U.S. Women’s Open: The LPGA Tour Brain Trust in Their Own Words

Tuesday was a grand day at Sebonack Golf Club for those of us engaged in gathering intelligence about playing the game at its highest level. The USGA recruited six of the best minds in the women’s game for a U.S. Women’s Open media session: Yani Tseng, Inbee Park, Stacy Lewis, Christie Kerr, Paula Creamer and Na Yeon Choi.

And in reading their transcripts, I was struck by how each of them was all about the mental side of the game, the “being” side of the game and there was faint mention of swing issues or short game issues.

So I thought I would cherry-pick some of the best ideas that came out of them. Now then, in no particular order: 

Yani Tseng:

I always love to play on kind of like links golf course, and I think this course just makes you think more and it can be a very, very good challenge.  You might hit a good shot and end in a bad place or you might hit a bad shot in a good place.  You never know.  It’s the U.S. Open, you need to be very patient on this golf course.

Even when the weather was warm, my mind is just so excited for this week.  So I think it doesn’t matter how the weather is going to be.  I’m going to feel excited, and I’m going to feel I’m ready for this week.

But you need to kind of picture your shot and imagine your shot on this golf course, and I think it’s very important.

The score is always very important and everybody’s here to try to win this tournament.  But for me, I want to be here enjoying every moment of the U.S. Open, and enjoy every shot I can and do the best I can do and just have fun this week.

[Describing Inbee Park]  I think she’s a very, very nice person.  When you see her on the golf course, she makes putts, she misses putts, she doesn’t really get very emotional.  She’s always staying very quiet at the same time.  Like after 18 holes, you don’t know if she shot 10‑under or 10‑over.  She’s the same always.

[Describing life as World No. 1]  So you really need to find your way and find your balance to stay on top, to keep improving your swing, keep improving your status and do the best you can do and try not to think about anything…

…I don’t think too much, actually.  I went out on the course and I was just very happy.  I was having fun.  Even if I missed a shot, I was smiling because I was just really happy to be on the golf course.  I didn’t put any pressure.  I wasn’t thinking winning too.  I was just playing my game.  Even if I had a missed shot, I felt like it’s going to get a lucky bounce.  That’s how positive you are thinking when you’re playing your best…

…But, after that, if I hit a bad shot I feel like, oh, I’m going to have a bad bounce or I hit a good shot, and it’s hard to recover.  I think the positive thinking and negative thinking and your confidence on the golf course changes so much on your mind.

I think mental is the most important thing in the game, because even when I’m not playing good or even if I don’t feel this is my A‑game.  But your mental is tough enough, you can still win in a tournament.  You don’t have to play perfect to win in a tournament, because everybody’s going to miss, everybody — if you have confidence, if you stand there even if you have a terrible swing, you can still hit it to the pin.  That is how important mental is…

…But if you have your A‑game and your mental is not right there, it doesn’t matter how good of skill you have.  If you think you can stand there and you think you’re [not] going to hit on the fairway, you’re not going to hit it on the fairway.  So when I played my best, I mean, everything was thinking perfect.  I’d hit on the fairway.  I’d picture my shot going into the hole on the second shot.  And if I miss, it’s not going to miss that much.

I think for the U.S. Open, it’s just not about a course, I think it’s the pressure.  Even if we play on a very easy golf course, I think this pressure, the major pressure, the U.S. Open pressure is still going to make courses harder.  So I think this week you really need to stay patient…

…I think the weather here, you never know.  You maybe get a strong wind in the morning and very quiet in the afternoon.  I think it’s not going to be fair, but the only thing you can do is do your best and have fun on this golf course.  Because after I hit a shot, I hit a good shot but I finished in a really bad place, and I tell myself, wow, this is a very fun golf course.  This is really challenging.  You don’t want to think negative things.  You need to think this is a great golf course for me.

Inbee Park:

[On dealing with pressure]  I have a mental coach in Korea, and I talk to her every week before the tournament, during the tournament and try to talk to her and try to get a little bit of the pressure off.  She’s been helping me a lot.  Since after the U.S. Open, I’ve been working with her…

…Other than that, I think there is no way that you won’t feel the pressure, because you will always feel the pressure, but it’s just the more you experience it you just feel it a little less and less over the time.  Now when I’m in the position where I am and when I’m in the winning position, and I’ve been there a lot, so it’s just knowing what I have to do.  I think that’s been a big help for me…

…Yeah, I mean, she tried to let me focus on something like one thing on the golf course.  You know, not to think about something else.  If it’s red, just think about red.  That is just an example.  Whatever I’m thinking on my swing, that’s all I think about on the golf course.  Yeah, just trying to focus on one thing…

…Sometimes she tells me that I have to think when I was playing very bad, what I was thinking.  I was happy that I made a cut.  Trying to go back and think about what you were thinking before, that’s been helping me a lot.

