USC's Chen gives mother special gift with NCAA title
TULSA, Okla. – When it became clear that USC's Doris Chen would be crowned this year’s NCAA champion, Yuh-Guey Lin ducked behind a tree and started pumping both fists. Never have the words “Fight On” seemed more appropriate. Lin might have run out onto the green like the rest of her daughter’s teammates if she had the energy.
Although the Trojans lost to Duke by two strokes, Chen’s victory was a special gift.
At last year’s NCAA Championship, Lin told USC coach Andrea Gaston that she feared something was wrong with her health. She asked Gaston to make sure her daughter graduated and requested that she look after Doris.
Lin soon was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer, though she never smoked. Didn’t even cough. Chen said her mother delayed surgery the week of last summer’s U.S. Amateur Public Links because she “assumed” that would be the last time she’d get to see her daughter play.
PHOTOS: Women's NCAA Championships (Final Round)
View images from the final round of the 2014 Women's NCAA Division 1 Championships at Tulsa Country Club.
“I put a lot of burden on myself,” Chen said. “I felt very stressed about life and her.”
Lin left the U.S. Women’s Amateur in Charleston, S.C., last August to undergo an operation in which doctors removed her right lung. Lin’s sister and niece flew in from Taiwan to stay with her. For two months, Lin endured chemotherapy and is now cancer-free.
“The doctors saved my life,” Lin said. “I can see Doris graduate.”
Lin flew from her home in Bradenton, Fla., to Tulsa where, for the first time since Chen's runner-up finish in the Women's Amateur Public Links, she watched her daughter play. She rode around in a scooter, quietly keeping tabs on her only child. Lin wore a Trojans T-shirt adorned with the school slogan “Fight On” in big letters across the front. She weighs a mere 106 pounds now, 50 pounds lighter than last year’s NCAAs.
“I can play tennis with you,” said Lin, stretching her arms. “Maybe not run around.”
Chen won the 2014 NCAAs with bookend 67s. She drained several birdie bombs on the front nine in the final round and turned in 31. Her only hiccup on the day came on the 11th hole, when her normally deft short game temporarily short-circuited.
Although Chen shows little emotion on the golf course, USC coach Andrea Gaston said she has had difficulty closing tournaments. Not today.
“Her composure was huge,” Gaston said.
The deliberate player also picked up her pace this week, giving her less time to over-think. She edged Duke’s Celine Boutier by two strokes.
Annie Park calls Chen the funniest person on the Trojans team, and that statement will come as a surprise to those who aren’t in the inner circle. Apparently she’s as good at tossing out one-liners in the team van as she is at being flatlined on the course.
Gaston said it was Chen who first called her about coming to USC. Chen’s father, a professor of science and back in Taiwan, dreamed of his daughter going to university in America. When Chen was 12, she and her mother moved to Bradenton, Fla., to attend the David Leadbetter Academy.
“As a child I didn’t think how much it would cost my parents,” Chen said of leaving Asia.
It was in Tulsa at the Fall Preview, that Sophia Popov first learned of Chen’s mother being ill. Chen didn’t talk much about it. Gaston called her a loner and said if she wanted to know how Doris was handling her mother’s cancer, she had to ask.
In the absence of serious talks, the team tried to help Chen in other ways by keeping it light.
“Deep down it took a lot out of her,” Popov said.
The time without her mother forced Chen to mature. Gaston praised her for becoming more responsible, showing up to meetings on time and taking care of herself. Her grades also improved.
Chen is an exceptionally hard worker. She’s nearly always the last one to finish practicing. The week of finals, Popov said Chen was out practicing both morning and afternoon.
“I was thinking ‘What is this girl doing?’ ” Popov said.
Friday’s big win was for all those times when the rest of the Trojans were ready to go to dinner, only to wait on one last range ball or practice putt from Chen.
When Popov and the rest of the team chased Chen around the 18th green pouring bottles of water over her head, the first thing out of Chen’s mouth was, “Did we win?”
In more ways than one.