Featured Golf News
Se Ri Pak inspired a whole generation of South Korean women golfers following her victory in the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open. But the players who followed Pak have taken her lead and done pretty well on their own.
The latest to proof is Na Yeon Choi, who in a dominating performance won the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open by four strokes. Choi’s victory came at the same place of Pak’s influential title 14 years ago – Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis.
Off the strength of a third-round 7-under 65 that gave her a six-shot margin entering the final round, Choi closed with a 1-over 73 to beat fellow South Korean Amy Yang. Choi’s 7-under 281 total and Yang’s 285 were the only under-par scores after 72 holes of the U.S. Women’s Open.
Perhaps most impressive was the way Choi rebounded after a triple-bogey eight on the par-5 10th hole, which brought Yang to within two strokes of Choi’s lead. Instead of folding, however, Choi birdied the very next hole and then a made great up-and-down from deep rough next to the green on the par-4 12th – the first of three straight pars – before birdies at Nos. 15 and 16 allowed her to cruise home for her first major title.
On Sunday evening, the 24-year-old Choi met with reporters and discussed the victory, the sixth in her budding career. She also became the fifth U.S. Women’s Open champion from Korea in the last eight years. With the win Choi moved up to second in the Rolex Rankings of the women’s top players; she’s now behind Yani Tseng and just ahead of American Stacy Lewis.
Here’s what Choi had to tell the media about her triumph and what it meant to follow in the footsteps of South Korea’s national golf hero, Pak, at Blackwolf Run.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the 2012 United States Women’s Open champion, Na Yeon Choi, who finished at 281, 7 under par, becoming the sixth Korean player to win the United States Women’s Open in the last 15 years. How good is this to have won this championship?
NA YEON CHOI: You know what, I think I couldn’t believe this right now. Maybe tomorrow in Korea I can feel something. But right now it’s the same as like usual day. I just want to say to all the volunteers and fans out there they supported me a lot, so that was helping me a lot and encouraging me. So I really want to say to all the fans and crowd out there they did a really good job, and one more thing, I think I was very calm out there. And I had a really good patience the last hole. I think I’m pretty proud of myself too.
MODERATOR: How did you keep your patience on the 10th hole? How did you remain calm? Out of all the wonderful birdies you had this week, people still want to know what happened on No. 10. First of all, what happened on your tee shot?
NA YEON CHOI: I think my swing was a little quick, so my ball started to the little bit left. And then the wind from off right to left, so ball moved to the left. And then my ball carry over the hazard left side. So I had one hazard and I got a couple of missed shots, and I had the triple bogey on 10. That moment maybe I thought I might screw up today, but I thought I needed to fix that. I can do it. So I tried to think what I have to do. So my decide is I have to talk with my caddie. So I started to talk with my caddie about just like what airplane tomorrow, or about the car or about the vacation.
MODERATOR: Anything but golf.
NA YEON CHOI: Without golf. Not golf. And then I had a good result on 11. I made a birdie, and I had a good par on 12. After that I got really good vibes from there. And 13 I had a little bit miss to the right, but after two bounce and ball kicked to the left from right side hazard, so I think I pretty good control my emotions today.
MODERATOR: Was there any point where you felt that this was your championship? Was there some point out there where you believed that you had won it?
NA YEON CHOI: I’m sorry. I couldn’t understand.
MODERATOR: Was there a particular time or one hole where you felt like I have won?
NA YEON CHOI: Actually, when I had birdie on 15 I thought I might be a winner this week. But on 17, after tee shot, my caddie said to me you can watch the leaderboard right now. And before that I didn’t watch leaderboard at all today.
MODERATOR: That was the first time. All right. We’ll take questions.
Q. What has Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott meant for your career? Your coaches, Pia Nilsson and Lynn Mariott, how important have they been for your career?
NA YEON CHOI: They always gave me good advice about really small goal. They said I need to have a small goal every day. And last night they text me. They were watching on TV, and they say like you did a good job on third round, but you have to play one more round. So it’s not done. So they said sometime you have to forget good day too. Sometimes you have to forget bad happen or bad result or bad day. But sometimes you have to forget good day too. And on Sunday will be another just new day. So just do what you can do and just focus on your game and have some small goal before you tee off, and just warm up. And warm-up is just warm-up. Don’t judge or compare about the swing. So when I read that text message, I had a really good feeling from them, and I have a really good confidence.
