Choi growing more comfortable on LPGA

Na Yeon Choi during the Canadian Women's Open.

ROGERS, Ark. – Na Yeon Choi missed the first cut of her LPGA career in June at the LPGA Championship. Crying in her hotel room Friday night, Choi was told by her mother to go to the grocery store and buy some eggs. Then, mom told her to throw them.

Choi did as she was told, hurling eggs at the walls of her hotel kitchen until she felt the anger release. 

“Then I cleaned it up,” she said.

This fantastic glimpse into Choi’s personality is even more remarkable, given the relative ease in which she told the story – in English. Sitting on a bench in the lobby of Pinnacle Country Club, Choi carried on a conversation without the aid of an interpreter, speaking with a newfound confidence. Choi never once apologized for her English; she simply trekked on when a word escaped her. How refreshing for media and fans alike who hope to learn more about the No. 6 player in the world.

Choi left Rochester after the egg episode and headed to the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. During a practice round, she named each target aloud to her caddie, narrowing the focus of her mind. She’d even mentally change the color of the flag, her concentration was so intense. Choi shot 64 in the first round and beat several Kims in a playoff for her third LPGA victory. She didn’t finish outside the top 3 for the next four events.

“Last year, every day I had a goal,” Choi said. “But I forgot this year. This year, I only think about the result. Everyone knows I can’t control result. I can only control how I get to result.”

Choi’s mental game plan can be credited to Vision 54 gurus Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. The pair began working with Choi the week of the Samsung last year, and by Sunday she was holding a trophy. The way she conveys what’s going on inside her head can be credited to the Language Training Center, which tutors players early week during domestic events.

Players pay $1,000 for 20 hours of training. The service began last June in Springfield, and 20 players now have signed up for the program. Five joined this week, including veteran Korean Mi Hyun Kim, who is near the twilight of her career. Most of the students are Koreans hoping to better their English skills. Rookie Beatriz Recari and Shanshan Feng are learning Japanese while Vicky Hurst is improving her Korean.

Martin George, president of the Language Training Center, teaches players to listen for key words or inflections that will help them anticipate where the conversation is headed. The goal is to make their conversational English more authentic. This is not a glorified grammar class.

“They want to be who they are in Korea, here,” said Erica Tomasik, who, like George, has worked nonstop in the player dining area this week. Choi came in for a session after her pro-am round on Wednesday. She tries to schedule two to three hours each week when the tutors are in town.

There’s a vast difference between listening to an interpreter relay a very personal story in English and hearing the player tell the same story in her own voice, the emotions dripping from her words.

Choi felt an immense amount of pressure last year as she reached the end of a second season with no victories. Korean media, friends, family, sponsors – seemingly everyone – pestered her about the drought. 

At Samsung, Vision54 offered a freeing concept: “Hey, Na Yeon, you can’t control a win.”

She took the little blue booklet they gave her and created a diary of emotions and discoveries. Choi remembers clearly the night her childhood dream came true. When the commotion and applause around the 18th green in San Diego was over, Choi was surprised by what came next.

“Everybody left,” she said. “I was back in my room alone.”

Her Vision54 coaches called the next day and told her that she needed to make another goal.

Several weeks later, Choi gave winning another shot. Now, playing in front of her family and friends in Korea, Choi won her second LPGA title, and enjoyed a celebration dinner in the clubhouse that was 40-strong. 

From throwing eggs to throwing parties, each story Choi told revealed more about a player whom many think could rule this tour one day but know very little about. Thankfully, that’s beginning to change.

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification