Korean Chanmin Jung. Asian Tour

Korean Chanmin Jung said his aim was to win this week at the Maekyung Open after taking the first-round lead with an eight-under-par 63.

On Friday, he showed he has every intention of doing just that after recovering from double-bogey on the first hole to card a 68 to retain the lead — on a gloomy and rainy day at Namseoul Country Club, on the south-east side Seoul.

He’s 11-under for the Asian Tour event, two ahead of compatriot Junghwan Lee, who carded a 66, and four ahead of Yubin Jang (64), an amateur, Taeyang Jung (65), and Bio Kim (68), the defending champion and expert navigator of Namseoul.

Unheralded Chanmin Jung, aged 23, has only been a professional for three years and in that time has recorded two top 10s on the Korean PGA Tour.

However, his unrivalled power off the tee — he was ranked first in driving distance in Korea last year and is known as the ‘Korean Hulk’, also because he is a big unit — has made him a potential star of the future and he is starting to show that this week.   

He dropped one more shot after his poor opening hole but made six birdies, including on the infamous par-four 18th, where the tee shot is tight, and the green requires maximum concentration.

Said the Korean: “I hooked my tee shot badly to the left on the first hole, so I started with a double-bogey and tried to settle my mind. Fortunately, I had birdies on the fourth and seventh hole and it led to a good result.

“The secret to finishing three-under today was not to use the driver as much as possible. I hit fairway woods and irons off the tee, when I could. I’m trying to play smart golf now, not only hit the ball a long distance.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the gallery on the weekend; I actually like to get the attention and I’ll have a good time with the golf fans on the weekend. My strategy this weekend is to persevere and wait for an opportunity.”

Lee’s round was very much a tale of two halves: he began on the 10th and went out in one-over, but danced round the next nine in six-under, thanks to six birdies in his last seven.

“The beginning didn’t go well,” he said. “But I was able to relax later and get the putter going.”

The prospect of more bad weather at the weekend does not concern him.

He added: “It’s not just one person who’s struggling, it’s hard for every player. I think I can play calmly without losing my concentration. I like difficult conditions more than easy ones. I’m not used to it, but I just like it. I think it’s good to be in the lead under those conditions.”

Bio Kim, despite not being at his best this season, is once again in contention here in an event he also won in 2012 and has been close to winning on many other occasions — including in 2007 when, in his in debut on the Asian Tour, he tied for fourth as an amateur.

“You know it is a good result and I did shoot a good number,” said the 32-year-old, who finished second on last year’s Asian Tour Order of Merit.

“However, I was playing very well going into No. 4, which is my 13th hole, but from there I was just missing all my good opportunities. I just really couldn’t get something going on my back nine, but I finished with a birdie on the last, so hopefully that good momentum is still going for the weekend.”

Unlike Lee, he is not looking forward to the bad weather.

He said: “I’m not very comfortable, you know, because it’s already a tough golf course. And wind, chilly conditions and rain doesn’t really help the players, but you know, it is what it is and just got to get through it. Hopefully, I stay warm and drain some putts.”

Jang, winner of five amateur events including last year’s World University Golf Championships in Italy, impressively made nine birdies today for the joint lowest round of the day, with Australian Kevin Yuan.

“This is my third Maekyung Open appearance, and I’m glad I did well,” said the amateur star.

“I started well in 2021, but I collapsed in the third and final rounds. I want to show a different side of me this time.”