First win proves potential is still there for SoCal’s David Oh

January 7, 2015

By Brian Han

Korean American professional golfer David Oh will start 2015 feeling revitalized after coming off of his first professional win on Asia’s premier Japan Golf Tour.

David Oh

David Oh is coming off his first big win on the Japan Golf Tour. Chances are he’ll be winning more with his new attitude on the game. (Courtesy of David Oh)

The victory came in November 2014 at the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters, which has been held almost every year since 1972 featuring notable winners such as Greg Norman, Lee Westwood and Seve Ballesteros.

After warding off a strong field that included World No. 4 Bubba Watson with whom Oh played and beat in the third round, his strategy for the week came down to a simple mantra.

“Just breathe,” the 33-year-old said. “All week I kept on telling myself to just breathe.”

Going into the final day with a one-shot lead, he had felt an unfamiliar pressure, yet found familiarity in one of his playing partners, Han Lee.

“I’ve known Han since I was about five,” Oh recalls. “He was actually the one that proposed the idea of playing professionally in Japan. We travel together, we eat together, we take the same trains and planes.”

After a less-than-ideal start, Oh found himself tied for the lead with his childhood friend, who ended up finishing tied for third.

“Bogeying the first hole was a blessing,” Oh said. “It changed my mentality from ‘What mistakes do I need to avoid?’ to ‘What do I need to do to win?’ I think that helped me for the rest of the day.”

And it did just that.

“It was the strangest thing,” he said. “I don’t remember how it rolled or how it got there. I just remember it (the winning putt) dropping in. I kind of remember setting up to it and then all of the sudden the ball was in the hole. To have won was a sense of so much relief and joy. It’s hard to explain what I was feeling. Honestly, there’s so much emotion still with me that I may not have explained it correctly.”

A celebratory fist pump is always appropriate after a tournament winning putt. (Courtesy of David Oh)

A celebratory fist pump is always appropriate after a tournament winning putt. (Courtesy of David Oh)

And it’s entirely understandable that the victory prompted such an emotional outpour. Oh has been playing professionally for 10 years and it hasn’t been an easy journey.

“It’s been this kind of long progression from being a high-caliber player when I was young, being recruited by schools like Stanford, Northwestern and Florida, to struggling in college [at the University of Southern California] and making no money the first couple of years,” Oh said.

The experience has been humbling to say the least.

“My biggest fear was feeling like I’d wasted my talent,” Oh said. “At a young age, everyone’s telling you that you have what it takes. Growing up, I knew that I had talent, but guess what? Everyone at this level has talent.”

As each year passed, his game steadily improved and his vision for success became more and more realistic.

“After more than 10 years as a pro, it’s hard to stay motivated when there aren’t results, but with this win, I’m beginning to see the potential is still there,” he said.

It’s true. 33 may be considered over-the-hill in any other major sport, but in golf, it can mean a turning point for the better in a player’s career.

Oh looks to golfers like Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker, who began to peak in their forties as a source of inspiration.

“I think I could be entering my prime now,” Oh says. “The difference this time around is that I’m not going to assume it’s going to be handed to me. Now it’s how bad do I want it and how hard am I willing to work for it?”

Although the recent winner vows to put in the work, he’s taking a bit of time off after a busy 2014 run in Japan and South Korea where he played in almost 30 tournaments.

Since his return to Southern California, he occasionally visits Los Coyotes Country Club where he’s greeted warmly by familiar faces.

It’s also where he first learned to play the game at the age of 6.

The club is unique in the sense that its membership is mostly Korean.

“When you’re out there hitting balls on the range, you’ll hear Korean more than English,” Oh explained. “They even sell kimchi and kimbap downstairs.”

David Oh stands in front of Los Coyotes Country Club entrance in Buena Park, Calif. He grew up playing on this course since the age of 6. (Korea Times / Brian Han)

David Oh stands in front of Los Coyotes Country Club entrance in Buena Park, Calif. He grew up playing on this course since the age of 6. (Korea Times / Brian Han)

Soon enough though, he’ll have to leave the country once again as the season starts up.

Oh’s plans for 2015 will hopefully bring him back to the States sooner than later.

“Ultimately, my goal is to come back home and play in the U.S.,” says Oh. “Japan is great. I love it there. But I still want to see how I’ll play against the best in the world.”

Since 2005, Oh has played in three U.S. Open Championships — one of the world’s most prestigious golfing events — so it’s not as if he hasn’t faced the game’s best players before now.

Although he hasn’t made the cut yet, he feels he’s made a breakthrough and matured enough to show a different side of his game from here on out.

If he plays well enough this year in Japan and South Korea, then there’s a good chance that may happen.

“I do have these flashes of brilliance once or twice a year, so I think if I work hard enough to maintain that, I’ll be able to transition to the PGA Tour,” says Oh.

As he prepares to go back to Japan, there will be one more player on the Korean traveling squad, which will now include the only Asian player to ever win a major championship, South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun.

Who knows? Yang may impart some wisdom that could help Oh take his game to the next level.