Mastering the mental game of golf is something Junghoon Lee knows a lot about. As a young golf pro hopeful in South Korea, Lee faced enormous pressure and a string of disappointments that made him question his future in the sport. Not one to give up, Lee expanded his career goals and set his sights on learning golf operations in the U.S.
Ultimately, Lee’s journey led him to a program coordinator position with the Hospitality College’s PGA Golf Management – a job he landed after completing both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees with the program. Now, as he pursues his Ph.D., Lee finds purpose in overcoming new challenges and helping the next generation navigate mental obstacles of their own.
What inspired you to get into your field?
I love the game of golf! It suits my personality because I like being alone; and when I play, I like being responsible for myself only. I actually never thought about a career in academia until I started working as a student with the college’s PGA Golf Management Program (PGM). The experience made me realize I would be able to influence others in a meaningful way.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
A lot of people think I’m just giving golf lessons to people. Though that’s part of my job, I’m doing a variety of tasks like organizing tournaments, clinics, merchandising, customer relations. All this, plus educating students who might be golf instructors, sales representatives, or managers. It’s a lot about business, planning, and leadership.
Tell me about an a-ha moment in your career.
Prior to this position, I never enjoyed speaking in front of people or teaching. It’s still challenging for me. But at the end of my lectures, it’s oddly satisfying. I love the fact that students appreciate what I do. I see that the things that influenced me are still with me and can have an influence on others. I find that very meaningful.
What’s the last big project you completed and how did you celebrate afterward?
I did my thesis for my master’s degree on golfers’ perception of technology (direct booking website). I loved the fact that I could do research in the golf industry. I had a small party at the Bellagio to celebrate.
What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
I learned English at 19. When I started my undergrad at UNLV, and had to take classes like HMD 101 and ENG 102, the writing was very challenging. It took me hours and hours to write 500 words. I got a D on the first paper.
It’s taken me some time, but I’ve gotten to the point where I feel quite confident writing reports in English. But those early years were very tough.
I wouldn’t go back to my early 20s. If I had a time machine to go back to that period, I wouldn’t use it.
What special insights do you bring to your role?
I understand failure and how to overcome it. As a student in South Korea, I was on a great path with my golf career. I received a lot of support, but I gave it up because yips (performance anxiety). I felt that I failed because golf was my life.
Now, I’m able to understand the mental game of golf. That’s another reason I like my role now. I can help students get through similar challenges.
Is this what you thought you would do when you grew up?
Never! I wanted to be a professional golf player on tour.
Who do look up to in your field?
When I first came to the U.S., I met the director of the golf program at the Keiser University, Brian Hughes. I was one of very few minorities in the program at the time. He took care of me. He was very patient; he listened to me. I maybe didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I’m teaching people, I understand it’s not easy. I always think about the way he communicated, the way he listened, and the way he used his humor.
What drew you to UNLV?
I was looking at PGM schools and found this one. Thankfully, my grades helped me get the Rebel Challenge scholarship. That helped me make my decision. Also, I was impressed with Dr. (Chris) Cain (director of the UNLV PGA Golf Management) and his team.
What advice would you give to your young self?
I was very anxious when I was young. If I could talk to my young self, I would say, ‘It’s okay. Believe in yourself. Golf is just part of your life.’ All I had done was play golf. When I moved on from that, I had to think about things like: how do I get to college … and how do I get a job? I struggled, but those experiences made me stronger.
Tell us about an object in your office.
The golf clubs in my office are very symbolic. They represent how I loved golf so much — and then how I hated it so much when I gave up the dream. It represents my life. It’s pain, happiness — all the emotions.
What trait do you most like about yourself? What would you change?
My favorite trait about myself is that I like to accept challenges. I came to the U.S. by myself after studying English for three months. I have had some other pretty unique experiences, like driving all the way from Las Vegas to New Jersey and Baltimore for my internships. I’ve done a bicycle tour in South Korea.
If I had to change something about myself it would be my tendency to worry. I usually worry about things more than I should before I start something. As soon as I start it, I’m OK.
If you won Megabucks, what would you do?
Fund an event complex at UNLV with a wellness center, indoor mini golf, event space, and food for all students.
Soju, a Korean liquor.
What would your last meal be? And how does that represent you?
Kimchi fried rice. It represents Mom’s love.