After his family moved to New Zealand when he was just nine years old, Baek, the son of a world judo champion, initially followed in his father’s footsteps.
“I was just beating up everybody,” says Baek. “So, my dad’s like, you’re not doing judo, there’s no way.”
Looking for another avenue to explore, Baek found the old Manukau Golf Club and after a few years of playing his family connected with coach Stuart Reese to help develop his skills further.
“We moved to New Zealand so I could study English, but as my golf started to get better my parents made the move north to Orewa so I could see Stuart more regularly and I started playing out of the old Peninsula Golf Club.”
Baek represented North Harbour at youth level and made the New Zealand team to play in America at the Junior Worlds in 2008. This opportunity proved to be a catalyst for another move for the Baek family as Todd was recruited to join the College system on a golf scholarship.
“I was very lucky to have parents who were very supportive of my golf. Moving across a city is one thing, but to pack the family up and move across the world is a huge decision and one I’m extremely thankful for. We moved to Los Angeles originally but that wasn’t for me, then on to Las Vegas where my cousins were living but that was too hot for golf, so finally we settled in San Diego.
“I am so very thankful to my parents and family for everything they did for my career. All the advice, support and even my dad carrying my bag for the first few years. It all helped me become more mature mentally and physically.”
Baek attended San Diego State University and played College Golf for his University. His game developed enough for him to make it onto the Nationwide Tour (now known as the KornFerry Tour).
After four years in the States, Baek started playing on the China and Asian tours which he says was motivated by being able to visit his family who had moved back to Korea.
“Playing on the Asian and Japan tours makes it so much easier to be able to visit mum and dad and the family. I found out later that they didn’t really like America, but they moved here as it provided me the best opportunity to make it as a professional.”
Baek still has connections to New Zealand, including his best friend whose wedding he attended right before COVID back in 2019, and he keeps in touch with former coach Stuart Reese.
“Yeah, I’m still in contact, quite often he comes over to America, so we catch up here which is pretty cool.”
When asked about his motivation for playing golf at the highest level, Baek’s answer is simple.
“I actually finished last in my first junior tournament. That got me motivated to become a golfer because I knew I could do better, and I hated that feeling of finishing last.”
Baek’s connection with Millbrook and the New Zealand Open is a familiar one for aspiring players throughout the country but not one that is often told.
“One of my favorite memories of playing in New Zealand is making a hole-in-one to Monday Qualify for the New Zealand Open at The Hills back in 2007. It was pretty special, and being so young, it was quite an emotional ride.
“I remember the first pre-qualifying was at Manukau where I first started playing, so I knew the course well, but didn’t have too many expectations being that young. But I made it through to the second round of pre-qualifying at Millbrook Resort.
“I was playing okay, but I knew they weren’t taking that many qualifiers. But then on the 16th I think it was, I made a hole-in-one and made it through on the number.
“I remember it was a beautiful hole with the hazard, I know it was a six iron, I do still remember that. I think it was around 180 meters with a downslope.
“It was definitely the biggest memory of my golfing career because I was so young and with no expectations whatsoever.”
Baek plans to spend a few extra days in New Zealand ahead of the 2023 New Zealand Open to catch up with friends, and he hopes they will make it along to Queenstown to watch him take on Millbrook Resort.
“I’ll try my best to win and play well, but I’m just super excited to go back where I grew up as a kid. New Zealand feels like home to me.”