three birdies over the next six holes as Choi closed with a
73 to finish at seven-under 281, four clear of Yang and eight
in front of Sandra Gal. Only Choi and Yang finished under
par on a difficult Pete Dye layout in Kohler, Wis.
Choi’s caddie, Shane Joel, who once worked with Mark
O’Meara, was a key component in keeping her focused on
her mindset down the stretch. “After No. 10, I [was think-
ing] I might get screw up myself if I keep [getting] angry or
frustrated,” Choi said. “I thought ‘I need to fix that,’ so I was
starting to talk with my caddie [about things other than
golf]. I asked him ‘When are you going back home?’ ” she
said. “He said, ‘Na Yeon, just forget that 10th hole. We can
do it. Just think about future, not past. The past is already
past.’ Then we started talking about some fun things.”
When they did that the birdies followed.
In truth, Choi got some bounces that suggested fate wanted
this young woman who watched Se Ri Pak win the 1998
U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run on TV in South Korea
when she was 10 years old. The most fortuitous of her breaks
came on the par- 3 13th when her ball bounced off the rocks
on the edge of the water and she was able to save par. On the
previous hole she chopped her ball out of the deep, greenside
rough, bounced it through the fringe to 20 feet and made the
putt to save par. On No. 15, her tee shot danced around the
bunker. It is one thing to get breaks and another thing to take
advantage of them. That’s exactly what Choi did.
By winning her first major title—the fourth by a Korean in
the U.S. Women’s Open in five years—Choi might now shed the
label as the best player no one has heard of. Bouncing between
No. 2 and No. 4 in the Rolex Rankings all year, Choi has six
LPGA wins at age 24. She was second to Yani Tseng as rookie
of the year in 2008 and in 2010 won both the money title and
the Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. Still, she traveled
under the radar as Tseng piled up five majors.
Choi is one of more than a dozen Vision54 students on the
LPGA, including Gal, Suzann Pettersen, Ai Miyazato, Brittany
Lang, Brittany Lincicome, Giulia Sergas, occasionally Tseng
and, just recently, Michelle Wie. Nilsson and Marriott have
worked with Choi since 2009 at the suggestion of her Korea-based swing coach Robin Symes. When Choi is in the United
States, she works with instructor Kevin Smeltz.
salvaged par Sunday
at No. 5 (far left)
to keep the heat
on Choi at difficult
but Choi (left)
an unlikely par-save
from the tall stuff
greenside at No. 12.
“Last night they texted me,” Choi said about Marriott
and Nilsson. “They [said], ‘You did a good job [in the] third
round, but you have to play one more round.’ ” They told
Choi that not only do you have to put your bad rounds
behind you, you have to let go of your good ones as well.
“ ‘Sunday will be a new day, just focus on your game,’ ” Choi
said they told her. “When I read that text message, I had a really
good feeling from them, and I have really good confidence. “
Nilsson says Choi also shares with Sorenstam the at-
tributes of being a hard worker and a bit of a perfectionist
who can at times be too hard on herself. Modifying that
tendency is one of the things Choi has worked on with Nils-
son and Marriott. “She has gotten much better at manag-
ing post-shot reactions such as her body language between
shots and distracting, bad self-talk,” Marriott says.
Choi also has worked with Nilsson and Marriott on
becoming a more well-rounded person and creating some
independence from her parents, a battle fought by many
Korean players. “The last two years she has learned to take
a break from golf and have other interests,” Marriott says.
“She didn’t used to have any. One now is cooking Korean
food. We also did some coaching with her and her parents.
They have given Na Yeon space to be herself and manage
her own game. They are more in Korea instead of traveling
with her week after week.”
As with many of the 47 Koreans on the LPGA, the motiva-
tion to succeed for Choi came from Pak’s victory at Black-
wolf Run in 1998. “My dream was like I just want to be there,”
Choi said. “And 14 years later I’m here right now, and I made
it. My dreams come true.” And when that dream became a
reality, it was made all the sweeter because Pak was one of
those who sprayed her with champagne.
But that long quest may not have come true if not for that
calming walk down the 11th fairway and pleasant chat with
her caddie. Truly, this might well have been a major won between shots, and the steely woman who pulled that off might
just become the first Korean besides Pak to win multiple
majors. Choi is under the radar no longer. n