Jul
10
2012
NYC survives and conquers at US Women’s Open
By Stephanie Wei under LPGA

It's a beautiful day for NYC

For those wondering why I didn’t cover the U.S. Women’s Open, please see the explanation at the bottom of the page. Since I wasn’t there–and truly wish I had been–I’ll leave most of the commentary on the tournament to my colleagues who were. 

Heading into the final round with a six-shot lead, Na Yeon Choi was lapping the field and seemingly cruising to her first major victory at Blackwolf Run, the same venue where Se Ri Pak won the legendary ’98 U.S. Women’s Open in a playoff, inspiring thousands of girls in her native South Korea (and beyond, in my opinion) to pick up the game and sparking the popularity and rise of the dominance we’re seeing today on the LPGA.

 

Choi, known for her consistency and fluid swing, not to mention her awesome nickname, pulled her drive into the hazard on the 10th hole and ended up making a triple-bogey, cutting her lead over Amy Yang to just two strokes. She also hit poor tee shots on Nos. 12 and 13 that could have led to more large numbers and cost her the championship, but she had the golfing gods looking after her on this steamy Sunday, along with composure and clutch putting.

Like any tournament winner, NYC had her share of luck and good breaks to help her along the way, which GolfChannel.com’s Randell Mell reports in detail. 

Choi will be remembered for the resolute way she bounced back to win this U.S. Women’s Open.

“I think I had pretty good control of my emotions today,” Choi said.

That’s like saying Shakespeare had pretty good command of the English language.

Choi eloquently put on a clinic in how a leader ought to handle adversity when it strikes on the back nine of a championship.

That was as impressive as her nearly flawless 65 was on Saturday.

Choi will also be remembered, literally, for “The Bounce,” or “The Bounces.” She will be remembered for how her tee shot slammed into the rocks on the edge of the water right of the 13th green, how her ball fortuitously bounced once, then a second time, off those rocks before bounding safely just over the back of the green.

One bounce is lucky. Two bounces? That veers into questions of cosmic intent.

Choi improbably made par.

Her heart should have been in her throat watching her ball bound on the water’s edge, but she laughed when she saw where it ended up.

“When I had that happen, I looked at my caddie,” Choi said. “All the winners of a tournament, they had a little bit of luck. So, I thought, maybe today I had luck from that tee shot, and then that’s why I can win today.”

NYC didn’t just win, she dominated. She still won by four shots.

***

The best part of the story is the Se Ri Pak connection. When Choi was 9, she woke up in the middle of the night to watch Pak win this very championship. It inspired her to take up the game. She decided that she wanted to be standing where Pak was and hoisting the same trophy. 14 years later, she made it back to where it all began.

Does anyone not remember the ’98 U.S. Women’s Open? I mean, I even do (which says a lot considering I kept the amount of golf I watched to a minimum since I spent enough time playing the game). Quite vividly, too. We all thought Pak was done and amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn would prevail on the 20th playoff hole. I’ll never forget watching (on TV) Pak taking off her shoes and standing in the murky water to hit that incredible shot. I’m thinking back to the big moments I recall seeing as a kid. The other two were Jean Van de Velde’s epic choke at the ’99 Open and Greg Norman’s meltdown when he lost to Nick Faldo in ’96. But I digress.

Choi’s journey is a heck of a story. One that we can all relate to, regardless of nationality or gender. At least I know I can. Choi represents what makes our country so special and the principles it was founded on. It’s the land of opportunity (which doesn’t always work out for everyone, but that’s life), but that’s something I truly believe in and I’m grateful every day for the system that provided a path for my parents to immigrate and pursue better lives. Choi followed her dreams and practiced tirelessly to reach her goals. She chose and created her own destiny. There’s talent and some luck involved, but sometimes harder you work, the luckier you get.

***

Meanwhile, the dominance of the Asians, particularly the South Koreans, has caused controversy with some going so far as suggesting the LPGA limit the numbers of foreigners that play on the tour (which is appalling). From the time I’ve spent covering tourneys, which isn’t as many as I’d like, I can sense the resentment. Heck, it had already started when I was a junior golfer. I mean, it was in the early stages, but I remember the South Koreans were coming over and beginning to dominate. I think it’s mostly due to the cultural differences and the no-nonsense cutthroat approach and demeanor, particularly the (over)involvement of some of the parents, which isn’t limited to the South Koreans. However, American parents tend to back off once their kids are in their 20s.

