By CHRIS JENKINS, Associated Press
KOHLER, Wis. (AP) — Na Yeon Choi was disappointed that her parents weren't there on Sunday to celebrate her U.S. Women's Open victory.
But having her parents home in South Korea instead of in the gallery at Blackwolf Run might be one of the reasons why Choi has matured into a player with the poise to survive a potential meltdown on the back nine and hold on to win her first career major.
When Choi joined the LPGA Tour in 2008, her parents came along to help her adjust to life in a new country. In 2009, Choi decided she needed to be on her own to mature — so she sent them home.
"I told my parents I want to be more independent: 'I want you guys to go back to Korea and go there and relax and support me from there,'" Choi said. "And then that moment actually they were mad, and my mom was crying, because they did very hard working for me up to now. But I said I think I need to be more independent. I can learn something from independence."
Just a few weeks after they left, she won her first LPGA tournament.
"My mom and dad called me, like, 'I knew you could do it,'" she said. "So look mom and dad, I really learned a lot of things from independence. I know what I have to do. I still practice hard and (am) working hard."
Choi had a flight booked back home Monday and couldn't wait to see her father, Byeong Ho Choi, and her mother, Jeong Me Song.
"Actually, I feel really sorry for them, because they are not here right now," Choi said. "But I'm pretty sure they were watching on TV and they couldn't sleep last night, and they supported me a lot. I really appreciate what they did."
It's the first major and sixth career LPGA Tour victory for the 24-year-old South Korean star, who came into the tournament ranked fifth in the world.
Choi shot 73 on Sunday and finished at 7 under. Amy Yang, also from South Korea, had a 71 to finish second.
Choi's victory comes at the same course where Se Ri Pak won the Open in 1998, a victory that inspired Choi and many other young South Koreans to try to make it on the women's tour.
"And 14 years later I'm here right now, and I made it," Choi said. "My dreams come true. It's an amazing day today, and like I really appreciate what Se Ri did and all the Korean players, they did. It's really no way I can be here without them."
Pak was among a group of friends who met Choi after she putted out on the 18th green, showering her with hugs — and victory champagne.
"She (said), 'Hey, Na Yeon, I'm really proud of you. You did a really good job, and you (were) really calm out there,'" Choi said. "She talked to me a lot, and she was hugging me."
Choi is the fourth South Korean to win the event in the five years, following Inbee Park (2008), Eun-Hee Ji (2009) and So Yeon Ryu (2011).
Choi now plans to attend the London Olympics later this month. And she hopes to represent her country in 2016.
"That is my biggest goal right now," she said. "I mean, I can be like No. 1 in the world or Player of the Year, but my biggest dream is playing Olympic 2016 and I want to get some medal from there. That's why I want to go to (the Olympics) this year and see what's the feeling."
Choi was feeling nervous earlier in the day, when what looked like an easy victory started to unravel.
It started on the par-5 10th hole, when she put her tee shot way left into woods and deep rough. Choi was 8 under at that point — five strokes ahead of Yang.
After a long delay for a fruitless search for her ball, she went back to the 10th tee with a penalty. Choi wound up with a triple-bogey 8 and appeared to be on the verge of coming undone. Yang made a par on 10, cutting Choi's lead to 2 strokes.
Choi birdied No. 11 but got in trouble again on No. 12, putting her approach shot in the long rough short of the green. She managed to chip out and hit the green, then rolled in a putt of about 20 feet to save par — and, perhaps, her Open title.
Choi then came within inches of putting her tee shot in the water on No. 13, but her ball bounced to safety — appearing to skip twice off of a wall that lined the water hazard — and she made another par.
She then made birdies on No. 15 and 16.
After taking the lead with a 65 on Saturday, Choi talked about how Pak's dramatic 1998 victory was one of the main things that inspired her to success in golf. Choi recalled watching that tournament on television and remembered how it changed her goals, helping her dream of something bigger.
Pak is happy to hear that her victory in 1998 inspired so many people in her country.
"They were watching TV back then, and they didn't know what's going on in golf," Pak said. "And after I won the U.S. Open, they're watching this moment here, and they know what is golf and they think of their dreams."