MODERATOR: Did you try to do the things they told you to do?
NA YEON CHOI: Yes. Actually, my swing coach flew here last night from Orlando, and then he was here, that really helped me today. And then sometime I had a really serious warm-up, but this week I never had the serious warm-up. And even today the warm-up was just warm-up. And I stretched my body and just hit a couple of shots and I talked to my caddie about what you did last night, and I talked to my swing coach about just like without golf things. So I had a really good warm-up today, and then I had a bogey on the first hole, but I still had a good feeling about my swing and game. So I think the confidence make good results today.
Q. You mentioned distracting yourself, speaking with your caddie after the 8 on 10. Is that part of your mental routine? Or do you have a mental routine for when you have a bad hole?
NA YEON CHOI: Yes, I have a mental coach. And they always say golf is five or six hours of sport. But I have to do only ten minute focus on game. The shot – when I hit the shot, it only takes like five seconds or seven seconds. And after shot, during the walk to the next shot, I have to switch off for my mental. So I just tried to talking with some fun thing or not golf or like some food, anything. I can talk with my caddie. And then when I go to the second shot area, I just turn on switch, switch on my turn on, and maybe focus like 100 percent coming, and then just switch off.
MODERATOR: Now everyone in the world will be doing that.
NA YEON CHOI: Yeah.
Q. Can you take us through your tee shot? I think it was 13, you get not one, but two lucky bounces on those rocks next to the water. Did you think you had the second lucky bounce?
NA YEON CHOI: I mean, I thought my ball going to – went to hazard. When I hit impact, I thought the ball was going to be start right. And then the wind doesn’t help for my ball to the left. Might got hazard. After the first bounce, even after the first bounce, I didn’t know that. But after the second bounce it was kicked to the left. And I had a good second shot area. So when I had that happen, I look at my caddie, and all the winners have won the 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.
Q. It looked like Se Ri Pak was on the 18th green and she might have even had a bottle of champagne to spray you with. How meaningful was that moment to you to have her there for that?
NA YEON CHOI: That was really appreciated what she did. And she say like – she say, hey, Na Yeon, I’m really proud of you. You did a really good job, and you was really calm out there. She talked to me a lot. And she was hugging me. That was -like 14 years ago I was only nine years old, and like when I was watching TV, my goal was like – my dream was like I just want to be there. And 14 years later I’m here right now, and I made it. My dreams come true. It’s an amazing day today, and like I really appreciate what Se Ri did and all the Korean players, they did. It’s really no way like I can be here without them.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk to your parents yet?
NA YEON CHOI: Not yet.
Q. Can you tell us about the shot on No. 12? What was that lie like, and did you consider taking a drop for an unplayable lie?
NA YEON CHOI: Yeah. You’re talking about third shot, right?
NA YEON CHOI: I had a pretty bad lie on 12. I almost thought like take an unplayable, but even if I take unplayable, it might get bad lie again. So me and my caddie, we decided we have to hit it hard and just get out from there, even doesn’t matter over the green or short of the green, doesn’t matter. We have to hit very hard from there. So I just tried to hit very hard, and then I didn’t expect my ball finish on the green. But there was a very surprising me. I just hit it hard and I just think about impact, but it kicked to the right and stopped very well. So I had really good par over there.
MODERATOR: That was a world class par. That really was. And it had a lot to do with you keeping your momentum going. I heard at one point your caddie said, okay, we’re going to drop it.
NA YEON CHOI: Uh huh.
MODERATOR: And he was pretty definite about it. But it seems from you telling your parents you wanted to live on your own and the way you handled playing your own game today that you have become a more independent person, making your own decisions and not letting your caddie make all the decisions.
NA YEON CHOI: I don’t know. That moment just I had confidence about that shot. That’s why I just trust my decision, and I just trust that decision and I hit, you know, hit the shot and I have good result. That’s why I got like double extra confidence from that.
MODERATOR: That was some par.
Q. Can you comment on how much you enjoyed the course or how difficult it was or how scenic it was? What were your thoughts about Blackwolf Run?
NA YEON CHOI: I think the course is pretty long and difficult. Yesterday and today it was getting firmer fairway and greens. So we have to ball landing exactly what we want. If not, we had – we might get like trouble. But like I think trust is a big thing. I just trust when my caddie gave me the number, and I just trust my swing and I just hit my swing, and then even good result – like even I had a bad result, I never judged about that. I just do to the next shot, think about next shot, and just do my best every shot. The course is pretty hard, but if I trust myself and I think always good results follow.
