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Friendly rocks help Choi bounce back for Open win

Ya Neon Choi
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21 Jul 1979: Seve Ballesteros of Spain celebrates on the 18th fairway on his way to victory in the British Open at Royal Lytham St Annes in Lancashire, England. \ Mandatory Credit: Steve Powell /Allsport  - 

KOHLER, Wis. – Na Yeon Choi’s head could have been filled with all kinds of demon thoughts.

It should have been swelling with ghoulish possibilities.

After hooking her tee shot into a hazard at the 10th hole and making triple bogey, Choi faced every professional golfer’s nightmare.

She looked like she was on the verge of collapse, the most historic collapse in U.S. Women’s Open annals.

No leader of a U.S. Women’s Open had ever given away a six-shot lead in the final round. Suddenly, Choi looked like she was going to give it away over the final 10 holes.

With that triple bogey, Choi’s once six-shot lead was slashed to two.

That kind of head-spinning turn can rob a player of confidence and momentum.

Choi won’t be remembered for losing anything Sunday, not for losing her head or her resolve.

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Choi will be remembered for the resolute way she bounced back to win this U.S. Women’s Open.

“I think I had pretty good control of my emotions today,” Choi said.

That’s like saying Shakespeare had pretty good command of the English language.

Choi eloquently put on a clinic in how a leader ought to handle adversity when it strikes on the back nine of a championship.

That was as impressive as her nearly flawless 65 was on Saturday.

Choi will also be remembered, literally, for “The Bounce,” or “The Bounces.” She will be remembered for how her tee shot slammed into the rocks on the edge of the water right of the 13th green, how her ball fortuitously bounced once, then a second time, off those rocks before bounding safely just over the back of the green.

One bounce is lucky. Two bounces? That veers into questions of cosmic intent.

Choi improbably made par.

Her heart should have been in her throat watching her ball bound on the water’s edge, but she laughed when she saw where it ended up.

“When I had that happen, I looked at my caddie,” Choi said. “All the winners of a tournament, they had a little bit of luck. So, I thought, maybe today I had luck from that tee shot, and then that's why I can win today.”

After her triple bogey at the 10th, Choi didn’t hang her head. She didn’t look rattled at all. She chatted with her caddie about everything and anything but golf on her way to look for her ball.

“After No. 10, I thought I might screw up myself if I keep anger or frustration,” Choi said. “But I thought I need to fix that. So, I started talking with my caddie. I asked him when he was going back home.”

They talked about their flights out of Wisconsin, about her vacation next week back to South Korea.

Choi’s resolve helped her bounce back with a birdie at the 11th hole, bumping her lead over Yang to three shots.

Trouble, though, would strike again at the 12th, when Choi hooked another shot left, this one into deep, wiry hay on a hill left of the green.

“I almost thought I should take an unplayable, but even if I take an unplayable, I might get bad lie again,” Choi said.

So she impressively slashed a pitch out of the rough to 20 feet behind the pin. She rolled that putt in to save another improbable par.

Choi actually built her lead back up to five shots before ultimately winning by four.

Choi credited Vision 54 founders Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott with helping her focus on the right things. She got a text from them on the eve of the final round. They told her sometimes you have to forget 65s, to forget good things, when there’s more work to do to reach a dream.

Choi, 24, claimed her sixth LPGA title Sunday, her first major in a special place. Blackwolf Run is like sacred ground for South Koreans. It’s where Se Ri Pak won in ’98 to inspire Choi and a nation of young players to take up the game. Choi is the fourth South Korean in five years to win the U.S. Women’s Open.

Pak waited around to help Choi celebrate. She was there among fellow countrywomen dousing Choi with champagne on the 18th green.

That touched Choi. She was 9 when she got up in the middle of the night back in South Korea and watched Pak win this championship.

“My dream was, I just want to be there,” Choi said. “And 14 years later, I'm here, right now, and I made it. My dreams come true. It's an amazing day today.”