Choi walks like a champion at Sebonack

Na Yeon Choi with the U.S. Women's Open trophy at Blackwolf Run.

Na Yeon Choi with the U.S. Women's Open trophy at Blackwolf Run.

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – The comparisons between Inbee Park and Na Yeon Choi flowed Tuesday morning in the big white press tent situated across from Sebonack Golf Club’s majestic clubhouse.

Both players are quiet and reserved on course, but between them, they own three of the past four LPGA major-championship titles. While Park could continue toward a grand slam with a victory at Sebonack, it’s Choi who defends this week.

Choi’s most notable progress may be in the interview room. The 25-year-old has blossomed in the past two years, strengthening her English skills and displaying growing comfort in front of the media. But after a U.S. Women’s Open victory a year ago at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., Choi has followed with six top 10s in 24 subsequent starts, including a victory at last year’s CME Titleholders. Most importantly, she’s no longer labeled the best player without a major championship victory.

Yet to win in 2013, Choi points to the little signs of progress, like a closing 66 at last week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. It bumped her to 17th on the leaderboard, a number that’s much less important than the sheer number of strokes it took her to get it in the hole on Sunday. The bottom line is that Choi has a good vibe to take into the start of Women’s Open week.

“I just felt the last couple of weeks I got a lot of pressure on myself,” Choi said.

This week, as she works to defend the title, Choi said she’ll try to “be more of a champion all week.” That means strolling Sebonack with good posture, being confident and having fun.

Choi mentioned controlling her emotions several times on Tuesday, and is trying to channel the good vibe she took into Blackwolf Run a year ago – even more importantly, perhaps, the good vibe she took home. They key to a USGA event, Choi explained, is being patient through all 72 holes, and realizing that sometimes a bogey is perfectly acceptable. In recalling Choi’s 2012 Women’s Open victory, her third-round 7-under 65 can’t be overlooked. It was three shots lower than any other player managed to put up that week at beastly Blackwolf Run.

In recent weeks, Choi has observed her competition, too, and how they carry themselves. Champions often run in packs, and Choi and Park, friends off the course, recently spent a week together at Choi’s Orlando, Fla., home. Choi did the cooking – kimchi soup and Korean barbecue – but the two also played tennis and bowled a few frames.

“I tried to find out how she practices or ... what kind of emotions she has,” Choi explained when asked for an inside look at the shy Park. “I think everybody knows that she has a great short game, a good putter, and she’s very consistent player. But I think also she travels with her fiance, and I think she’s really comfortable with her life right now. I think she’s very happy. She never thinks negatively. Everything is thinking positively.”

That happiness would be an easy thing to covet, but for Choi, it’s easier to replicate. Choi charts her own career path and her own life path.

“I think I know what I have to do, and I love to do my job,” Choi said.

That makes it easy to walk like a champion.

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