The game could so easily have fallen apart for newly crowned U.S. Women’s Open champ Na Yeon Choi after she lost her drive far to the left and into the hazard off the 10th tee. For sure, the 24-year-old South Korean seemed to lose focus and confidence after a lengthy discussion with rules officials about where the ball crossed the hazard, a discussion which resulted in her having to return to the tee for what was eventually a triple-bogey eight.
“That moment maybe I thought I might screw up today, but I thought I needed to fix that,” Choi told reporters about her quick loss of three strokes that briefly whittled her lead down to two over countrywoman and final-round playing partner Amy Yang. “I can do it.”
Thanks to what LPGA Hall of Famer and current NBC analyst Annika Sorenstam called “self-talk,” do it Choi certainly did, as she bounced back from the snowman with a birdie on 11, an improbable par after it appeared she would have to take an unplayable lie from deep fescue on 12. Choi then hit a tee shot on the 189-yard, par-3 13th that flirted with the water but miraculously stayed dry and ended up as a par.
In the end, Choi posted a final-round 1-over 73 for a week-long total of 7-under 281, and a four-stroke win over Yang for her first major title. After cruising to a 65 in Saturday’s third round and taking a six-shot lead into the last round, however, Sunday’s finale appeared to go off the rails on No. 10, at which point Choi’s resolve came into play.
“I tried to think what I have to do,” said Choi, who decided she would chat with her looper, Shane Joel, about anything but golf. “I started to talk with my caddie about just like what airplane tomorrow, or about the car or about the vacation.”
Choi’s strategy, which included forgetting both bad and good results to stay in the moment and not look forward to a victory she had yet to earn, was straight from the playbook of Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott; the Vision54 gurus who have worked with Sorenstam, world No. 1 Yani Tseng, and most recently, Michelle Wie, among other pro golfers.
Indeed, Choi said she had received a text Saturday night from the two, who teach an integrated physical, technical, mental, emotional, and social approach to the game.
“They said I need to have a small goal every day,” Choi said. “And last night they text me...and they say...’you did a good job on third round, but you have to play one more round, so it's not done.’”
Their advice: focus on each shot for no more than seven seconds, hit the ball, and “switch off” her brain by talking with Joel about “food, anything,” as she walked to the next shot. “I just turn on switch...and maybe focus like 100 percent coming, and then just switch off,” Choi said.
They also counseled Choi to treat Sunday like “just another new day,” she said. “Just do what you can do and just focus on your game and have some small goal before you tee off, and just warm up....So when I read that text message, I had a really good feeling from them, and I have a really good confidence.”
After stretching and hitting a few shots prior to the final round, Choi asked Joel about how he had spent the evening, talked with her swing coach about subjects unrelated to golf, and she was set to go.
“I think the confidence make good results today,” said the 2012 U.S. Women's Open champion.