I think I’m really good at forgetting about golf when I’m off the golf course.  I don’t think about golf once I’m off the golf course.  So didn’t really have to do anything to forget about it.  But I just, when I go home, I just feel very relaxed and watch some TV.  Yeah, I mean, I don’t think about golf as much when I go back home…

…The weeks that I’ve been having recently, I don’t think I really need to think about golf outside the golf course.  I’m just very happy when I’m off the golf course.

Stacy Lewis:

[On the Sebonack course]  I really like links‑style course.  I like it because you can be very creative.  There is more than one way to get the ball to the hole…

…It feels like the last few U.S. Opens, it’s all been how straight you can drive the ball, and that is kind of who has won the tournament.  So I like this year that you don’t have to drive it perfect off the tees, but you’ve got to play smart into the greens.  You can take it off of ridges, you can go multiple ways to get the ball close, and I like that.  I think it brings in another aspect of the game that the U.S. Opens haven’t tested in the past few years.

[On previous Opens]  I think more of the emotional side of it, I haven’t handled very well. So this week, my number one goal is to see how level I can remain all week.  I think you look at Justin Rose, when he won a couple weeks ago, he didn’t get — he got excited when he made a birdie, but he didn’t get too excited.  When he made a bogey, he didn’t get too upset.  So I think it’s how level you can stay all week and how patient you can be.

[Recalling an Open instance when she wasn’t “level”]  I kind of had a bad stretch of four or five holes, and I let that decide the whole golf tournament for me. Everybody’s going to have a bad stretch of holes, and if I would have just been okay with it and just kind of kept trucking through it, I would have been fine.  But instead I let it affect the rest of the tournament, and I went from tied for the lead and I think I finished 40th.

[On the Arkansas/Long Island charter for the players]  Yeah, we finished about 6:30 in Arkansas, and we were on a charter flight that left about 8 o’clock, and we landed here on Long Island about 11:30, then got to bed about 1:00 a.m. Obviously it made it easy.  Arkansas’s hard to get anywhere from, but to get here, it made it pretty easy.  It’s fun.  I mean, we travel as a Tour.  We’re a family out here.  A lot of us don’t have our families traveling week‑in and week‑out so, we stay together on the road.  We rent hotels together, we rent houses together, and it’s just kind of the way things are out here.

[On her use of a sports psychologist]  No, I don’t. I go out there and I hit the ball, go find it.

Christie Kerr:

[On why she’s played Sebonack so many times]  Yeah, we have a place in the West Village that is an investment property.  We probably spend maybe 50, 60 days a year here.  Just helps with the travel, as much as we do travel, to be able to have kind of a little bit of a home base out of New York.  Mike Pascucci is a good friend of mine.  He owns the golf course.  I’ve come out here and played the golf course a bunch and got to stay in the cottages, which are going for a lot of money this week. I’m staying with friends this week, so it’s just sort of like kind of a home feel to it.

[On USGA officials interaction with the players in practice rounds]  They ride around and from time to time will ask you what are you thinking?  What’s going on?  Hit a shot for me here or there.  But there’s not that much interaction between the players and the USGA on the whole.  Like I said, they’re very good at what they do [on course setup].

[On the meaning of winning the Open]  God, I mean, winning the U.S. Open, God, especially almost in a hometown, pretty close to home for me, it would mean anything, everything, just the world.  Words can’t describe.  If I have a chance on Sunday, I’m going to have to kind of win that battle within myself not to get ahead and not to get too emotional.  You can always have that glass of celebratory champagne after you get done playing.  It’s going to be an exciting week. I think there is going to be a lot of drama.  Long Island brings the best out in people, so I think you’re going to see a lot of great golf this week.

[On the common denominators of World No. 1 players]  I obviously reached No. 1 and so did Stacy.  It’s really hard to stay there.  You need that elevated state of mind that you have when you’re winning majors to be able to stay there.  You need to do it well every day, every tournament day that you play.  It’s hard to really describe that to somebody that hasn’t done that.  It’s not out of not wanting to, it’s just hard to describe it. [And harder still to stay in that elevated state of mind without trying to stay in that elevated state of mind.]  But the mental part is even stronger than the physical part.

