Baldry: Sun Young Yoo shows off great personality

Sun Young Yoo celebrates after winning in a playoff during the final round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

MOBILE, Ala. – Today I played in my first LPGA pro-am. For years I’ve heard commissioners hail the LPGA pro-am as one of the best experiences in all of sports. Where else can someone compete side-by-side with a professional athlete for more than four hours? What’s more, they say, LPGA players are incredibly fun.

My pro: Sun Young Yoo, the 2012 Kraft Nabisco champion. After Yoo’s Sunday evening interview in Palm Springs, Calif., I wasn’t sure what to expect from the seemingly quiet Korean. Yoo emerged victorious after a whirlwind finish at the Kraft and looked somewhat shocked as she sat with a mic in her hand, bundled up in the champion’s robe. Most of the media in the room, including this scribe, didn’t know much about Yoo. Heck, we barely watched her play much golf that week.

When the media see Yoo’s name atop the leaderboard, they ask themselves the same questions amateurs do when they draw Yoo as a pro-am partner: How good is her English? Will she engage?

Yoo probably had no idea she’d wind up with three members of the media in the Wednesday pro-am. Can’t think of a better opportunity to put the LPGA’s product to the test.

• • •

I arrived at Magnolia Grove at 6:15 a.m. The last time I was at a tour site that early was the 2007 Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews. Pretty sure I went back to sleep after Nikki Garrett hit the first tee shot at 6:30 a.m.

Our group was a touch late to the tee, and it was sheer coincidence that rules official Doug Brecht showed up moments after we arrived. Half expected him to toss us a couple of penalty strokes. We were, after all, setting the day’s pace off No. 10.

At this LPGA pro-am, “par is your friend,” which means it’s impossible to make anything higher than par. The format is a scramble, and the pros play right alongside the amateurs.

The beauty of this format is that the professional is highly involved in every shot. She’s not off to the side preparing for Thursday’s round. She’s the captain of this team in every sense of the word.

First observation: Yoo is funny. Her command of the English language is so good, she can banter with ease, a trait that goes far in these male-dominated events.

The rest of our foursome consisted of two local TV personalities from the NBC affiliate – sportscaster Lance Crawford and anchorman Greg Peterson – and their buddy, Chuck Vann.

Yoo showed her lighter side early on when she got down on her knees and knocked in a short birdie putt on No. 11 (our second hole) with the grip end of her putter – cue-stick style.

When Vann found the water on the par-3 14th, Yoo’s Aussie caddie, Adam Woodward, nicknamed him the “Bass Assassin.” Woodward, a 15-year veteran on the LPGA, struck up conversations with everyone in the group, helping to create a relaxed atmosphere. His yardage book also was quite handy. Journalists, of course, shy away from even simple math.

It wasn’t until our eighth hole that someone offered the first Yoo pun of the day. Crawford didn’t follow Yoo’s instructions on a 20-foot birdie putt.

“Didn’t trust me,” she said, shaking her head.

Crawford responded with the day’s motto: “I believe in Yoo.”

The back nine was a blitz of birdies, thanks to Yoo’s iron play. She also chipped in for eagle from 45 yards with a 58-degree wedge.

Crawford plans to give Yoo a shout-out on his sports segment tonight during the 6 o’clock show. He hadn’t touched a club in two years but had a blast with Yoo, who offered alignment tips. The laid-back atmosphere of the pro-am round is a microcosm of this entire tour. It’s “Different Out Here,” the LPGA message claims, because the players are so personable.

Yoo drained a 25-footer for birdie on the last hole to give our team a 16-under 56 at the Crossings Course. It was the perfect ending to a memorable round of golf.

Yoo rocked.

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