Q. You said yesterday that you still remember that feeling when you were watching Se Ri win back in 1998. How does that feeling compare to the feeling when you got to kiss the trophy today after you won?
NA YEON CHOI: I would like to say to myself I did a really good job today. Maybe like after No. 10 hole, I might get screw up myself, if I keep angry or frustrating. But I thought I need to fix that, so I was starting talk with my caddie. I asked him when are you going back to home or that kind. And then he tried to speak very confidently. He said, Na Yeon, just forget that 10th hole. We can do it. Just think about future, not past. Past is already past. So just think about future, and then we can do it. Then we started talking about some fun things. And that makes me feel a lot better. I had a birdie on 11, and he said you know, see, you can do it. He gave me a lot of confidence. So I really thankful what he did on the course.
MODERATOR: You birdied No. 11 every day. Has to be a favorite hole.
NA YEON CHOI: Oh, I didn’t know that, but it might be the favorite hole.
Q. I noticed you said before you enjoyed Tae Kwon Do. Do you do that? Or do you practice that or did you grow up doing that?
NA YEON CHOI: Before I started golf, yes, I was playing Tae Kwon Do. I went to Tae Kwon Do academy every day with my brother. I had a coach in there and he really want to make me like professional Tae Kwon Do fighter, but my father say you can’t do this. She’s going to play golf. When I started golf, I just quit the Tae Kwon Do.
Q. I know you’ve been asked a lot over the years about Korean players winning a lot, but this tournament in particular Koreans have kind of dominated in the last five years. Why do you think your compatriots do so well at the U.S. Women’s Open?
NA YEON CHOI: I don’t know. We just do practice hard and working hard and like – especially this week, the good memory, special memory gave me good confidence, like when I was young, when I watched Se Ri playing, I remember everything. I remember what she – how she playing on the course. When I came to here on Monday, I just – I think that feeling through my head or through my heart, something remind how I started playing golf. So I just reminded what is my goal or what I can do. That special memories or special feeling makes me strong or think about basic things.
So like this week I didn’t expect I can win this week. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I had no idea. I just do my best every hole, and even after second round, I didn’t expect how I playing this week or I want to win this week. But after yesterday – after third round, I thought like you know I might can win this week but I’m not going to try hard. Just do my best and keep the feeling when I was nine years old. I just want to – I really wish like 14 years later from now some junior golfer or some young Korean golfer say I watching on TV how Na Yeon playing 14 years ago and that was really inspire me. That’s all I want, really.
Q. Do you think Korean players outwork the rest of the world? Do you think Korean players work harder than the rest of the world?
NA YEON CHOI: I think – I can say like this. I think American parents or American people like to compliment. But Korean people like Korean parents sometimes talking too much or teaching too much, but I think Korean people get motivated from other people. Like we got some motivate, and we can bounce up more higher like for Korean players. So I think that was a little bit different Korean culture and American culture.
Q. What do you think about your parents now?
NA YEON CHOI: I haven’t talked with my parents yet, but I don’t know, maybe my mom was crying or my dad was crying. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure they really happy right now. And I’m going to Korea tomorrow, and I love to see my parents in the airport, and I really miss – actually, I feel really sorry for them, because they are not here right now. But I’m pretty sure they were watching on TV and they couldn’t sleep last night, and they supported me a lot. I really appreciate what they did.
MODERATOR: And you can take that with you.
NA YEON CHOI: Yeah.
Q. Can you tell us what you were thinking coming up the 18th fairway with a five stroke lead?
NA YEON CHOI: Well –
Q. What are you thinking as you come up to the last green?
NA YEON CHOI: I’ll tell you the truth. I think a lot of people know I don’t have any ceremony after a win. Like some player has like this or upper cut or that kind. (Gesturing) But I don’t have any ceremony, so I was thinking what I have to do after I made the putt. I mean, I think I was pretty nervous out there, so after I made the putt, I couldn’t do anything. I just – I was very happy, but I couldn’t do this thing. I don’t have confidence that – that’s not my personality, I think.
MODERATOR: That’s not you. You were being yourself.
Q. Tell us about your future plans.
NA YEON CHOI: I’m going to Korea tomorrow, and then I have one week of in Korea, and I may play one JLPGA tournament. And then I’m going to Evian. And then I’m going to London and I want to watch some Olympic Games in London. So I have a couple of days vacation in London. So I’m going to London, and then I might come back to Orlando maybe, August 2nd. And then I try to prepare for Jamie Farr tournament, what I won two years ago.
