Kim Ja-young, one of the hottest golfers on the KLPGA Tour whose career took a turn for the worse last season, recently returned to Korea after intensive winter training in Australia.
She had been working on her form for up to 10 hours a day on the Gold Coast since late last year in a desperate bid to get back on track after a morale-sapping slump.
After debuting on the tour in 2010, she claimed three wins in 2012. This led to her signing a lucrative four-year sponsorship with LG Group at the beginning of 2013. However, she experienced a severe downturn last season, when she was only able to muster one top-10 finish. Kim finished the season at 36th on the money list with W113.6 million (US$1=W1,069), the lowest since her professional debut.
"I worked really hard to try and play consistently, but I couldn't help what happened. I felt miserable," said Kim. "As people had built up such high expectations of me, I felt like I was under a lot of pressure. I couldn't fully concentrate on playing as I had started to become too conscious of all the scrutiny."
She said the public's support helped get her through the hard times. Kim is hugely popular among fans in their 40s and 50s, and she has over 3,000 members on her fan site. Some are so passionate about cheering her on that they take days off work and stay at motels together near her tournament venues to lend their support.
"My fans even brought me bread and fruit, and sometimes we would eat together after tournaments. When I didn't play well, I was encouraged by their support," she said.
One of the reasons for her popularity is her striking appearance -- Kim has light skin, attractive features and a slender figure.
She said her goal this season is to rediscover her form and build on her skills gradually rather than being in too much of a rush, which could prove counterproductive. Her ultimate goal is to play on the U.S. LPGA Tour, she added.