Nicole Jung reminds one of a patchwork quilt. She is ethnically South Korean, has lived in Bolivia since she was three, and speaks with a soft American accent due to attending Taylor University for her collegiate education.
She grew up in Bolivia as her South Korean parents went there to join her missionary grandparents, and work alongside them. Early memories of Bolivia for Jung included swimming in the local swimming pool for countless hours as the sun beat mercilessly on her tanned frame and the scents of freshly cooked bulgogi wafting through the house.
Jung would have never played golf if her grandfather had not bought her her first golf clubs at age eight. It was his dream that she would play golf, a dream that was fulfilled, but one that he could not witness. He died when she was ten, without seeing her play golf competitively.
Jung was a golf prodigy. So much so that by age 13, she was travelling internationally on her own to play in golf tournaments, representing Bolivia. Her passport got tattooed with visa stamps from neighbouring South American countries, and the shelves of her room creaked under the weight of her numerous trophies.
Her father had made that shelf to house all the trophies that Jung won, but his work was inadequate — as the shelf, thoroughly packed with trophies, could not house the entirety of Jung’s collection. International trophies sit alongside local tournaments; Massive silver cups alongside brass plaques. However, her greatest victory was not a tournament. In fact it wasn’t a victory at all.
At the age of 13 Jung took part in the Copa Los Andes. It is the ultimate amateur competition between the countries that make up the South American Golf Federation and is the sublimation of the team game, the 'match play' modality and the competition through 36 daily holes, which combine to give the tournament a unique character. She was the youngest Bolivian member to play in the tournament, and she said that the tournament was pivotal to her learning to play in all conditions, something that served her well as she would play in gruelling conditions during her long and illustrious career.
Taylor wasn’t Jung’s priority when she looked for universities to play golf at; numerous D1 schools stood ahead of the Upland institution. But numerous D1 schools rejected the golf video-tape that Jung sent to them, using terms like, “You aren’t what we are looking for.” Terms that stung Jung. Chancing upon Taylor’s pamphlet one night in her room, and on seeing that they had a golf program, Jung sprung into action and emailed Golf Coach Cam Andry. He welcomed her into the program, albeit over FaceTime — unique to recruiting international student athletes.
Jung did not hit the ground running at Taylor though, as she struggled with friendships on the greens and off it — going through a tough first semester in the dorms. She felt herself shutting people out and becoming more withdrawn. The transition from the muggy, warm weather of Bolivia to the sharp, biting cold of the Midwest didn’t help. Thoughts of transferring to Northern Illinois University crossed her mind, but her parents and Coach Andry urged her to complete the year, and she complied — a decision she is thankful for.
Fall changed to winter, winter changed to spring and as greenery began to appear once again around Taylor, so did Jung blossom. “When spring hit, it was like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,” she said.
She clicked with her teammates, her roommate Rachel Coers transferred in and immediately bonded with her, and a trip to Nashville helped the fledgling friendships deepen.
While at Taylor, Jung competed in 51 events, garnering 15 victories and numerous accolades such as being named to Arnold Palmer Cup Watch List, WGCA First-Team All-American and NAIA All American as she leaves as arguably the most decorated women golfer at Taylor.
A fitting end to this chapter of Jung’s life, is captured perfectly by Colleen Hoover when she wrote, in what is Jung’s favorite book “It Ends With Us.” “Life is a funny thing. We only get so many years to live it, so we have to do everything we can to make sure those years are as full as they can be.”