Q. You talked about having a lot of small goals. Is your long term goal to be the No. 1 world ranked player? Is that something you think about? Or is that something important to you?
NA YEON CHOI: You mean my goal?
NA YEON CHOI: Actually, my final goal maybe it will be final goal. My final goal is like I want to play Olympic 2016 and get some medal under the Korean flag. That is my biggest goal right now. I mean, I can be like No. 1 in the world or Player of the Year, but my biggest dream is playing Olympic 2016 and I want to get some medal from there. That’s why I want to go to Olympic this year and see what’s the feeling in there. I want to just feeling that.
Q. You mentioned your parents not being here. How long have you lived independently by yourself? And was that an important step for you to kind of grow as a person?
NA YEON CHOI: I had won 2009 from Samsung World Championship. Before that 2009, I think maybe it was in June, I told my parents I want to be more independent. I want you guys to go back to Korea and go there and relax and support me from there. And then that moment actually they were mad, and my mom was crying, because they did very hard working for me up to now. But I said I think I need to be more independent. I can learn something from independence. And then they left, and I was traveling by myself. And then after four weeks later, I won the Samsung Tournament and my mom and dad called me, like I knew you could do it. So look mom and dad, I really learned a lot of things from independence. I know what I have to do. I still practice hard and working hard. So like please trust me, and then when you were in Korea and support me, that was really helping me about my emotion. So after that moment, they live in Korea right now, until right now, and so that’s why they are not here right now.
Q. As you mentioned about your caddie help you so much, can we have his name? And when did he start to help you?
NA YEON CHOI: My caddie name is Shane Joel. He worked for Mark O’Meara, PGA Tour, Champions Tour. I think they worked like last seven years. And then this week is only the second week working with him.
MODERATOR: Your second week with him?
NA YEON CHOI: Yes. Last week we started together. And this week is the second week working with him.
Q. I wanted to ask you about a small incident on the 15th hole where you and Amy were sharing the same umbrella as you were walking down the fairway. That may seem like a small thing, but it was a nice show of sportsmanship. I wonder if that’s common in Korea? Are you guys just close friends? What would you say about that?
NA YEON CHOI: We were talking about my little puppy, because she saw my picture on the yardage book.
NA YEON CHOI: And she wanted to buy some dog too in Orlando. So she asked me about what kind of dog you have and how old is he. That kind.
MODERATOR: And he wanted to know are you close friends?
NA YEON CHOI: Yeah. I met her almost like 10 years ago. We grew up together in Korea. Then she went to Australia for I think high school. So I haven’t seen her like a couple of years, but I met him – I met her again in the LPGA tour. So we are good friends and she’s really nice. And we live in Orlando together – I mean, same – like close area. So sometime we can practice together or practice round together.
MODERATOR: And he also mentioned are the Korean players close to each other as friends?
NA YEON CHOI: I think so. Especially around my age has a lot of golfers on the LPGA Tour. Like Inbee Park, Jiyai Shin, Song Hee Kim, I.K. Kim, the same as me. We grew up together and we were on the same national team when we were young. I think we’re pretty close to each other.
MODERATOR: I’m amused when you say “when we were young.” You’re only 24.
Q. You said it meant a lot to you to work hard on your English. How hard was that and why is that important to you?
NA YEON CHOI: After I won the Vare Trophy 2010 and I finished No. 1 on the Money List, after that year I felt not many people know about me, especially American fans and American media. Then I talked to my dad, I might need to English study, study English. He said, do whatever you want. So I say, okay, I’m going to find an English tutor, and then I’m going to travel with him a whole year. And I found a good teacher, and I was traveling with him last whole year. And even when we had the dinner or when we had breakfast, I was talking English with him. So I think that helped me a lot for improving my English. And then even yesterday I did a live interview after play. And then my English tutor texted me, I watched it on TV, and then he gave me a lot of compliment. And that makes me confident to speak English. So I think I need to keep studying English, but right now I am really happy to I can speak with the American people.
MODERATOR: We’re very happy you can speak to us too. And you speak so very well. Na Yeon Choi, whose favorite sports phrase is “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” And you did that today. Congratulations.
NA YEON CHOI: Thank you. (Applause).
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.