Na Yeon Choi excels on course and in English
Na Yeon Choi won her first major at the U.S. Women's Open, and she closed the season by winning the LPGA Titleholders.
But her most remarkable performance came when the season was over.
Players for whom English is their second (or third) language can get by in an interview with print reporters. They tend be a lot more uncomfortable when cameras are involved. Choi showed how much progress she has made the day after winning the Titleholders. She went into the studio for a live segment on Golf Channel's "Morning Drive."
The LPGA staff helped her prepare for questions that might be asked, and when it didn't go according to script, Choi still handled it beautifully.
That wasn't an accident.
As hard as Choi has worked on her game, she might have worked even harder on her English. Last year, she hired a personal tutor — Greg Morrison, a Canadian based in South Korea — and brought him with her on the road. She had a one-hour lesson every day, and practiced her English with him in casual conversation.
Se Ri Pak would have been proud. The pioneer for South Koreans on the LPGA Tour, Pak preached years ago about the importance of learning English. Along with fitting in, Pak said it would make them feel more comfortable in public and ultimately improve their golf.
"First year when I was here, I couldn't speak English well and then very hard to tell my feelings to people, even media or fans or even swing coach," Choi said. "When I learned English and when I tell my feelings to people, I feel way more comfortable than before. I think that made it good golfer, too. And on the golf course, I can relax and I can talk with the other players."
Morrison couldn't travel with her this year, though they still practiced through Skype. She had another one-hour lesson during the Titleholders and planned to meet with him again while she was home during the offseason.
"We talk about not only golf, we talk about anything," Choi said. "Like, I said I'm going to look for a new house and he tried to help me with which house is better for me. He's more like, not just English tutor, he's more like manager or assistant to me."
Do they ever talk baseball?
"Not really," she said. "I think he's a hockey fan."
RANKING TOURS: Most of the world's best players are going to the Middle East in the winter and the Far East in the fall, both part of the European Tour.
But over the course of the year, the PGA Tour is where biggest offering of world ranking points can be found.
Throw out the four majors and the four World Golf Championships, and the PGA Tour averaged 46.7 points for the winner of its tournaments, compared with 34.9 points for the winner of regular European Tour events.
Add the majors and the WGCs, and the winner received an average of 54.3 points on the PGA Tour and 44.6 points on the European Tour.
The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth is guaranteed 64 points as the flagship even on the European Tour. After that, the strongest fields on the European Tour (based on points awarded the winner) were Abu Dhabi and the season-ending event in Dubai (58 points), and the BMW Masters in Shanghai (56).
The Players Championship gets 80 points as the PGA Tour's flagship event. That was followed by The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship (74), the BMW Championship (70), Memorial (68), and the Northern Trust Open and Tour Championship (62).
Along with attracting the best from all over the world — the top 28 players in the world are PGA Tour members — it is helped immensely in the ranking by the FedEx Cup playoffs. Those events are nearly as strong as WGCs.
An argument could be made that The Barclays features the strongest field of any PGA Tour event, including The Players Championship. It might not have as many players from the top 50 or top 100 in the world ranking, but it has the top 125 players based on current form.
TIME TO RECHARGE: Before winning his final event of the year at Sherwood, Graeme McDowell talked all week about how badly he was in need of a 10-week break.
He feels he made a mistake by playing the first FedEx Cup playoff event, and that he was out of gas even in the high-charged atmosphere of the Ryder Cup. And that concerned him. He says he played so much this year that he lost an estimated 10 percent of what he calls his "buzziness."
"I love the sport. I love to play," he said. "But too much a good thing ... you start going through the motions. I don't want to be like that. I want to get my excitement level up for the game."
McDowell wants to cut back on his schedule, aiming for about 26 tournaments a year on two tours. But where to cut back is going to difficult, for there are too many good tournaments, especially at the end of the year.
"The end of the year has become a joke," he said. "It's almost too much golf."
Being among the top 50 in the world and having Europe as his home tour (meaning he doesn't need releases from the PGA Tour), McDowell said he gets to cherry-pick the tournaments he plays. But there are so many important events to him that he can't get to some places he would like to play.
That includes the Memorial at Muirfield Village.
"I'm dying to go there," McDowell said. "But I looked at the schedule and, nope, I can't go."
To play Muirfield Village would mean four straight weeks in three countries, and no doubt would cost him plenty of "buzziness."
DIVOTS: Tom Lehman was voted Champions Tour player of the year, even though Roger Chapman won two majors this year — the Senior PGA Championship and the Senior U.S. Open, the two most prestigious events in senior golf. ... The fledgling OneAsia Tour is holding one of its two Q-schools in the United States. The tour cites "unprecedented demand" for staging two Q-schools, one of them at Industry Hills east of Los Angeles on Jan. 29, the other a week later in Malaysia. OneAsia chairman Sang Y. Chun said more Asia-Pacific players were based in California, and the additional Q-school would create more awareness of the tour in the U.S. ... Kia Motors America has signed a multiyear contract extension with the LPGA Tour to sponsor the Kia Classic, which will move next year from La Costa to Aviara Golf Club. It will be played March 21-24.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Robert Karlsson started the year at No. 24 in the world. He ended it by going to Q-school to earn back his PGA Tour card.
FINAL WORD: "It's a game of mistakes, it's a game of misses. And if you dwell on all those misses and mistakes, you're not going anywhere." — Steve Stricker.