Aug. 8, 2014
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- University of Michigan sophomore women's golfer Grace Choi wrapped up her showing at the 2014 Meijer LPGA Classic by carding a 79 during Friday's (Aug. 8) second round. The event, which is being played at Blythefield Country Club, will continue through Sunday (Aug. 10) with the top half of the 144-player field after today's 36-hole cut.
Choi began the day on the back nine, and after a slow start, rattled off three consecutive pars on holes No. 15, 16 and 17. Using her experience from Thursday's first round, Choi tapped into the mental strength that head coach Jan Dowling credits with making the sophomore such a special player.
"There was nothing that could have prepared me for that first round," said Choi, "Today, I was a lot more comfortable from the start and a lot more focused."
Choi's high-arching approach on No. 15 set her up for a short, four-foot par attempt, which she converted smoothly.
To duplicate the effort on No. 16, Choi chose a five-wood from the fairway, launching her third shot onto the green. She sank a six-footer to save par, continuing her impressive putting performance from Thursday's first round.
On No. 17, Choi faced a deceptively elevated green, which featured a pair of hidden bunkers beyond the pin, invisible to golfers from the tee box and fairway. Her second shot landed on the side of the hill that the green sat on top of, away from the sand traps and far enough up the slope that it sat comfortably. From there, Choi's approach shot ran toward the open side of the green, where she would sink a seven-footer to save par and keep her stretch of one-putt finishes alive at three.
Choi believes it was her improved tee shots on Friday that made the biggest difference in her game, aside from the confidence boost she received from having one round under her belt.
"Blythefield is totally an old-school golf course," she explained, "With just a few trees on each hole, the course really puts a priority on placing shots off the tee."
Choi turned the corner with a par on No. 1, then scored her first birdie of the day on the par-three No. 4 after her tee shot landed above the pin, just eight feet from the hole.
A par on the long No. 5 continued her strong back nine, and Choi wrapped up her showing at the tournament with a birdie-par combo on No. 8 and No. 9. Her approach on the eighth green, which she stuck within four feet of the hole, drew a loud cheer from the gallery.
Choi acknowledged the crowd with a wave and tip of her cap but said having a large audience with her on the golf course is something she is still getting used to.
"It's hard to get used to having people saying things to you during the round," said Choi, "They react to your putts and move around. Being a lot more focused and into my routine today is what really helped me."
An LPGA experience is anything but routine for the typical college golfer, but Dowling said she could see a difference in Choi's play today.
"Grace looked more comfortable today than yesterday, and that just proves how much she's learned already," said Dowling, "She's going to be able to apply what she learned from this and apply it to any event that she competes in from here on out."
Dowling is confident that Choi will bring everything she picked up in Grand Rapids back to Ann Arbor, where the entire team will benefit from Choi's experience at the professional level.
"Professional golfers are just doing everything better on an incremental level," explained Dowling, "They are not leaps and bounds ahead of college players, and I think for Grace to see that is really going to create more confidence for her. I know she will be able to share this experience with the team."
"Grace led by example as a freshman," Dowling continued, "and as she gets more and more comfortable, she's becoming more and more of a natural leader. She's very well-spoken, and she's going to do a great job expressing what she learned to her teammates."
Dowling was not the lone representative from the U-M women's team to take in Friday's action, as senior Lauren Grogan made the trek to Grand Rapids to watch Choi's final round. Having such a strong support system gave Choi an extra boost. With her mother, grandmother, coach and teammates on hand, Choi put forth her best nine-hole performance during Friday's second nine holes.
|Grace Choi and Lauren Grogan share a hug||From left: Lauren Grogan, Jan Dowling, Grace Choi|
"It means a lot to me that they all came out to watch," said Choi, "It was definitely a lot more comforting having them there, and having my whole support group around me was great."
Choi will have lasting memories from her experience at the Meijer LPGA Classic, particularly that first tee shot on Thursday.
"That feeling will never go away," said Choi, "I don't even remember hitting the shot; I just remember what it felt like to be on that first tee with my adrenaline pumping."
Shouts of 'Go Blue!' followed Choi wherever she went at Blythefield, and as she grew more comfortable, her interactions with the fans became more and more memorable.
"Having people interact with you on the course and seeing all the maize and blue out there was a really, really cool experience," she said, "That was the best part about this week; it was like nothing I had ever experienced before."
Now that she's had a taste of the professional tour, Choi has a new-found appreciation for the professionals she has idolized from a young age.
"I really respect what professional players go through from week to week now that I lived it for a week," said Choi, "It was such a fun tournament, for the spectators and players both. I think Meijer did such a great job; this tournament is going to be around for a while."