When Sun Young Yoo realized she had beat Angela Stanford by a margin of 3&1 to win the Sybase Match Play Championship, the first thought to cross her mind was her family.
“They have always supported me and I believe they are more [happy] than me right now,” Yoo said in slightly broken English.
Heading into the 17th, Yoo had a 2-up advantage. After Stanford’s approach came up just short of the green, she made an aggressive run for the hole, but missed. Yoo had knocked it to five feet. Stanford paused to think for a moment and then picked up Yoo’s ball marker to concede the hole, along with the match.
Yoo’s caddie, Kurt Kowaluk, picked her up for a fittingly large victory hug. Jiyai Shin and Amy Yang, who had been watching, stormed the green to shower Yoo with bottles of Dasani water. (Apparently they couldn’t find beer or champagne.)
As the ladies embraced and celebrated, a woman was pushing her way through the crowds to join. In between tears, she said, “Excuse me, that’s my sister.”
This win was particularly special.
Ja-Young Yoo, 27, has been on the road with Sun for the past month. The two share a special bond, like the kind twins sometimes have. When Sun has a bad dream, it’s an omen that someone close to her has experienced a trouble — even if it’s just that her dog is sick.
While Sun was playing at the Tres Marias Championship in Mexico last month, Ja-Young, who taught English in Korea before moving to be with Sun, was in a terrible car accident that almost took her life.
“[Sun] had a really bad dream the same date,” Ja-Young recalled. “She cried all night and couldn’t focus. She never calls me when she’s out of state, but that day she called me from the locker room to see if I was okay. At that point, I’d just gotten out of the accident and I wasn’t fine, but I told her I was. Later [that night] I told her the truth and she had missed the cut.”
Koreans believe when people experience misfortune, their luck will change and something positive will be gained.
“It’s like karma, you know, but opposite karma, I guess,” Ja-Young explained.
Prior to Sunday’s special win, her best finish was T2 at the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship, where she lost in a three-way playoff to Jiyai Shin, whom she beat in the semifinals on Sunday morning. Interestingly enough, Stanford was the third player in the playoff. On her way to the winner’s circle, she knocked off four top-ten seeded ladies — Cristie Kerr (5), Yani Tseng (4), Shin (1) and finally Stanford (10).
Other than getting some help from karma, the match play format helped her mental game. “Actually, I felt really comfortable out there. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t nervous too much,” Sun said. Her caddie, Kurt, might have an answer for her.
“When [Sun] would hit a bad shot, she could put it behind her, like ‘Screw it. It’s over, let’s go to the next shot,’” Kurt told me. “It was match play so her score didn’t matter and she wasn’t thinking about where she stood, which made her more comfortable. In stroke play, she always knows her score in her head — whether she’s two-over or five-under.”
Sun credits the win to her sister’s trauma. “[Ja-Young] almost traded her life for my win,” she said half-jokingly.
Perhaps karma and a good mindset both contributed. Either way, it’s a fantastic victory, not to mention a poignant story.
[Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images]