Credit Ben Harpring Media
If golf presents any guarantee, it’s that it is a game of uncertainty. Specific outcomes are nearly impossible to control with a litany of factors out of a player’s power comparable to the number of reasons a golfer’s swing might be struggling that Tiger Woods rattled off in his 1997 “Golf’s Not Hard” Nike commercial
Yet in 2019,Jennifer Chang
surged through the uncertainty with consistent results to earn our AmateurGolf.com's Women's Player of the Year
. She won twice for USC, as the then-sophomore took home the Clover Cup and the NCAA Women’s West Regional. Then, Chang qualified her way into the U.S. Women's Open and made the weekend at the Country Club of Charleston. The momentum carried the Trojan to her LPGA Tour card through Q-Series, the tour's eight-round conclusion of qualifying school.
Since then, Chang’s game has turned from an even keel to an up and down endeavor, as the 22-year-old works to reinstate the approach from her 2019 amateur campaign for a more stable 2022 professional season.
“If I was able to accomplish what I did as an amateur,” Chang told amateurgolf.com, “I feel like if I could stick with that same process, I would’ve been much better off [as a professional] that way.”
Chang’s spring 2019 began with a key change in her mentality. She finished tied for 28th at the Pac-12 Preview, the second-worst finish of her USC career at that point, to close the fall. The North Carolina native took a step back and reflected on her process. She realized that when she expected herself to finish a particular hole with a specific result, such as a par 5 with a birdie, and ending up with a par, Chang would get frustrated, further compounding her need to post a birdie and result in an inconsistent score.
“Instead of going into each event trying to win,” Chang explained, “or to finish a certain way, I’m going to take it each day at a time and see where it leads me to. I feel like that’s where my success came in.”
Chang took over in the spring, with two wins and four top-six finishes in six starts. Her self-described best victory was at NCAA Regionals, then finished her amateur career with four consecutive top 10s. Chang played from the beginning of the LPGA's Qualifying Stage I in August, through Stage II, and into Q-Series in November. She finished tied for ninth, securing solid status for her rookie season on the LPGA.
“I figured going into the tour golf,” Chang said, “I would perform the same consistency that I had. Get some top 15 finishes; obviously, it's going to be harder, but in my mind, I'm like if you can keep this consistent play, you should be fine.”
The reality, however, proved less straightforward. Chang missed her first three cuts before the LPGA shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her best finish in 2020 ended up a tie for 42nd at the Cambia Portland Classic. The tour rolled her status over for 2021 due to the pandemic, and Chang opened her second year on a high note with back-to-back made cuts, including a tied-for-eighth finish at the LPGA Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala in March. Her patented amateur consistency at a high level fell dormant, as Chang didn't broach the top 30 again until the final start of the season in October.
“I think when you transition from amateur to pro,” Chang said, “no one can really explain to you what that’s like. People can tell you, oh expect this and this. You don’t really know until you go through it.”
Her lowest moment came after the LPGA’s European swing towards the end of the summer. Adjusting to tour life involved traveling weekly and having an unstructured schedule. Chang numbers, from scores to money earned to CME Points (what the LPGA uses to determine status for the following season), surrounded her instead of being surrounded by friends. Her self-defining scores panged through her head as she calculated what finishes she needed with a ticking-down schedule to retain her card for the next year.
While Chang's team helped remind her of her worth and that Chang's talent as a golfer earned her spot on the LPGA, she realized the missing ingredient between her amateur success and professional struggles was one of her least favorite parts of USC.
“To have that [homework] really helped me a lot,” Chang said. “That's what let me keep a balance between my life and everything separated from golf. It's so easy to get caught up in scores, money, all that stuff. I think a lot of players get lost in that. I think that's where I struggled, the last two years.”
Chang picked up hobbies so that she wouldn't focus solely on her scores off the course. Now, the 22-year-old paints, crochets, and relaxes watching Netflix. Chang enjoys watching anything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a rotating group of favorite films that she feels changes weekly (her top three as of our interview: Spiderman No Way Home, IronMan 3, and Thor: Ragnarok.)
Finding more balance in her life and returning to a focused two-hour practice session that she utilized as an amateur as opposed to self-mandated seven-hour grind sessions, Chang rediscovered herself at the end of the 2021 season. Instead of overcomplicating every minute detail, she played her game to a tied for 13th finish at the Cognizant Founder’s Cup and tied for 16th at Q-Series to hold onto her LPGA card for 2022.
“I think you just have to let everything happen,” Chang explained, “and as I said before taking it a shot at a time.
“I think that is truly the only method that works as far as when you’re trying to stay present.”