CHARLESTON, S.C. – The most misunderstood player in college golf. That’s what Justin Silverstein calls Doris Chen, the icy SoCal player who, even in victory, looks like she’s lost in a trance.
Wait, didn’t she just win?
Silverstein thought the same thing until he joined the Southern Cal coaching staff and got to know the D-Train, as she’s often called. The running joke at the NCAA Championship in May was that Chen wore long-sleeved shirts to cover up her tattoo sleeves. The joke, of course, being that such a look is so far out of character for Chen that it borders on the absurd.
Silverstein said a closer inspection, however, would reveal that the 20-year-old Chen has a very dry sense of humor. She can banter. And when she pulls off a quality shot, she sometimes looks over at the USC assistant with a wry smile and a wink, as if to say “Now that was good.”
“If you’re in her inner circle she’s a completely different person,” Silverstein said.
Chen would’ve winked several times during her quarterfinal match against Lauren Diaz-Yi, a rematch of June’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship in which Chen lost epically, 10-and-9, in the final match.
This time, Chen took control with birdies on Nos. 7, 9 and 14 to dismiss Diaz-Yi, 4 and 3, on Friday afternoon at the Country Club of Charleston. Diaz-Yi felt Chen had the advantage since she came into the match no doubt feeling the need to redeem herself
“That fueled her fire,” said Diaz-Yi.
Chen learned from the WAPL disaster, saying she was mentally exhausted.
“I’m usually an over-doer,” she said.
USC coach Andrea Gaston referred to Chen’s freshman season as a time of “relentless practice.”
“C’mon Doris, we’re leaving,” was a common refrain.
Last year, however, Chen tamed down some, and focused more on her schoolwork. Gaston would sometimes get photos from an academic advisor of Chen working solo in study hall.
The Trojans ran away with the NCAA Championship last May and also scored the highest GPA, 3.61, in the school’s athletic department for the spring.
“We killed it in the classroom, too,” Gaston said.
Chen’s second year of college was a 180-degree change from the first year, Gaston said. She was more engaged with her teammates and had more fun. She’d even join them for dinner.
Part of the process for Chen was separating herself a bit from an intense mother whom she relied heavily upon. Yuh-Guey Lin wasn’t at every college event last spring. She wasn’t in the gallery in Charleston either.
Independence can do wonders for a young player.
Saturday’s match against Yueer Cindy Feng will mark Chen’s fourth semifinal appearance in a USGA event. She won the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior what seems like ages ago.
Gaston points to Chen’s consistency as key to her match play success, saying that she pars players to death.
Chen carries an enviable wedge game around the greens, and while she appears to be a very technical player, Silverstein said that other than visualizing the shot in competition, not much else goes through Chen’s head.
“She’s very mechanical in practice, but she can turn it off,” he said.
Just as she’s an over-doer, Chen can also be an over-thinker. She tries to remember what she loves about the game while on the course. The scenery, the atmosphere.
“I just love to swing the club,” she said, without the faintest hint of a smile.
Such is the paradox of Doris Chen.