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Choi Na-yeon Wins 1st LPGA Title at Samsung Worlds

Posted September. 22, 2009 07:59,   


Choi Na-yeon yesterday won the LPGA Samsung World Championship in San Diego with a final round score of one under-71 and 16 under-272 overall, beating Ai Miyazato of Japan by one shot.

The 21-year-old South Korean won her first LPGA Tour victory on her 55th try plus 250,000 U.S. dollars in prize money.

○ Rollercoaster ride

She started the final round with a two-stroke lead, and birdied the second and fourth holes. She then shot an eagle on the sixth to open a seven-stroke lead and looked to win easily, but began to falter.

Choi bogeyed the ninth to 11th holes. Miyazato, who was playing in the group right before Choi’s, birdied the 12th to cut Choi’s lead to one stroke.

Feeling the pressure, Choi had three putts on the 15th and allowed Miyazato to tie for first. Choi then fell a stroke back on the 16th, and seemed to be headed for yet another choke in the final round.

○ Dramatic finale

With a one-stroke lead over Choi, Miyazato attempted a two on 209 yards from the cup on the 18th, only to see the ball fall into a lake before the green. After receiving a mulligan, she put her ball on the green on her fourth shot but failed to sink a five-meter putt for par for a bogey.

This allowed Choi a chance to win. She hit a powerful drive and placed her ball 193 yards from the pin. She attempted a two on but lowered her head after thinking her ball had moved to the left.

Fortunately, the ball fell onto the fringe just before the green. With the ball only 12 yards away from the cup, Choi took out her putt instead of wedge to roll the ball, but the ball traveled shorter than intended due to her nervousness.

Her ball was only 1.5 meters from the cup, and she sank a birdie after struggling with her putting all day. The ball fell into the cup after rolling momentarily on the green.

○ Overcoming lack of confidence

Choi made unchecked strides while competing as a youth and professional in Korea. She made her U.S. debut as a candidate player last year, but took part in all LPGA tournaments thanks to good performances early in the season. She always kneeled right before clinching victory, however.

She blew a four-stroke lead with only four holes to go at last year’s Evian Masters’ Championship, losing in a playoff. She also lost Rookie of the Year honors to Yani Tseng of Taiwan.

Choi finished in the top 10 at nine LPGA events this season but far behind the leaders. She tied for first in the final round of the Master Card Classic in March, but finished five strokes back.

She shot an average of 70.7 this season, but her average of 71.7 in the final round showed her lack of toughness late in a tournament.

Declaring independence from her parents, who had always accompanied her, she went solo beginning with the LPGA Corning Classic in May. She rented a home near the golf course at tournaments for a week after advancing into the U.S., and played in LPGA tournaments with her parents’ support.

Her father was her driver and her mother always prepared meat dishes and soups for their very finicky daughter.

Though becoming independent, Choi said she feels more tired since she has to handle everything alone, but grew more mature. “I often hear from people around me that (I’ve) become more mature,” she said.

She improved her mental strength and self-confidence through a sports psychologist who also helped Miyazato and Suzann Pettersen.

Choi came under immense mental pressure after her three straight bogeys and loss of the lead to Miyazato, but regained focus in time to clinch victory.