Paula Creamer:

[On a special practice round visitor, course co-architect, Tom Doak]  Yeah, I’ve been blessed.  Tom sent us a note saying that he wanted to come out and kind of walk with me and he asked if that was okay.  He was able to come out yesterday for nine, and then he watched me play 16 holes today.  And I couldn’t say thank you enough, having the architect come out there and walk with you and see you hit shots and just pick his brain…

…When I asked a question, he was right there.  But he was very — just let me do my thing, and when I needed it, he was there.  I definitely have taken that in and appreciate him taking the time to come out there and walk with me…

…You know, this golf course is not necessarily about all the good spots.  You need to know where you shouldn’t be and you need to know where the safe spots are.  You can be very aggressive, and you can be very conservative at times.  Picking his brain on where really to miss was stuff that my caddie Collin and I just asked him constantly.  Okay, with these pins, what do you think about using these slopes?  Because there are so many different ways to get the ball within the hole, you can go left, you can go right, and it’s going to end up.  But which way is the most consistent way, things like that, that he was really able to help with…

…Especially some of the shots coming in on the par‑4s, 11. I mean, 11 and 14, those are two great par‑4s that I really just kind of dissected with him.  To hear the fact that it took 18, 17, and 11, six to seven minutes to actually design, I was thinking what?  Seven minutes to design three holes?  He said, yeah, it was perfect.  This layout, this layout, and this layout.  It was like, whoa.  It was pretty neat to pick his brain in that sense, but how he designed it is what I learned from.

[On the last time she came to an Open course that suited her game as much as Sebonack] Probably Oakmont [where she won her 2010 Open].  The moment I stepped foot out at Oakmont, I loved it.  I thought it is by far one of my favorite golf courses that I’ve ever played, and this kind of just matches that.  The whole rolling effect, the natural.  There are not a lot of trees, but you’ve still got to hit it in the right parts of the fairway.  You’ve got to be a grinder out here.  You’re going to get good breaks and you’re going to get bad breaks.  That’s a lot like Oakmont.  It’s really taking what the golf course gives you.  It’s kind of linksy and I like that.  But I would say that Oakmont was probably the last time I felt this good.  We’ll see.

Na Yeon Choi:

[On posture contributing to “being”]  I feel great.  Actually, last week I finished well on Sunday.  I shot 5‑under, so I got some good confidence from there, and my coaches are here this week, and we’re working on a little bit technically and mentally and everything.  I just felt the last couple of weeks I got a lot of pressure on myself, especially my posture wasn’t great when I was walking and everything…

…So I just tried to be more of a champion all week.  I just do my best for defending my [2012] title, but also I want to do it walking with more confidence and having fun out there, just do my best for my job.

[On her good friend, Inbee Park’s whole-life approach to golf]  Well, two weeks ago I tried to find out how she practices or how she — what kind of emotions she has.  I think everybody knows that she has a great short game, a good putter, and she’s very consistent player…

…But I think also she travels with her fiancee, and I think she’s really comfortable with her life right now.  I think she’s very happy.  She never thinks negatively.  Everything is thinking positively…

…Actually, she didn’t practice much.  In Orlando the weather was very hot, but I think for sure even resting is very important to practice.  So she’s always having fun with her fiancee and around people, and I think she’s very happy.  I think that kind of makes her confident and makes better results and good results.

[On how last year’s Open win affects her mindset this year]  I think I got good experience from last year at the U.S. Open.  After I won that, I got more confidence, especially with a difficult course.  So when I came here like five weeks ago, the course was very difficult, but I still had good confidence because I tried to think how I controlled my emotions last year, and how I did well last year.  So I just tried to keep thinking positively…

…The USGA tournament, we always need to be patient in the 72 holes until the last hole.  So I think I have to keep focused on what I have to do, but still I need to be patient.
Sometimes bogey, I think, is a good score.  So I think just trying to make less mistakes out there.

[On where she is in terms of her life]  I’m very happy to play golf, especially on the LPGA Tour in America.  All my family live in Korea.  But I think I know what I have to do, and I love to do my job.  Even my manager, my trainer, my caddie, it’s all from my decision.  So I know what I have to do for my job…

…Sometimes I’m very jealous to Inbee, because she has a very happy life.  But I think I have a happy life too.  So I don’t know, maybe first of all I have to look for some fiancee, then maybe I can have good results too (laughing).

[My first post on Na Yeon says it all for me, “Na Yeon Choi: Great Player, Gentle Company.”]

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