Muni He did something rather astonishing at Q-Series: She never looked at a leaderboard. Not once. Not after four rounds. Not after seven rounds. It wasn’t until an hour after she’d finished the eighth and final round at Pinehurst that He looked at live scoring. By then plenty of folks had congratulated her on securing an LPGA card for the 2019 season.
“You look back on it and it was a blur,” said He, who took a share of 27th. “But while it was happening, it was the longest two weeks of my life.”
Whatever “it” is, the former USC player has it in spades. He, who also goes by “Lily,” comes to the LPGA with 161K Instagram followers, making her a social media influencer with plenty of game. The 19-year-old finished 21st on the Symetra Tour money list in 2018, recording a victory at the Prasco Charity Championship.
He said her mentality changed after that triumph, and she pushed harder trying not to only win again but finish inside the top 10. By the end of six straight weeks of competition, she’d lost her stamina.
“I think my game was in a good place,” she said, “but physically I wasn’t able to keep up.”
Prior to Q-Series, He hunkered down in Los Angeles with her relatively new swing coach Ted Oh, the man who helped Lydia Ko get back into the winner’s circle.
Oh looked at scorecards for the two tracks at Pinehurst and told the petite player that she needed to focus on two things: hybrids/long irons and short game.
“Whoever makes the least bogeys is going to finish on top,” said Oh. “It’s not how many birdies you make.”
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Words cannot describe how excited I am to become a 2019 LPGA Rookie!!!♥️ Been dreaming of this since I was a little girl and I couldn’t have done it without everyone who has shown me love support along the way. Special thank you to my parents and coach @tedoh76 for being out here with me battling for the last few months.♥️ Thank you to my friends, 封伯伯, @imggolf, @michaelyim99, @rubychen1021, @nikegolf, @sherwoodcountryclubofficial.♥️ See you next year on the LPGA!!♥️♀️♥️
He had a one-dimensional short game when she met Oh – 56-degree sand wedge from everywhere.
Oh added to the arsenal during their 11-day cram session – focusing particularly on the bump-and-run shot – and He left Pinehurst feeling her short game had gone to another level.
It wasn’t long after the celebrations had died down that Oh laid it out bluntly for He about what comes next. Earning an LPGA card is only a small step in the journey.
“If you want to survive on the LPGA and be a top player,” Oh told her, “you need to add 20 yards.”
Offseason plans include hiring a trainer and speed drills.
One thing that did impress Oh at Q-Series – he was there for both weeks – was the way in which He stayed within herself when playing alongside a big-hitting player like Anne Van Dam, who averages 285 off the tee on the Ladies European Tour. Oh said Van Dam outdrove He by an average of 50 yards.
“She had her hybrids and she was just grinding,” Oh said. “She’s a fighter.”
There will be six Chinese-born players on the LPGA in 2019. Ruixin Liu became the first Chinese player to win the money title on the Symetra Tour this season. They’ll be joined by Yu Liu, Xiyu Lin, Jing Yan and former World No. 1 Shanshan Feng.
Oh noted that while He comes across as shy and quiet on the golf course, something switches on when there’s a camera present. He looks at Instagram like a visual diary and is still amazed by the number of people who comment on her posts in different languages. Even celebrities have reached out.
“Big Bang Theory” actor Kunal Nayyar, a huge golf fan, reached out to He last year and invited her and some friends to one of the show’s live tapings. He actually met Andrew “Beef” Johnston on the set.
On tour, He hopes to be able to play with Michelle Wie, a creative player she has long admired. He actually employed Wie’s regular caddie, Matthew Galloway, for Q-Series.
He made the cut in her first U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 16 and stood out from the crowd even then in Lancaster, Pa.
Now the stage is set to seize on all that potential.