Sun Young Yoo: When the Flow Gets Contaminated

Sun Young Yoo is the major winner we all forget about.

The reason we so easily forget about her is that she’s the one who won this year’s Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs), California back in late March. She was the one who won the one-hole playoff with I.K. Kim after Kim shockingly missed a one-foot putt in regulation to win.

I didn’t think about winning today because I didn’t want to expect too much, and I didn’t want to let myself down. But I think I did better than I was thinking, so I’m very happy.

The point is, we’re not just dealing with a piker here. We’re dealing with a major championship winner who deserved the win; she got herself into position to get in that playoff and won it when she did. 

But in Friday’s second round at the CME Group Titleholders at TwinEagles Club in Naples, Florida, Sun Young went to sleep.

Within a shot or two of the lead, she hit her tee shot next to the base of one of those dense pampas grass bushes you find on Florida courses. She could see the ball and felt that she could play it through the thick overhanging fronds. She gave it a whack with her 5-iron and it didn’t come out. In fact, it disappeared.

She briefly probed around the base with her hand and almost immediately found a ball that had been driven deep into the base by some other golfer. Although it wasn’t her ball, it suggested what might have happened to it.

Her caddie jumped in to help at that point trying to figure out where the trajectory might have taken it…and in short order, they found it in a similar fate as the stranger’s.

So they went through the procedure for taking an unplayable lie. They measured two driver lengths, marked it with a tee, marked the ball with a tee and then picked it up and cleaned it.

In the meantime, her fellow competitors, Suzann Pettersen and So Yeon Ryu (the 2011 U.S. Open winner) had been drifting down the fairway towards their shots on the green.

So clean ball in hand, she dropped it just inside the tee and the ball one-hopped to rest on a good lie in the short rough. But there was some confusion in their minds over whether the ball had come to rest in the proper spot; it had hopped away from the tee. They called for an official.

The official arrived, confirmed that the ball had not hopped closer to the hole and had not rolled further away than two club lengths. It was a good drop; the ball was in play.

I go into all of this detail to try to recapture all of the elements that could have affected Sun Young’s state of mind:

  • She was in contention
  • She hit her ball in a bush
  • She was too optimistic in terms of whether it would come out or not
  • In trying to save a shot, she compounded the situation by incurring an unplayable lie penalty
  • She lost the ball for a moment and the first one she found was not hers
  • She finally took her unplayable lie drop, but worried that it had been improper
  • She and her caddie summoned an official
  • The official arrived and ruled it a proper drop

And after all of that, she hit her fourth shot short-right of the green and went on to make a double bogey.

Except unbeknownst to anyone except television viewers, Sun Young’s drop had been improper. She was obligated to drop the ball from shoulder height but had absentmindedly dropped it from closer to waist height.

And the viewers came through again, anxious to point out what almost any amateur who plays competitively knows: it has to be dropped from shoulder height and if you mistakenly don’t, you have to pick it up and drop it correctly.

Later, she seemed not to know this basic fact:

I didn’t think of my arm at all, I just pick up the ball and drop it instantly, yeah.  No one actually think about where your arm is where you take a drop, right?  But I learn from this and next time I won’t make same mistake, so it’s all right.

A very gracious concession made necessary, no doubt, by all of the “it-doesn’t-matter” practice rounds where you never take a drop, you just drag the ball back into play and play on. Who takes formal drops unless there’s a bet on?

And the other thing that she might take away from this incident (she had to add another penalty stroke for a triple bogey) is to concentrate even harder when a series of unusual events begins to contaminate the flow of things.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of this was the 1972 crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 in the Everglades west of Miami International. When a light signaling the position of the landing gear failed to illuminate, the pilots received a clearance to fly west out over the Everglades at 2,000 feet while they worked it out.

Unfortunately, they both worked on the problem, failed to notice that the autopilot had not been properly engaged and the airplane slowly flew into the ground. Nobody was flying the airplane.

In golf, that’s why you have a caddie, to keep you centered when the flow gets contaminated. It actually becomes harder to think straight.

I once hit my ball onto the cart path in the middle of towering redwood trees when I was Monday qualifying at Silverado Country Club in Napa, California. Because I was a rules junkie, I immediately became engrossed in determining which side of the path was the proper place drop. All the while, I had my eye on which redwoods were then going to be between me an the green about fifty yards away.

So I’m talking through all of this with my caddie to make sure I’m proceeding correctly and, with a slight hint of exasperation, he says, “Bill?”

“What?” I ask, unclear of what he’s trying to draw my attention to.

And he makes this sweeping gesture to the gaping hole I have straight from the cart path to the green, “Play it off the cart path.”

“Oh,” I exclaimed as the light began to penetrate my addled mind. (I hit it just over the back of the green, but the contact was so perfect, a rare gallery member said wryly, “I’ll bet you’ve had that shot before.”)

But there are some things that happen, that make you wonder just how contaminated the flow can get. And thinking back as I planned this post, it was so odd that this one happened on the same day of Sun Young’s misfortune.

I pulled into the parking lot of our Apache course here at Desert Mountain and went to the far end before I could find a ding-proof place to park.

So I lock the car and walk around the back of it to head to the clubhouse…and not three spaces from my car was a large Cadillac, the doors unlocked, the engine running and no one in sight.

It was so remote from any immediate destination, my first thought was that someone was unconscious, slumped over in the front seat. But no one was there either.

I’m still trying to figure that one out.

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