Seul-Ki has worked at Winchester Country Club since 2016 as both an assistant and now a full time teaching professional. After six years on the Symetra Tour, she still competes in tournaments at a high caliber. The first time I saw her in person was when my club hosted the NEPGA Professional Championship and she qualified for the next round! Seul-Ki is also a member of the NEPGA Women of the Game committee and has a lot of great advice for women starting out their careers in the industry.
Here is her story:
How did you get into golf and decide to go into the golf industry?
Long story short, I kind of didn't grow up around golf. I would say I picked up golf when I was about 10 to 11 years old. Prior to that, my dad was obsessed with golf and he actually ran a community league on Wednesdays. So, every Wednesday I would follow my dad to wherever they were hosting the league and my dad would just leave me a few bucks to treat myself to lunch and some snacks while I practiced while he played 18 holes with his buddies.
Occasionally, my dad would allow me to come and play with his group, but you know what was really fun was watching my dad run the league. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. So, that kind of brought me to take up golf more seriously when I was in high school. I was a late bloomer, but my dad helped me and taught me as much as he could until I beat him and started working with an instructor.
I was very fortunate to get a college scholarship to the University of Illinois. I was probably the last recruit that came in and I think when I committed to playing college golf my game hadn't peaked then. I went off to college, had so much fun and had the best experience ever. I loved my teammates and loved my coaches and every year I got better. At the end of my senior year in college, I played number one and won a couple tournaments. I would say I was a top player in the Big Ten.
The Midwest didn't have, I would say, a large group of professional golfers that played for a living. Most of the girls that you see who graduated from college are from the west coast. For me, I wanted to play professionally but I just didn't have a role model, or someone that I had looked up to that could help me or guide me in that direction. So, I actually went to nursing school for a year after college.
But then some of my friends who actually were a year younger than me that had just graduated, invited me over to do a Florida trip where you would go and do the Futures Tour Q-School and go play a few tournaments. So then I decided to do that and see where my game was because it was hard for me to let go because you've played golf for so long, and you've played competitively, that it's just so hard to turn off that gear. And while I was in nursing school, I did teach golf to family friends as a side job. Anyway, I left nursing school to play on the Symetra Tour, and back then it was called the Futures Tour. After I'd found out that I had full status, I played on the Symetra Tour and did it for a living for six years.
I met so many good people, worked with a lot of top instructors, and I would say there was a lot of growth for me as a person through those experiences. And, you know, when you've done it for at least six years, you set these goals up and you have a timeline for where you want to be in five years or six years and I just wasn't where I wanted to be. I played in an LPGA event prior to getting into this business. And, you know, just looking at the caliber of the players and what they're doing, it was just an eye-opening experience. And so that was when I was like, "Alright, I'm going to stop," or at least take a break and try to figure out what I want to do. So then I came to Winchester Country Club as an assistant, not knowing what I was getting myself into.
I told Jim [Salinetti] going in that I know a lot about golf and playing, but I'm not sure if I know much about this business. I've been around it but I've never been on the inside. There's more to it like retail, running tournaments, setting up the golf course; it's just a lot more preparation than you think and it was eye opening. After a year, I decided that I'd like to get my PGA card and figure out from there where I want to be, whether it's being a teacher or becoming a head pro. So, that's how I ended up at Winchester. I was in that weird transition period with finishing golf for a living and I met Jim through my husband because they used to play back when Jim had played on the Canadian Tour. Jim obviously was looking for a female pro in our section, or to bring in a female pro at Winchester and so he had asked my husband and I called Jim up and I said I was interested.
How long ago did you start at Winchester?
I started in 2016.
How has your role developed while you've been there?
I started as an assistant. You know, obviously my first year I didn't have that many lessons. People were getting to know me. They knew my background, and I kind of put myself in everything, meaning I tried to learn all the programs that were available at the club. You know, that first year as an assistant, you're putting those hours in, and then by my third year, I was literally working 12 hour days at work doing the shop hours, then when I'd leave I would schedule lessons and do junior programs and then it's night and I did that every day. My lesson book got pretty big, to the point where it was just not sustainable and it was very hard to manage both jobs.
