Aug. 7, 2014
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- University of Michigan sophomore women's golfer Grace Choi completed her first round of play today (Thursday, Aug. 7) at the Meijer LPGA Classic presented by Kraft, carding an 84 at Blythefield Country Club. Thanks to a supportive crowd of Wolverine fans and some late momentum, Choi feels confident in her game heading into Friday's second round.
"I feel good about tomorrow, now that I know what to expect," said Choi, "Everything is going to be so much easier after today."
No nerves seemed to exist judging from her first tee shot -- a rocket down the middle of the fairway -- but Choi admitted she was nervous before the round began. Once she got into her rhythm, all the apprehension melted away.
"I've never done anything like this before, so it took a little bit of getting settled down and getting used to seeing all the people out here," said Choi, "but after that first tee shot, my nerves went down a lot more."
If her play wouldn't have calmed her nerves down, the crowd of Michigan supporters that she encountered at every hole sure would have.
"It definitely took a little bit of the edge off knowing that there are so many people who believe in me and who were behind me all day," said Choi, "It was really nice hearing all those Wolverine fans out there supporting me."
Head coach Jan Dowling noticed the Maize and Blue in the crowd as well.
"On almost every hole, there was somebody yelling, 'Go Blue!'," said Dowling, "That's a neat experience for Grace and for our university. The exposure for both is pretty incredible."
Choi started the front nine with three pars in her first six holes, but a few high numbers left her at nine over par heading into the turn. That's where she began to dig deep, a credit to her mental game according to Dowling.
"Grace hit some pretty darn solid shots," said Dowling, "She faced some adversity and had some big numbers, but I thought she persevered really well. One of Grace's strongest suits is her mental game, so there was never a doubt in my mind that she would lose focus."
On the back nine, Choi started off hot, sinking a pair of birdies on her first two holes, including a 40-foot putt on the 10th green that drew a loud applause.
"I'm glad I made some good putts on the back," said Choi, "It was nice to feel one part of my game really step up to keep me in there."
Pars on three of her next four holes followed, but a triple-bogey on No. 16 erased the ground she had made up, and despite a strong nine holes after the turn, Choi's total at the end of the day was not where she hoped it might be. Dowling believes the experience will make Choi a better player, regardless of scoring.
"In this type of experience, you can't go wrong at any point as a college player," said Dowling, "You're learning no matter what. Whether you're three under par or six over par, you have a great opportunity to learn. Because Grace was able to keep her head on and stay focused she's going to take a lot away from this week."
Playing with LPGA professionals Pernilla Lindberg and Danielle Kang presented Choi with the opportunity to learn from the best. Among a few observations, she and her caddie, men's junior Andrew Yeager, were impressed with the calculated approach of both golfers.
"It's incredible the way they prepare," said Yeager, "You really can't tell whether it's a Monday morning practice round or Thursday afternoon. They take it that seriously."
"They know where to miss," Choi explained, "Both of them hit the ball so well today, but even when they did miss a shot, they missed it in the right spot and were able to have a chance at making up-and-down [putts]."
Choi is confident she can implement the early lessons she has learned in her next tournament.
"Next time I play my practice rounds I'll be a little more conscious of which areas are where it's okay to miss," she said, "You always want to have a chance to make par at the worst."
Choi will begin her second round at the Meijer LPGA Classic Friday (Aug. 8) at 8:43 a.m.