Contributed by GlobalGolfPost
Fourteen years ago, a young Na Yeon Choi watched Se Ri Pak win a major championship on television, and hatched the idea that she could do the same one day.
This weekend – playing in the same tournament and at the same venue – Choi posted an historic third-round 65 to take charge, then gutted her way through a potentially disastrous moment Sunday to make good on that dream.
Choi won the 67th U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run, the first major victory for the 24-year-old South Korean pro who already was firmly established as a legitimate heiress to Pak's Hall of Fame legacy.
The victory came by four strokes ahead of countrywoman Amy Yang, and earned Choi $585,000. It followed So Yeon Ryu's win in this event last season, and was the fourth in five years for a South Korean player at America's national championship.
Choi’s score of 1-over on Sunday left her at 7-under 281 for the tournament at the steamy and occasionally breezy Pete Dye course. Yang's 3-under 285 was the only other 72-hole total that beat par, and was three strokes better than Sandra Gal.
South Korean players now have 12 LPGA major victories since 2001, two more than U.S. players in that span.
By the mid-point of Sunday's final round, it seemed as if Choi was on her way to a coronation. Her lead on Yang was five strokes – only because Yang had just birdied No. 9 – and there was no sign of trouble.
But she pulled her drive drastically off the tee at No. 10. A 15-minute episode unfolded as Choi, caddie Shane Joel, tournament marshals and even USGA president Glen Nager attempted to find the ball or make a ruling on where she should play from.
As she returned to the tee, a sense of vulnerability seemed to materialize from out of the Wisconsin wind. A score of triple-bogey 8 resulted, and Choi's lead suddenly stood at two.
But a bounce-back birdie on No. 11 helped her stabilize things. Then she drained a pair of putts for scrambling pars after flirting with water and weeds on Nos. 12 and 13, and birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 brought a little bit of comfort back to her triumphant day.
"I had the triple-bogey on 10, and after that I tried to forget it," said Choi, who moved to No. 2 in the world rankings. "And then I had a really good bounce-back on 11, and I had a really good save for par on 12. So I got some momentum from 11 and 12 and then I kept it going until the 18th hole."
Saturday's 65 had put Choi in control in the first place. While second-day leaders Suzann Pettersen, Michelle Wie and Cristie Kerr all tumbled from the top of the leaderboard, Choi compiled the third-best round in Open history, behind Helen Alfredsson's 63 in 1994, and a trio of 64s in 1999.
It gave her the best 54-hole advantage since Amy Alcott led by eight strokes heading into the final day of her 1980 Open victory.
"That was one of the best rounds that I've ever seen, and I've seen some good ones out here," said Choi’s Saturday playing partner Nicole Castrale.
In her last outing in a major, last month's LPGA Championship, Choi had a much less memorable moment. She was in contention for the first two days at Locust Hill CC near Rochester, N.Y., but struggled with a final-round 74 to earn a T19 finish.
She didn't even get to count that on her record, however, after leaving the event without signing her scorecard. The resulting disqualification also cost her nearly $30,000 in winnings.
The beginnings of Choi's career have been much more reflective of the example set by Pak, her idol. She was second to Yani Tseng in Rookie of the Year voting in 2008, earned her first LPGA win in '09 at the 20-player Samsung World Championship, then was the tour's money leader in 2010.
Her previous best at a U.S. Women's Open was a T2 (with Pettersen) in 2010 at Oakmont CC behind winner Paula Creamer. She was competing on the level that Pak allowed her to dream about.
"Before Se Ri Pak, my dream was just being a professional golfer (in South Korea)," Choi said. "But after watching her, she really inspired me for being an LPGA player. I really appreciate Se Ri Pak. She is a legend in Korea."
At the end on Sunday, there was Pak with a collection of other South Korean players, waiting with bottles of champagne off the green at No. 18.
Choi got drenched in the celebration, and then further payoff came in the form of a hug from the woman who inspired her.
"I really like that I can continue that feeling from 14 years ago, what Se Ri did," Choi said. "I think I'm pretty proud of myself."