When you're an assistant, you're getting emails left and right. Even if you're doing shop hours, you put in like two or three extra hours just responding to emails. Long story short, they had changed my role to a full time teaching professional last year. Last year, especially with our new indoor facility, outdoor range, six hole par three course and the short game area that we have. It's definitely created another job for another instructor to come in and teach so it all just kind of worked out and it's been good so far.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
As an instructor, it's really rewarding to hear when your students are getting the results that they want and accomplishing the goals that they've set for themselves. You know, I've won tournaments, but it just means so much more when you've got a student who wins their first tournament or a student whose goal was to play college golf for four years and they've worked their butt off to improve their game, competed in tournaments and taken all the steps and finally they get into the college that they want to. Winning a tournament is not comparable to changing somebody's life or creating an opportunity for somebody else.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Time management was definitely the biggest hurdle. But just as an instructor, you have your good lessons and you also have your bad lessons. The bad lessons meaning, you know, the way you're communicating the instruction that you're giving them isn't quite clicking for your student and you're kind of struggling to figure out other ways to make it work for them. It's hard to come home and have that feeling of not being able to help somebody or communicate in a way where it's clicking for them. I would say that's the hardest. You should be able to read your students and also kind of catch on to whether this is a person who can handle a lot of information or little information; it's a lot of adjustment. You have to learn to adjust to your student.
What are your future aspirations in the industry?
Long story short, I am pregnant.
So, I'm trying to figure out what my future goals are because we've got this new blessing in our life. So, I'm not really sure where that's going to take me. But I do know that I enjoy playing competitively because it allows me to be able to relate to my students who want to play at a competitive level. I take pride in everything that I've worked for and what the game has done for me in terms of my competitive golf career. I would like to continue that even while pregnant, but also maybe after. The journey ahead will also have its obstacles and adversities that I'm going to have to adjust to, but it's nice to know that I have the option to pursue it if I wanted to.
How do you think the golf industry benefits from having women in leadership positions?
I think that it certainly is great to have more female leaders in the business. As an instructor, teaching women can be more relatable, in terms of the body type, what they might experience physically but also mentally. You know, I've had experiences where I've had women talk about certain body parts that they probably wouldn't have shared with men. So, there is that level of connection, woman to woman. And I'm not saying that women can't obviously have a connection with men, but I would certainly say that there could be a better connection with women leaders and being role models.
It's good to have a female leader at the top. For example, when I went to the PGA Cup, I met Suzy Whaley for the very first time. And my teammates were top female players that are great at their jobs. You get a certain energy and vibe from being around other women who have the same goals or similar goals, who may have gone through the same experiences as you. Or even if you have any questions about your career, it's just nice to have the resources available to you and to reach out to those leaders.
How do you think we can get more women working in the industry?
Like you said, I would probably say we should send somebody over to the Symetra Tour and just go in there as a recruiter. If there are any players ready to retire from playing professionally, that's a way to bring more women into this business. I mean, I'm happy with the number of women that we're seeing now versus what they were before, especially at the PGA Show when you see people who are in the PGM program and the universities. And, you know, you're seeing more females apply for jobs and do interviews and it's really encouraging.
I think the most important thing is allowing them to know that they have the resources and providing them with as much networking opportunities as possible. And then also voicing out to them that there are so many job opportunities for female professionals. I would say I was surprised to find myself in the New England section, and knowing that there weren't many female professionals like me in this business, which is certainly an advantage that I would gladly voice out to anybody and welcome them to this section. More awareness I would say is key.
What advice would you give to young women just starting out their careers in the golf industry?
I would say, say yes to everything. I think one of the things that helped me kind of figure out what avenue I wanted to go into in this business was that whatever opportunity that came my way, I just said yes. Yes, you will put in the hours and it's going to be extremely hard in terms of the time management and everything. But obviously, with the work ethic and all the hard work you put into it will pay off. So, my first advice is to say yes to any opportunity that comes your way. You're not going to not learn something if you don't give yourself an opportunity to learn it.
The second thing I would say is, as an instructor, I would go find other instructors and top instructors that may have been recognized through their section and contact them and say you want to learn from them or even get a lesson. Go watch them and go learn from them because those are things that will help you identify a theory or a method that you might have to teach to your students when you go back and not only are you learning things about the instruction aspect, but you're also spending time with them, building relationships with them, and getting your name out.
The third thing is get involved in your section. There's different ways for you to get involved. You can play in tournaments, like you and I have, where you get paired up with different people, and I've met a lot of good people. By playing in the stroke play events and section chapter events, the people you end up meeting can be people who can become your mentors or people who can help you or guide you to the direction where you want to be. So, if you want to become more of a leader in this section, you're crossing paths with those people through tournaments. If competitive golf isn't your thing, getting involved in or volunteering for any kind of program that's offered to your section is a great way to meet other pros and get to know the people who are running your section. You just have to put yourself in those situations where you can network and meet people, because you just never know who you're going to come across.