Speaking of which, I was impressed to learn that several years ago, NYC had a talk with her parents and told them she needed her independence. She sent them back to South Korea, according to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel’s excellent, must-read piece:

Was she scared? Of course. She was still learning the two disciplines that were so important in her continuing maturation: golf and English. Being on her own in a different country would be challenging. There would be no mom and dad around to cook for her, help her pack/travel, or be there for her during the hard times.

But this was somebody who used to wrestle other kids in her neighborhood with the motto, “First to cry is the first to lose.” A natural athlete and very much her own person, Choi was ready to captain her ship.

She sailed to the U.S. Women’s Open title Sunday, the first major championship for a thoughtful, intelligent, determined young woman who could very well win several big titles in her career.

“I said, ‘I think I need to be more independent, and I can learn something from independence,’” Choi said of the difficult conversation she had with her parents when she opted to go it alone in the United States. “I said, ‘Please trust me.’ “

Voepel makes a great point here, along with describing NYC’s concerted effort to learn English:

The danger for American audiences is that, unfortunately, they may see the Koreans as a monolith, instead of stopping to listen to or read the personal stories that make each of them unique.

Sweden’s Annika Sorenstam and Australia’s Karrie Webb dominated on the LPGA for years and they weren’t exactly the warmest, most open characters. Yet, that never turned into a point of contention. I understand it’s a numbers thing, but then there’s another factor that feels like the 800-pound elephant in the room. I said in this week’s PGA Tour Confidential: “It’s just that Annika and Karrie looked American, so people felt like they could relate to them better.” Sorry to break it to you, but that’s part of the issue. It’s human nature and it’s not wrong, per se — but it doesn’t mean we have to be closed-minded.

If we stopped for a moment and actually tried to learn about their individual stories instead of pigeonholing them as a group of emotionless and robot-like South Koreans–I’m not saying there aren’t ladies who really are simply boring, but that’s the case with any group of people–then maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to appreciate their accomplishments more and give them the credit that’s due (instead of calling it a “problem”).

Choi recognized that in 2010. She topped the LPGA money list and was winner of the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average but realized she really wasn’t known by American fans or media. And that mattered to her. She didn’t just want to be a foreign name on the leaderboard in the United States.

“I said to my dad, ‘I might need to really study English,’” Choi said. “He said, ‘Do whatever you want.’ So I said I would find an English tutor and travel with him a whole year.”

After she did a live post-round television interview Saturday, Choi got a text from her tutor complimenting her on how well she spoke.

“That makes me confident to speak English,” Choi said.

She should be — not only is her English very good, she’s also quite eloquent in her second language.

She spoke about how her parents initially wept and were a little angry when she told them she needed to go solo to grow as a golfer and a person. But not long after her “declaration of independence” in 2009, Choi got her first LPGA victory. She had won four times before that on the Korean LPGA tour, but the breakthrough in the United States was confirmation she had made the right decision.

I was impressed with how well she spoke English, especially in a live on-camera interview. I was told last year that she’d been working really hard on her English and it’s paid dividends. I heard her post-round interview on Saturday and correct me if I’m wrong, but she had hardly a hint of an accent and spoke more eloquently than a number of Americans.

And you can’t tell me that you didn’t walk away a fan after reading Voepel’s story.

*****

[*Aside: I've been asked (or attacked) by quite a few people why I wasn't in Kohler, Wisconsin, covering the U.S. Women's Open. In fact, it nearly dominated the comments section of this post. I expected some questions and I was going to explain when I properly congratulated Na Yeon Choi on her impressive victory, which deserved to be praised in a standalone piece. Silly me, I should know better and have gotten in front of this so-called controversy over why I wasn't at the women's major! Trust me, I wanted to be there and felt bad I couldn't swing it.

I'll quickly just say again that I would have loved to have been in Kohler, but it didn't pan out for several reasons. Believe it or not, I have to work within a limited budget (especially toward the end of the year) and I couldn't find a mainstream publication to send me. Driving from NYC to AT&T National and The Greenbrier (which I almost skipped, mostly for the same reasons) was much more economical. How can you help? Well, just keep reading WUP and if you know of companies that would be interested in becoming a sponsor of the site, please send them my way.

I don't discuss every detail of my life and job because, well, they're personal and no one wants to read about my trivial gripes and problems of running an independent website and working as a freelance writer-reporter, all of which is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. People jump to conclusions, which is inevitable and simply human nature, and it is what it is! I'm probably bordering on the line of over-sharing, but I'm finally heeding the advice of my family and close friends (and even strangers!) that I need to take better care of myself. As they say, you don't have anything if you don't have your health...

Thanks for your patience and understanding.]

(Photo by Getty Images/Elsa)