It’s no secret that Asian-born players have made their presence felt on the LPGA Tour in a dominating fashion in recent years.
From the dominance of Taiwan’s Yani Tseng to a number of Korean players grabbing top-10s at every Tour stop, the influence of Asian players has been substantial, to say the least. The top five spots on this year’s money list feature Asian-born players, and there’s a new star among them: Sun Young Yoo.
Yoo had already turned heads by winning the 2010 Sybase Match Play Championship, and she’s been a regular in the top-10 ranks for years. But it was what she accomplished in Rancho Mirage, Calif., three weeks ago that propelled her to another level.
Fresh off a runner-up finish at the Kia Classic, Yoo defeated Korea’s I.K. Kim on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship and join the ranks of major champions. After Kim missed a one-footer for par on the final hole of regulation, Yoo sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to join Grace Park as a South Korean-born Nabisco champion.
Yoo took the customary dip in Poppie’s Pond next to the 18th green and gladly took the robe reserved for winners of the Tour’s first major of the season. With the win, Yoo jumped from 21st to 15th in the Rolex Women’s Golf World Rankings and moved into second place behind Tseng in the 2012 Rolex Player of the Year standings and the LPGA money list with $488,987.
The victory was also a dream come true for the 25-year-old.
“It feels great, and I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Yoo, who crossed the $3 million mark in career earnings thanks to the Kraft Nabisco win. “It was my dream winning a major, and I couldn’t believe I won.”
While Yoo’s family was in Korea during her major triumph, she had friends and supporters to celebrate with afterward.
“I went to Orlando after Nabisco and had a party with my coach, trainer, caddie and some friends,” Yoo said. “I just wish I could celebrate with my family too, because they are in Korea.”
She knows the title of major champion will now forever be hers, but she said she doesn’t feel different after winning her first major.
“Everybody is calling me as a major champion now, but I’m the still same person,” Yoo said. “I like staying same way.”
The Kia Classic was, perhaps, an indicator of what might occur in Rancho Mirage, and Yoo said she began to feel good about her game two weeks before the major.
“We had a tournament in Phoenix the week before Kia, and I started hitting so good then, but just didn’t make any putts,” Yoo said. “I knew I was hitting it well, so I worked on my putting and decided to change putters. I had a fresh feeling with a new putter, and finally everything came together in the Nabisco tournament.”
Yoo has been no stranger to success since joining the Tour in 2006. The Nabisco win was her 24th career top-10 finish, and she has had top-10s in each of her seven professional seasons.
Like other players, Yoo had to adjust to the rigors of playing on Tour week-in and week-out, but she also had to learn a new language.
“I was 18 when I joined this Tour, and I had to learn a different language and was not strong enough mentally,” she said. “But now, I trust myself and know how to control myself on the golf course.”
Now, Yoo is having fun on Tour, enjoying the results and is pleased that her dedication to the sport has been rewarded with success.
“It’s not a surprise,” Yoo said of her achievements. “I have been working so hard on my game, and I just want to believe that hard work pays off. I’m enjoying my life on Tour. I have made some good friends on the Tour and am having fun with them.”
Yoo has specific and lofty goals for herself for the remainder of 2012, and there’s no reason to think she shouldn’t be able to achieve anything she sets her sights on.
“My goal for the rest of season is two wins and to finish in the top 10 on the money list,” Yoo said. “I want to be a very consistent player for my career.”
Yoo, who said she would be a veterinarian if she wasn’t a professional golfer because of her love of animals, likes to decompress away from the course to clear her mind and recharge.
“I like to hang out at the pool, especially at the Lazy River, so I can relax,” she said.
Since she’s so fond of water, it’s fitting Yoo made her first major victory one that came with a cool dip at the end.