By Tom Pilcher
LONDON (Reuters) - When British Open leading amateur Jin Jeong took coach Trevor Flakemore to a tree on the first fairway at their golf club in Melbourne a few years ago the Australian realized he had a special talent on his hands.
In a small hole, halfway up the trunk, was a ball. Jin had managed to lodge it there as night closed in after an hour-and-a-half of trying.
"If a part of his game needs some work, he'll go down and do drills for five hours. Tell the other kids to do it and they'll be there for five minutes," Flakemore told Reuters by telephone after South Korean Jin took the silver medal as top amateur at St Andrews last month.
"I had to stop him practicing at times," added the engaging Australian.
Flakemore, 53, has coached Jin since the South Korean was 15, even giving him a home when the company that had taken the youngster to Australia at the age of 13 folded.
Jin cut a dashing figure around the treacherous links layout at the 150th anniversary British Open, trading blow for blow with some of the world's finest and even signing off with an eagle two at the picture-perfect par-four 18th.
"We certainly believed he would get there eventually but the last month has been meteoric," Flakemore told reporters after bursting into his young charge's final-day news conference with tears in his eyes.
Flakemore, who even caddied for the South Korean at the Old Course, said he felt like a surrogate father to Jin.
"I sort of feel that way, yeah. He spends a lot of time with us and with our kids. It's great," he said. "He's a remarkable young bloke."
Jin has lived in Melbourne for four years and has permanent residency, living with his mother and sister while his father is in South Korea working for a building company.
Despite talk of becoming an Australian citizen, Flakemore said Jin and his family had decided he should play for his native country to focus on his burgeoning reputation there.
He is clearly a hit with the fans already.
Flakemore recalled the pair's conversation on the final fairway at the Open, and Jin's nerves as he faced memento-seeking youngsters.
"Walking up 18 Jin said: 'What do I do? Do I wave my hat?'
Flakemore replied: "I don't know mate, I've never been here."
The generous Jin gave away his towel and golf balls at will before Flakemore intervened.
"I told him: 'They'll be asking for your pants if you keep giving stuff away. Just stop'," Flakemore said.
As a teen-ager, Jin, who started golf at around the age of 11, spent hours in front of a computer studying his swing, Flakemore said.
"He now very much plays with feel and imagination, and that's his skill now, being able to picture shots."
Jin gained confidence from rounds with Asia's first major winner and compatriot Yang Yong-eun at the Scottish Open the week before the British Open, and time spent with other major winners such as Davis Love III at St Andrews.
"Jin's always worried about how far he hits it, he thinks he's short (off the tee). He hit it past Davis Love, and then he played with Yang at the Scottish Open too, and he put on his Facebook that he hit it past Yang.
"He put: 'It's the happiest day of my life'," Flakemore said.
Jin's U.S. Masters debut next April, having gained inclusion for winning the British amateur, may well top that but he will have many other goals for the future, including turning professional after 2011's first major at Augusta.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)