By Chad Shepard
Grace Choi arrived in Grand Rapids on Sunday, Aug. 3, for a week chock full of golf and a little taste of life on the LPGA tour. Her first scheduled practice round on Monday was rained out after just a few holes, but Choi was still able to gain some valuable insight from the experience thanks to a couple of LPGA professionals.
"I played with Ai Miyazato and Lydia Ko," explained Choi. "That was pretty incredible and it just made me more pumped up for this week."
On Tuesday, she was able to play a full practice round and explore the course a bit more. Her caddie for the event is men's junior golfer Andrew Yeager, and Choi is encouraged about how the two approached her practice round.
"Andrew and I found some good targets off the tee," said Choi. "I carded some good numbers too, so I'm pretty confident going into the first round."
Typically, a pro would have the opportunity to play multiple practice rounds on the competition course before a tournament begins. Despite this, Choi is hopeful the work she and Yeager were able to put in will translate to low scoring in her first 36 holes.
"Blythefield is such a straightforward course, so it's not as severe a disadvantage as it usually would be," said Choi. "It's very clear where you are and are not supposed to put the ball. I would have liked to play a couple more rounds, but I think I am going to do just fine."
On Wednesday, she participated in the tournament's Pro-Am, playing in a five-man scramble with four local area golfers. Though the event was played at an off-site course, Choi felt the round was great preparation for her first time stepping into an LPGA tee box on Thursday (Aug. 7).
(From left) Kevin Shoup, Joe Cwynar, Grace Choi, Mark Huyser, Len Steenbergen
"Playing a practice round at Blythefield, you can see the grandstands and feel the people watching you," said Choi. "It's a little bit intimidating, but today was good because I was able to relax and play with some fun people.
"It's still golf and I still have to hit good shots, even if it is a different course. It really calmed me down for tomorrow."
After all the relaxing she did in the morning, Choi was due for a jolt of excitement, and she got just that when she was informed of her tee times and pairings for Thursday and Friday's rounds.
Aside from the excitement of seeing her own group, which includes back-to-back U.S. Amateur Women's Open champion Danielle Kang, Choi was thrilled to learn she would be playing behind Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.
"It's going to be pretty rowdy out there [playing behind them]," Choi said. "I'm just going to take it all in. I'm excited but that first tee shot is going to be a little nerve-racking. After that I think I'm going to be pretty comfortable."
To wrap up her final day before tournament action, Choi stopped by the Meijer LPGA Junior Clinic, presented by Johnson & Johnson, to help teach the crowd of over 100 junior golfers. Blythefield CC general manager Patti Butcher employed Choi's swing for a few demonstrations before the kids split into separate groups for more focused coaching.
There, Choi was able to instruct even further, and it brought back positive memories for the soon-to-be sophomore."The junior clinics are always fun because I remember when I was that little, looking up to college players and professionals," she said. "It was fun being on the opposite side."
Meijer's Co-Chair and Co-CEO, Hank Meijer, also stopped by to say a few words to the collection of junior golfers, and Choi appreciated his message to kids that are interested in the sport.
"Meijer is doing a great thing by focusing on getting more juniors involved in golf," said Choi. "It's a great game, and one you can play forever. I'm happy they are supporting that and I'm thrilled to be a part of it."
The real thrill for Choi will come on Thursday, when she tees it up for her first experience at an LPGA event.