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Golf: Choi Na-yeon relieves anguish with first LPGA title for two years

Choi Na-yeon's Coates Golf Championship win was her first on the LPGA since November 2012. Photos: AFP.

Choi Na-yeon’s Coates Golf Championship win was her first on the LPGA since November 2012. Photos: AFP.

February 1, 2015: Choi Na-yeon was sprayed with champagne by friends after winning the season-opening Coates Golf Championship in her home state of Florida, but the Korean admitted it was a far cry from the pressure and battered confidence she suffered while not winning an LPGA title for over two years.

 

Choi, 27, carded a four-under-par 68 at Golden Ocala Golf Club on Saturday to finish with a 16-under total of 272, one ahead of playing partners Lydia Ko (71) – who moved to World No. 1 at the age of 17 – and Korean rookie Jang Ha-na (70), as well as young American Jessica Korda (66).

 

Choi admitted she felt enormous relief at securing her eighth LPGA title, but first since winning the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship in 2012, the year the popular Korean won her first Major at the US Women’s Open.

 

“I’ve been through a lot between that moment and here, so I want to give some compliments to myself. It feels great,” said Choi, who topped the LPGA money list in 2010.

 

“I was happy to have champagne on my body and so many friends waiting for me on the 18th hole. It wasn’t easy to stay calm on the last hole because I was so nervous out there. I was waiting a long time for this moment, but finally I got it and I’m so happy, especially because my mom’s here.”

 

Choi, 27, was mobbed by fellow players and sprayed with champagne and water on the 18th hole.

Choi, 27, was mobbed by fellow players and sprayed with champagne and water on the 18th hole.

However, the former World No. 2 then explained the anguish of 26 months without a win, as her confidence diminished and her ranking dropped to 17 at the start of the current season.

 

“I think I had a lot of stress from the results. Even if I finished top 10 or top five, not many people say, ‘You did a good job’; like even if I finish runner-up, you’re a loser. That hurts me a lot. Not many people gave me confidence and that’s why I think I have to give myself some confidence, so it was a little bit of a hard time.

 

“Actually, I thought I was going to crying if I win a tournament, but my mom was crying. I wish my dad and my whole team were here because I want to share it with all of them. For the last two years, they supported me and helped me a lot. Also, the fans in Korea always trust me, support me, cheer for me, so that helped me a lot. And I’m still 27, so I don’t think I’m that old. I’m still yet to reach my goals.”

 

Choi said she felt pressure from many sources, particularly Korean media, and said she even contemplated switching her mobile to 2G so she couldn’t real emails or Korean sports websites.

 

“It wasn’t from just one person. It was even from very close people, like say family or friends, media in Korea or sponsors. I know they have a lot of expectations of me because they think I’m a good player, so they always want me to be a champion and win a tournament,” Choi lamented.

 

“Last year I missed the cut twice, the most in seven years, and they thought I was in a slump. I finished 13th on the money list and that was the worst result in the last seven, eight years, and no one said, like, ‘Na-yeon did a good job’. I know they always want better results or a win, but I wish I can tell them, ‘Even if I finish runner‑up, there is still more than 140 players behind me’.”

 

Choi on her way to a final-round 68, which gave her a two-shot victory over Lydia Ko.

Choi on her way to a final-round 68, which gave her a two-shot victory over Lydia Ko.

Choi also had to control a range of emotions on her way to her latest victory. Starting the final day two behind Ko, Choi carded her sixth birdie of the day at 14 to lead the teenager by one. However, Ko then regained the lead with a two-shot swing on the par-three 15th, which she birdied and Choi bogeyed after a three-putt.

 

However, Ko gave those two shots back with a double-bogey on 17 as Choi parred her way home for a long-awaited victory.

 

“On 15, I didn’t expect she was going to make that crazy left‑right putt, but she made it and my heart started beating fast and I felt that. I just missed the par putt. Through four rounds, I think that’s the only short putt I missed out there,” Choi said.

 

“So I tried to be really calm and stay in the moment because if I keep thinking the past hole, then I can’t play the next hole. I made a great par save on 16, so I got some momentum and that’s why I could make a par on 17 after a bad tee-shot.

 

“I tried to remain calm, but really my heart rate is so fast. I kept thinking I’m the veteran in the group. Lydia is a teenager and Ha-na is a rookie this year, so I have to be calm for the final round and I think I was.”

 

Source: LPGA (www.lpga.com); Editing by SportAsia

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