will be pushed further down the leaderboard.
Choi did not seem too bothered about leaving half a million on the table. “It would be nice if I did get the money, but the primary goal was to compete,” she said.
Photo Credit: SBS