Roxbury Golfer James Chung Gets Call to Take Part in U.S Senior Open

By Steve Sears

Roxbury resident, James Chung, lived the dream of his lifetime in June. 

Chung had qualified as a first alternate for the 42nd U.S. Senior Open golf tournament at Saucon Valley Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. On arrival early in the week, he was told that, if one of the current golfers taking part were to withdraw for any reason, he would be called to take their place.

On the morning of June 23, he suggested to his caddy that they head to the chipping green for Chung to warm up, just in case the above transpired. It did. 1996 U.S. Open champion, Tom Lehman, started experiencing back trouble, so a United States Golf Association representative phoned Chung, whose son had his phone. “He called, I missed the call, and then he texted me, and then called me again. So, I almost missed a golden opportunity if I wasn’t paying attention.”

Chung, 51, would join forces with two golfing greats, 1998 Masters and U.S. Open title winner, Mark O’Meara, and 2001 U.S. Open champ, David Duval. “When he (the USGA rep) told me who I was playing with, I was kind of speechless, but at the same time I thought it was pretty cool. I’m playing with big time guys and it was my first major tournament. I’d never qualified for something like this. I wasn’t nervous; I was more excited and anxious.”

Chung initially wasn’t interested in golf. “Growing up, I was always into different sports. I played football for Roxbury and Mount Olive high schools, and baseball, too. After my education and as an athlete, you want to do something. My dad asked me, ‘Why don’t you try golf?’ and I said, ‘Not really.”

However, Chung headed with his dad one Sunday to a nearby course to play 9 holes of the sport. It hooked him. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” Chung says with a laugh. “But I fell in love with it right after nine holes. It was funny, because at the time I owned a business, and I said to my wife, ‘You know what? I want to be a professional golfer one day.’ And as things happened, I had an opportunity to pursue my golf career. I became a golf professional five years after I started playing.”

Age 25 at the time, Chung’s first job was as an assistant golf pro at Florham Park’s Brooklake Country Club, but his eye was on the future and seriously competing. “As a golf professional, you’re always looking to enhance or get your game better, and you’re always trying to qualify for this or qualify for that. Ultimately, every golf professional is looking to hit the big stage.” Chung put his dream on hold while his children were young, but when his daughter was wed and his son headed off to college, he honed back in on his dream. “I could refocus on trying to play the game and maybe possibly make a living out of it for the next 10 to 15 years as a professional golfer.”

On the 23rd of June, the hour before his tee time went quickly. “We teed off at number 10, which was our first hole on Thursday, and there was a big crowd.” O’Meara was first at the tee, and then Chung stepped up. “I hit a good drive, and then I hit a good second shot and two putter for my par, and I turned to my caddy and I said, ‘Rob, bro, I just scored a par on my first hole of a U.S. Senior Open!’ It was a great feeling. Obviously, I wanted to continue that, but it didn’t work out the way I wanted to, but the whole experience itself – it was incredible.”

After their final hole the following day, Chung thanked Duval and O’Meara for the opportunity to play with them, and they did likewise, wishing him well for the future. Chung and O’Meara also chatted about things non-golf related. “It was a fantastic experience,” Chung adds. “And I think it’s safe to say, for someone like me who’s been trying to play, trying to break through again and again, I don’t expect this to be my last one. I’m going to obviously pursue and keep playing and try to get into the U.S. Senior Open and more as time goes on. And there’s all the guys out there that are club pros or golf professionals. I think I’m a good representative in regards to, ‘Hey, look, if I can do it, I think you guys can do it, too.”

 

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